The Dark Side of the Internet Lifestyle

I’d like to start with a humble apology.  I really haven’t posted much in the last month.  There are many excuses I could make.  Instead I’ll simply say that I wanted to enjoy a month-long trip in Europe; without feeling pressure to do work.

Darth VaderyThis leads us to the topic for today’s article…

Much has been said about the concept of the Internet Lifestyle.  For some, it seems like a dream come true.  With a laptop and a wireless connection you can work from any spot in the world.  Take a look at any advertisement for a ‘home based business’ product.  Odds are you’ll see shots of ordinary folks “working” while living in a warm, tropical paradise.

With all that said, I think there’s a dark side to this lifestyle.  What’s not talked about are the many hassles that occur while running a business out of a backpack.

I’ve traveled for about 11 months in the last two years.  That’s 46% of my time working while being on the road.  During this time I’ve learned that are certain negatives to this lifestyle:

#1 – Lack of Quality Internet Connectivity

Finding a decent Internet connection is often a major obstacle.  Yes, most hotels/hostels offer this service.  However you can never predict its quality.  You might get reliable access.  Or you could end up with a connection that’s reminiscent of dial-up from the 90’s.

Furthermore Internet fees can quickly add up.  While most hotels offer this service for free, others charge up to $20 per hour.  (Thanks, but no thanks Switzerland!)

#2 – Conflicting Agendas with Family, Friends, and Loved Ones

For the most part, I’ve traveled solo.  That changed this year when I went to Belize (in April) and Europe (this month) with my girlfriend Kristin.  This was a new experience because I had to make compromises with how my time is spent.

Traveling with another person (or a family) requires a PhD in time management.  Not only do you have to plan out fun activities, you also have to schedule time for work.   This isn’t as easy as it sounds.

#3 – Things Slip through the Cracks

I love traveling, but I also love having a home base.  A central location helps you stay on top of all your work.  Unfortunately the reverse is also true.  When you’re bouncing around the world, it’s easy to let important things slip through the cracks.

I’ll be honest when I say my business took a step backward in the last month.  I didn’t post many blog articles, I missed a few important emails, and I didn’t complete certain tasks that advanced my business.

On a long enough timeline, traveling will destroy your business.  Sure you might complete the critical tasks.  But you’ll miss out on a number of opportunities. The Internet game is always changing.  If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.

#4 – Routine Things Become Un-Routine

It’s difficult to find time to work when routine activities become a chore.

Think about the bottom two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (the Physiological and Safety Levels).  As humans, we can’t do anything until these basic needs are solved: Food, water, sleep, safety etc.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

At home, most of us don’t think about this stuff.  While traveling, you spend a LOT of time fulfilling these basic needs.  This is especially true if you’re switching hotels every few days.  In a given day, you have to solve these basic dilemmas:

  • Where (and what) will you eat?
  • Where are you going to sleep tonight?
  • How will you find transportation to this location?
  • Are you (and your family) safe in this spot?
  • Is your property safe?

This isn’t an exaggeration.  You can spend hours each day on these activities.  Obviously this will have an impact on the amount of work you can complete.

#5 – Negative Impact on the Mind-Body Connection

I work best when I’m relaxed and able to exercise on a daily basis.  Unfortunately this isn’t always possible while traveling.  Like I just described, you’ll spend a lot of time fulfilling basic needs.  Then you’ll also do a lot of fun activities.  And the remainder is spent on doing work.  This doesn’t leave a lot of time for exercise.

Traveling can be a negative for anyone who enjoys physical fitness.  Unless exercise is a priority while traveling; it’s hard to get your ‘daily fix’ of endorphins.  The end result is you’ll experience a decrease in creativity and inspiration.

#6 – Decrease in Future Business Activities

In 2010, I traveled for seven months.  During this time, I only concentrated on routine activities.  The end result is didn’t do spend any time on the tasks that grow my business.  Instead I concentrated on putting out urgent fires and other immediate activities.

Why is this bad?  Well in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the four *types* of tasks you can do.  He states that successful people spend a lot of time in the 2nd Quadrant – Doing important but not urgent tasks:

Stephen Covey - 4 Quadrants

With traveling, it’s easy to forget about growth activities.  Instead your precious time is spent answering emails and putting out fires.  Yes, these are important things to do.  But this leaves little time for doing things that grow your business.

