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How to combine your freelance business with a life of travel

Posted by Rob Dix on Sep 18th, 2012 | Productivity

Woman working on a laptop by the shore

With freelancing comes great freedom. Although there are downsides (like late paying clients), the upsides are unbeatable: afternoons working in the garden and ad-hoc long weekends in Paris, for starters.

A growing number of freelancers are taking that freedom a step further and becoming “digital nomads” – slowly travelling the world while still working full-time.

If you’re wondering if you can do it too, here are some tips for making the transition as pain-free as possible.

Choosing a destination

All you really need to combine work and travel is a destination with reliable wifi – which rules out very few places. And if you want to go somewhere really remote for a while, just schedule in a week’s holiday.

Southeast Asia is a popular destination for digital nomads, but you don’t have to go that far to have a much better cost of living than you would at home. Romania is incredibly cheap and has the fastest wifi in the world, and Estonia has a huge tech startup scene.

If you’d rather test the water before becoming a fully fledged digital nomad, just book an apartment in Spain for a month and see how it suits you. If you’re feeling ballsy, don’t tell your clients and hope they don’t hear the cicadas chirping in the background.

Finding a base

If you’re trying to get a solid day’s work done, you don’t want to be wringing the water out of your tent or listening to people getting it on at the other end of the hostel dorm. No – what you need is a clean, quiet apartment with wifi – and maybe a pool.

That’s where Airbnb comes in. The site has a list of apartments that can be rented direct from the owners, all with professional photos and reviews from other travellers. You can get a place with all home comforts for a few days to a few months, costing a fraction of the price of a hotel.

Staring at rented walls can cause you to go just as crazy as it does at home, but almost every city has plenty of cafes with wifi to combine people watching with keyboard pounding. Or if you want a proper office, sites like Sharedesk can help you find desks to rent by the day.

Communicating with clients

Shaking off unnecessary meetings is one of the best things about being on the move (“Sorry, I’m in Vietnam that day” is one heck of an excuse), but you can still keep in close contact over the phone and online.

The most important thing is to be very clear with clients about when you will and won’t be available – give them advance notice if you’re having a travel day and won’t be reachable, or if you’re going to be moving to a different time zone.

Being in a different time zone actually has its advantages. If you’re travelling east you’ll be ahead of your clients and can have work ready for them by the time they wake up, and if you go west you’ll have your afternoons free of interruptions because they’ll be in bed.

The logistics are easy. A Skype online number costs £35 for a year, and you can choose a UK number that clients can call for the same price as a local call. You can even install Skype on your mobile phone so you can be reached while you explore your new surroundings.

Dealing with bureaucracy

Doing away with a permanent abode shakes off a lot of paperwork (like council tax and gas bills), and most of the rest can be handled online. But some companies will still insist on sending you letters. If you can’t find a sympathetic and trustworthy friend to open your mail, companies like Scan My Post will scan and send it to you for as little as £12 per month.

Sending post can be handled online too: just email a PDF to PC2Paper, and they’ll print and send it anywhere in the world for a small fee. If you need to sign a form, just scan your signature and add it to a PDF using the free software Foxit Reader.

Before you leave home, it’s a good idea to scan all your important documents and upload them to a cloud storage solution like Dropbox so you can access them anywhere in the world. The only physical documents you’ll ever need are your passport and your driving license (both parts if you want to hire a car).

Have you successfully taken your business location-independent? If not, what problems do you think would hold you back? Let us know in the comments.

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