Working while you travel is never as easy as it sounds. Don’t get us wrong – it beats a 9-5 desk job any day of the week. But it’s not all sitting on the beach sipping fancy umbrella cocktails while you chat to clients via skype. The reality is your going to spend hours on end sitting in uncomfortable chairs that would have your OH&S supervisor back home in fits while your family enjoys those beach cocktails and sends you facebook photos of everything you’re missing. Without a doubt though the biggest challenge is Internet.
A lot of places these days have WIFI but it’s usually slow, unreliable and often doesn’t allow you to work on secured sites, which can be a big problem for Colin who uses secured environments to develop his clients web applications. Travelling with your own Internet is usually the best option if you want to be able to work effectively and not be soley reliant on someone else?s WIFI and opening hours.
What are the options?
Stay in accommodation with WIFI
A lot of guesthouses, hotels and hostels today offer free WIFI. We try to stay in places with WIFI as often as possible. It?s usually best not to rely on this as your only source of Internet though. If the WIFI goes down then it?s out of your control. The WIFI might not work in your room, only in reception ? which can make it hard for both parents to work once the kids go to bed.
But the biggest problem of working at the place you are staying are interruptions from the rest of the family. You may be able to scoot the family away for a few hours, but sooner or later the kids will get tired and want to come home to rest and play, usually involving at least half an hour of show?n?tell followed by regular ?I?m just going to go tell Daddy/Mummy ?.? interruptions.
Find a café with WIFI
Colin spends a lot of his time in McDonalds and restaurants using their WIFI. As I said, it?s often not fast or reliable but it gives him a chance to get away and focus on work without the distraction of the kids around. The other big problem with cafes is power points. In Australia in particular it can be ridiculously hard to find a restaurant or café that?s happy for you to plug in. You can often be limited to just a few hours of work.
Travel with your own internet
We travel with a USB modem. Whenever we arrive in a new country we buy a local ‘pay-as-you-go’ sim card with a data plan. In most countries in South East Asia this has cost us less than $10 per week for unlimited Internet. The speed varies from country to country, region to region, but it?s usually fast enough to get the job done.
The other option is to travel with an unlocked iPhone or other smart phone that you can tether to your laptop. We?ve found that sim-cards with shared data/phone plans are slower than the ones you put in USB modems and the data plans will be smaller, but it can still be a good backup option in some areas where coverage is poorer as your phone is better at picking up a signal than a USB modem. What do we do? We usually do a combination of all of the above ? book accommodation with WIFI whenever possible, find a WIFI café and travel with either a data plan for the USB modem or the iPhone, depending on what country we?re in. It?s not fool proof
South East Asia tips
Internet is surprisingly easy to access all thoughout South East Asia. Even many cheap hostels these days have WIFI. The biggest issues will be finding fast internet. We’ve found we can always get internet fast enough to work with, either by using local WIFI connections or our phone/USB modem but rarely do you get WIFI fast enough for Video skype calls outside of the country.
Start in a capital city
If you do want to get a sim card for your phone or USB modem, start in a capital city when you first arrive. Once you get out of the capital it can be really hard to find the right phone store and someone who speaks English with enough fluency to understand exactly what you want. In countries like Laos and Cambodia, we?ve found that the only way to organize pre-paid data sim cards is to go into the main branch in the capital city.
Generators are not your location independence friend
You may have ideals of staying just outside the main tourist areas on a quiet beach, on a deserted tropical island on getting off the beaten path in small mountain villages. That?s fantastic, but many of the amazing islands and remote locations that you are dying to visit run off generators. Finding WIFI can be tricky ? it?s either going to be slow, unreliable or exists but you mysteriously can never ever connect to it.
But the biggest issue is the heat ? chances are the generator will be off for a few hours each day so it?s going to be hot. How well do you work when it?s 36 degrees outside with mosquitoes flying around you and there?s no fan? Plan your trip so that you?re in these areas when you don?t have deadlines and lots of work. You?ll just end up hating the location and probably your family for dragging you here!
Skype for work calls
Accessing internet that’s fast enough for skype video calls has been a challenge althroughout South East Asia. Even voice-only calls can be a challenge. If you do need to use skype for work the best solution is to travel with a phone and get a local number in whatever country you are in. Set up your skype so that it re-routes to your local number if you are not logged into skype. We’ve found that once the skype call reroutes through the local telephone networks the connection is excellent. We do this with our iPhones by the way. It doesn’t solve the video skype issue but at least the voice calls are clear.
Country specific tips:
Thailand and Singapore are actually quite hard to find free WIFI in unless you sign up for an account with several WIFI service providers. It’s easy enough to do this, but it is a complicating factor if you’ve just shown up in the country …
I?ll be completely honest – we found it easier to work location independently in rural Laos than we did in Australia. And we?re Australian so it?s not because we were unfamiliar with the system! Working and travelling around Australia isn?t impossible but there are a lot of frustrating challenges that you wouldn?t expect in a developed country.
Amy from Livin on the road wrote a great review recently of the problems with Australia. Coverage is limited … really limited. Post-paid (contract) data plans are expensive, pre-paid even more so.
Free WIFI is a lot harder to come by in Australia than …