Open Thread: Do You Work On Vacation?

The idea for this open thread comes from the fact that, well, I’m off at a ski resort right now. It’s early, and not everyone is awake yet, but here I am sitting on my laptop working :-)

Working while on vacation is something most freelancers do, especially if it’s a vacation that’s not taken during the holidays. There are usually a lot of things we can leave behind, but leaving behind everything is pretty difficult.

But is it healthy to work on vacation? Should you do it, or is it just taking away from your resting time? Do you enjoy working on vacation or do you dislike the fact that it’s sometimes necessary?

Answering and dealing with these questions is important to your long-term happiness as a freelancer. There will be times when you’re on vacation and may or may not want to work. You might also enjoy it, depending on the type of work you have. Let’s take a look at some different questions:

  • Do you work when you go on vacation?
  • Which things do you leave behind, and which do you take with you?
  • How do you handle needy clients or urgent projects?

Let’s discuss in the comments…


  1. says

    I try my best not to work while on vacation, but of course that’s not always possible. The way I see it, you go on vacation to get away from work, so it makes sense to try and avoid it as much as possible. Freelancing not being a regular job, regular rules don’t apply, so most summers I end up taking some freelance work and try to get some work done on mornings or long nights (thank you, caffeine).

  2. says

    When my husband and I headed off on our honeymoon, I made fun of him for bringing along his laptop. A mere day or two later, I was constantly on the thing, dealing with e-mails and conducting work-related research.

    It’s not so much a case of things falling apart when I’m away…it’s more like I fall apart. It’s just impossible for me to relax! I get fidgety when I’m not being productive.

    While I won’t necessarily bring along an entire manuscript for copy editing purposes (okay. that only happened once!), I will utilize the laptop to keep up with e-mails and social networking sites, so that things aren’t overwhelming when I return.

  3. says

    My grandmother just passed away, and I am flying back to my home-town in a couple of days to be with family. Am I bringing my laptop? Yes. Am I going to be doing some work while I’m there? Yes.

    I’ll be scaling back my normal routine, but deadlines are deadlines. Of course, I’ll be spending time with family, but in the evenings I’ll be churning out work.

    As far as vacation-vacations go (ie. tropical places and ski trips) you’ve got to give yourself some planned time off or burnout will creep up on you. That being said, no matter what, I’d be prepared to work while I’m on vacation if something came up at the last minute that was just too good to turn down. Plus, I’m kind of a procrastinator, so while good planners would have a month’s worth of blog posts written and set on a timer, I’m always churning them out the day before. I can’t help it, it’s my nature. Depends on your field, too.

    I’ll be interested to read other commenters’ thoughts on this topic.

  4. says

    Depending on where I am, I usually answer important eMails with my phone or even try to do some real work depending on how urgent it is. Of course, this doesn’t work always, but I’ll definitely try to do my best at least.

  5. says

    My philosophy is similar to Bruno’s — I go on vacation to get away from work, and more specifically, to get away from stress. My goal on vacation is to relax and have fun.

    What I’ve learned about myself, though, is that I sometimes like do certain work (i.e. writing blog posts). What I do is make sure I have no emergencies or stressful work to do, but I also allow myself to do some of the more fun work. This seems to work out pretty well :-)

  6. says

    Vacation? What is that? For the random 2-3 days away yes unfortunately I do work. It is something that I am going to be working on for 2009. More time away and more time really really away.

  7. says

    As my partner receives (and makes use of) about seven weeks paid vacation each year, it is sometimes necessary to take some work with me when we travel. Existing design projects occasionally overlap with vacation dates, some emails need to answered, media contacts often need to be responded to immediately, and writing assignments are at times best dealt with in a setting with fewer distractions. I recently returned from two weeks in Hawaii. I’m usually up with the sun – so I could work for an hour or two and then go into vacation mode for the rest of each day. I’ve done the same with extended stays in Italy, the Caribbean, Mexico and elsewhere. About a decade ago I spent a month in a villa in Italy. With a great deal of client preparation, I took no work with me at all.

    In a few weeks I leave for any annual two-week trip to St. Croix. having just signed a new book contract, I will find myself up early, making coffee, working by the pool for a couple hours, and ready to relax when my travel companions start their day.

    The ability to work while traveling is one of the advantages AND disadvantages of having one’s own business.

  8. says

    Like Laura-Jane, usually I work a reduced schedule during family vacations.

    I do try to notify long-term clients when I am taking a vacation and often can push the deadline by a day or two. Sometimes a client is willing to push a deadline out even further, but I don’t like to push my luck. I like to save extensive rescheduling negotiations for true emergencies (such as two years ago when my father was dying and I took six weeks off).

    I bring my laptop with and stay where there is an Internet connection available. I work on projects in the evenings or early mornings, and spend the rest of the day with family. Usually, all I need is the Internet and (if I am writing a course curriculum) the book that corresponds with the course that I am developing.

