“Working while traveling?! I could never do that. I’d never get any work done.”
This exact thought crossed my mind more times than I could count.
Having a full-time job in the United States has molded me into someone who feels comfortable within the familiar lull of Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. This rhythm has been an old friend, a safe haven that tells me exactly when to turn on and when I get to turn off. Like training your brain to not associate sleep with midnight munchies by vowing never to eat in your bed, returning to the same office day in and day out has long been understood as the signal for triggering productivity.
But as a traveler, I am constantly torn in two directions. While structure appeals to my type-A, to-do list-crossing, goal-oriented brain, travel proves to me time and time again that there is more than one way to live a life. As much as corporate culture tells us there’s only one clear path to happiness, my lived experience tells me otherwise.
So what do you do when you’re torn between work and travel? Maybe you’re considering working remotely to help extend your PTO, but are worried about how to balance it all. No doubt, productivity levels are easily thrown out the window as soon as you hop in a plane, check into a hotel, and catch that first glimpse of the ocean. Right?
If any of these thoughts or worries about working while traveling sound like you, you’re in the right place.
As someone who has shared these same worries and spent the last several years going after it anyway, I now know a thing or two about enjoying new surroundings while keeping on top of work responsibilities.
Here are 9 tips for optimizing your workflow to have a productive day, whether you’re working remotely from a cafe in the Philippines or answering emails while sipping mai tais on the North Shore of Oahu.
9 Effective Strategies for Working While Traveling
1. Choose A Destination That Will Set You Up for Success
It’s a good idea to make your travel situation as reliable as possible, and this is a good place to start. When you first start working while traveling, one of the best (and most responsible) things you can do is choose a destination that’s well-known for being remote work-friendly.
So, what does that look like?
- Booking stays at hotels or Airbnbs with a fast WiFi connection.
- Opting for major cities with a strong cell phone signal, plenty of coffee shops, and coworking spaces.
- Traveling somewhere within a reasonable time difference of the time zone you work in or that your clients are in
Choosing destinations that have the infrastructure for remote work reduces the chances of something going wrong.
If you’re not sure how friendly a city is for remote workers, you can check out resources like Nomad List. It’s a directory for destinations all over the world that tells you things like:
- Cost of living
- Average internet speed
- Free public WiFi
- Coworking spaces
- Best neighborhoods
One of my favorite countries to work remotely from is Mexico for this exact reason because I’m always within three hours or less of Pacific Standard Time (Los Angeles). And, depending on where in Mexico you go, coffee shops, restaurants, and hotel options with WiFi are often relatively easy to find for people traveling with laptops in hand! Some of my go-to’s include Oaxaca, Guadalajara, and Los Cabos.
2. Don’t Skimp On Your Accommodation
When I tell you this has been one of my biggest rookie mistakes time and time again, I am NOT kidding!
Booking the right accommodation plays a major part in your productivity levels. But a fast and stable WiFi connection isn’t the only thing you need to consider.
The next thing you have to look at is the type of accommodation and your budget.
For example, if you want to work remotely from expensive cities like Paris or Amsterdam, you might only be able to afford hostels or cheap hotels. While those options are great for keeping costs down and meeting other travelers, it could negatively impact your productivity or ability to do your job.
Imagine trying to join a call at 11 pm when your dorm room is sleeping, everyone downstairs is having a party, and the WiFi is slower than dial-up. It’s just not going to work.
When you’re working remotely, you need to take into account what environment helps you work better. Maybe it’s having an entire Airbnb apartment to yourself or having a lobby coffee shop you can retreat to each morning.
Whatever it is, look at destinations where you can afford the type of accommodation you need to perform at your best. For more expensive places, you may have to get creative or save those destinations for your PTO days or weekend trips. When it comes to working remotely from a different city or country, skimping on your accommodation is one of the quickest ways to self-sabotage your productivity, unless you have a reliable place you can go to work each day, like a coworking place or coffee shop (more on that below!).
PRO TIP: Not sure the WiFi will meet your needs? Don’t hesitate to ask hotels or Airbnb hosts for a screenshot from an internet speed test!