How to REALLY Balance Internet Work with Travel

This post isn’t an attack on traveling.  It’s still a passion that I hope to enjoy for many years.  My goal is to honestly describe what it’s like to combine traveling with an Internet-based business.  The good news is there are a number of ways to maximize the fun while ensuring you complete the critical tasks:

#1 – Learn to Let Go

First off, it’s important to identify what’s absolutely important.  These are the activities that you need to maintain your current business.  As an example, here are the things I need to do on a regular basis:

1)      Post articles to my blog

2)      Answer emails from customers and readers

3)      Write emails for my affiliate marketing business

These are activities that can’t be eliminated.  While traveling, you want to make sure these are completed.  Then every other task should be eliminated or outsourced.  This includes the future business activities I just mentioned.

Traveling requires a compromise.  You won’t enjoy the experience if you’re working full-time.  That’s why it’s important to let go of certain aspects of your business.  Ultimately this will help you concentrate on the important and urgent activities that are critical to your success.

#2 – Do Work Ahead of Time

This recent trip has reinforced the importance of doing work ahead of time.  My original plan was to do the important things throughout the trip.  Unfortunately I didn’t anticipate all the obstacles I would encounter during this time.  The end result is didn’t complete many tasks that are critical to my Internet business.  Put simply, my plan was a failure because I failed to plan.

My advice is to complete work before leaving on any trip that’s one month or less.  That means doing the following:

1)      Letting customers/readers know you’ll be traveling during this time

2)      Using the schedule feature to deliver email messages, blog posts, and articles

3)      Creating an “out of office” response for your phone and email

4)      Completing all important projects before leaving

5)      Identifying the areas that need to be monitored during your travels

The last point is especially important.  All Internet businesses have a few areas that require regular supervision.  (Like answering emails from customers.)  It’s important to identify these tasks so you’ll know what’s a priority.

#3 – Schedule Work Time

There is a major lesson I learned while traveling for most of 2010.  You need to schedule your work time.    You won’t get anything done if you plan on doing things ‘when you have free time.’  Odds are you’ll find other ways to occupy these free periods.

What’s worked for me is to designate certain days for working.  While I’ve traveled a lot in the last year, I’ve also spent many days locked inside a hotel room… typing away on a lengthy piece of content.

The good news is you probably won’t need to work while traveling.  Most tasks can be completed in the weeks before you leave.  This leaves you enough time to put out any fires and respond to critical tasks.

Really, the key here is to identify the important things that need to be done and make sure you complete them in a timely manner.

#4 – Figure out Internet Connectivity

There is a major reason why I recommend creating a work schedule.  It’s the best way to make sure you have a decent Internet connection.   Understand that you won’t have access to the Internet every single day.  Actually this is a good thing because it allows you to relax while traveling.

The important thing is to have a quality connection during those work periods.  My advice is to send an email to the hotels/hostels and explain that you need to complete work while staying there.  Ask the following:

1)      How much do they charge for Wireless?

2)      How fast is their connectivity?

3)      Is it accessible in each room or is it only available in certain points (like the lobby.)

This little bit of research will help determine where and when to do work.

Finally, Starbuck’s Coffee has a pretty liberal Internet policy.  Most offer free access.  So all you have to do is find one on the day you’re completing work.  This is a great alternative if you’re staying somewhere that has bad access to the Internet.

#5 – Communicate with Travel Partners

Your travel companions should understand your need to do work.  But it’s important to be upfront about how much time is required.  The good news is it shouldn’t be a lot if most tasks were completed before you left.

My advice is to work when your travel companions are doing something on their own.

Here’s an example.  In Munich, Kristin went on a tour of the Dachau Concentration Camp.  I did the same tour only a year ago, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out.  While she went on a tour, I spent the day working.  We then met up later that night and continued with the rest of our trip.

#6 – Relax and Enjoy Life!

The ultimate goal of traveling is enrichment.  Embrace the idea of visiting a new place and having relaxation time.  This isn’t the time to stress out or worry about what you’re missing.

