Guest post by Sarah Laurence, Sarah Evelyn Edits
A few days ago while sitting on a train, I listened in on (I know I’m not the only one, am I right?) a group of girls talking about their career plans. One of them, bless her optimistic heart, was becoming a graphic designer so she could travel to Thailand, and “I’d only need to find about four hours a day to work – it should be easy enough”.
It’s the dream, isn’t it? You’ve seen the Shutterstock images. In our imaginations, solopreneurship is synonymous with a white-sand beach and turquoise waves lapping gently at your feet. You (the best and most fabulous version of yourself, of course) sit in a deckchair with your laptop, and a fabulous, umbrella-attired cocktail at your fingertips…
“Oh, honey,” I thought, feeling jaded and cynical and… old. I wish I had felt happier for her, and generally I would have (and do now!), but I was exhausted. While listening to her, I was using our 30-minute train ride to frantically reply to emails and get some work done before rushing on to the next thing.
For the last four months I’ve been living her dream – traveling full time while working too. Although it’s been an amazing experience, holding it all together has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Now, tapping away on a marble-topped table in a fabulous West London restaurant, flat white beside me and obligatory Instagram-worthy pic in my phone, I’m a lot less harried, and a lot prouder of and hopeful for my young sister-boss on the train. It is possible, and I know that both she and I can do it!
Looking back at the last few months I don’t think I would have changed a thing, but I’ve learned so much for the next steps.
These are the nine things I’ve learned (that I wish someone had told me before I started):
1. You need a base
My husband and I sold our house and our cars and left on our trip with two suitcases (fine – four suitcases!) not knowing where we would end up. We still don’t know where we’ll be in the next few months, but we feel more settled now. Leaving on a trip of a lifetime while moving countries and trying to work full time as well was hard. Luckily, we’ll always be welcome at our parents’ homes and our friends have housed, fed and watered us more generously than we could ever have hoped, but we’re craving a base. An address.
It’s easier to leave everything if you’ve got something to come home to – or a place to call home. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a place of your own that you rent out or a room at mom and dad’s, it’s helpful to have a forwarding address.
2. Have a routine…
I find it easier to work hard in the mornings. If I don’t, I tend to worry unduly about all the could-be monsters in my unchecked inbox(es). If I’ve cleared them out, however, and got some routine work under my belt, I feel a lot better about going out to explore for the rest of the day.
3…But be flexible
Whether you prefer to work in the morning, afternoon or late at night, traveling full time means that this won’t always be possible. You’ll have flights, trains, and non-compliant Wi-Fi to deal with, and experiences (like a hot-air balloon ride at dawn over Napa Valley) that you won’t want to miss out on.
With a basic routine in place you’ll be able to plan your time and your work, while allowing space for changes and adventures. For me those times always felt special – a flight is a chance to watch a movie instead of turning on my computer, and special plans practically invite a strategic day (or morning at least) off.
4. Slow, slow, quick
For the first two months of our travels, we moved almost every day. Traveling around the U.S.A. and trying to see as much as possible meant spending one, usually two, or – at the most – three nights in a city or destination before moving on. This can be fun, and it can be necessary, but it is always exhausting! Even without any work to do it was unsustainable, and I started to feel guilty – if I was working, I felt bad for not sightseeing or resting, if we went out for the day I felt exhausted and terrible that I hadn’t worked, and if I ever laid down to rest my mind exploded – how could I dare rest during a trip where there was so much to see and so much to do!
Luckily it all worked out and we left having seen SO much and having done a fair bit of productive work too. But after that we had to take a few weeks verrrry sloowwwly. Sleeping, eating, working and spending time with family became our new routine. In a few weeks we’ll be off again, for a lightening quick trip to see some of the Mediterranean’s best spots. And then we’ll retreat somewhere to have a base (for a few weeks at least); we’ll find a local coffee shop and spend time with friends or family.