3. Figure Out When You Work Best And Plan Your Travel Itinerary Around That
Do you know what time of day you’re most productive?
Of course, if you’re working full-time for a company, your hours may be dictated by your clients, customers, or the time zone of your team. But, if your schedule has some flexibility, determining when you are your most productive can work wonders in terms of planning out the delicate balance between working and traveling simultaneously.
For example, my creative energy is highest in the morning before lunchtime and late in the evenings after dinner. Depending on what’s going on in my day, I try to schedule my most important work tasks first thing in the morning and tasks dedicated to this blog in the evenings.
I find that the middle of the day is the most “tempting” for me in terms of wanting to go outside and explore while traveling, so this is when I’ll try to designate tasks that require less brainpower, like admin and replying to emails. This is also usually when I try to squeeze in quick adventures, like visiting a new coffee shop or checking out a museum.
Now, when you’re on the move, your schedule might not always be predictable. But when you’re working while traveling over extended periods, you’ll need some kind of routine you can fall back on.
By taking the time to understand your energy flow throughout the day and crafting your work schedule around that, you’ll be less likely to experience work-related burnout while on the road. Plus, it’ll help you find the best times to schedule fun activities and adventures without getting in the way of peak productivity hours.
4. Plan Out Your Work and Travel Schedule Simultaneously
As you might be suspecting, if you want to work and travel, sometimes you just need to marry yourself to your calendar.
There’s no way around it.
Knowing where your time is going each day will keep you on track with your workload and determine when you can squeeze in some sightseeing along the way, like visiting the Mayan ruins or explore hidden waterfalls in Bali.
One of my favorite hacks for planning my work schedule is time blocking my calendar.
Here’s an example of what that might look like for me:
- 7:00 – 8:00: Yoga class, online workout, or long walk through the neighborhood
- 9:00 – 11:00: Internal meetings and client calls
- 12:00 – 1:00: Lunch at a nearby cafe I haven’t been to before
- 1:00 – 3:00: Light admin tasks and email catch-up
- 3:00 – 5:00: Projects and research
- 5:00 – 7:00: Go to a museum or catch happy hour
During the week, I try to plan small sightseeing activities here and there, while remaining flexible in case my to-do list is too long. On the weekend, I’ll reserve those days for booking bigger, full-day adventures or weekend getaways.
5. Cut Your Itinerary Down
As a meticulous itinerary planner who loves researching travel and activities ahead of time, it pains me to say this, but the best way to work and travel without going crazy is to downsize your itinerary.
When taking time off and going on vacation, I have no problem packing my days with things to see and do, restaurants to check out, and far-off day trips.
But when you travel with work simultaneously, you simply can’t fit in as many things in a single day. If you try, you’ll see your productivity decline and your stress levels skyrocket. It’s just not sustainable (trust me, I’ve been there too many times to count).
Trim down your itinerary to no more than one or two ideas each day on workdays. Note that I say “ideas” rather than “plans” – keeping your workdays fluid will also help keep you sane just in case a last-minute meeting pops up and you suddenly can’t go to the beach till tomorrow.
Because traveling while working means you’ll inevitably have to explore destinations more slowly, it also makes a case for considering spending longer amounts of time in one place rather than hopping from city to city.
As a general rule, travel should enhance your work experience and show you new possibilities for meshing the two worlds, not detract from your productivity or cause you unnecessary stress!
6. Maximize Your Transit Days
Planning your work schedule doesn’t need to start once you arrive at a hotel. If you have a lot of work that needs to get done, you can also look at ways to fit in a few hours of work while on the road too.
For example, if you’re road-tripping to a nearby destination, and you know you’ll have a strong cell phone signal and Bluetooth calling, you can schedule some easy calls you’ve been meaning to take.
If you’re at the airport, you can plan to work on tasks that can be accomplished even with slower WiFi, like answering emails or drafting up reports.
For items that require a more stable internet connection, try to reserve those tasks for non-travel days or see if you can work on an offline version when you’re en route.
While travel days can seem hectic, some of the best opportunities for being productive can be found in long plane rides, bus transits, and train commutes. Heck, I’m also not above turning on my hotspot and sending emails from the passenger seat of a car.
