Should You Work Remotely Abroad?
As the sun rises over Volcán Osorno, I can see a glimmer of sunlight speckled across Lago Llanquihue. My breath is heavy as I finish my final set of burpees, but the day ahead is waiting for me to seize it. As I walk home to the hostel, I smell the brisk spring air and imagine the possibilities for the weekend. Then I sit down at my laptop and work for 8-9 hours. For all the sexiness that comes with working remotely, I feel the second word, "remotely," is always the focus, but "working" is by far the most important. So what's it like?
1. It can be really lonely if you aren't proactive about it. I got my first taste of this in Santiago. God only knows why, but I didn't shell out the dough to work in a coworking space. I found a lightning fast wifi connection outside a Starbucks at the huge city mall, and I'd walk there every day for two weeks. I almost lost my mind. This was not what living in Chile and enjoying my job was supposed to be like. Things got better in Valparaíso at the Dinamarca cowork, where I met two great dudes who I became good friends with. Dinamarca, however, still wasn't perfect. Having friends was great, but from 9-5 (excluding lunch), I was interacting exclusively with my laptop. Sad. There just wasn't anyone else in the cowork. There were 11 desks (I was at #3), but the other ten were empty 99% of the time. I finally hit my working stride in Pucón. If you're attempting to work remote, this is the type of situation you want to start with. Trust me and save yourself 8 months. In Pucón, there was a cowork (aptly named Cowork Pucón) that had insanely fast wifi and there were 8 other people in the office. Then, I was staying in a hostel only a 15 minute walk away (Chili Kiwi), and the staff there became my closest friends. I had a network of people where I worked and outside of work, and it was perfect. In summation:
- Find a city you want to be in.
- Find a cowork that has legit wifi and see if you can work there for a day to test it out and meet people (downloads > 30 mbps, uploads > 8mbps).
- Stay in a hostel, at least at first. You don't have to be in the dorms, just be in an environment to meet people, especially the staff.
- When you want to move, rinse and repeat. If you want to stay, get an apartment.
2. Logistics, logistics, logistics. My boss can attest to this: it took me four solid months (maybe longer?) to get back into my same level productivity, attention to detail, and proactivity as I had been in the states. When Erin and I first moved down here, we were planning on bopping around Chile, spending up to 2 weeks at a time in various locales, and just living the free life. Not only does that make it super hard to create deep and lasting bonds with people, it's also a fucking logistical nightmare if you're working full time. Things to consider are: Where will you be staying and do they have room for the entire duration of your stay? Where will you be working? Will the grocery store near there be decent enough that you aren't stuck eating shitty pasta for 14 nights straight? If you're worrying about all of these things + working a full 40 hour work week, you're gonna have a bad time. We've solved this by staying in each city for at least a month. It affords us the opportunity to meet locals and other travelers, and we get to know a city in a much deeper sense. If you don't take time to breath in a place, you'll never get out of planning mode, and you'll be stuck in a high state of stress, which makes you suck at being good at your job.
3. It's fun AF. When we were about a month into our time in Chile, I thought we would only last six months here. Finding good internet was a pain in the ass, I had a horrible respiratory infection, and dreams of surfing in the morning and working during the day seemed like they would remain just that: dreams. I missed my friends and family, and Erin and I were still getting used to spending every waking hour in each other's company. We were constantly asking ourselves "what the hell are we doing?" As I right this, it's been eight months, and I'm kind of freaking out that we've only got three and a half months left. During the week, we work. It's actually pretty normal. Last Friday after work Erin and I went out for ice cream, sat on the beach with some other travelers to watch the stray dogs play around, and then cooked dinner and went to a barbecue with some local english teachers. Standard Friday. The day before that, we just went for a short walk and cooked dinner. It's fun, but it's not like "holy shit we're in Chile" 100% of the time. On the weekends, though, is when we get our kicks in. The benefit of being somewhere new every month is that the opportunities to hike, explore, drive, surf, etc. are endless. It's perfect.
Working remotely and doing it right doesn't mean a constant vacation (although I think some of my friends think that's all that I do). It means working, first and foremost, and then wringing every last drop of fun and love and wonder from your location while you're there. If you have the opportunity, do it.