Here at Team Life Remotely we travel a bit differently. Not because we are trying to be better than others, but because we are attempting to maintain our jobs on the road. Our short 15-hour work week may seem insubstantial (and ideal) but it makes a big impact on how we travel.
Here are a few things we’ve had to change to keep the pay checks coming in:
Travelers debate this all the time. Is it better to throw caution to the wind and just go where the road takes you, or to struggle with a bulletproof itinerary? Generally, we’re the type of people to read a lot, ask a lot of questions, but commit to pretty much nothing. Personally, we hate itineraries, but they've become a necessary evil.
We have to plan a schedule at least one week in advance. Our clients aren’t ok with “I’ll get to it when I can”. They also aren’t ok with missed conference calls, deadlines or emails. The itinerary doesn't have to be set in stone, but our clients have needs that must be met.
On work days we need internet, and on conference call days there has to be cell phone reception. If there’s a deadline looming, there had better be electricity to keep our laptops going. If we didn't plan to be in places with these amenities there would be no way to keep our clients happy and the bills paid.
Sometimes reliable internet means legitimate DSL broadband. Other times we get by with a good 3G cell phone signal. It helps to be flexible and leave yourself options. It doesn't matter how much research you do, you have no idea how decent your connectivity will be until you show up.
We've learned that internet advertised as “high speed” usually isn’t very high speed. It might be fast for one person, but add a couple dozen homesick tourists skyping with their boyfriends and it slows to a crawl.
The farther off the beaten track you get, the harder it becomes to find a consistent connection. Have you ever seen a national park advertise how great their 3G coverage is? We haven't.
In the end, it’s a crap shoot. The down side is that sometimes we have to leave an awesome place early or spend an extra day cooped up in a noisy hostel. Researching and planning will only get you so far. Our attitude is that work gives us the means to travel, so for two days out of the week it has to take priority.
When you have to take time each week to do work, your travel pace slows down. It’s simply not possible to enjoy the same frequency of activities when you have to spend several hours every other day cranking out projects.
Work days mean we have to spend at least two nights in one place. If there is anything worth seeing there, we’ll spend at least three nights. We lose two days every week to working, although they aren't always eight hour days. Sometimes we have to take the better part of a week off traveling to get caught up.
We have tried many times to move at a faster pace. We’ve stayed five consecutive nights in five different places. Without fail we soon decide to slow down once we’re nearly ready to kill each other because nobody has the time or patience to drive, read a map, find a campsite, cook dinner, and get all their work done.
If we’re going to camp in no-mans-land (Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park for example), we have to give our bosses at least a week's notice. It’s just like scheduling vacation time. They expect to know if we’re going to drop off the face of the earth, even if it's just for the weekend.
Although we are often shocked at the places we can pickup a good 3G signal, we can’t bet on it all of the time. More than once we’ve found ourselves driving back into town to send a last-minute apology email because we’re going to be unexpectedly offline. Whoops. We’ve learned our lesson: when you’re headed out into the jungle, let everyone know ahead of time and put the laptops away.
As if crossing borders wasn’t stressful enough, we also have to setup a new cell phone and USB modem every time we change countries. Each country brings a new set of hoops to jump through. Mexico required your passport to be verified by a main office, El Salvador refused to issue a SIM card without an El Salvadorian ID card, Costa Rica doesn’t even sell pre-paid USB modems.
Not to mention the language problems. They're called modems in Guatemala, data cards in Costa Rica, and "USB para internet" in Mexico. Are you lost yet? Immediately after a long and painful border crossing routine you're left with more stressful unknowns to deal with. Whaddya gonna do?
Cross the border and stay in a hotel with internet! That’s what we do. After every border we head for the largest town within a 100km radius, find a decent hotel or hostel with wifi, and have a cocktail. The next day we head out on a mission to get the SIM cards setup. No pressure, we've got all day. And trust me, more than once it has taken ALL DAY.
Of course, this isn’t ideal. It means we have to kill two days in a (usually) very shady border town, and drop a chunk of change on a hotel. Sometimes we luck out and find a store with intelligent staff who understand what an unlocked USB modem is and we’re ready to go in under an hour. This is best case scenario, it happened to us when we entered Mexico, and hasn’t happened since. We plan for the worst case scenario.
As I explained in our last work while traveling article, this lifestyle isn't without it's difficulties. We have to make a few changes to keep our business and our travels running smoothly, but it's always been worth it.