6 unglamorous realities of working while traveling

in Australia / Overland Travel / Working Abroad
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6 unglamorous realities about traveling and working

“Get away!” I shout while trying to type and swat flies away from my mouth simultaneously.

I realize I’m a ridiculous sight to behold, swearing and sweating in the front seat of a camper van in the middle of a stunning Australian nature reserve while the engine is running to charge my Mac laptop in the cigarette lighter.

It’s clear that my yoga pants are fooling no one. I’m not in-tune with the nature that surrounds me — I’m more at one with how much battery charge is left in my iPhone.

kookaburras mt. remarkable australia

The kookaburras try to drown out my phone conversations with their singing

Most people drive here to Mt. Remarkable National Park in South Australia to relax, disconnect from their phones, and enjoy the tranquil company of kookaburras and kangaroos. Which is why it’s so embarrassing that I’m hanging out in the middle of a nature trail, pacing back and forth while sipping Nescafe from a camping cup and arranging conference calls to New York City.

If it sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. Yet this is my reality. The reality of working full-time while traveling around the world.

So, for those of you who might be thinking of taking your job traveling with you, I thought I would offer you a glimpse into what my office is like today. It will look different tomorrow, and the day after. But today, here are six realities of my work life that amuse, madden, exhaust or terrify me.

1. I dress for success…and to ward off poisonous creatures.

When I woke up this morning, I did not assess how my outfit would look in public or to my employees. Instead I pulled on my knee-high sailing boots because yesterday, while foolishly wearing flip-flops, I got bit by a bull ant during a business call, which caused me to bite my lip to keep any foul language from escaping. As I conducted my phone meeting, I simultaneously rubbed my sore foot and vowed never to show my bare feet to Australia again.

And, yes, it is like 100 degrees out here in the desert. But these boots are not coming off until I see skyscrapers. Or until the ants aren’t standing menacingly on their hind legs, lunging at me with their vampire fangs.

2. My distractions are different on the road.

When working in an office, I struggle to ignore the enticing pop-up Facebook messages that tempt me to click on Grumpy Cat’s latest update or pictures of golden retrievers cuddling kittens.

Thankfully, I don’t have internet out here in the woods to pull me away from my work. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t distractions.

So far, this morning, I have stopped working to follow a wallaby with fascination as it hopped past my picnic table, fed a piece of lettuce to a lizard slithering by and I completely forgot the job I was doing for Ryan as I gawked at the pretty pink and white birds flitting around in the trees overhead.

“Tasha, have you finished the… Are you staring at the birds again?!”

“Oooh, look! A kangaroo!” I exclaim as Ryan shakes his head.

wallaby mt. remarkable australia

“Look, it’s a wallaby!” I just can’t get enough of the animals here.

3. Sometimes we deal with landlords. Sometimes it’s park wardens.

When Ryan and I were managing our business in New York City, the building owner, a rotund, grandfatherly Italian named Sammy would stop by to see us if our rent payments were late, or to scold us for students smoking on the fire escape or for putting trash in the recycle bins.

Today, the park warden, who is dressed from head to toe in beige, pays us a visit to tell us we are not permitted to park our camper in the “Day Visitor” area, where we’ve occupied a few of the picnic tables as our office for the day.

We apologize for the mistake and are about to pack up our things and move, but instead the warden looks around, mumbles something about it being the low season and tells us we can stay where we are so long as no one complains.

It turns out Australian park wardens are much more easy-going than Manhattan landlords.

4. If it’s not muggers I’m worried about, it’s killer spiders.

Walking home alone in New York after a late night in the office, I always made sure to stick to well-lit paths and avoid short-cuts through unfamiliar areas so I wouldn’t put my safety at risk.

It turns out the same precautions apply to Australian campgrounds. Only for different reasons.

After reading Bill Bryson’s book “Down Under,” in which he catalogues 14 different species of snakes that could instantly kill you in Australia, I am reluctant as it is to walk around the campground by myself in the dark.

But the clincher is a sign identifying the carpet python, which hides in hollowed-out tree trunks and only comes out at night. Since I’ve read this, there is not a chance in hell I am going to casually stroll to the campground toilets in the middle of the night without either a tree-sized stick in my hand or my rugby-playing husband by my side.

And since I can’t find a stick, the scene goes down like this: I am clutching Ryan’s arm as we walk through the campground, when suddenly a gray spider the size of my fist appears at eye-level, inches from my face, stretching its booby-trap of a web across the entire width of the path.

In mid-step, I panic and throw my upper body backwards, while my feet continue to move forward, catching on a little too late. Which results in something that looks like a slide tackle attempted by a drowning victim. Skidding feet first under the gigantic spider web, I am flailing my arms and whimpering, “Spider! Spider! Help!”

Meanwhile, Ryan stands there, staring at the spot where just I’ve inexplicably thrown myself to the ground. And after a short pause, he doubles over, clutching his stomach in hysterical laughter, as I carefully pull myself up off the ground and pick out the bits of rock embedded in my knees, all the while taking care to avoid the spider that’s still suspended in the middle of the path.

“What was that?!” Ryan snorts, laughing so hard his eyes are tearing up. “I’ve heard of ‘fight or flight’ as an instinct. But stack it?!”

