5 Things Learned While Working from 5 Cities Around the World

This year my family started our semi-nomadic life taking advantage of our freedom of location. We’ve worked diligently for our family of 5 to be able to live, work, and school from anywhere in the globe with an internet connection.

Or ideal itinerary is to alternate 2 to 3 months traveling and 2 to 3 months home in San Antonio, Texas. We’re not interested in being fully nomadic because we have connections to family, friends, and church we want to keep strong.

It’s important for me to be able to work while we’re on the road since it’s my work that funds our travel. I’m still growing my plugin business so our monthly income currently comes from building custom WooCommerce plugins.

The technical requirements of my work are the same at home as they are on the road: my laptop, good wifi, headphones and a myriad of software and online services I use every day. But, there are other factors beyond technology that will affect how much quality work gets shipped.

So far in 2014 I’ve visited 8 cities in 5 countries. Here’s five things I learned from five of the places that I’ve worked this year.


1. London, England – Fast travel doesn’t work

My family spent seven days total in London. We call it Fast Travel when we’re in a city for a short period of time – less than 10 days. It was our first week of a Europe trip so I knew we’d be busy acclimating to the timezone, getting used to living urban, and spending time being tourists.

Because I knew we’d be in London a only a week I planned ahead and set myself up to effectively be on vacation mode. I checked email from our AirBnb flat every other day, didn’t schedule any projects to start that week, and communicated to clients that I wouldn’t be in contact.

One week of fast travel worked into a longer travel itinerary is fine, but consistently switching to a new location every few days while trying to run a business just wouldn’t work. Unless you’ve already been to the place you’re visiting and know what to expect with the work conditions there are too many variables that can stop you from working. Your apartment could be without wifi, or have very slow connections. You or someone in your family could get sick. There could be power outages. Or you could be just too tired to get anything done.

To ensure that you get your work done be sure to block out work time in your itinerary along with travel, touring, and rest days.


2. Sofia, Bulgaria – Working together is fun!

Recently the number of project I had increased and I needed to get some help. I was referred to Jeroen Sormani, a Dutch WooCommerce coder. I had plans to go to WordCamp Europe so I suggested we attend the conference together and stay extra time to work on projects in person.

After the WordCamp we spent part of a day looking at the same laptop talking over projects and discussing things like code standards, editors, and plugin organization. There’s usually several thousand miles and six or seven hours of distance between us so getting some time to work side-by-side was invaluable to getting to know each other. I’m a diehard remote-work fanboy, but there’s magic in getting to meet in-person every now and then.


3. Berlin, Germany – Find a place to work

Before our three week stay in Berlin I had tweeted a question asking if anyone knew of good coworking spaces in Berlin. I was referred to Co.Up and spent most of my time there. It was my first time working for so long from the same coworking space. Because I traveled with my wife, 3 kids and a nanny it was imperative for me to find somewhere quiet to work.

I enjoyed the process of leaving our flat, walking to the S-Bahn, riding for a few stops with a view of the Spree river and the Kreuzberg neighborhood, then walking up to the 4th floor where the coworking space was.

Co.Up has fast internet speeds, external monitors, and a refrigerator full of Club Mate! All of this combined with having a several hour head start on the day before the US East Coast woke up made this my most productive time.

Wherever you travel seek out a coworking space or some kind of proper office separate from your living space that will be your place to focus and get stuff done.


4. Paris, France – Set good boundaries

Everything about Paris is cool. The city is gorgeous and it is a total postcard city. We were there a month, but we only did a fraction of the myriad of things to do.

Our flat was very central, in the 4th Arrondissement, but also very small at 600 sqft. Cramming three kids under the age of seven into such a tiny space makes working from home impossible. Thankfully I found a coworking space that was a 15 minute walk from our flat.

My walk to work took me past the Centre Pompidou which is one of my favorite buildings in the world. I’d listen to my music, people watch, take snapshots of the quaint alleyways, and enjoy being in the beautiful city. The coworking space had plenty of desks, and even had snacks and on-site baristas to make coffee all included in the daily price.

The problem with this picture perfect setup was that although I spent several hours ‘working’ I didn’t get anything done. I needed to code or write estimates for clients, but all I wanted to do was people watch or leave early to enjoy my walk back to our flat.

One day my wife and I saw on Twitter that the movie Mockingjay was being filmed in Paris. I cut my day short and we took our kids on a 40 min train ride to the film location to take pictures and try to catch a glimpse of an actor.

My lack of boundaries and letting my desire to enjoy springtime in Paris made that month the worst money month this year. I now have a set number of hours to work each day and I make sure to get work finished before doing fun stuff.

New York

5. New York City, USA – Don’t try and start a new project on the road

I’ve found this to be true for me and your mileage may vary. If you are planning on doing any touring on your trip along with doing normal work you won’t have time to do the heavy lifting needed by new projects.

In my trips this year I traveled with a heavy microphone, tripod, and camera thinking I’d work on some side projects that I’ve had on the docket for a year. I thought I’d work on them in my ‘down time’. Truth is that there is very little downtime while traveling except for when you’re sleeping. On our current trip I planned on working no more than 3-4 hours per day so that the rest of the day could be spent living life in our temporary city.

I thought working in the morning and playing in the afternoon would leave me plenty of time for side projects at night. In reality I got my work and play done, but then was flat out exhausted come the evening so I didn’t make any progress on my side projects. Helping my wife parent our three small kids probably had something to do with this, but I’ve learned my lesson to not try and do new projects from the road.

If you’re a digital nomad I’d love to hear how you get work done when you’re on the road!