Typing on the third floor of the Ala Moana Center in Hawaii
In response to my recent blog posts written from places around the world, many people expressed a strong desire to emulate what I’m doing now – traveling and working in a functional and balanced manner (just without getting sick like I did!).
I’ve also had a couple of people email me explaining how they are also traveling the world and running their Internet business and how they believe more people could do the same, if only the knowledge of how to do so was out there.
In the spirit of helping others realize their dream of the traveling lifestyle, I’m going to present some tips to help you travel and run a successful business at the same time. I hope these ideas motivate you towards actually beginning the process of planning your trip, rather than constantly dreaming about it and putting it off until you have “more money” or “more time” or whatever belief that holds you back.
I don’t have a family traveling with me and I realize for many of you there are spouses and kids to consider too. Just remember your loved ones are variables you need to accommodate, they should not be reasons for not going, assuming the family are happy to come along.
It’s acceptable to hold off travel until children are out of school or independent, if you don’t want to disrupt their life. However the tips I’m about to present can certainly be applied to summer holidays and most of them apply just as well to any person who runs a business and wants more freedom.
Let’s get to it…
1. Realistically assess how much money you need
This is a huge one in terms of mental blockages. As Tim Ferriss pointed out in the 4-Hour Work Week, you can travel on very little money assuming you can afford the plane ticket.
If your budget is tight then pick countries with comparatively weak currencies and low cost of living. Places like India, South America, Mexico, Eastern Europe, Thailand and Malaysia come to mind off the top of my head for people coming from Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Central Europe, where currencies are strong. There are many more options and even if you come from a country with a weak currency, if you can earn USD from the Internet, you can enjoy the power of a stronger dollar while you travel.
If you are waiting to save up a certain amount of money before you feel comfortable traveling you are probably over compensating. You can live off as little as $500 USD equivalent a month in countries that have great food, good access to technology and offer a safe environment. Earning $500 USD a month on the Internet is certainly attainable for many people – it’s not easy – but a lot easier than say waiting to earn $3,000 a month before you feel “comfortable” traveling.
For any discussion of cost of living you do need to consider your level of tolerance. For me, I’m not the kind of person who can function well sharing a room with a bunch of partying backpackers and I like to cook my own meals and not eat out all the time, so I stay in private places that offer a full kitchen. You might also have to consider your family and therefore need more space.
I’ll talk more about accommodation in a moment, but for this point I want you to seriously consider what standard of living you desire and then do some research to see how much it costs in the countries you are thinking of staying. Once you know your numbers you can begin to realistically assess your options.
2. Consider what you personally have to do each day to keep your business going, then make changes where necessary
My income has been derived from the Internet for the last eight years (at least in part). Despite always working online I wasn’t always in a position to pack up the laptop and go traveling and expect the business to function fine.
How important are you to your business?
For some of the Internet businesses I’ve run it’s been me in charge of EVERYTHING. This has meant that if I don’t log on each day, check the email, make sure the websites are still up and do some work, things start to fall apart. If I don’t invoice the advertisers, then no money comes through. If a site goes down, it didn’t come up until I submitted a helpdesk ticket with my web host.
If your circumstances are similar to what mine were like in previous years then it’s difficult to travel. You can’t travel comfortably if every single day you feel a strong desire to find net access because you need to make sure everything is alright and do some work. This is what I was like on many trips and trust me – it’s not something you can sustain long term, you need to be comfortable letting your business go for days at a time at least.
Obviously bringing on people to help you is the key here, but that’s not a straight forward solution. Even after I hired an assistant to effectively run my proofreading business, I still had to make sure posters were going out to advertise the business, I also had to cash the payments, deal with the web servers and do other critical tasks. I had created more time but I still had daily responsibilities that impacted my ability to travel in a relaxed manner.
To truly position yourself to travel and run a business comfortably, you need to carefully review what you do each week and consider what it would be like performing these activities if you were overseas, or find ways to make sure you are not the one performing the activities when you travel.