If pushing myself in less comfortable situations means I get more free time later to relax and explore, then odds are, I’ll do it.
Think about how you can realistically use your own transit days to get on top of your work schedule and give yourself more time to explore.
7. Research Coworking Spaces (And Other WiFi-Friendly Options) Ahead of Time
Coffee shops, cafes, and hotels are popular options for working remotely. When I travel, I’ll usually reserve the day with the least number of meetings to visit a new coffee shop or hotel lobby because I like the buzzy energy and newness that comes with it.
When working this way, my biggest tip is to always check TripAdvisor, Yelp, or Google ahead of time for WiFi or reviews from others about working there. If you can’t readily find that information, call, email, or WhatsApp the establishment you’re planning to go to ahead of time to double-check that they have public WiFi you can use.
On the flip side, while working from coffee shops and hotel rooms is fun, and changing up your scenery is often exciting, let’s be honest – the inconsistency can often be killer when you need workspaces you can depend on for your Zoom calls and deadlines. Because of this, working from coffee shops and whatnot, while great options, aren’t always ideal.
- You might get lonely.
- You might miss the buzz of an office.
- You might need the clear separation of work and home that’s often needed to feel sane.
- Heck, you might just find the lure of your bed and the liveliness of cafes way too distracting to get any real work done.
This is where coworking spaces can help you travel and work at the same time more effectively (and with a bit more consistency you can depend on).
Not only do you get to meet fellow globetrotting remote workers, but being in a room with other people also working hard to meet their own deadlines can make you more productive.
It’s like getting that same hit of productivity “peer pressure” from an office environment, but with the added benefit of being in a cool destination.
PRO TIP: How do you find coworking spaces around the world?
First, you can consider international brands to see whether they operate in the cities you plan on traveling to. WeWork is a membership-based option that operates in 23 countries, for example. Selina is a more youthful brand that combines hostel culture with digital nomadism and offers travelers compact coworking spaces that can be reserved for a small fee in advance. For other options, you can use directories like Coworker or do a quick Google search for [city name] + coworking space to see what comes up.
8. Figure Out Your Tech Set-Up
Whether you’re working remotely from another state or country, the right tools are essential for getting work done while traveling.
You want to invest in items that’ll make you more productive and stop you from falling into poor habits, like “oh, I’ll do that later” or “I just can’t do that right now.”
For example, if you have an iPad, consider investing in a portable keyboard. It can help you get in some work while on the bus or in a cafe without having to lug around your laptop.
Other things to consider arming yourself with in addition to your laptop might include:
- Portable WiFi device
- External hard drive (My pick: SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD)
- Plug adapter and surge protector (My pick: World Travel Adapter Kit by Ceptics)
- Noise-canceling headphones and / or call-friendly headphones, depending on whether you do more talking or listening (My pick: Jabra)
- Portable cellphone charger (My pick: Anker charging gear)
- Roaming data plan
If there is something that will help you work better while traveling, add it to your must-pack list and bring it with you everywhere!
9. Set Boundaries
Are you traveling with other people? If so, set work boundaries before you leave, especially if you plan on working remotely and they don’t, or if you’re going to be on different work schedules.
Explain to your friends that you won’t be able to hang out all the time, and you’ll need space to get work done during whatever hours you’re required to be online.
By creating clear expectations, you don’t need to feel guilty saying “I need an hour to work” or turning down activities that don’t work with your schedule.
Going on digital nomad retreats, or traveling exclusively with friends or partners embarking on a work and travel journey, can help alleviate this guilt. That way, everyone on the trip is a working professional and understands there is a time for both work and play.
What are your tips for how to work while traveling and staying productive? Got any hacks I missed? Let me know in the comments below!
Read This Next:
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- What I Learned From Traveling One Month in Southeast Asia While Working Full Time
- How to Prevent Burnout When Traveling for Work: 5 Tips
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- How to Travel More With a Full-Time Job: 13 Actionable Tips
- Business Travel 101: Tips For Your First Time Traveling For Work