    Once in a while, I can take an entire day off, but those days usually don’t coincide with times my family has off.

    I’ve often thought that freelancers may actually be more in demand during traditional vacation times (holidays, spring break, summer, etc.). These are the times that regular staff is likely to be asking for time off and many companies seem to look to freelancers to finish up projects so that regular staff can take their vacation. What do you think?

  9. says

    I do my best to leave work behind when I go on vacation, but usually it’s just not in the cards. For Christmas and New Years in 2008, though, I tried something that worked pretty well: I took the train. From Los Angeles to Columbia, Missouri.

    The trip took 36 hours, and while on it, I had full access to my laptop, but only periodically did I have a solid set of bars on my phone, and never did I have Internet access. I found that this slowly weened my mind away from work, allowing my to get into the less-productive-and-okay-with-it state of mind that one strives for while trying to relax on vacation.

  10. says

    I do freelance software development and I was programming in my free time long before I started doing it professionally. So, yes, I work on vacation. The balance shifts a bit from clients’ projects towards my own projects (but, as a previous response said, deadlines are deadlines), but not writing code at all isn’t really an option for me.

  11. says

    I can’t help it, however, I tell my clients otherwise with an auto responder like “Even the best batteries have to charge up once in a while, so I’ll be away between [dates]. I do however promise to get back to you – a tad delayed but fully charged!”.

    That way there’s no expectations and I get to work on just the stuff that I find really, really exciting. This gets me all intoxicated about my job again and positively surprise the clients who give me the kind of work I love.

  12. says

    I take the laptop with me everywhere that gets regular internet access. So that means New York, DC, Honolulu, Glasgow and points between. This time last year I was working by the pool in Hawaii. Not heavy workload stuff, just odds and ends that needed finishing, plus blogging.

    I have only taken ONE vacation specifically for the lack of net capability. I went to Dominican Republic over Christmas a few years ago, and the net café charged something like $2/min. It was the perfect excuse not to work, but to sit and get drunk on the beach instead.


  13. says

    Yep, I work on my vacation if I have to. I bring my laptop along, that’s about it. I try to stay in regular contact with my clients but that depends on if I’m in a location that has reliable internet access

  14. says

    We consider ourselves ‘travelers’ and not ‘vacationers,’ so when we go somewhere it’s usually to explore a new place, not relax (i.e. sit around) on a beach for a week. We both tend to check our email daily and I may try to squeeze some work in in the evenings (I am not a morning person) if I have a deadline but I try to keep it to an hour or less at a time.

    It helps to have an understanding travel companion… for example, I recently designed a quick web page for a client while delayed at the Tampa airport. Hooray for free wireless! :)

  15. says

    I think this is part of the great part of being a freelancer. You can take a vacation and don’t need to worry about how many vacation days, or sick days you may have left, and if you’re going to get paid for them. For me, the best part of being a freelancer is the flexibility. I can be in Florida and still cater to my clients just as I can if I’m home in PA.

    Personally, I try to limit the amount of clients / jobs I accept while I’m going to be on vacation. But instead of closing everything off for a week and trying to restart everything when I get back, I merely slow down the momentum, and then pick it up again when I don’t have sunshine and the beach to distract me!!!

  16. says

    You’d be surprised how often a client will actually leave you alone if you set their expectations that you won’t be available. Sometimes that means not responding to them even if you do have time on vacation. The more emergency midnight emails you respond to, the more you will receive.

    You’d also be surprised how easy it is not to work if you don’t bring your laptop along. Yes, it may cause separation anxiety but after a few hours it feels great.

    I do work from vacation if I am the single point of failure on a critical problem. I.e., if I’m supposed to be generally on call for emergencies, that applies to vacations too. Of course, I strongly recommend notifying a backup who isn’t on vacation and making sure they have a login.

  17. says

    I’ve been a full-time freelance writer for the past 7 years and I took my first vacation during the Christmas holiday. It’s now a great time to take a vacation because it is during Christmas, my daughter’s birthday and my wedding anniversary. However, payments come in slow in the writing industry. I need to either plan better or not take vacations!

    I did still work during the vacation. Just a little bit.

  18. Becca says

    I always say I won’t do work when I’m on vacation, but I usually end up doing some. I do most of my work through freelance outsourcing sites, like oDesk, so I can easily access my work from any computer, wherever I am, as long as there is internet access. So I guess it’s sort of a blessing and a curse at the same time.

