As a startup founder and CEO constantly crossing borders and traversing time zones, I’ve worked under high-stress conditions, to say the least. But I’ve also built relationships with fascinating people, been exposed to wildly different perspectives, and gotten inspired beyond belief. If you’re able to work remotely, I’d highly recommend traveling even when you can’t take time off.
To maximize the benefits of travel without all the headaches, I’ve discovered some best practices over the years. Here’s how you can use your excursions to your advantage, even as they cut into your work hours and get you into some crazy predicaments.
1. Just accept it: Shit will happen.
It’s impossible to plan for everything, so you’ve just got to face it: You will probably lose your WiFi connection in the middle of a Skype meeting, be late to a meeting because your flight was delayed, get lost in the forest and miss hours of work… the possibilities are endless. Stay calm and accept it. It’s part of the process.
In fact, imagine that your inability to work serves a purpose. Maybe losing Internet will let you write something great without any interruptions. Maybe there’s an adventure you’d miss out on if you were buried in your laptop. Your attitude toward these situations will dictate the outcome, so keep it positive.
2. Be honest about the shit that’s happening.
If you go missing when someone expects to get in touch with you, tell the truth. If you anticipate that happening, warn them in advance. Instead of trying to make it through a meeting when you can barely hear someone, reschedule. Since so many people are working on the go nowadays, they’re usually understanding. Reassure yourself that you’ve done everything you can to make it work, then accept that the rest is outside your control.
3. Give your team a heads up.
Provide the people relying on you with as much detail as you can as far in advance as possible. Let them know where you’ll be, when you will and won’t be working, how you can be reached, and what to do if they can’t reach you.
4. Make a plan.
Talk to your coworkers to figure out how they’ll carry on in your absence. Decide who might take over the tasks you’re normally charged with. Which ones should they forge ahead with when you’re not around to give feedback, and which should they wait for your approval on? I’ll tell my colleagues, for example, to send me emails at the end of each workday with a list of things they need from me so I can get to them when I’m back to work.
5. Figure out what schedule suits you.
Instead of forcing yourself into a 9-5 schedule in every time zone, discover when you naturally sleep and wake up. Don’t over-commit yourself in the beginning. After a period of sleeping when you’re tired and waking up when you’re rested, you’ll get a sense of what works for you and can plan accordingly. Until then, only schedule meetings for after you’ll get a chance to rest.
6. Prepare your gadgets for the trip.
Research ahead of time what you’ll need for your computer, phone, and other electronics to work in another place. These needs will be different for every country. If you’re traveling to Europe from the US, for example, you’ll want an adapter for your charger and either a SIM card or international phone plan. If you’ll need to access websites only available in your home country, download the Chrome plugin Unlimited Free VPN. And if you’ll need to talk to colleagues, choose a method that’s unlikely to have a shoddy connection. Skype has acted up on me a number of times, but WhatsApp usually works.
7. Block out working and non-working time.
When you don’t work from an office, it can get tempting to work non-stop no matter where you are. On the flip side, when you’re excited to explore a new place, it can get tempting to ditch work altogether. To avoid both scenarios, decide when you’ll work and when you’ll play. I like to work from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. or noon, take the afternoon to myself, and spend two hours answering emails at night. I let people know I won’t be available the rest of the time so my attention isn't divided. Don’t feel bad about doing this. My periods of absence have forced my coworkers to take more responsibility, which has been good for everyone.
8. Leave your work in your suitcase.
During the times you’ve designated for exploration, don’t even think about work. Realizations have a way of reaching you when you’re not grasping for them. Stepping away from a problem helps you see the big picture, and travel provides a perfect opportunity to back up and focus on something else. If you really can’t get your mind off your job, try visiting the nearest body of water, floating on your back, and staring up at the sky. It sounds weird, but it works for me, so I don’t question it.
9. Practice your discipline.
Staying focused on work while traveling takes discipline, and discipline is like a muscle you can work out. Start by forcing yourself to engage in small acts of self-control, like waking up at a certain time, capping the amount of time your showers take, or putting away your phone before bed. Slowly, you’ll gain confidence in your discipline and understand how good it feels to follow your own rules. Once you have that motivation, following more and more rules gets easier and easier.
10. Stay open-minded.
This is really advice for anyone who’s traveling, but it’s worth stating here because the better your trips, the better the work that comes from them. Throw yourself into another culture even — no, especially — when it seems weird or scary. Street food might make you sick, but it’s cheap and delicious. Talking to strangers might make you uncomfortable, but it could lead to life-changing friendships. The more you experience, the more well-rounded and interesting a person you are, and the better your work becomes.