I’ve recently returned to the UK after travelling around Europe for nine months while still running my business, working from my laptop. This time last year, I was gearing up to go – researching and buying what I’d need to take, getting rid of a lot of stuff I’d accumulated over the years, belatedly updating my vaccinations (and enjoying a subsequent fever), etc.
On Sunday 12th April, 2015, my other half and I flew to Seville in the south of Spain and our travelling adventures began. I remember sitting outside next to the plaza eating tapas and watching the world go by while enjoying the warmth of the early evening and thinking we’ve done it.
In this post I’m going to give you a little bit of an overview of how I managed to travel while working.
Though we’d not planned further than four weeks ahead, over the next nine months this was to be our itinerary:
12 Apr–09 May: Seville, Spain
09 May–16 May: Sintra, Portugal
16 May–27 May: England, UK (home visit)
27 May–04 Jun: Berlin, Germany
04 Jun–04 Jul: Poznan, Poland
04 Jul–06 Jul: Krakow, Poland
06 Jul–10 Jul: Zakopane, Poland
10 Jul–07 Aug: Budapest, Hungary
07 Aug–09 Aug: Vienna, Austria
09 Aug–06 Sep: Prague, Czech Republic
06 Sep–17 Sep: England, UK (home visit)
17 Sep–25 Oct: Split, Croatia
25 Oct–29 Oct: Zadar, Croatia
29 Oct–30 Oct: Brussels, Belgium
30 Oct–31 Oct: Ghent, Belgium
01 Nov–03 Nov: Bruges, Belgium
03 Nov–18 Nov: England, UK (home visit)
18 Nov–18 Dec: Malaga, Spain
On our last night in Malaga over tapas (a nice mirror of our first evening, now I come to think of it), we reflected on all the places we’d been and things we’d done and began creating various awards. These are a few I can remember, though we didn’t agree on some:
Best place to live: Prague
Best city to visit: Budapest
Best coworking office: Locus (Prague)
Best experience: Skydiving (Berlin, Germany)
Best day out: Sailing at Lake Balaton (Hungary)
Best area of natural beauty: Zakopane (Poland)
Best beach: Kasjuni (Split, Croatia)
Method in a nutshell
Our method was to stay in a place about a month at a time so that we could get a reduced rate using AirBNB (the day rate changes to a monthly rate, normally). For the most part, we just used AirBNB for accommodation (use that link to sign up with AirBNB and get £14 credit); we stayed in hostels only twice (Sintra and Bruges) and this was only because AirBNB wasn’t available or was too expensive.
We’d often try to stop off somewhere for a weekend between staying somewhere for longer. This meant we saw more places and it didn’t disrupt our work schedules. In most of places we stayed a month, we were able to find coworking offices to give our working days more structure (and to guarantee decent internet).
I took one rucksack that just fit within the requirements for hand luggage on the airlines we were using and squished everything into that. To make packing easier (i.e. squish as much in as possible) I used three packing cubes inside the rucksack.
- Osprey Farpoint 40 litre rucksack
- Small packing cubes x 3
- Pair of jeans (wear while travelling)
- Hoodie (wear while travelling)
- Black leather boots (wear while travelling)
- Water resistant hooded rain jacket (squishes into small bag)
- Packable rucksack
- Socks x5
- Knickers x7
- Bra x2
- Short-sleeved tops x3
- Mid-sleeved top
- Casual dress
- Denim shorts
- Thin black cardigan
- Foldable straw sunhat
- Prescription sunglasses
- Small first aid kit
- Small pot of moisturiser
- A few items of makeup
- Tweezers and nail clippers
- Hairbrush and hairbands
- Travel towel
- Small clear toiletries bag
- Tube of hair product
- Makeup wipes
- A necklace and pair of earrings
- 100 ml plastic bottles x3 (to fill with shampoo, suncream, etc.)
- Kindle (with case)
- Notebook and pen
- 13-inch Macbook Air, case and charger
- Anker Ultra Slim Blutooth Keyboard
- Apple Magic Mouse
- iPhone 5S and charger
- European travel adapter
… and that’s about it! (None of those links are affiliate; they’re included just for your interest.) And yes, it was bloody heavy. For the last month of the trip I took out some of my summer things and added in a couple more thin jumpers after a trip back home.
Travelling while working Q&A
I asked some other editors in a Facebook group I belong to what they wanted to know about travelling while working. Here are my responses to their questions:
Q: I’d like to know the financial aspects of the trip; transportation, food, lodging. Did you make money along the way or save up ahead of time?
