“At least sardines have space for tomato sauce between them!” The shocked lady said as we squeezed on a London commuter train. At least sardines swim around freely before they’re packed into tins, I thought. Ten years ago, I disliked having to go to work (understatement of the decade).
I’ve just arrived back from eight months in some of the world’s most beautiful places in Southeast Asia. All that time I was working for clients who were stuck behind desks in London. I was able to deliver the same service as if I was working from the next cubicle.
Did my clients know? Some did; some didn’t. It’s irrelevant – they only cared about the work. However, I met many people in Southeast Asia who’d found ingenious ways to escape the rat race.
Here are some tips about how to do it – how to escape the cold winter months of Western Europe and North America and come back with more money than you left.
Leave work and freelance for your boss
Freelancing is often the first step to entrepreneurship. It can be easier than you think to negotiate this with the company you work for now.
Of course, after turning freelance you have no job security. Your old boss could end your contract at a moment’s notice and you’ll be left without income. But, hey, you could also lose your job and be left without income a month later.
Always have several months worth of salary in your back pocket before you do something like this. You should also freelance in your spare time as much as you can before the “big jump”.
Everyone has different overheads, family scenarios and responsibilities. Only you can decide how much money you need to take to get there and how much money you need to make while you’re there.
Don’t forget your laptop!
You’ve got your money, booked your tickets and packed your sunscreen? Good. I’m assuming you can do your job on a laptop. This isn’t a reliable statistic but, as far as I could see on my travels, 90% or more of the location independent workers I saw use MacBooks.
From here on it’s all about communication: Email, calls and Skype.
Increased globalisation should make us all more timezone-aware. But for some reason, these hourly differences seem to confuse the heck out of me.
Look at it this way. The sun moves from east to west. (OK, brainiac, I know the earth’s actually rotating but this makes it easier to visualize).
So the day starts in Asia where you’ll be living (it up – Southeast Asia: cheap, wonderful people, good wifi). This mercifully means that however hard you party the night before, you’ll always be able to respond to email requests from the European early birds.
It took me a while to get my head around this so I have World Time Buddy as a permanently open tab in my browser. You can choose four timezones. I was constantly checking Bangkok, London, New York and San Francisco times. That seemed to cover all bases and ensure I didn’t email at 4am – that really gives the game away. 🙂
Confirm call appointments with .ics files
Use some sort of online calendar to schedule meetings –Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar or Apple Calendar will do.
If you schedule an event and email guests this will automatically add the local time to your guests calendar. Similarly, when you receive an invite with an .ics file you can import it to your calendar. See below for how this works with Google Calendar:
My online calendar works out timezone differences ten times better than my brain does.
Skype call best practices
Test the wifi speeds of hotel lobbies, restaurants and co-working spaces within a 10 minute tuk-tuk ride of your tropical paradise hideaway. You will soon find a favorite location with decent speeds and ambience.
Here are the minimum bandwidth requirements for Skype. Of course, it depends how many of you on the call, if you’re sharing screens and so on but I find, with a 0.5 MBps upload speed, you’ll be OK. (It’s all about the upload: get a decent upload speed and you’ll always be OK for download).
Wear polo tops and short sleeve shirts which wouldn’t look out of place in an office and yet are comfortable wear in the tropics.
You need to own your handset. This may mean paying well-over-the-odds to extricate yourself from a monthly payment scheme, but it’ll be worth it.
Your phone should be unlocked as you can pick up cheap Pay As You Go SIMs in most airports. This will give you a local number and access to 3G at reasonable prices.
You can then use excellent services such as Didlogic to get a phone number that’s based in any country and pay a few cents per minute for it to be forwarded to your phone in paradise.
What’s the worst thing that could happen? Someone steals your laptop and phone. Fortunately, this potential disaster can be mitigated. Online backup of a terabyte is now affordable (around $100/year on Dropbox or Drive). All Androids and iPhones have back-up systems in place – check to see if this is set up correctly.
You can do it
You can swap the cubicle for paradise. It takes organisation, hard work and persistence. But it’s not as difficult as you might imagine. I first learned location independence by working from cafés near where I lived in London.
What do you think? Is this life for you? Are you worried about getting sand in the laptop? What is holding you back?