We are aware of how lucky we are to be able to travel around the world. And yet, we cringe a bit when our trip is called a vacation. Part of our reaction is that we work 15-40 hours each week at jobs in our respective fields. This requirement alone means that in each place we go:
- We must have internet. If internet goes down – whether in the entire city or just in our apartment or hotel, we have to find an alternative place to work. Sometimes, that means trying to somehow locate an internet cafe. Other times, it means creepily walking along a row of restaurants as we try to find networks on my cell phone. Then, there’s the embarrassment of being the only ones there on our computers (and having a few conference calls from there!) and the fun of forcing yourself to order when you’re not at all hungry. We visited one restaurant in Dubrovnik so many times that I thought they were just going to put a permanent hold on our credit card.
- We need power. Our computer batteries are not infinite, so we need somewhere to charge. A lot of countries don’t have power outlets in public places – even in cafes. Sometimes, that means working for an hour, running home to charge, and then going to another cafe to work for another hour.
- We need to alter our hours – so we can be on conference calls or overlap with team members. No matter how early you go to bed, it is difficult to be lucid and intelligent in your field at five in the morning, for example. Add to that not having eaten breakfast or had tea/coffee yet, and you can imagine the difficulty of sounding professional. I write a lot for my job, so I often have to re-read my work several times to make sure I wrote coherent sentences when trying to function that early. It also means that we visit different places, or skip certain things, because they aren’t possible with our schedule.
- We also have to respect the rules of the places we stay. For example, Japanese apartments or hotels have very thin walls, sometimes made of paper screens. Moreover, it is not considered polite or common to talk on the phone in the house: people go outside to make calls, so as not to bother others. So, I can’t be on a conference call in the house, but if the call is at five or six in the morning, there are no cafes or restaurants open to patronize. I would simply stand outside holding my computer (and creeping people out), but I need internet to be on a (VoIP) call, and most outdoor places don’t have strong wifi.
- We need somewhere to sit – for each of us. This is harder than it seems: working while sitting in bed is killer on our backs, for example. (Did I mention how old I feel some days?) And B starts to have carpal tunnel issues if he goes too long without using a mouse or a divided keyboard, so a few feet of desk space is ideal.
Those are a lot of things to address just to be able to work, and they’ve come up on an almost-daily basis over the year that we’ve been traveling.
Also notable is that the realities of day-to-day life don’t go away with this kind of travel: they often just get harder to do, since we don’t know the area or the language.
- We still do household chores. Whether it’s taking out trash or grocery shopping or cooking or washing laundry (very often), we do some of the same everyday things we did in the US. In many places, laundry includes hanging things to dry by hand or washing things in the sink. And our gear sometimes wears or breaks, since we use it so often, so we have to find replacements.
- We still do life chores. We still check our credit card statements or pay for car insurance or call businesses back home to work things out. We still research and buy birthday, Christmas, and baby gifts. Sometimes, we spend hours looking for a post office. I once woke myself up at three in the morning just to be able to call an office in the Midwest of the US.
- We still keep in touch with family and friends. This can mean staying up late to call someone or spending time posting photos or writing long e-mails. Sometimes, VoIP goes out, and I have to call someone back three times just to have a fifteen minute conversation.
- Travel planning. This is more extensive than people might imagine.
- Actual travel. From figuring out a city’s metro system to making sure we have the right public transit card to paying for a bus, this takes time and energy.
- Packing. Every week or two, we have to re-pack our bags, from clothes and toiletries to food and equipment.
- This blog. One hundred and seventy-five posts is nothing to sneeze at.
(To be fair, we get to skip commuting, house cleaning, and socializing – though that last one is not a positive.) None of this changes how lucky we are, and how this all would have been impossible even fifteen years ago. But it’s also a lot of work on our part, and sometimes, it’s just nice to acknowledge that.