Work hard during the weeks leading up to a trip.  Then only think about business during the periods you’ve scheduled.  In fact, don’t go online unless it’s an emergency.  Unplugging from the Internet is a great way to recharge your batteries and gain a new appreciation for your business.

Final Thoughts on the Dark Side of the Internet Lifestyle

There are many challenges that come when you combine travel with work.  The goal of today’s post is to show what it’s really like to run a business out of backpack.  At times it can be frustrating. However it’s doable if you stick to a plan.

Moving forward, I’ll still travel a lot.  The only difference is I’ll follow my own advice.  All of my work will be done ahead of time and I’ll make sure I’ve planned for every foreseeable problem.

Take Action. Get Results.

31 thoughts on “The Dark Side of the Internet Lifestyle”

  1. Welcome back Steve.

    I know some of these well – for my bass website I deliver a weekly magazine and last year on vacation I had to stay up late and write the magazines whilst on holiday.

    This year I’ve just about written three magazines in advance…which is kind of nice.

    The other issue I’ve always come up against is that often you can’t get the SMTP addresses of the internet connection you’re using, so you have to send YOUR emails from a Gmail account.

    For me that’s a small PITA as all my businesses have their own email addresses associated with the domains.

    Hope you had trip.


  2. Steve

    Welcome back.

    Hope you had a good trip – preparing in advance is the main thing I think -either writing posts or getting guest posts organized. Or you could do what Copyblogger do, and adopt a ‘summer’ schedule with less posts so there’s less to do.

    Last year on my family vacation I ended up staying up working every night after the kids had gone to bed to get work done that needed doing and I didn’t get chance to get done before we left the UK.


    • Paul,

      First off good additional info on some SMPT additional challenges people might face. Very true.

      There are a lot of ways to still “get it done” on holiday, but they all certainly all revolve around a lot of work getting done in preparation. Or, as you pointed out, the willingness to stay up long after everyone else is asleep to get it done while on your trip.

      The “internet lifestyle” certainly isn’t endless fun in the sun. Somewhere, somehow, somewhen work needs to be done or everything falls apart.

      Time for me to start putting humpty dumpty back together again. 🙂

        • Paul,

          They actually did. For some reason just about ALL comments are hitting my spam bin now (for the past month)

          I DO go through my spam folder religiously and pull them all out, though. My website is one hungry monster. I have to figure out why askimet is doing this, but until I do…sooner or later will find all posts (at least those with avatars, I cannot promise anything for those people without avatars)

  3. Kudos Steve…this post could be titled “The Reality of The Internet Lifestyle”. 🙂

    Many people I’ve spoken with don’t consider the real work involved in maintaining the location-independent life. Some have returned to “stable” jobs…and some have accepted the challenge and enjoy the freedom that work provides.

    Personally, I love it, and would never think of doing anything else…but the activities you listed here are a solid primer for anyone considering a location-independent life. 🙂

    • Joseph,

      Absolutely. I love it too! But there is work involved… or your bottom line suffers horribly.

      In many ways it is like having a 9-5 job. If you are always punctual perhaps you can get by on blowing off a few sickdays here and there. Do it enough and you have no job.

      Really the same is true for location independent business. One way or another you need to get X,Y,Z done. Hopefully this will shed some light on that fact for people who do not realized that it takes steady work just as much as a “stable” job.

  4. Vacation??? Unacceptable!

    “routine things become un-routine” –> so true. It’s so difficult to force yourself into a routine when you can tell yourself that you can get something done later and do whatever else now.

    Hope you had a trip. Where did you go?

    • Now I just have to make the routine…routine again.

      Mostly the trip was through mountainous regions of Western europe. We did a fair bit of hiking (Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Lichtenstien etc.)

      Another excuse, hiking all day in the foothills does not make for good internet time.

      Lots of fun, but time to get back to it!

  5. Hey Steve! WOW… what a timely post for me. I have spent the better part of this month ‘off’… and unfortunately ‘offiline’ due to ‘ iffy’ WIFI!!!

    I totally understand on EVERY level the ‘dark side’ of traveling and trying to do business. I am sure quite a few important opportunities went down the proverbial ‘swanny’ while I was away.

    What with kids, activities, not being able to ‘get online’ and other unexpected things that just seem to eat into your ‘free time’… it doesn’t always work out the way you envision.

