This is a guest post by Amy Louise Stevens. Amy went to the same university as I did in Salford, England, but she now lives in Tarragona, Spain, and works as a freelance translator. In this post, Amy shares her experiences of being a digital nomad as she travelled through Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Macedonia. So many people ask me how it is possible to work and travel at the same time, and so I feel that this is a really worthwhile and useful topic. Not only that, but Amy is super lovely and super intelligent, so why wouldn’t I want her to write something for me?! If you would like to use Amy’s translation services, or even just read her blog, then be sure to head on over to her website, Amy Stevens Translations!
My First Experience as A Digital Nomad
Travelling when you want and still being able to earn a living? That’s a dream for many, and it’s become increasingly more popular in recent years with the improvement of internet accessibility and communications. I personally wouldn’t call myself a digital nomad because I don’t think I qualify really, considering I don’t travel very frequently, although I travel more than your average nine-to-five employee. In the two and half years that I’ve been self-employed I’ve combined work and travel a lot, but never really specifically for the purpose of travelling and seeing the world. I worked while travelling when I did a four-month study period in Paris as part of my master’s degree. I travelled to Brescia in the north of Italy last year for a conference, and I’ve worked while travelling to visit family in the UK. Having coped well while travelling for these purposes, I wanted to try working remotely while travelling for touristic purposes.
In March of this year, I visited Budapest in Hungary, Skopje in Macedonia, Bratislava in Slovakia and Sofia in Bulgaria during a two-week period, working from cafés, hostels and airports. I’m not going to discuss what I liked about each place, as the focus of this post is my experience with the more practical considerations. In the meantime, Dani has written some interesting posts on some of these locations so check those out here and here.
I think it goes without saying that I enjoyed my experience. For me, travelling is profoundly rewarding in so many ways that even when I’ve had a bad day on a trip, I still feel grateful for the experience. I think this is probably because I’m never really too bothered about where I’m going, because I think there’s always something to learn and enjoy wherever you go. Before I went to Skopje, I didn’t know anything about it, but it turned out to be one of my favourite cities in Europe that I’ve visited. There is one thing I would do differently when planning any future trips but before we get to that, there are some practical considerations, and these can vary depending on your job and where you are based.
Organisation While Travelling
I’m quite organised anyway so I didn’t expect this to be a challenge. However, visiting four cities in two weeks can distract even the most methodical minds, so I did quickly learn that I needed to keep on top of this while travelling, more so than I would normally when working from home. One thing I was thankful for was that I travelled at the beginning of the month, and therefore, inadvertently avoided having to translate, respond to emails, travel AND do invoicing all at the same time. I didn’t plan it this way but once I was travelling, I decided that I would plan any future trips with this in mind. Everyone is different but, aside from the part of the month I travelled in, I found the following to be very useful:
A diary, whether digital or paper. I have one anyway, but I know many people who don’t use one in their normal working day. While travelling it was indispensable, as I could see all at once what projects I had, when they were due, how long it would take and what other activities I had planned. This way I could confirm availability, or lack thereof, after just a quick glance at my diary.
Identify possible work “slots”. Before I left for Budapest, my first destination, I identified times I absolutely could not work due to flights or planned activities, and times I more than likely would have nothing better to do than work and marked them in colour in my diary. For example, time spent in airports is time I would usually work because there’s often not much else to do in airports other than read and eat. My method isn’t very tidy, and I’ll probably try to improve that for next time, but in general it helped a lot.
Insurance and Security
As a British and, for the time being, EU citizen, I didn’t need medical insurance for three of the four countries I visited. Macedonia is not part of the EU, so I took out travel insurance for health coverage. Aside from medical and accident insurance, I wanted to make sure my laptop was covered, should the worst happen. It’s the main piece of equipment I use to earn a living, so I felt it was worth the extra expense to ensure that the laptop was covered. Another thing I had to consider was the security of the data I was carrying with me. This depends greatly on what your work is and how you do your accounts, but in my case, this is relevant because I translate medical and pharmaceutical documents and handle confidential information. This is especially important now, with the new regulation on personal data procesing coming into effect in the EU on the 25th of May 2018. I was aware of this when I planned my trip, so I took steps to ensure my laptop was always safe. I stayed in hostels which had lockers with a key or a padlock, and I took a padlock with me. I never left my computer unattended, it was always either in my backpack with me or in a locked suitcase, inside a locked locker. Also, and maybe this goes without saying, my computer is password protected.
Internet and Workspace Availability
Generally speaking, I had no problem with finding places to work. More specifically, Budapest was very digital nomad friendly in that regard, as I found that most cafés had stable wi-fi and at least one person working or studying there. My favourite place to work from was Madal Café, just across the bridge from the Citadella. The only place I had a little difficulty finding somewhere outside the hostel to work was Skopje, as a lot of restaurants and cafés there didn’t have wi-fi or did but didn’t give the impression that the area was to be used for working. However, I was very lucky that it was the down-season while I was there, and I was the only guest in the hostel on three of the four nights I was there, so I worked from the hostel. One thing I didn’t consider was the possibility of working from co-workings, so that’s something I’ll look into for future trips. This aspect varies wildly depending on where you are visiting. I’ve heard that in some cultures it is considered rude to use a laptop in a café, but that wasn’t the case in the places I visited. It’s worth researching before you go to see if there are co-workings or café which are happy to let you work there.
One Thing I Would Do Differently
One feeling I had in some of the places I visited was that I didn’t get enough time to see everything I wanted to see. To many seasoned travellers, this probably seems obvious because many would consider that you need more than 4 days to see Budapest, or any of the other cities I visited, especially if you’re working while travelling. I personally think that no amount of time is ever enough to get what I really want out of travelling – to learn about the culture. With this in mind, I try to see important monuments and a few museums which interest me most. However, for future trips I think I will try to spend a little longer in each city, so I can be more flexible for any unexpected activities that might crop up. In Skopje, I was told that Ohrid was beautiful and a must-see destination in Macedonia, but I just did not have time. I had a similar experience in Sofia, as I would have liked to visit Plovdiv with the trip organised by my hostel. Knowing this, I will now try to plan for the things I want to see but leave an extra day or two for spontaneous activities.
That pretty much wraps up my pearls of wisdom about my first experience working while travelling. I definitely plan to do it again, although I don’t have any concrete plans just yet. I do have a trip planned in October, as I’ll be attending the Mediterranean Editors and Translators Meeting 2018 in Girona, Spain. I’ve never been to Girona so I’m excited about that, although I recognise this is not a typical digital nomad trip.
If you have any questions, suggestions or comments about my experience, I’d love to hear them! Happy travels!