Maybe you have to squeeze in some email during your holiday. Maybe you’re one of those much-envied digital nomads and work from anywhere you roam. Whatever your scenario, if you have to work and travel at the same time, it can be a challenge to balance both. Here’s how.
Photo by Wilerson S Andrade
Front-Load Your Tasks
If you have a job that allows you to work in advance or set your own schedule, you can try to get as much done as possible before you leave. Give yourself a couple of extra hours each day the week before you leave to do the following week’s work. This way, you give yourself buffer time while you’re away. Of course, if you go this route, you also want to be mindful of deadlines and prioritise anything that’s due while you’re away. Even when I know I’ll have time to work during a trip, I try to get my deadlines done in advance, just in case something pops up. Front-loading is my own go-to solution, but it’s not perfect.
For one, it’s easy to take your front-loading too far. Instead of writing an article or two before I leave, I’ll try to cram in a week’s worth of extra work. This makes for a really stressful week leading up to the trip, and I usually don’t finish everything I set out to do. As a result, I start my trip feeling unaccomplished and constantly distracted by work.
You can limit your front-loading with a little time-budgeting, though. Calculate how much time you’ll spend working during your trip, then subtract that from your normal schedule and try to squeeze in the difference before you leave. For example, during a recent trip back home, I knew I’d probably spend 28 hours that week working. My typical work week is 40, so I had to front-load 12 hours’ worth of work. I worked a full day over the weekend and a few hours during the week to make it happen.
Book the Right Flight
You don’t want jet lag to cut into your work or travel time, so pick a flight that works well with your schedule. Even better, use your flight time strategically and catch up on sleep or work. Here’s what business site Unreasonble.is suggests:
The trick is learning to buy aeroplane tickets based on the time difference. For example, if I’m flying from the U.S. to London, and it’s a seven-hour difference, I’ve found that it’s better to book an early morning flight. Then, I will deprive myself of sleep until I get on the plane (i.e. work all night until my 7:00 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. flight), pass out for the duration of the flight, and land in the morning ready to go. It’s a great way to get a ton of work done before you fly out and then feel rested and on the right time zone when you land. I do this for my return flight as well.
Of course, your own time frames are going to vary depending on your destination time zones, but there are a couple of other factors you might want to consider. For one, consider the hours you’re required to be online, if any. If your boss needs you to be at your computer from, say, 7:00-11:00AM, you may want to choose a flight well after that time or at least pick a flight with Wi-Fi. Your peak hours matter, too. If you work well in the morning, you may not want to pick a flight that lands at 9:00AM because you’ll spend the next few hours getting out of an airport and to your destination when you could be productive.
Bottom line, since your time is already stretched thin between work and travel, be strategic about the flights you book, and what you try to do when you’re on board.
Let People Know You’re Travelling
Even when I know someone is working while they travel, I always appreciate an out of office reply that reminds me that I might not get a quick response, or lets me know when I will get a response.
Like any other out of office reply, you might include the hours when you’ll be available, how quickly someone can expect a response and when you’ll be back in the office. Either way, it helps people know why you might be slow to reply even if you’re not technically on holiday.
It limits your workload, too. If people know you’re away, they’re probably less likely to bombard you and you’ll also feel less pressure to reply immediately. This way, you can get your work done and go out and explore without being distracted by the time-sink of email. You can catch up on that email during your flight home.
Set Some Boundaries
Our own Stephanie Lee spent months travelling and working at the same time, and she said it was crucial to establish boundaries. Stephanie said she created a schedule where she’d work until noon, then go out and explore. She gave herself one day to do whatever she wanted. During the week, when she was tempted to break her schedule, she reminded herself she had one day to herself to explore as she pleased.
When you’re in a new place, it’s tempting to forget your work and just go and explore. On the other hand, you can also work so much that you never take time to enjoy your travel, either. When you stick to a schedule, you get the best of both worlds. Of course, a lot of unexpected things can come up when you travel: You get lost on public transportation and spend an hour getting back to your hotel. Your old friend from university finds out you’re in town and wants to grab a beer. Buffer some of this time into your schedule so that, even when you miss out on a couple of hours, you still get stuff done.
Bring the Right Tools with You
During a recent trip, my laptop’s Wi-Fi kept acting up on certain public networks, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to fix it. Obviously, this cut into my work time, not to mention it was frustrating.
It was, however, a good reminder that the right tools can make your life a lot easier when you travel and work at the same time. For example:
- A mobile hotspot (unless you want to use your phone for tethering) so you can get online anywhere.
- Mobile battery packs in case your phone dies while you’re on the go.
- Cable shorteners so you don’t have to dig around and untangle a mess of headphones and chargers.
- A Grid-It to neatly organise all of your tools.
There’s no shortage of travel gadgets out there, and your own needs will vary, but these are some general tools that will make life easier for just about anyone who has to work while they travel.
Take Advantage of Downtime
You want to optimise your time as much as possible when you’re travelling so you can get your work done and then enjoy your downtime. For example, you might:
- Catch up on your emails while you’re on the train.
- If you’re travelling with someone else, finish up some tasks while they’re getting ready.
- Take calls while you’re walking from your hotel to a nearby attraction.
At the same time, you don’t want to take this too far. When travelling with my partner last year, he complained that I was constantly on my phone getting work done when we had any downtime — waiting in line at a restaurant, walking back to the hotel and so on. He was right — not only was this rude, I wasn’t fully present or enjoying the trip. Again, it helps to set some boundaries before you leave. Decide what counts as “downtime” and decide what kind of work you’ll need to get done. If you’re travelling with someone else, let them know about these rules beforehand so they’re prepared, too.
Finally, my favourite way to work and enjoy travel at the same time is to work outside of from my hotel room. It’s easy to hole up in there with room service and pay TV, or go downstairs and work from the business centre. When you head to a local coffee shop or bar, though, you usually get a better sense of the city. You still get your stuff done, but you explore a new spot at the same time. It can be stressful to balance both activities at first, but with some planning, it’s pretty easy to fit work and travel into your trip.