What It's Really Like to Work Remotely

"Maybe it's only a dream job on paper..." said the pensive British traveller. 

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The reaction is always the same. “Holy shit you’ve scored a dream job.” It’s true, I’ve locked myself into a location-independent job. Call it a “digital nomad”, “Remote worker” or whatever suits. I’m lucky to have landed a job that I can do from my laptop. I’m taking advantage of this to the fullest by seeing as much of Southeast Asia as I can.

I’m just shy of thirty days in and I’ve learned a lot about what it’s really like to rock the “dream job.” The dream job has some frustrating dynamic downsides.

It's NOT at all the same as the traditional travelling. I'll explain... 

The first trio of British travellers I befriended in Malaysia took an interest to my job. I explained the set-up to them and they continued to ask questions. Inviting me along their plans for the following day. Considering it was a weekday, I was reluctantly forced to reject them in sake of work. After a few jabs about having “no boss,” and "no schedule," they backed down. They eventually agreed and understood that I couldn’t just skip out on a day of work. yay

“Maybe it’s just the dream job on paper...” Said one of the Brits pensively.

That’s when it hit me, this job wasn’t perfect.

The nature of working for someone is still very much in tact. The obligation to adhere to a schedule indisputably remains. That being said, there’s no job I’d rather have right now.

Let's break it down. Hammer time. 

THE GOOD 

I CAN WORK ANYWHERE (WITH WIFI!) 

The entire point really...

Being able to work from my laptop means I can theoretically go anywhere. Flight costs considered, the list of potential travel destinations just became kind of limitless. Insert GIF of an exploding mind. 

WORK LIFE BALANCE IS PRETTY GREAT

At the moment I’m clocking 30 hours a week. Considering I crave a little structure, I’m locking that in Mon-Thursday from 7am-3pm. That leaves the entire second half of my day for fun. 138 hours a week to sun-seek, eat and explore is a pretty great ratio.

I’m actually saving money by seeing the world

I have no assets. No car, no house, no better half, none of that adult stuff people my age seem to acquire. When people ask how I can afford to travel so much, I point out that the math is undeniably in my favour. On the lowest end, my nightly accommodation has been $8 and $15 on the highest end.

If you look at that on average, that brings my monthly rent to a whopping $345…. Um yep.

This is Asia specific so far, but I mean come on. It’s pretty sweet. Food, drinks and travel costs have all followed the same beautiful pattern thus far. I’m saving money by exploring interesting cultures, cities and islands. I am really truly fortunately grateful.

THE BAD

THE FOMO IS REAL

A lot of people say that discipline is the hardest thing about working remotely / digital nomad-ing/ whatever you want to call it. I suppose I'd agree with that, but not in the way you might think.

Waking up, walking to a cafe and cracking open my laptop is no issue. I actually crave a little bit of routine, and suit an early rise. The discipline factor comes in the form of FOMO. Being tied to a laptop 30 hours a week means you don't have the same freedom factor as the average hostel-goer. Every so often I've felt a bit of disconnect when I meet other travellers and have to reject their invitation for touring, trecking or the like (case in point my first mates in Malaysia, see ya never.) This has however turned me into a hell of a weekend warrior. I've packed a lot of travelling into those lush days off and actually love having the motivation to do so. 

LOCKING DOWN A LOCATION FOR 8 HOURS AT ONCE can be challenging

Food in Asia has been challenging at times. I go back and forth between embracing the noodle life and despising it entirely. Finding a café with Wi-Fi, outlets and clean healthy food is not always an achievable task. I’ve often got to jump around at least once in the middle of the day and that can cut my productivity in half.

I SHOULD HAVE THROWN OUT SO MUCH OF MY SH*T

Honestly, I’ve made this mistake before and I wonder how many times I’ll make it again.

Having less stuff is ALWAYS better. I know this like I know my own name. The reason I continue to stuff up my packing is the indefinite nature of the trip. When you have no idea how long you’ll be gone, you come up with a ridiculous amount of theoretical situations in which some item of clothing will be theoretically useful. The truth is: over and over, less is more. I started with a 20kg bag and I’m currently down to 16kg. I keep leaving a load of once-loved clothing at each of my major destinations. Every time my bag lightens, my mental and physical states follow suit.

SLEEP QUALITY IS SO SIGNIFICANT

Frugality is my friend. That being said, I have definitely taken this too far and opted for some hilariously shite rooms/tents/holes in the ground. It’s not until I do the opposite that I realize how significant a good sleep is. Lesson learned, there’s a lot of places to cut costs, and sleep isn’t one of them; at least not when you have to work!

A HOME BASE IS REALLY HELPFUL 

The isolating part of this kind of work is that most people you meet aren’t working. At least, not the people I’ve been meeting. The average traveller who chooses a hostel as their host is completely free to roam. I’ve quickly figured out why Most digital nomads/ remote workers actually still have a home base. Whether it’s chiang mai, bali or bangkok, It’s become very apparent to me why these nomad hubs keep emerging. Whether travelling or not, Having a sense of community is socially satisfying. After one month of solo nomad-ing I’m slowly seeking a base to settle down a little bit and get a little social fulfillment.

YOU CAN'T MOVE AT A "NORMAL" PACE

I have to move a lot slower than the average traveller. many countries in south-east asia start you off with a 30 day tourist visa. One month for most is plenty of time to see the likes of the PHILIPPINES and malaysia. The problem is, my pace can’t be as fast as the average traveller. I’ve really tried to avoid making any significant moves during my work week, and therefore I end up at most places for 4 or 5 days at a time. Not always an issue, but there are many places I’ve visited that others would only do as a day trip.

THE UGLY

There have been some hilariously non-glamorous parts of this adventure. Just to finish this post off with a giggle, here's a few of my most hideous personal highlights. 

  • Having hair so filled with salt water that it takes on both a crunchy and waxy texture at the same time...Delicious
  • Eating so much white bread it seeps through my pores
  • As a result of the white bread and completely heinous toilet situations I’ve encountered, my stomach has taken on a beautiful balloon shape too many damn times
  • Being “that person” who’s constantly seeking wi-fi makes you feel like such a millennial

all in all

There’s actually no job I’d rather have right now. It’s all about figuring it out and I’m stoked to keep doing so. These little lessons and pitfalls are all part of the novelty of the nomad schedule. Hoang you rock, please don’t take my job away. Ever. :)