You may remember back in November I wrote about a digital nomad road trip I did across middle America while working, and how during December and January I was going to try working abroad. Well, fresh from getting back from Kota Kinabalu, Singapore, Melbourne, and Honolulu, here I am to chat about my experience and provide you with tips.
When I lived in Los Angeles, I worked contract gigs based on the East Coast which would require me to occasionally attend meetings before my main job started at 9 am local time. It was part of the grind that came with trying to rent a one-bedroom apartment in an expensive city and not have roommates. Back then, I thought getting up early was more of a nuisance, but I would soon find out that working from Asia, Australia, and Hawaii was much harder on my sleep and work/life balance. While working from Europe, Latin America, and Africa can be a relative annoyance in terms of scheduling, working from Asia can be a nightmare.
Here is some advice from the seven-week trek I had visiting Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and Hawaii, and how I managed to still move work forward, stay connected with coworkers, get ok sleep, and discover new amazing places and food.
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Clarify Availability with Your Team Before Your Departure
Before you embark on any digital nomad work trek, you need to level set expectations with your team in terms of your working hours, availability, and any change in job responsibilities while you are out.
Showing when you will be available and making sure people have visibility into your calendar is extremely important. There are a number of calendaring tools out there, and I chose to go with Google Sheets. Creating a separate calendar on a new sheet for every leg of my trip would ensure people understood my availability for that time period. Important things I included on the calendar:
Time zones for both the local time I was in and the time my team was working in (Eastern Time)
Highlighting which hours of the day I would be working in yellow
Labeling which meetings I would be able to make, and which I would not 😴
Since I was only doing this overseas trip for about a month, the key was deciding which meetings were critical for me to attend and moving those to times I could take them synchronously with everyone else, and having the less critical meetings during times I would not be available.
Working Schedules in Different Time Zones
Not everyone can work asynchronously, and some things need to happen in person. For example, if you’re a manager and have team members who report to you, you better find a way to schedule 1:1 time face-to-face to get a pulse of how they are doing. It’s something I prioritized and incorporated into my schedule.
While working in Australia, I opted to start my work day at 5:00 am. That way I would essentially be available from 1 pm ET onward and had plenty of time in the afternoon to take any meetings and 1:1s. The only issue came on Fridays, which were Saturdays in Australia. I decided to just schedule a day off so I could spend time hanging out with my Australian family when they were not working.
A cute koala hanging in the tree at Healesville Santuary
When I worked a few days in Malaysia and Singapore after the holidays, the team was about 13 hours ahead – which made it next to impossible to do anything synchronously. Even getting up at 4 am would yield only one to two hours of synchronous time at the end of my team’s day. Luckily I structured my vacation so that I spent the most amount of time in Asia on holiday, but I did still work several days in Singapore and a couple in Malaysia. I pretty much had to go asynchronous the whole time, minus a leadership call and the beginning of the year all-hands meeting. If I did this for a longer period of time, I would say split shifts, where I would work a few hours at night before going to bed, would need to be utilized.
The things you can see early in the morning (no, I was not working from the top of a mountain): this was on vacation before New Year’s climbing Mt. Kinabalu with my cousin at 13,000 ft. Taken just before 6 am local time
I also found out that having people record meetings so I could listen in and provide feedback after everyone’s workday ended worked well. My notes were more thorough, I felt I was able to absorb what happened, and I had better follow up items by not being bombarded with constant notifications and messages that would inevitably happen if I had been working synchronously.
Importance of Sleep and Taking Advantage of Daylight
Whatever schedule you decide works for you and your company, make sure you stick to it, and that goes for the sleep schedule that will go along with your work schedule. For most of my time working in Australia, Hawaii, and Singapore, I made sure I went to bed by 9 pm local time so I could be up at 4 am and get at least 7 hours of sleep. It can get very tempting to want to stay up and go to that night market to get some late-night laksa, but you have to be able to draw a line somewhere and get proper sleep, otherwise you’ll burn yourself out the next day.