“That spider could have eaten my face off!” I shriek, as Ryan howls with laughter. “Some help you are. Next time, I’m bringing a stick.”

mt. remarkable national park australia

The tranquility of Mt. Remarkable by day is a disguise for the evil spiders that emerge by night

5. It’s taken years of relentless work and long hours to get here.

I almost never write about my work, unless I happen to be writing for my work (like with this post). And I don’t write about that kind of thing here, on Turf to Surf, because this is a travel blog, where I love to write about travel and adventure and, sometimes, furry animals. (Okay, often, furry animals).

But as my Inbox has been overrun lately with emails asking how Ryan and I pay for our travels, I’ve started to realize that it may look to an outsider — who’s just discovered this blog for the first time — like Ryan and I are jetting, sailing, driving and camping around the world like two footloose trust-fund babies without a financial care in the world.

And this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The truth is, having spent the better part of a decade funding our own travels around the world by teaching English abroad, Ryan and I poured our blood, sweat and tears into building our own Cambridge CELTA Teacher Training school in 2007 (Teaching House) and English language schools in 2010 (IH New York and IH Boston), which have allowed us (and sometimes required us) to continue traveling the world.

But this also means our work as self-employed school owners now comes with much greater risk and responsibility than we ever had as English teachers working for other people.

This is neither a complaint nor a self-administered pat on the back – it’s just an acknowledgement that what can seem like an easy, glamorous lifestyle from the outside, isn’t always easy. Or glamorous.

6 unglamorous realities about traveling and working

I love having a mobile office, but it’s not always the best set up for work

6. Work comes first. Which means travel comes second.

I could pretend our days abroad are 20% work and 80% white sand beaches, carefree brunches in French cafes and wind whipping through my hair as I flit from one scenic spot to another on my motor scooter.

But the reality is most of the time I am wearing pajamas. For days at a time. Or I am in a beautiful part of the world, stuck inside an internet cafe or – in today’s case — a camper van, working 12-hour days and seeing very little of my surroundings because a project has to get done and Ryan and I are the only ones who can do it.

Not only does our income depend on the work we do, but so do the 50+ employees who work for the teacher training and ESL schools we built. So, when there is a crisis, like now, we can’t just keep moving. We have to stop wherever we are and get in touch with our companies so we can begin tackling problems from the other side of the world.

In this case, on this particular day, as a 5-foot-long lizard stares at me from a shaded spot under a picnic table, we have to fire an employee. And we are tackling this ugly job under a beautiful canopy of trees in a storybook forest in the south of Australia. It is a conflict that hasn’t escaped me.

Ryan and I have had many long, wine-fuelled philosophical discussions over the years about the kind of life we want to live. About what travel offers us in the way of creative stimulation, cultural exposure and personal fulfillment. And how the benefits are greater to us than the comical drawbacks that come with, say, setting up an impromptu office in the middle of the Australian Outback.

But I realize – after pulling aside the silk curtains and revealing a traveler who spends a large chunk of her waking hours in exotic locations staring at a laptop – that this life is far from perfect. But in its own flawed way, it is perfect for us. For right now.

So, what works for you? What kind of working life would you design, if you had the choice?
6 unglamorous realities of traveling and working

So far, we’ve covered 2,500 km (about 1,500 miles) from Perth to Mt. Remarkable

7 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Kris February 20, 2014, 2:40 am

    Just so you know and to give you something to read along the way…..
    http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2013/03/30-of-australias-deadliest-animals/

    • Tasha February 20, 2014, 7:50 am

      Thanks for this, Kris! I’ve read about those damned redbacks and funnel web spiders and they sound NASTY. The park warden the next morning assured me that the spider I saw was not poisonous, which made me feel better. But, geez, it gave me the creeps!
      Tasha recently posted…6 unglamorous realities of working while travelingMy Profile

  • Janice Stringer February 21, 2014, 12:33 pm

    Hi Tasha,
    Still building mine – it doesn’t seem to be a straightforward route though! More twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel. Travel, write and relax is my goal – with a tent village beckoning me in the future! Happy travelling 🙂
    Janice Stringer recently posted…All about Oz – Crocs in Kakadu and other Water Wildlife EncountersMy Profile

    • Tasha February 23, 2014, 10:10 pm

      Yeah, I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy. But there are a lot of people out there who inspire me by designing their lives to include work and lots of enjoyment. My latest obsession is this book by Tim Ferris: The 4-Hour Work Week. If I could carve out some more free time in my life, using his priciples, I’d be a winner… working on it! I hope it works out for you, too!

  • Polina Porras Sivolobova December 23, 2014, 11:32 am

    Tasha, so many of the things you talk about speak clearly about my current situation. I grew up moving from one place to another, now I want to find a way to ‘get out’ out of New York, yet be able to earn money while away. I have managed to spend less and less time in New York and travel for work and projects but haven’t found a way to make it sustainable. I am an artist, I’m Krystal’s roommate, she can tell you more about my life 🙂

    • Tasha December 26, 2014, 11:35 pm

      Polina, thanks so much for your comment. Making money while on the move is definitely hard, and often it means you have to move a lot slower than those who are just traveling on savings. But it’s possible, it just depends what kind of work you can get. Have you looked into offering your skills as a freelance artist on sites like ODesk or Elance?
      Tasha recently posted…Something’s missing on HideawayMy Profile

  • Ross @FreeYourMindTravel October 20, 2015, 12:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing this guys. Congrats on getting to this point as that takes a lot of work, something we are currently going through ourselves. Cheers and I look forward to reading more of your blog.
    Ross @FreeYourMindTravel recently posted…Ultimate Travel Guide to San MarinoMy Profile

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