A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO WORKING REMOTELY IN SOUTH EAST ASIA


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Welcome.

If you’ve managed to set up your life to put yourself in a position to travel and work at the same time, congratulations! I’m so crazy blessed to have experienced a new part of the world and while still getting paid at the same time. To give you the backstory, a few months ago I packed up my apartment, moved all my things into storage, and took off on a one way flight to South East Asia. It’s been quite an adventure and I’ve realized that working remotely is really doable, if you plan right that is.I made a lot of mistakes along the way, so I’m hoping to save you some of the pain and give you a few tools to be successful while working remotely. Here’s what you’ll find in this short guide.

  • Where to start with your budgeting;

  • How to find the best place to work before you go and when you are there;

  • How to meet people and make connections;

  • How to plan for communication (data and phone);

  • How to set expectations with your clients ahead of time;

  • 10 things I stuck the landing on during my trip;

  • 10 rookie mistakes you don’t have to make.

Where to start with your budgeting.

There are lots of good guides out there that help you plan for each country in terms of budget. Just do like all things you do in life and google it! But if you’re looking to cut through the BS and long-winded guides, I suggested having a look at http://numbeo.com/. It gives you a really good sense of what you can expect to pay in that country’s currency, and sticks to the facts without the narrative. A lot of the guides out there focus in on how to do it the cheapest. Despite your best intentions, I can promise that you are not always going to want to eat from a street vendor, so this helps break out the different kind of meal classes and so on.

BONUS TIPS

  1. I found lots of sites and people recommending skyscanner to book flights within South East Asia (SEA). But when I did a comparative search, I found Kayak.com and Google Flights to often be much more price efficient, so I’d suggest using a few tools. I also found Hopper super useful when it came to predicting whether flight prices would go up or down.

  2. Make sure to look at places like hostelworld.com and booking.com instead of Airbnb. I found the most cost-effective solutions on booking.com, but it’s sometimes super tempting to start with Airbnb and it rarely had the best options. And let’s get real, are you really going to be trying to navigate a market to buy goods and cook when you are only staying in one place for a week at a time? 

With the perfect pack and camera for your trip! WIN A GOPRO HERO 6 & KOSAN TRAVEL PACK SYSTEM | Valued at $900

Enter for a chance to win the new GoPro HERO 6, and Kosan Travel Pack System (total prize value $900). The Kosan Travel Pack System is a new 5-in-1 convertible carrying system designed to make travelling easier and safer than ever before. Featuring a 12L Day Pack and 35L Carryall pack, it will be launching on Kickstarter November 15th.

 

How to find the best place to work, before you go.

Let’s face it, great WIFI is everything. Here’s what you need to do ahead of time:

  • If you are planning on working remotely, it’s critical that you plan ahead before you move on to your next location. Check out the https://nomadlist.com/ for a list of great locations, ranked by living costs and the wifi quality.

  • Before you leave your accommodation to work for the day, check out workfrom.com to figure out where the best WIFI or co-working space is.

  • This one can be a challenge, especially when the accommodation managers do not speak very good English, but it’s definitely worth trying. Every time I didn’t do it, I regretted it. Contact the manager and get them to go to fast.com and take a screenshot of the internet speed test. If it’s poor, you’ve been forewarned.

  • When you book an accommodation, make sure in the comments to mention how important good WIFI is to you.

 

How to meet people & make connections.

Travel, at times, can be lonely. Especially if you’re working remotely and not out socializing each and every day. The good news is, it can be easy to meet people while on the road if you know where to look. Here are my top tips for socializing and making connections while travelling:

  • Book yourself into a hostel every so often. It may not be as comfortable as an airbnb, but it will go a long way towards helping you meet people. Many hostels have private rooms if you don’t feel comfortable in a dorm, and they often have ‘happy hour’ in the common areas so that you can meet other travellers.

  • Look for local facebook groups. I think there should be a new saying – ‘There’s a facebook group for that’. Wherever you go, chances are you’ll be able to find a facebook group with locals, travellers or expats in the area. For example, I joined the expat group while in Ho Chi Minh for an extended period of time and was able to connect with quite a few travellers this way! There are also general traveller groups (such as Girls Love Travel) where you can connect with others who might be in the same area as you.

  • Check out the local ‘meetups’ on www.meetup.com. These are organized by interest, so you’ll be able to find someone who’s into the same stuff as you. It’s a great way to network and explore the place you’re staying!

