When Chris Garlotta was working in San Francisco, he rarely met his clients in person.
Now that he works from places like Berlin, Prague, Vietnam, and Amsterdam as he travels the world, he says things aren’t much different — at least, things aren’t much different for the clients.
For Chris and his wife, Danika, everything has changed.
“The fact that I’m sitting here in Berlin dealing with a client is exactly the same as being down the street,” he says. “A lot of the people I work with have been clients for years, and they’re aware that we’re travelling. They don’t see a difference, but we feel it.”
In 2013, while Chris was working for tech companies doing graphic design and website development and Danika was head of marketing for a group of boutique hotels, the Garlottas quit their jobs to go on an open-ended global trip.
However, they planned to keep working as they went, freelancing in the same fields: Chris in visual design and web apps and maintaining his own app, ZingSale, which alerts shoppers to dropping prices, and Danika in both social media strategy and marketing design.
After nine months away from home, they have proved their working-on-the-road strategy is pretty sustainable.
“The whole 9-5 working thing completely stopped,” Chris says. “In San Francisco there was an expectation that during the business day, if an email was sent, I’d respond in a few hours. That’s changed.
“Because we don’t have distractions of going into an office, we’re able to work far less and still have the same amount of progress on projects,” he says.
Depending on how much work they have, the Garlottas estimate they work about 20 to 40 hours a week.
Danika adds that instead of feeling as if they have to put in face time at an office, they are able to accomplish their work and then simply leave. “We found we work more efficiently because we don’t want to sit around and stare at the internet,” she says, “and then we can spend the day going out and exploring.”
The Garlottas don’t use a cell phone to make calls during the day, and they depend on Google Voice to allow clients (and family members) to call them on their American number.
To work as they do, the Garlottas say that logistically, all you really need is a computer and a wireless connection. However, they have found the following choices make working on the road a lot easier:
- A comfortable workspace. “When we first started looking at apartments on Airbnb, the thought of having a desk and comfortable chair/work area didn’t even cross our minds,” Danika notes. “Now that is one of the ‘must haves’ when looking for a place.”
- A smartphone with internet. “Perfect in case the Wi-Fi in your apartment fails, or you have a four-hour train ride,” says Chris. “This includes knowing how to tether your phone to your computer to get the internet.”
- International clocks. “Keep a bunch of clocks on your phone, so you always know what time it is in different places,” Danika mentions.
- A convenient calendar. “Danika likes to keep a planner to write down addresses and travel info (just in case our phones, iPad, and computers don’t work),” Chris jokes.
- A separate pouch to keep cords and chargers together.
They acknowledge that while they’re earning enough that their standard of living hasn’t decreased from their San Francisco days, this may have more to do with the fact that they’re staying in cities with lower costs of living and taking cost-saving measures like avoiding hotels in favour of Airbnb apartments than it does with their income. Chris estimates that they’re earning about 40% of what they brought in while working in the US.
As far as what they would tell people who want to earn their living on the road, the Garlottas have two pieces of advice for continued success:
Don’t use lack of internet as an excuse. “Always have a backup plan,” Danika advises. “Make sure your phone has internet and you know where the cafes are that have Wi-Fi.”
“While we were in Bali, the Wi-Fi connection on some of the smaller islands was really bad,” Chris remembers. “The connection speed was slower than AOL dialup used to be. This made video conferencing, calls, and just using the internet impossible. In a business where I rely on internet capabilities, I have learned to just take ‘vacation’ while travelling to some of the more remote areas.”
Set and stick to client boundaries. “Make sure you develop trust with your clients and set boundaries. If there is a problem, someone needs something in the next hour — your clients need to trust your process and your reaction,” Danika explains. “You can’t always just come over to the office or hop on a call. Set time frames where you will be consistently reachable.”
The best way to build that trust, they say, is to do good work and deliver it on time.