Vacations represent all that’s good and bad about being a freelancer. On the one hand, you’re free to go away whenever you like, without asking the permission of a reluctant boss or desperately trying to squeeze a short break into the few days left of your allowance. On the other hand, you’re never completely free of your professional responsibilities, even when you’re on the other side of the world.
To avoid the risk of freelance burnout, it’s vital that you get away from it all on a regular basis. While some people advocate simply switching off your computer and ridding your mind of all work-related thoughts while you’re away, I vehemently disagree with this. As a freelancer, you need to maintain an air of professionalism at all times and suddenly disappearing for a fortnight is not the best way to gain the trust and respect of your clients.
Doing some work while you’re away is important, but you mustn’t lose sight of why you went on holiday in the first place: for a proper break (in case you’ve forgotten already). Follow the 15 tips below to keep your career ticking while on vacation, simultaneously maximizing your free time and making your trip a little bit more relaxing.
Planning is an important part of preparing your freelancing business for vacation. Here are some planning tips:
- Work in Advance–For a freelancer, going on vacation is doubly expensive. Not only do you have to fork out on flights, accommodation and spending money like everybody else, you have to account for the money you’re not making while you’re away. If you want to maintain a steady income, spread extra work out over the weeks prior to your departure.
- Choose Your Dates Carefully–An obvious one, but very important nonetheless–make sure you book your vacation for a time when you have relatively little work to do. If you have seasonal downtime in your industry, identifying the best time for a vacation is easy. If you don’t, try and line up your trip to coincide with the completion of several big projects.
- Inform All Clients–There’s no use just sticking an Out of Office auto-reply into your email the night before you go away. An auto-reply is essential, sure, but you need to inform your clients well in advance of your departure. Important clients should be informed personally–don’t be scared, they’ll understand. Make sure they know that you’re contactable in an emergency. A short message should be added to your email signature, months before you leave, to inform everybody else.
- Prepare Email Responses–Whether or not you intend to work while on vacation, you need to be sure that you still have jobs coming in while you’re away, to do on your return. To save time, you should prepare some canned responses for any potential new clients that might get in touch. Something like–I’m traveling until the 25th December, but I’d love to take a closer look at this on my return, please send over all the details and I’ll contact you as soon as I get back--would be suitable.
- Outsource–If you really can’t fit all the work you need to do into the weeks prior to your vacation, consider outsourcing it to a trusted colleague. You might lose money in the short-term, but they’re bound to send work your way when they go on holiday themselves. Furthermore, it’s better to take on work offered by a client and give it somebody else you trust than it is to turn it down. Turn a client away once and you might never hear from them again.
What to Take With You
Packing is as important as planning. Here are some tips on what to pack:
- Smart phone–Haven’t got a smart phone? Get one–they offer numerous benefits to the traveling freelancer. You can check/send emails on the sly without your partner noticing; you can handle small tasks without breaking out the big guns (by which I mean a laptop); you can access your diary or calendar; and, crucially, you can watch videos and listen to music on the plane!
- Laptop–Your smart phone should be up to most professional tasks while you’re away, depending on your industry, but it’s a good idea to bring a laptop too, with a suitably strong case to protect it from all the inevitable bumps and scrapes. If all goes well, you really shouldn’t have to use it at all, but it’s worth having with you, just in case of emergencies.
- 3G USB Dongle–If you want to stay in the loop while you’re away, you’re going to need an internet connection. A 3G USB dongle guarantees (pretty much) that you’ll always be able to access the internet, wherever you are, and it doesn’t take up much room in your suitcase. Roaming charges can be very expensive, however, so make sure you check these before you leave.
- USB Flash Drive–Any work that you do while you’re away must be backed up. Your laptop could be lost, stolen or damaged at any time, while a USB stick, carefully attached to your keys, should (in theory) be easier to keep hold of. If you’re worried about security, there are a number of flash drives that can be encrypted and/or password protected. Backing up your work onto the cloud, if you can, is also a good idea.
- Passwords–If you’re forgetful like me, make sure you’ve got all the necessary passwords you might need with you when you go on vacation. There’s nothing worse than suddenly remembering that you’ve changed your email password and it’s written on a scrap piece of paper floating around somewhere at home. If you don’t like the idea of writing your passwords out on paper, there are a number of useful apps that will keep your passwords safe. Mitto, a browser-based app, is a very good one.
What You Need When You Get There
You’ve arrived at your destination, what should you do now? Here are some more tips:
- Wireless Internet Access–As mentioned earlier, a USB dongle can provide internet access wherever you are, but it can be expensive and the signal is often patchy at best. To make sure you don’t spend half of your holiday in some run-down internet cafe, try to book a hotel with free wireless internet access. Not only will you be able to check your emails etc, you’ll be able to access maps, restaurant reviews and everything else you need for an amazing vacation.
- Power supply–When traveling in the western world, access to a power supply is rarely an issue, although packing a spare battery for your phone and laptop, as well as suitable adaptors, is recommended. If you’re going on a more adventurous trip, however, finding somewhere to plug in your electronics can be much trickier. What much of the developing world lacks in electricity, it makes up for in sunlight. Solar powered battery chargers are widely available in travel shops and can be a real lifesaver.
- Mobile Phone Coverage–Most of the communication we need to make while on vacation can be handled through a laptop, these days. If you’re not emailing, Skype is often the answer. Some people, however, simply must be accessible by phone at all times, and for these people, checking phone coverage in your holiday destination before you set off, is an absolute must.
- Time Management Skills–To make sure that you get the most from your vacation, you need to manage your time efficiently. If there’s a professional task that you need to perform regularly, do it at the same time each day, or each alternate day, so that you can maximize relaxation and fun. Don’t stop to check your emails whenever you get a bit of free time–you’re on holiday, you should have lots of free time, that’s the point! Check them every second day (maximum) and at a regular hour. It’s also a good idea to create a later folder for any non-urgent messages.
- A Strong Will–You’re not going on vacation to work, you’re going to relax, have fun and spend time with your loved ones. A constant preoccupation with your laptop or phone will not only ruin the holiday for you, it will ruin it for your partner, children, or whoever you’ve gone away with. As a freelancer, you’re used to working as much as possible, but to feel the full effect of your vacation and be completely refreshed on your return, you need to work as little as possible, preferably no more than half an hour every couple of days. For this, you’ll need a strong will and determination, but it’s well worth it.
What About You?
Are you taking a vacation this year? How do you plan to prepare?
Image by chiacomo