How to Manage Your Work While Traveling

Being able to throw your laptop in a bag and set up shop on a beach in Mexico is one of the things that attracts so many people to the freelance lifestyle. Thanks to innovations in technology and changes in the workforce, this dream is more attainable than ever. If you love being able to travel and work at the same time, it’s worth doing right so you can do great work and give your employer confidence that you’re a capable worker, no matter what time zone you’re in. How can you seamlessly manage your work life, whether you’re on the go for business or pleasure?

Check your company’s policies

When it comes to your own personal freelance clients, they probably already think that all you do is jet-set from one exotic locale to another, and hey, why don’t you drop them a postcard sometime? But if you’re working on an assignment through an agency or a recruiter, it’s always a good idea to run trips by your employer or the client, even if you are a 100% off-site freelancer. And if you’re using their equipment, this is an absolute must, since many firms have highly specific guidance to help keep their computers and networks safe.

Some companies will mandate that you are accountable for your computer at all times, which means either storing it securely or having it on your person and taking it as a carry-on if you fly. Depending on where you’re staying, you also might need a locking cable or some other means of securing your computer when you’re away from it.

Set yourself up for success

Before you even set one foot on the plane, GET ORGANIZED — it’s crucial if you’re working for multiple clients. Figure out your deadlines, deliverables, and meetings you’ll need to phone in to. Put notices in your calendar or create a to-do list; I, personally, am slightly paranoid that my technology is going to fail me at a critical moment, so I do everything with color-coded post-it notes. Use whatever system works for you. If you’re hopping time zones, take a moment to make sure things are happening when you think they are.

The best way to make sure the work goes smoothly is to touch base with your clients (and their client) and set expectations. Assure them that you’re staying on top of your assignments and other obligations, let them know the best times to get in touch with you, and make the experience as seamless as if you were just working down the street.

You’ll probably want to study up on your cell phone service so you don’t end up with hundreds of dollars of roaming fees on your phone bill. With travel abroad, it might be worth the extra expense of adding International Calling to your plan (but you’ll have to do this while you’re still in the U.S.). Ideally, you’ll be able to take advantage of WiFi, rather than having to use your phone’s data. Many services offer portable WiFi services internationally — check to see if your destination is among the countries that are covered. And if that’s not an option, scope out the restaurants, cafes and shops in your area that have public WiFi.

Make sure of all the technical details in advance

If you’re planning to travel abroad, particularly to Europe or Asia, you’ll need to purchase an adapter plug so you can power up and charge your phone and laptop. This handy-dandy guide from REI is the most comprehensive one I’ve ever seen; conveniently, they also offer a number of inexpensive, portable adapter options.

If you’re traveling on business, expense modestly

When you travel, many companies will give you a per diem, or a daily amount for expenses like meals, snacks, and coffees. Say, for example, you are given a per diem of $50 for lunch — so can you eschew your normal Subway sandwich and instead blow the entire allotment at Le Pain Quotidien? You could, but you probably shouldn’t. It’s a good idea to stick with the kind of fare you’re eating at home. It’s tempting to view work travel as vacation, but remember, if you’re a freelancer, you should try to make a good impression at every opportunity.

What can and can’t be expensed varies wildly between companies, so if you are traveling on business, review the company policy beforehand and plan accordingly.

If you’re traveling for business but you’re doing so as an independent contractor/1099 employee, be sure to hold on to all your receipts and document everything extensively so you’ll have no problems when you file your taxes for that year.

If you’re going to take a vacation, TAKE A VACATION

Life is too short for nothing but work! Work/life balance is good for your mental health (not to mention your creativity), so unplug, relax, and see the sights. Hopefully, you’ve built in some time away from work and run it by your employer before you’ve departed. You might still want to check in occasionally: It shows your clients you’re conscientious and professional — and you can continue to enjoy the freedom of working wherever your travels take you.

Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.