A Little Confession… It’s Been Hard to Work Remotely While Traveling

Last updated on October 14, 2017

When I planned my year around the world I was most focused on the actual planning details. It was so hard to find long-term travel planning information online, which is why I collected all the nitty gritty details of handling my mail, my taxes, what to pack and more. Once I had figured it out and hit the road, I figured the hardest parts were behind me. I didn’t realize that handling my online job while exploring the world would prove difficult, at times.

The casual jabs from other travelers have been just a part of it. When I am in the hostels plugged into the wifi and in “total focus” zone, some other backpackers have taken it as a personal affront. No one is traveling with a laptop, I see maybe one other traveler a week passing through with one in hand. Most people are truly on vacation. But that’s not what I signed up for when I left. By not completely saving for this trip, instead I would maintain my online SEO clients while on the road for a year, I decided to spend about 25 hours a week working and the rest seeing the sights, going on the breathtaking hikes, etc.

I am in the minority, however, and that is hard for people to understand. I was uncommonly lucky to find such steady online work while I was still at university, back in 2005. This job has been my saving grace for years now, allowing me to pursue my acting dreams by picking up and moving to LA, and then allowing me to sell everything and travel the world with a mere five months notice.

Hanging solo in Scotland as I bum around the country in the weeks before the Fringe Festival

When I first planned my round the world, I knew that I would need longer in each spot. Some backpackers move cities every few days, but I built into my trip several extra days in one spot each week. I was in it for the long haul and I would need recuperation and organization days, days filled with just planning things out on the internet, posting stories to this blog, touching base with the family, and working. I would need two and a half days every week just for work. Seems like a small price to pay in throughout the year, and it has been — such a small price, such big reward.

And by now, as this trip nears to a close, I’ve added in extra days just to be. Days where I sit in a cozy hostel lounge with a cup of piping hot tea and either a good book (I have averaged two books a week on the road) or solid WiFi intended for surfing the internet and watching movies, not just for work.

Because I am tired. I am grateful, too. That is first and foremost, but I am tired of the pace of life I have maintained for ten months. I am tired of constantly hunting down a solid WiFi connection for my job, when at home it would just work. I am tired of making new friends every day, but yet telling the same stories every day. It wearisome to be on the constant search for new and travel fatigue has surely take hold of me.

My mobile work station — yes, that is a string holding up my computer screen since the hinges broke a month ago.

I still find joy in the new and the interesting. I am still so excited to be visiting the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, an event that is completely living up to the lofty expectations I had heaped upon it in anticipation. The joy is there, but I have adjusted my life and travels to fit me, my current mood, and the time I need for my job.

For other long-term travelers or digital nomads, know that you are not alone out there. Sometimes I feel alone on this journey. Not only because I am spending longer in each place than most backpackers, and not only because I split my focus between traveling and working, and not because I haven’t seen my family in ten months. But because of the aggregate of all of that.

For others feeling travel weary, my advice is to take life a bit slower. A lot slower actually. Stop looking to the travelers around you for an idea of the pace you should travel, and instead ask yourself how fast you want to explore. It might be time for you to hole up somewhere and live for a bit in one spot.

The best advice that I’ve yet received in my months of travel planning and then actually traveling came from the Boots’n’All forums. When I submitted the first draft of my trip itinerary, other travelers were outright critical. They told me to slow it all way down and take out half of the places I had planned to visit. They said I would regret moving so quickly. They were right. I can’t imagine how I would have fit all of Scandinavia into my mere four months in Europe. And by spending longer in each country I have been able:

  • soak in more culture and have time to learn the stories of each place, to pick up the cadence of life.
  • spend longer in certain cities and relax rather than packing up and moving onward every two to three days.
  • stay sane. Again, it’s wearying to move locations every two days. Longer is better in a lot of cases. Not always, but a lot of the time.
  • take the advice of other travelers when they tell me: “Holy cow, ______ was awesome, you have to go there.”

I never would have thought it when planning my route, but in ten months of travel, I have never truly been ready to leave a country. There is still something that I want to see in nearly every place I’ve now visited — I could have spent weeks longer in Laos and I will return. India easily could have been my entire year of travel instead of two months. Bosnia & Herzegovina was so unexpectedly wonderful that I could have done much more hiking and exploring there, too. The list of sights and places I’d love to experience only grows longer the more time I am on the road.

12 thoughts on “A Little Confession… It’s Been Hard to Work Remotely While Traveling”

  1. We couldn't do without our laptop and bought it especially for our trip before we left. It is a link with home… a mobile office… and great entertainment for the kids in 'down time'. Like you say, we're not on vacation, we're traveling, not heading home in 2 weeks, actually not quite sure when we're heading home…. where is home?
    I think only travelers properly understand traveling.

  2. I absolutely agree with you and you are not the one thats sounds hoity toity…that would be the woman that attacked you for doing what you want and bygolly if you want to use your damn laptop then use your damn laptop! haha

  3. I agree with you completely. Travelling can be positively exhausting and you need to plan time to just “time out”. I have never done more than 4 weeks at a go (function of being employed!), and then not having to pack my bag EACH and EVERY morning and knowing what my bed for the next night looked like was a special treat.
    It is even more difficult when you are travelling for work – you put in a full day and then feel guilty that all you want to do is veg out with so much to explore and do. I’ve had to learn about moderation…

    • Yes, that is a theme for my future travels I think – a year in one go was an amazing experience, but now I think that even if I am on the rd I will settle down for a month at a time at points to keep down the burn-out factor.

  4. Hey Shannon! Loved this post. I started reading your blog after you posted a comment on mine. I see your Mekong River photo and it looks like you took the slow boat. Good choice!

    • Thanks! I found your blog as I was just following links and “favorites” and blog rolls and such. Beautiful pictures on the site – I will come back to see more stories as you post!

  5. Hey Shannon,

    You may not remember me, I was in Trailer 534 a lot and we met at Aimee and Curt’s halloween party last year where I heard all about your great plans and have been following your blog ever since! I know you’re no where near Asia right now, but I just wanted to let you know that I’m heading to Beijing to work at the end of August. If you ever find yourself traveling that way, I’d love to meet up with you; and you always have a place to stay.

    Best of luck with the rest of your travels!

    Oh, my blog is clairebalgemann.com/expat if you’re interested =)

  6. I never, ever travel without a laptop. It’s my lifeline to doing work while on the road and makes me a lighter traveler since it does so many things all-in-one and ultimately saves me time.

    Traveling isn’t constant motion and there’s plenty that has to be done everyday, no matter where you are. Nothing to feel guilty about!

    • Thanks for the support. I can’t imagine doing this trip without the laptop but I have caught a lot of flack from some people. Glad that you agree that it’s pretty much a necessity! And I agree that it is an all-in-one resource…at least it is when mine is too when it’s not being held together by string! :-)

  7. Ah – that is the worst. You can never force yourself to always get out there to see everything, but at the same time there are times when you just need to stay in too.

    A lot of people, I think, don’t understand how much work travel is. So many people have asked me, “aren’t you so excited for everything you’re going to do?” And I don’t know what to say. Sure I’m stoked to get out there again – but it’s a lot of work, and planning, and on the fly, every night, trying to find a new place to sleep, effort.

    I think people think RTW travellers simply have one giant vacation lined up. Honestly – without a laptop, I’m not sure I’d ever find a place to sleep for the night (or things worth doing – no room for travel guides on this tour.)

    • I agree! And I appreciate knowing that I’m not the only one. I just get down sometimes when other peeps I meet are so critical of the laptop!


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