  • Don’t underestimate the power of social media. I’ve made a lot of connections through Instagram in particular, just by messaging people who tagged locations or used hashtags for a certain place. 
With the perfect pack and camera for your trip! WIN A GOPRO HERO 6 & KOSAN TRAVEL PACK SYSTEM | Valued at $900

Enter for a chance to win the new GoPro HERO 6, and Kosan Travel Pack System (total prize value $900). The Kosan Travel Pack System is a new 5-in-1 convertible carrying system designed to make travelling easier and safer than ever before. Featuring a 12L Day Pack and 35L Carryall pack, it will be launching on Kickstarter November 15th.

  

How to plan for communication.

This might seem overtly simple, but don’t forget to unlock your phone. Trust me, one of my team members did and she regretted it the whole time. Get a SIM card as soon as you land at the airport. The extra bucks you’ll pay for the card at the airport, might even be saved in catching a Grab (SEA ride sharing app) versus getting ripped off by a taxi. I paid $10 to $20 per card for 7GB+ in most South East Asian countries I visited. And before I hopped in any taxi, I always price checked with the Grab app.

If communication is critical to your business, then I’d recommend renting or purchasing a Tep+ device. It works in virtually any country, and allows you to connect up to 4 devices to it at any one time. The signal strength is based on the local strength of cell signals, so sometimes it can be spotty and sometimes it can be excellent. We were travelling with a group of four and we were all able to connect for $8/day. This means we had WIFI access no matter where we were and no need to scramble for a SIM card.

Teppy, as I fondly called her, has been a real lifesaver to the team. The Tep+ also has an app where you can make phone calls, texts, and get a US number that people can call into. I was then able to take my local Vancouver number and set it to forward to the US number, so my clients could call me on my local line.

This was the only solution I could find to do something like this (message me if you have other ideas!). Worth noting, you can only rent a number for a limited period (you can renew with a different US number) and you cannot receive text messages on it. The rates for making land line calls are expensive, so I’ve stuck to Skype for making outbound calls. You do not need the device to download the app, so keep that in mind if your plan is to just pick up a SIM card everywhere you go and you don’t have other parties travelling with you that might need to get onto WIFI with you.

I still haven’t found a solution to receiving text messages on my local number to my phone when I’m overseas without paying for an insane data plan with my mobile provider. All my clients that communicate via text were already on my WhatsApp, so I asked them to continue to communicate with me on there.

If you don’t want to swap out your SIM card and stay connected to the world, there are a few key ways my travel partners survived.

  • There is WIFI everywhere. Sometimes it’s bad, but it’s there. Don’t sweat it.

  • Maps.me is an app that allows for you to download maps and relevant landmarks around you, so you can have offline access. Google Maps has the same feature. Just be disciplined and do it!

  • Download Google Translate. It’s a crazy lifesaver. It’s always fun seeing a local speak into the app and having them light up after they realize I understand them. You can download full translations to have offline access.

 

How to set expectations with your clients.

If you have some time before your journey, the best thing to do is really start changing the habits that may make things difficult for you while travelling. If you answer your phone at every call and answer every email inside of 10 minutes, travelling to South East Asia and working remotely is going to be a struggle. As I’m writing this, it’s 3am here in Vietnam and 1pm in Vancouver. If my clients were used to immediate call backs and emails, I’d be in trouble come late afternoon. So a few months or more in advance, if you can start setting habits to work solid during the afternoon and be responsive in the mornings, it will make for an easy transition.

Realistically, you are going to be working in the evenings, which is pretty easy in South East Asia. The sun goes down so early, you can have an early dinner and then hunker down for the evening. After waking up, check in on the things you need to and then enjoy your day exploring before beginning the nightshift again.

It’s critical early on that you get wins for your clients and demonstrate that you are available. I have one client where there are several members on the team and I didn’t respond for two days when I should have and it’s still dogging me. Be responsive and clear your email inbox every night. If this is not something you do regularly, get in the habit of it, because there is going to be a natural tendency in the mind of the client that you are less available.

Keep up with the calls. They are going to call you less because they think you are not available. Find an excuse to call them and update them. I’ve found every time I reach out, the communication volume increases thereafter, which is important if you want to keep those clients!

As much is it about managing client expectations on a continual basis, probably the best advice I have is to try keeping your travel limited to weekends or when your clients don’t expect to hear from you and communicate when you plan to be on the holiday parts of your trip. As much as you think you will be productive during your travel days, it just never seems to manifest. 

With the perfect pack and camera for your trip! WIN A GOPRO HERO 6 & KOSAN TRAVEL PACK SYSTEM | Valued at $900

Enter for a chance to win the new GoPro HERO 6, and Kosan Travel Pack System (total prize value $900). The Kosan Travel Pack System is a new 5-in-1 convertible carrying system designed to make travelling easier and safer than ever before. Featuring a 12L Day Pack and 35L Carryall pack, it will be launching on Kickstarter November 15th.

