For nearly the entire month of December 2012 and 10 days of Jan, 2013, I traveled and worked remotely from all over the south of Thailand. I was able to be productive, maybe even more so than at home and I learned a lot about efficiency, as I balanced ‘me’ time with work time.
In this post, I’m going to talk about the tools I used to work remotely, running my startup and what my expenses were. I’ll get right into it.
If you’ve been to Thailand or SE Asia recently, you already know how inexpensive it can be to travel and stay there, even right on the beach. I was there for 36 days and, on average, spent around $20/night for accommodation and around $10/day for food. Great food, I should add! If you add $20/day to this for transportation and odds and ends, we can call it $50/day. 36 days at $50 is under $2k for more than a month of warm weather and wonderful people. Airfare tacks on a bit as well.
For a liitle fun, we took a time-lapse of a typical ‘workday’
Want to Work Remotely? Bring a Small Computer:
I spent most mornings working on my computer, which brings me to my #1 concern before I left: would an 11″ MacBook Air do the trick? Turns out, it did. Amazingly. OS 10.8 really facilitates easy screen switching, so multitasking on such a small screen was simple. And it’s really lite. I’ll never go back. Even the 13″ looks huge to me now. I generally have 3 – 5 windows open at any one time, so I’m used to multiple monitors. Not any more. It’s really that good.
Since I manage a remote group of coders and researchers, I rely a lot on SAAS solutions. Here’s my list of tools and what I use them for:
- oDesk: I rely on oDesk to help me find, hire and manage technical employees. I get real-time updates on their progress and billing is linked directly to my business bank account.
- Trello: I use Trello to manage tasks related to everything I do with my company, zankme. It’s an incredibly intuitive (and free) tool that’s helped me immensely. I don’t use anything else for bugs, issue, feature tracking. Trello does it all. They even send emails to me (and the team) any time a change is made or an issue is resolved. I never have to guess or hunt around for this real-time info.
- Beanstalk: For version control, I have been using GIT with Beanstalk for years. Since I only have a few developers, I am paying $15/month. Plus they’ll give me a deployment with that plan that pushes changes over FTP to a server of my choice. So, to check bugs, I look at a live version of my site before pushing to the production server. Really helps productivity.
- Skype: Everyone’s got it. All my developers use it to stay in touch. Almost all correspondence is done through instant messaging over Skype. We use very few emails, as these tend to build up and don’t offer the solidity of a real-time, one-on-one conversation.
Working Remotely Requires Getting and Staying Connected:
So, with all the cloud access, how does wi-fi work in Thailand? I asked this question a lot before going and all I heard was that, ‘wi-fi is available everywhere and works really great!’. Well, it turns out, that’s only somewhat true. I found that yes, there was wi-fi just about everywhere, but it’s hit or miss at best and I never had really strong wi-fi anywhere. To supplement the wi-fi I was receiving in the bungalows I stayed in, I bought a sim card for my Galaxy S III. It was a DTAC “Happy Tourist SIM” (how could I resist?) I got it at a 7-11 in Bangkok. This card gave me over 30 days of high speed 3G for around $28 (USD). I could enable mobile tethering (Mobile Hotspot) from my phone and the connection speed was ok. It worked nearly everywhere, even the remotest islands I visited. I can remember pushing a big update for a customer on a minibus, careening down local streets as we motored from the Indian Ocean side to the gulf side of Thailand. Without the mobile access, I wouldn’t have been able to respond nearly as quickly.
Working abroad taught me a lot about time management. With all the distractions, such as good food and warm water and lots of friendly people, it was initially difficult to manage the diversions and work obligations. But part of the reason I went was to discover if it was even possible to travel and work, happily. Here’s how I managed to do it in a way that has benefitted me greatly, even now that I am home.
I fell into a routine of working after first waking in the mornings. Wi-fi was generally best at that time (with little competition for bandwidth) and there were just fewer distractions. For $2, I ordered breakfast and worked until around noon. For these 4 or 5 hours, I was able to get about the same amount of work done that I could accomplish in a full day back at home. Then, around noon, I’d take off for lunch and meet up with some friends then go for a swim or a hike. Some days I’d work in the afternoon or evenings, but mostly I didn’t need to unless there was something really pressing. That happened two or three times. I think the efficiency was due to the tools I had chosen and my familiarity with them. I wouldn’t want to try to learn how to hire on oDesk or push deployments from Beanstalk when the wi-fi connection is spotty. But with a little familiarity with the tools I used, I managed to do quite well while traveling and enjoying myself for a large part of every day.
Visiting a place like Thailand is an incredible experience and if you have to work while you do it, it’s entirely possible.
If you’ve done it too, or you have something to add, please leave it in the comments. Kap kuhn krap (thank you) !