Written By: Summer Corbitt, Sales and Marketing Director – Uniglobe Travel Center
Imagine yourself in a beautiful and historic city, the kind where cobblestone streets are common place. The smells of fresh croissants and coffee are all around you, a warm breeze is coming through the open windows, and the faint sound of cable cars and mopeds is drifting towards you from the street. Closely surrounding you is pleasant conversation in an unfamiliar language. Now imagine that this is your standard work day, your office, your life. This isn’t just a scene plucked from the pages of a travel magazine meant to give you jealousy and wanderlust. This is real life and it has been my own experience the past four months as I have been traveling and working remotely.
For almost three years I have worked for Uniglobe Travel Center, a leading host agency, as their Director of sales and marketing. My job is to generate interest in our organization from current and potential travel advisors, and then walk those prospects through the process of determining if we are a right fit for each other. This means I’m often online creating and running digital ads and talking to prospective advisors for most of my work day. I am fortunate enough to work for an incredible boss that trusts me and cares about my job performance, not just arbitrary metrics of “hard work,” like being in a physical office for eight to ten hours every day. As an amazing upside of that trust, she has allowed me to embark on a year of working abroad, traveling to a different international city every month for the next 12 months.
This year I am traveling with 36 other “digital nomads,” each with their own remote jobs, and our experience is being facilitated by a company called Remote Year. Remote Year’s purpose is to provide accommodation in each of these 12 cities, a community workspace close to our apartments, travel between each city, and general logistics and knowledge. Our year is split into three legs – the first four months in Europe, followed by four months in Asia, and finally four months in Latin America. I have just finished the first four months, having lived in Lisbon, Portugal; Belgrade, Serbia; Split, Croatia; and Prague, Czech Republic. This has already been an incredible experience and I’d like to share my personal experience working from Europe with you, in the hopes that it will be helpful with your own ventures into international remote work.
Europe is likely the easiest, most familiar part of the world to be a digital nomad. If you are an English speaker you will almost always find someone you can communicate with, and that really goes a long way. Europe also has a very strong café culture in most cities, so they don’t expect the table turnover that many U.S. establishments do. It is completely normal to have one cup of coffee, or rather an “Americano,” and post up for hours with your laptop. That being said, it is worth noting that many cafés in Europe still allow smoking indoors, so if that is something you will find distracting, keep an eye out for non-smoking locations.
As easy as Europe is to work from, there are still some important things to consider in order to create a successful work environment.
Most major cities now have community workspaces available. Some people like the consistency and reliability that a workspace offers, and for those people there are a number of coworking companies that offer monthly or even daily passes. Two popular co-working companies with international locations are Impact Hub (impacthub.net) and We Work (wework.com). In my personal experience, the biggest benefits of these spaces are stronger and more reliable Wi-Fi, private rooms for business calls that require quiet and privacy, and often networking opportunities with other digital nomads or even locals. When I was plugging away at creating marketing assets I would work from a café, but if I had a full schedule of sales calls and needed to cut out the background noise, I opted for our coworking space.
Almost all cafés have Wi-Fi, though the quality can vary greatly from location to location. Here are a few steps you can take to ensure a good connection.
1) Do your research. There are websites like NomadList.com and apps like WorkFrom that give you reviews of the working conditions at local cafés.
2) Test the connection speed. Start by downloading a simple app called SpeedTest. Once you connect to a café’s Wi-Fi you can run a speed test on their network. I would recommend at least 5 MBPS (Megabytes Per Second). You can also do this from your laptop by connecting to their Wi-Fi and Googling “Speed Test.” The first result will let you run a test of their connection.
3) If the Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough, but it’s just the cutest café you’ve ever seen and really want to work there (speaking from personal experience here!), you can also tether to your phone’s data. If you are traveling abroad for an extended period, you definitely want to get a local SIM card (see below) and this is a great occasional solution for a weak Wi-Fi signal. However, due to data limits, I would only recommend tethering for the sporadic working sessions, and I would warn not to download giant files or stream movies off of your phone’s connection.
If you are in Europe for less than a week, you may be comfortable with using your U.S. carrier and paying the international fee, which is usually around $10 per day. But if you are staying for more than a week, you should absolutely get a local SIM card. These are relatively inexpensive and tend to come with plenty of data pre-loaded on them. On average I used about 10GB each month, though I didn’t tether often. You can buy a SIM card at the airport or various local stores and it’s a good idea to have the store clerk set it up with you, so you are sure it works (the prompts on your screen are usually in the local language). If you do run out of data at some point during the month, SIM cards are easy to top off online or in stores.