  19. says

    I’m going on vacation in about 2 weeks and I’m bring my swimming suit and sun glasses, that’s it! No laptop, no nothing! It’s gonna be great to disconnect completely for a week. I guess the key is to let clients know you’re going on vacation, that’s if you can actually live without the internet for a week (I thought I couldn’t and did it a couple months ago, and it feels great) ;)

  20. says

    I agree that vacation is a time to get away from work and to take a break. I usually don’t bring my laptop with me, but I will check my e-mail at least once a day or once every other day, just to check in on things. I also tell my clients ahead of time when I’ll be on vacation – and give them plenty of notice about it too – so they know that I won’t be getting back to them right away.

    But, just because I’m not doing “work” work doesn’t mean that I’m not still doing other things associated with work. I bring my notepad with me so that if I have any thoughts for blog posts or current projects, I can jot them down to come back to once I return from vacation. I also carry a stack of business cards with me, because you never know who you might meet or talk to that could turn into a potential client.

  21. says

    * Do you work when you go on vacation?
    yes I do because no one will make it for myself and I have always dead lines like everyone… If I let it to do it later, then I’ll not sleep/eat and make everything in a rush!
    * Which things do you leave behind, and which do you take with you? I take with me my laptop and unfortunatelly, the big part of the times, I leave behind my 24″ screen…
    * How do you handle needy clients or urgent projects? I have portable internet and I user “FreeCall” as my best friend

    Good post and by the way have a nice vacations!

  22. says

    I don’t work on vacations. I make sure my clients know 2 weeks before I go that I’ll be unavailable. I still check emails, mostly to clean out the spam so when I return my inbox won’t be so full. But I don’t take work files with me or anything when I leave. This is my 10th year freelancing, and so far, it hasn’t been an issue. As long as there is time to plan ahead, everyone is fine with it.

    Since I work so hard and so much, I think I need complete work freedom when I’m vacationing. It makes me a better and happier worker :)

  23. says

    If you’re going away on vacation then you should be leaving your work behind. As a freelancer this is very difficult because you always have need clients BUT, as you become more established, if you’re great at what you do, then you can tell those clients to wait until you get back.

    I used to be afraid of upsetting my clients by going away. I’ve been freelancing at web design for 10 years and I’m finally telling clients that “it can wait until tomorrow”. If they respect you and like the work you do, they won’t be so needy, and you won’t lose them as a client.

  24. says


    I too have finished clients work at Tampa Airport for the same reason. I even got my second gig while I was stuck there.

    I like to take my work with me when I go on “vacation” I often have trouble adapting to new time zones when I travel so I will often be up either much earlier or much later then the people I am traveling with so I am able to catch up on work or take a more relaxed work routine. But when it comes to spending time with the people that I am vacationing with they will come before work. For me I like what I do that is why I freelance.

  25. says

    I’ve just taken my first holiday since starting as a freelancer in June of last year. I let clients know well in advance, told anyone with whom I corresponded in the weeks leading up to it and set out-of-offices in every medium. My clients were very supportive, and I had no negative fallout from my absence.

    It was only three working days, and I think it did me a world of good to escape with no work on my plate. I would not accept a job while away, because I think it important to be fully dedicated to the task at hand. If I were to have an unexpected absence (funeral, family emergency, etc.) I would either arrange for a trusted fellow freelancer to take it on with the client’s backing, or if nothing else could be arranged, take it along.

    We already juggle enough working from home – so give yourself a break when you can!

  26. says

    I always seem to end up working, even when I have the best of intentions not to. My husband and I recently took a 3-week trip to Australia and even with things being slow before we went and my declaration that it would be a work-free holiday, I still answered emails with some regularity while I was away.

    I found it gave me peace of mind to just take a few minutes every few days and clear up any loose ends, rather than think about them the rest of the trip.

  27. says

    It depends on the kind of vacation: 2 weeks ago I had to go up north for four days for friends wedding, I’ll bring my laptop and get some work done. Tomorrow I’ll leave for Kuala Lumpur for 3 days, it’s half business half pleasure, so again I’ll bring work with me.

    But when I was on the beach for new year’s with my girlfriend, I try not to do anything. Just the most important emails.

    The problem for me is that I spend too much time travelling, either business or pleasure. And even if I get work done while away, I’m never as productive as at home. And then there is jetlags, recovery time after long journeys, time spent transferring workfiles to the laptop, etc.
    I’m not complaining, it’s a major benefit of freelancing, but it does lower my productivity significantly.

  28. says

    I tried the “working vacation” but ended up kidding myself thinking I would get some work done. I obviously don’t speak for others but I think if the focus on the vacation is the work, then it might be possible to get things done. Otherwise, disconnect and enjoy yourself. Your work will be there when you get back.

  29. says

    I prefer to keep up with work on the go. It allows me to eliminate most of the burden when I get back, and I use the vacation time to catch up on projects and not have to deal with clients.

  30. Puge says

    I always bring my workstation whenever we’re going out of town, and always bring my netbook if i’m more than 5 minutes away from my workstation. Why?? We don’t know when our clients will need our support and consultation.

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