Just like a dance: Slow, slow, quick. Slow, slow, quick.
5. Delegate your work
If you can systemize or delegate some of your work, do.
(I highly suggest you read this TCC guest post on how to Manage Mischief your work on vacation – it’s brilliant!).
I work with a virtual assistant who keeps me accountable (but understands when I’m not at my best or don’t meet a deadline). It means that as well as handing over a large amount of my administration and routine tasks I also have to take a systemized, strategic approach to work – setting goals for the week, working towards specific, brand-growing goals, and working with each other. This connection has proven to be very important to me, and brings me to…
6. Stay in touch
As much as I’ve found it difficult not to have a base while traveling, what has grounded me far better than a key or an address is staying in really close touch with a handful of friends and family back home in addition to visiting the friends and family we are lucky to have around the world.
My people know me well – they know when I’m not feeling so well, or when I’m missing home, or when I’m super excited because I’m having an amazing time. Sometimes it’s easier not to pick up the phone – you’re busy, there are time differences to take account of, you may feel that they can’t understand where you are or what you’re doing. But picking up the phone and having a cup of tea (or bottle glass of wine with a close friend or my mom or dad) has always left me feeling more grounded and centered than before.
Home is not always a place. Sometimes, it’s the people with whom you share your life (even from far away).
7. Compartmentalize your life (and practice mindfulness)
As I’ve already said, I spent quite a lot of our most busy travel time feeling guilty. Ultimately, it could be pointless to eat at a Michelin starred restaurant or hike the red rocks of Arizona or fly over the Gulf of Mexico if you’re worried about an email from a client, a bad review, or something that could happen… but hasn’t yet.
I’m still working on it, but I’m trying my best to really enjoy every single moment for what it is. If I’m sitting outside on a (uncharacteristically) warm English summer’s evening with family, watching my husband chat to my Grandpa, seeing something fabulous for the first time, or indulging in a beautifully-crafted cocktail, I’m trying to be really mindful of the moment, and the experience. I don’t only want to enjoy our trip through memories and photos – I want to enjoy it at the time too.
8. Plan your goals
That said, as a digital nomad you do need to work, and (I’m assuming) you need to earn an income. Use a system (such as the brilliant Trello for Business!) to plan out your big strategic goals and break these up into smaller, actionable steps that you can achieve to get your work done.
This not only takes out much of the stress of working on the move, but also helps to ensure that you’re not wasting your time. You don’t have a 40-hour week while traveling, so don’t waste precious working hours on things you don’t really need to be doing.
9. Have fun! (Remember your why)
Why are you traveling? Chances are, you’re not trying to get rich quickly, or change the world while you travel. If you’re anything like me, you’re traveling because it can be one of the most valuable experiences in which you’ll ever invest – and you need to make a living at the same time. It’s ok if you’re business grows a little slower than you’d like because you spent an hour this morning lying under the Eiffel Tower (and even longer picking out macaroon flavors at Ladurée). If you take two days to reply to your emails because you had an aborted train trip from Chicago to Washington D.C. and were turned around at Indianapolis, then chalk it up to a fantastic experience that you’ll never forget.
Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and that while you can do anything you want to, you can’t (and don’t have to) do it all at once. So have fun – it’s a journey!
About the Author
Sarah is a writer and online education consultant who owns a blog-editing and SEO start up, Sarah Evelyn Edits. Their mission is to spread love and add value to online businesses by perfecting copy and improving SEO through a fuss-free retainer system.
Think Creative Collective was one of her first clients, and Abagail and Emylee say:
“Sarah has been such an incredible addition to our team. We previously handled ALL writing/editing, etc. and it got to the point where we were letting things that were less than stellar head out the door. Sarah swooped in and saved the day. She got us to stop flying so much by the seat of our pants and schedule writing in advance. This not only has allowed us to be better writers from the get go, but adds time to get valuable feedback from Sarah. She is now a crucial part of our everyday process. Highly recommend!”
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