One thing to keep in mind is if your cell phone is “unlocked.” Only unlocked phones will work with a SIM card other than the one the phone originally came with. If you purchased a phone directly from the manufacturer, like an iPhone at an Apple store, you’re safe. However, if you purchased your phone through your cell carrier you will have to have your carrier unlock it. Each cell carrier has their own rules and restrictions about unlocking phones. For instance, if you are still making payments on a phone it is unlikely they will unlock it. In my case, I bought an iPhone from AT&T and even though I paid in full for the phone they still would not unlock it for six months. That didn’t work for me, so I returned that phone and purchased an unlocked phone directly from Apple instead.
Calls and Texts
If you purchase a new SIM card it will come with a local number, but you really only need to utilize that when making the occasional local call. My advice is to get a Google Voice number (voice.google.com). It is super simple to set up and ensures you can use the same phone number no matter where you are. If you are keeping your U.S. number active, you can forward all of your calls and texts from your regular U.S. number to your new Google Voice number. This way, you don’t have to distribute new contact information to your friends and family. If you are leaving for an extended period, you can suspend your normal U.S. number and give your loved ones your new Google Voice number.
In order to receive calls and text through your Google Voice number you will need to download the Google Hangouts app, as that is where you will send and receive texts and phone calls (rather than through your normal messaging and calling applications). You can also use Google Hangouts on desktop in the same way.
There are also some additional ways to stay connected. If you and the person you are trying to keep in touch with both have an iPhone you can still use iMessage to text. The app WhatsApp is a very popular international calling and texting app. I was already using WhatsApp to keep in touch with international friends, so I switched to using my Google Voice number as my WhatsApp number and people can text me through that as well.
This one may be obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway… make sure you have the right plugs for your electronics! You won’t need a converter (which converts the voltage) for things like your computer and phone, but you will need an adapter (which adapts the plug). A big key here is to make sure you have an adapter that includes a grounding prong, i.e. a 3-prong adapter, for your laptop. To make life easy I have an adapter that includes a grounding prong and converts to all different types of plugs.
A VPN is a Virtual Private Network that is used to add security and privacy to different networks, like Wi-Fi Hotspots, by routing your connection through a server and encrypting the information you’re sending from your computer. This can be very important if you are dealing with sensitive client information. A VPN can also route your connection through a server in the Unites States, thus making the website you are using think that you are in the United States. This comes in handy when certain websites block international traffic or display location specific content. But, let’s be honest, the main benefit of using a VPN is if you want to stream movies and TV Shows! Since content is restricted to certain international areas, I use my VPN to watch my shows from back home. So, you see, a VPN is important for work and pleasure! Check out NordVPN, StrongVPN, and TorGuard for reliable VPN services.
The last key thing to consider as a card-holding digital nomad are your working hours. If your hours are flexible, this will obviously make life a little easier. I would caution, however, that it can be too easy at times. When you don’t have specific hours you have to work, you may easily be tempted to get caught up in seeing all of the beautiful and exciting things in your new city and forget that you need to work! I would recommend trying to schedule set hours that you work in order to keep a little discipline in your life. I personally needed to be available at reasonable times across all major U.S. times zones and my guess is that many of you do as well in order to communicate with your clients. Although I often found it frustrating that I was working when all the “fun stuff” was happening (most people were finishing work and going out for dinner when I was just starting my work day) I found it helpful to keep reminding myself that small sacrifices were necessary so that I could have this whole amazing experience long-term.
Summer’s Café Recommendations:
R. de São Bento 51, 1200-815 Lisboa, Portugal
- Fauna and Flora
Rua da Esperança 33, 1200-655 Lisboa, Portugal
- Dear Breakfast
R. Gaivotas 17, 1200-719 Lisboa, Portugal
- Pretty Ballerinas
Zmaja od Noćaja 16, Beograd 11000, Serbia
- Aviator Coffee Explorer Terazije
Terazije 28, Beograd, Serbia
- Mama Shelter
Kneza Mihaila 54A, Beograd 11000, Serbia
- Kavana Procaffe
Spinutska ul. 67, 21000, Split, Croatia
- D16 Coffee
Dominisova ul. 16, 21000, Split, Croatia
- Café Galerija
Šetalište Ivana Meštrovića 31-33, 21000, Split, Croatia
Prague, Czech Republic
- Globe Bookstore and Café
Pštrossova 1925/6, 110 00 Nové Město, Czechia
- Monolok Café
Moravská 1540/18, 120 00 Praha 2, Czechia
nám. J. z Poděbrad 1407/4, 120 00 Praha 2-Vinohrady, Czechia