A: We tried to keep expenses to a minimum. We stopped renting our house back in the UK and put a lot of our things into storage … This was a difficult decision to make, to be honest, and I’m not completely sure we made the right one, but as we didn’t know how long we’d be gone (we might not have liked it and come straight home!) we decided to pay £120 a month to store our belongs and some of our furniture.
For transportation, we used budget airlines, trains and busses and tried not to move on to a new place too frequently. We stayed in some of the cheaper countries in Europe and used AirBNB to find the best deals in accommodation. For food, we’d eat our fairly regularly (at least twice a week for dinner, and most weekdays for lunch) as it was cheaper than eating out in the UK, but we cooked for ourselves most of the time, which helped with the budget. In all, we weren’t spending much more than we had been while renting in the UK. I saved £1,000 for the travelling fund before we left, but essentially just made money along the way. I’d say my monthly budget was around £1,000 on average.
Q: Did your clients know you were travelling? Did it worry them?
A: I never made it a secret but I didn’t always openly offer the information. If clients were connected to me on social media they would have seen a lot of posts and photos. I sometimes mentioned where I was while chatting to clients over email, and no one seemed put off by the fact I was travelling, probably because I kept to my deadlines and kept up with my emails. My working days while travelling were pretty similar to my working days while at home, only I was somewhere else!
Q: How did you access reference books?
A: I bought New Hart’s Rules for my Kindle and online subscriptions to the dictionaries I needed. If I needed further help, I’d go to the SfEP Forums or talk to one of my colleagues. If there was a specialist text I needed or wanted to read, I’d often be able to purchase it for Kindle.
Q: How did you deal with phone calls? Did you have an international plan, or did you get a country-specific sim card, or …?
A: To be honest, I rarely need to use the phone. My other half liked to buy local sim cards so he could use data while out and about, but I just kept my UK sim and switched the data off (only using it if I really needed it, like if I got lost!). I needed to speak with a client only once and he was in the US so we arranged to chat over Skype. Skype is good!
Q: How often did you lose internet access at important times?
A: Never! The first apartment we stayed in had terrible internet and we quickly realised we needed to do something about it – though we had time to sort it out. That’s when we discovered coworking offices. After that, the internet wasn’t a problem. It would probably be different in more remote countries, though.
Q: I was curious about customer payments. My customers send me checks that I have to deposit into my bank account. Did yours pay by PayPal or some other online service?
A: Nearly all of my payments are conducted online. I ask for bank transfers as the primary method, but I also accept payment through PayPal (my least preferred method due to the percentage they take) and GoCardless (a little slower but minimal fees). One client paid me via cheque while I was away. They sent it to my mum’s house (my official address) and she kindly deposited it for me.
Q: Was there anything you really missed?
A: Baths! Nearly every apartment we stayed in didn’t have a bath, and oh my God how I love my baths. I also generally got a bit (a lot) homesick – which to me largely meant missing not having a place to call my own. I missed reading paper books, too. And I missed decent supermarkets. In a professional sense, the only thing I missed was my Herman & Miller office chair, though most of the chairs in the coworking offices were pretty good.
Am I … lucky?
Working while travelling has not been without it’s challenges, but taking my business on the road has been a fantastic experience. Granted, we never got out of Europe as we’d intended, but there’s so much to see in Europe! I feel as though the world has opened up to me a little more – and that’s a nice feeling to have.
At one point over the past few months, my other half said to me how lucky we were to be able to travel and work in this way. My knee-jerk reaction was that it wasn’t luck: I’d worked hard building a business I could take with me anywhere.
So many people have expressed jealousy at what we’ve been doing, but they don’t see the difficulties – the headache-inducing hours on end of trying to find our next place to live, the delayed flights and crowded trains, the broken fridges that froze all our food, the stress of getting lost with no mobile data and not being able to speak the local language, the will-this-bed-destroy-my-back game, and so on.
Has it been worth it? Definitely.
But, on reflection, there is more to it than hard work. I’m lucky to be part of an educated generation – to have the opportunity to develop the skills and knowledge I need for my craft – and I’m lucky to be living in a time when we can connect with one another and exchange money and services through this amazing thing called the internet. I can carry a tiny computer in my pocket that contains a GPS map of everywhere, for goodness’ sake. That’s pretty awesome.
So if you’re reading this and thinking, ‘Gah, I wish I could travel like that!’ – yes, I am lucky. But you’re lucky, too. There are many different ways of doing this. As someone who runs their business through their computer, I can sometimes feel a little chained to my laptop. Luckily, my laptop is pretty darn portable.
Got any more questions for me? Leave a comment below.