If your business model is hands-off (for example – selling information products online or affiliate marketing), then you have some advantages and in fact I’ve deliberately moved my business towards these models in recent years because of this. That doesn’t mean you can’t travel if your business is more physical, but realize the more hands on work required then the more you rely on other people.
There’s no “answer” to this problem that applies to every situation. It’s up to you to look at your working life, what holds you back and then how you can change it. Just remember there are good people out there you can rely on to help you, and thanks to skype, email, instant messenging and all kinds of other wonderful technology, you can build a team that functions very well, no matter where in the world you are.
For more on this read my previous article about Life Portability.
3. Rent apartments or negotiate hotel discounts for long term stays
Accommodation is usually the most costly part of any long trip overseas. In the past I would always stay in hotels but only for days at a time. Now I like to spend weeks and months in places, so it’s much more cost effective to rent apartments.
Affordable accommodation options are available
Apartments also offer privacy and features (like kitchens, full beds, reliable Internet access) that I consider mandatory if you want to run a business and live comfortably. Previously I wasn’t sure, outside of looking up Craigslist for sub-lease options, how I could find short term rentals that didn’t cost the earth like those corporate apartments.
Thanks to some extensive research, I now know about a fantastic website that lists short term accommodation directly from owners with apartments all over the world. The website is http://www.vrbo.com and it’s awesome – definitely check it out if you plan on renting for short or long term trips overseas.
Renting short term is not quite as cheap as taking a 6 or 12 month lease directly in the normal way, but it’s still cheaper than hotels and the features make it well worthwhile. I consider this the best option for trips lasting a week up to several months.
While I’ve never done it, I’ve been told it’s also possible to negotiate cheap prices with hotels if you plan on staying long term. I’d choose a full apartment over a hotel room or condo, but you can’t always find apartments. Hotels are always an option, so it’s worth knowing it’s possible to stay long term in hotels and not blow your budget by using your negotiation skills.
4. Use peer hotel reviews sites to locate the best accommodation
Another fantastic resource that came up while researching for my current trip is the website TripAdvisor.com. This site provides a place for people to leave reviews on hotel accommodation in the same manner that people leave reviews on books at Amazon.com.
What’s great about TripAdvisor is you can not only find feedback from real people, sometimes they also upload photos of the rooms and surrounding conditions that are not glamorized the way hotel shots are. You can see what the beds, bathroom and kitchen area REALLY look like.
I recommend you use this site to assess any hotel before making a booking – don’t trust just what expedia or the hotel website tell you.
5. What technology do you need to bring with you to work?
My business is 100% online and I can function almost perfectly with just a laptop and reliable net connection. I just recently purchased a desktop replacement laptop that has a much wider screen and full keyboard with numpad to use in conjunction with the tiny one I am using now to type this (this is my blogging at cafes laptop that is light for carrying around but not the most robust of machines – I can’t do video on it for example).
I also have a digital camera and my video camera and that’s about all I need to make things work. Your situation might be different, so consider what technology you need to function (do you need printing facilities? how about a paper filing system?). Also make sure your equipment can work overseas. Most modern laptops function on a range of voltages so you should be right no matter where you travel, you just need basic adapters for the wall plug.
Make sure you have a back-up procedure for your travels. I have a portable hard drive for storing important content and since they are so cheap nowadays there’s no excuse for not taking one with you.
You also need to consider a contingency plan if your laptop fails. Can you run your business from Internet cafes for a few days until you locate a replacement laptop of get it fixed? Maybe you should bring two with you just in case (laptops are not too expensive either – you can get fully functional machines for $500).
It’s Easier Than You Think But Planning Is Required
There’s more to traveling with your business than I have covered here, but the most important things are your living conditions, your cost of living, your ability to work while mobile, how independent your business is from you and what technology you need to keep things running. Beyond this, your typical travel advice applies, which there is plenty of online already.
It’s time for me to get back out to Hawaii. I hope you found these tips helpful and if this article just nudges you even a little closer to finally beginning that traveling business lifestyle, then my work is done .
I’ll see you on the planet somewhere.