Also, if you are like me, you will be doing a lot of day adventures after work, which will likely be over around 1 pm local time if you are starting around 4 am and working one continuous shift. After work gets out you will have upwards of 8 hours to explore. Unlike Australia where it was summer and the sun set around 9 pm, in Hawaii, the sun was setting around 6 pm, so I had to use that four- to five-hour window well. In Hawaii, I was able to use my schedule to my advantage by doing a lot of day hikes like Koko Crater Railway and Diamond Head on the weekday when they were much less busy.
Diamondhead State Monument is a must-hike. It is very accessible, about a 15-minute ride from Waikiki, and also close to bus routes. The hike is only about 1.6 miles out-and-back.
Amazing view of the lighthouse and waves in the distance.
Koko Crater Railway was a sight to behold and I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it to the top after looking at those daunting stairs. There is one section that is very sketchy and if you don’t have good balance it could be easy to fall off the side of the rail. So exercise caution there, but when you get to the top you won’t regret it.
In Australia, my cousin and I were able to see the Australian Open after my workday concluded and beat a lot of the crowds that typically form after people get out of the office. It was my first time at a professional tennis tournament and to be at a Grand Slam event was even more special. There were a lot of activities outside of tennis to do as well and I was able to catch a few matches both at the outdoor and indoors courts.
One thing I had to adjust with working a super early shift was my breakfast and lunch schedule. I would typically eat something very light and quick two to three hours after I woke up, around 7 or 8 am. This would include hard boiled eggs or oatmeal. I wouldn't take a lunch until work ended around 1:30 pmor so. By this time the lunch rush had died down and I would still have a chance to try local cuisine and fuel up before tackling the day. In Singapore I had the opportunity to visit some of their world renowned food courts. Let the drooling commence!
There are a lot of new ways to get connected to the internet I was not aware of before taking this trip abroad. In Australia, you can actually get free WiFi from payphones. The connection isn't the fastest, but it should work if you're in a pinch.
Also, on some of my connecting flights before I got to Asia, Delta had just started offering free in-flight WiFi and the speeds were incredible for something that just required you to sign up for their free SkyMiles program. I was able to browse travel vlogs on YouTube without any issues, which was amazing.
Another thing that was very convenient for traveling overseas was having my mobile coverage with T-Mobile. I’m not some T-Mobile magenta fanboy, nor am I in any way sponsored by them, but they do offer free coverage overseas and you can even use your same number in the US to receive calls ($0.25/min), texts (unlimited) and super-slow data (256Kbps). Even though the data is slow, it can come in handy and is better than nothing. They do offer the option to upgrade to a $50 International Pass for 30 days for faster data.
When you are on the go, you likely won’t always be near a charger. And if you are like me and use a six-year-old phone with an internal battery that is on its last legs, a portable charger is not a bad idea. Some things I hate about most power banks is how bulky they are. I was able to snag this really lightweight power bank from Nitecore that also boasted a 10,000 mah capacity. I can’t tell you the amount of times it saved me.
Also, don’t count out airports when it comes to getting access. Most have free WiFi and I know not all airport internet speeds are created equal, but I can tell you that Sydney had speeds that were just bonkers! I’m talking 200Mbps with parallel uploads. Insane for an airport. I’m not sure if that was some sort of anomaly that day or what, but I was so pumped I had to message my team at 3 am in the morning about that one.
Overall, these really are the biggest tips I can say helped me on my seven-week adventure overseas and I hope you are able to take something from it for your own journey. I’m not sure where I’ll head next, but one thing I promised myself when getting back was buying a portable monitor. I’ve added one since, and it’s been a complete game-changer when working on-the-go. I was inspired by several Reddit threads on digital nomad life, so shoutout to those folks for showing me the light.
Be on the lookout for more digital nomad trips from me very soon!