    I was forced to more or less simply ‘unplug’… and while I did write a couple of posts while in bed after everyone else was sawing logs, I also used the time to do a little planning and deep thinking in order to come up with a few interesting pieces of content once I get my act together again!

    Steve, I loved the post because it shows the reality of the dream… and while we are blessed to have this lifestyle, it’s not always as ‘easy’ as it seems.

    Hope you get back on track after your wonderful holiday. It sometimes takes a few days to get into the swing again doesn’t it? I’m just trying to get re-settled now we are home again!

    see you soon.


    • Jayne,

      It certainly does take a few days to get back on track. That is why it can be so devastating to get off kilter for a bit.

      I guess the important thing is to either except that every so often things happen to keep you from it, and/or work on those ways to keep them from happening or minimize the impact. (like spending your late nights writing those few posts)

      In the long run I think it is the getting back up on the horse and doing it again that matters most

  6. Steve, wow, easily one of the best articles I’ve read in weeks man. I love how you bring such a clear picture of the good, the bad, and the ugly to readers. I seriously think you should write a book or ebook about this, and the title of this post should be the title of the work. It’s awesome and much needed, as I’m a little tired of so many folks painting this lifestyle as one bed of roses after another. Can it be great and rewarding? Yes, of course. Is it also painful, stressful, and frustrating as heck at times too? Heck yeah.

    Epic post my friend.


    • Thanks Marcus,

      That is one heck of a nice comment! It is certainly true that the perceptions of this lifestyle being free and easy is off. It has some great advantages for sure, but work still needs to be done and it is not always an easy thing to do.

  7. I love this post. One of my biggest problems is to go back to routine after breaking it for a while (although is necessary to do it from time to time).

    I spent last week in Sweden, at my brother-in-law’s house because he had surgery and needed us to help him. I had a reliable internet connection and time to work. But I had to do it sitting on a couch with the laptop on my knees or on the coffee table (now my back is killing me).

    My productivity dropped more than the stock markets these last weeks. Go figure! And I think I forgot my creativity at home because the quality of my writing those days was close to zero.

    I can’t imagine how it would have been if I had gone on real holidays.

    Anyway, I’m glad you’re back 🙂

    • Cristina,

      I feel you! Having a comfortable workstation is an essential part of productivity. It is so much harder to get things done in new and “less than optimal” conditions. Here is an idea though. I go about once a week to visit my family for a night (when not traveling). Like you I have no “workstation” but what I do you is one of those cheap TV tray stands. This at least can give your back a rest. 🙂

    • Riley,

      I will probably make a “travel” post at some point (trying to shoehorn in some lessons and stuff) but mainly this trip was a in the foothill/mountainous areas of western europe (Germany, Switzerland, Austria etc.) a lot of hiking and day trips (of course making it harder to find internet) It was a heck of a lot of fun and a nice break. Hard to get back into the groove now, though.

  8. Hey buddy, couldn’t agree with you more. I’m about a week into a 3 week vacation with my girlfriend and my productivity has basically hit zero. Buuuuut, before getting into ‘vacation mode’ I went ahead and completed 3 weeks worth of work so everything is covered 🙂

    Planning really matters because once you’re on the road the last thing you want to do is work especially when you have a fresh, new location for your exploration – who wants to just sit in a hotel or hostel all day working – yeh?

    • Murray,

      That is definitely the way to do it. I did not properly work “ahead” this time. I barely got off what I “had” to get done before I left. So I felt behind the eightball the whole time. Not the way to do it.

      Now I have to get back into the daily grind. Also a damn hard thing to do after you fall out of routine!

  9. Steve,

    I think that this information (at least partly) applies to anyone who works on their online businesses – part-time or full-time.

    Especially tips #3 and #5 are important: Having a schedule and communicating with your family, so that they know you are not available during certain hours (except on urgent situations).


  10. Steve,

    Excellent post! As someone who has traveled and lived abroad I know how difficult and time consuming working (let alone living) while traveling can be.

    The title of this post dragged me in (as I’m an avid Star Wars fan) but the reference to Maslow was truly great. A lot of people forget about how time consuming meeting our basic needs can really be.

    Keep it up. Hope to hear more about your trip!


    • Thanks Amanda, I appreciate your comment.

