Food Will Work for Travel

5 Tips to Stay Sane Working Abroad

October 29, 2017

I’m no stranger to working abroad. I started my career as an American expat living in London. Then, I worked for a Silicon Valley-based software company with a fully remote workforce. This allowed me to work from places including Brooklyn, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Lake Tahoe, Nevada. I currently live in the Washington, DC, area while reporting to a team based in Barcelona, Spain.

I love the autonomy and adventure of working abroad. So when my office chose to pilot a new program that allowed employees to work from anywhere for up to one month, I was one of the first to raise my hand. I instantly knew where I wanted to work from: England, the country that I once called home. So, in September 2017, I spent 3.5 weeks back in the UK working from London and the Lake District.

It felt great to be back in a country I love so much. I got the unique chance to see old and new sights while growing my career at the same time. But working abroad is far from a holiday. Juggling deadlines and conference calls with time zone changes and delayed trains takes a big dose of dedication. If you have the chance to work abroad, here are some tips to make it work for you:

1. Adjust Your Expectations
If you’re able to work abroad, you’ll probably start dreaming about all the sights you’ll see on your nights and weekends off. But before you build an iron-clad itinerary, don’t get too ahead of yourself.

Rather than leaving your work behind, you’re taking it with you on this trip. And just like working from your office, you’ll likely have some long days and deadlines to plan around. That doesn’t leave much time for running around – especially on weeknights.

So, once you know how long you’ll be away, make a wish list of attractions. Then, confirm exactly how many free nights, holidays, and weekend days you’ll have. This will help you prioritize what you really want to do – and avoid burnout.

2. Get Some Sleep
If I sound like your mom, it’s because Mom was right – when it comes to staying healthy while you work abroad, nothing beats the basics of sleep.

We’ve all had late nights on holidays, but working abroad means you need to stay sharp. Trying to fit too much in without enough rest is the fast track to illness – I caught a cold after an especially full week during my own work abroad trip. Had I prioritized more effectively, I think I could have avoided it.

To stay healthy and avoid the sniffles, go to sleep and wake up at the same times as often as you can. This helps your body stay on track, which makes it easier to get into a routine that you can follow throughout your trip. This goes a long way towards helping you stay focused while you work each day.

3. Make a Ritual
Whether we’re aware of them or not, we all have rituals that help us through each day. When I’m at home, my ritual involves making coffee in my French press as soon as I wake up. It’s part of my daily routine, and I wake up each morning excited to do it.

Rituals are no less important when you work abroad. If anything, they’re more important. They serve as a tool to help your new environment feel like it’s your own.

When I worked abroad from London, my AirBnB in Bayswater didn’t have a coffee maker. So, my new work abroad ritual was to take a walk through the neighborhood at lunchtime each day and buy a cup of coffee from a local cafe. It didn’t take long for the streets I’d never walked before to feel familiar.

4. Lose the (Checked) Luggage
No matter where you choose to work abroad, chances are high that you won’t stay stagnant. I stayed in a total of four locations during my time working abroad in England – Trafalgar Square, Bayswater, and Westminster (in London) and Keswick (in the Lake District). That means I also had to move my luggage on and off the Tube several times.

To make this process much less painful, I suggest limiting your luggage to one carry-on suitcase and one personal item. If you use a backpack as your personal item, you can pack more clothes along with essentials like your wallet. Women can solve the handbag dilemma by packing purses that lie flat or fold up into smaller bags. Tumi and Longchamp are two brands that make travel-friendly handbags. Even if they’re an investment upfront, buying compact luggage can save you a fortune in checked bag fees and cabs over time.

I shared more on this topic with the BBC. Not sure what qualifies as a carry-on? Amazon sells luggage that fits the size guidelines for several airlines.

5. Reset Your Clock
Working abroad means you’re away from it all – including colleagues. But your work with them is as important as ever. You’ll need to use digital tools to bridge the distance, and your colleagues need to know that they can reach you.

To adjust your schedule, reset the time zone on your calendar to whichever time zone you’re working from. This will save you from having to manually manage the time difference between you and your colleagues. Try to work online with them for at least a few hours per day – research shows that four hours is ideal for remote teams.

During that time, you can use collaboration software like Slack to stay in touch from your laptop and smartphone. A little emoji goes a long way in bridging the social distance gap 🙂

The Bottom Line
Working abroad is a great privilege. It lets you see more of the world without sacrificing your career goals. Lest any of your friends think you’re slacking off, you can assure them that it’s hard work. But with some strong pre-planning, new routines, and minimal baggage, you can turn your work abroad into the trip of a lifetime.

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