      Everyone thinks it is going to be easy to “get” the time to work a few hours everyday when abroad, but there are certainly pitfalls that people do not consider.

  11. Internet connectivity is a big one.

    I traveled around several places in South America and the Pacific that simply didn’t have it.

    That is something that definitely needs to be researched ahead of time.

    You should post come pictures of your trips, Steve.


  12. For the vast majority of office workers and commuters the idea of working from home sounds like a blast – until they actually start doing it. Everything Steve wrote is true. Getting motivated and getting things done while surrounded by the comforts of home is actually much more difficult than it seems. As harsh as it sounds, some people need a taskmaster(boss) standing behind them with a whip in hand to ‘motivate’ them to get things done – if you’re this type of person then working at home is definitely not for you, and you’d be far more productive in an office environment.

  13. Everything you’ve said in this post is right on the spot! I’ve tried to do my business while having a holiday in Paris. There is this funny thing there that is called Free Wi Fi. It gives you hope that you are not cut off from the Internet, and you try ant try to establish a decent connection with it.

    Of course, it never happens. And I’ve been to each and every corner of Paris, believe me!

    Also, I thought that, if everything else fails, I will be able to catch some connections through my phone. I know its roaming and it’s pricey, but that was my resort.

    I FORGOT to check with my phone company (since I’ve changed companies only two months before the trip) and ended up without any roaming since they allow it only after three months of use.

    I was devastated. Luckily, I’ve managed to meet some friendly people who helped me out.

    • Ana,

      I know what you, mean I had some problems in Paris too. My first trip through Europe fortunately I stayed in lot of hostels. There was at least someplace I could go and upload even if the connection was sketchy or limited. But the next time through it was a lot more of a nightmare. (plus the body was less willing to spend time finding ways) A lot of it comes down to that proper planning. (coupled with acceptance that you may not be as wired in as you like)

      • There’s an idea – let’s make a Blogger’s Guide Through The Galaxy, with all the good places for free or cheap Internet connection! 🙂

  14. I recently spent a month on the beach with my wife and kids. The biggest thing I failed to plan for: QUALITY Internet connection. I knew the condo had one and I assumed it would be good. Turns out, it was terrible.

    I found this was one of the factors in my not being able to work as quickly as I had expected.

    Anyway, great article. I found myself agreeing with pretty much everything based on my experiences this last year.

    • Ryan,
      Yeah I think this is a common occurance. Sure, Internet may be fine. I have been to quite a few places the connection was great, but it should never be assumed!

  15. The truth of this post is impressive! Travel does, in fact, require one to become a juggler.
    Although I am just starting a formal online business, I have done a lot of business ont he internet while traveling, and I learned a lot of tips from a smart young man, Tim Ferris, in his book the 4 Hour Work Week. I have developed a system of my own that works well for me: I stay awhile. I get out among the locals and rent a place, get a phone and internet service at my house. Even in the third world, I have found internet connections to be superior to many in the US.

    The importance of this is that you can set up a home base, you can call the shots and get out of the transient rat race. You can then take short trips from your base. You get to know the real people at your destination, not just those who are running tourist traps.

    Another possibility is your own personal wireless modem with a pre-paid time card. I must admit that I haven’t had to resort to that yet, and it seems a bit pricey, but I’ll try it when all else fails…and some day it surely will.

    Right now I am on the road and staying with friends. They let me connect my wireless router to their connection, so I have good service right in my separate quarters.

    In his book, Tim Ferris gives great guidance on how to find a place to live for a while when traveling. I found some parts of his book to be a bit idealistic, but it is loaded with good ideas and insights. I thought it was worth the money.

    I hope this helps some of you,


    • Bob,

      I have read Tim Ferris, and i do like the book. I agree with you about his being idealistic. I think of him like a cheerleader. He gets you excited about the possibilities, but is short on the details of how to get it done. But sometimes those cheerleaders can spur you on to finding out more and taking positive action.

      If I ever take a really long trip again (I took a 8 month trip to europe a year + ago) I have alredy decided to do pretty much what you suggest, going to just a few places for extended periods of time and then branching out from the hub. It really makes a lot of sense, and should provide a lot better connectivity.

      Thanks for the comment! Have a wonderful day


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