  

10 things I stuck the landing on.

  • Bring travel sheets. Sometimes you get a bed with blood stained sheets and it just gives you the hibby jibbies.

  • Wet wipes. There will come a time, when you are going to need to squat and use a bucket to somehow rinse your ass. I just felt like this was not something I needed to learn how to do. You are going to wish you had those wet wipes.

  • Microfiber towel: this turned out to be convenient more times than I expected.

  • Kept it flexible: I didn’t book much of anything in advance and we didn’t have a schedule, just places we wanted to go. Wouldn’t have had it any other way. You’ll fall in love with every place you visit and you’ll want to stay longer, so give yourself the chance to.

  • Leap of faith in the booking.com. Booking.com was really the most cost effective way for us to book travel during our stay. Of course WIFI is critical, and if you click on the detail in the WIFI, you’ll find a rating for how travellers rate the WIFI and READ the recent reviews. They will be really telling about what you might expect if you book that place. I do a search and find “WIFI” to see what people are saying.

  • Take a picture of your passport and Visa and have it handy: when booking flights online, you often have to use the passport number. It’s nice to not have to fish out the passport. And if you lose it, you at least have the photo of it for identification. My partner lost her business visa and had a photo. Made for getting an exit visa seamless.

  • Download Google translate: talked about this one already, but it’s a must.

  • Eat from the places where they don’t speak English: If it was all foreigners, it was twice the price and never as good. We’d move around until we could find a busy place where only locals were eating. Never regretted it.

  • Bring a scarf: This is especially true for female travellers. Read my other Kosan founder’s post about it.

  • I took the Kosan Travel Pack System: It’s ideal to be hands free when in transit and the system just looks so great. I like to hike, but I don’t like looking like I’m hiking a mountain every time I step outside a hostel. Have a look at the Kosan Pack System preview to see what I’m talking about. It will be available on Kickstarter in November.

 

10 rookie mistakes you don’t have to make.

  • Booked flights with layovers under 3 hours: I was desperate for a last minute cheap flight to Indonesia and Kiwi.com goaded me into booking a flight with a connection inside of 3 hours. A flight delay and boom, a missed a flight. Worse, the flights on Kiwi.com aren’t really connecting flights. They are separate flights with separate booking numbers. You’ve been warned!

  • Didn’t call ahead for WIFI test: If you don’t call and have them do it for you, buyer beware. As a quick alternative, consider booking at places with free cancelation in case the WIFI sucks and make sure in your booking reservation that you indicate WIFI is very important to you. This goes a long way and my hosts usually addressed it with me upon arrival.

  • Ate it even though it wasn’t cooked enough: Need I say more?

  • Watch your legs! If you are going to hop on one of the 7 million motorbikes in Saigon, watch yourself. Every local has burn scar on their leg from hopping on and off and roasting a leg on the exhaust. If you had a few too many beverages that night and your coordination is lackluster, maybe stick to a cab (it’s the number one way passengers get killed during travel and alcohol is the leading cause)

  • Packed too much: Now, I wanted to test a bunch of gear because we are opening up an online travel store, so I was overweight and carrying too much from my perspective, but a lot of packing lists have as much and more than I carried. I couldn’t recommend this more strongly, pack light. You can always buy more overseas and it wont’ be expensive. And take note, if you are doing little flight jaunts here and there, the budget airlines like JetStar and AirAsia check the weight of all your bags regardless of whether you indicate it’s a carryon and they run around 7kg for both bags. So keep this in mind for your budgeting if you intend to pack moderate to heavy.

  • Bring a flashlight: You will need it. When you don’t want your phone out or it’s dead, having the flashlight so you can see where you are walking at night would have been so ideal. We recommend X.

  • Didn’t have two bank accounts: I’ve always got my head in the clouds and the ATM machines back home make you take the card before you take the money. Not the same in SEA. So low and behold, I took the money and ran leaving my card behind and putting myself in a position where I’m having to take money off my credit card everywhere. It’s not ideal and can be avoided by having a second online with a different bank.

  • Unlock your phone: one of my travel partners got herself in a really difficult situation and didn’t have her phone unlocked and had to wait to get to a WIFI spot until she could contact us. There are a hundred reasons to get the phone unlocked, so you can pop in a SIM. Make it happen.

  • Download Grab ahead of the trip. You’ll want to use it when you land and it requires a phone number confirmation to set it up.

  • Have credit cards from different companies: For some reason, my two visa cards would not go through booking AirAsia flights and another local airline company. I’d recommend carrying a secondary branded card.

 

Happy travels.

 

 ALEX MCAULAY, CO-FOUNDER

From: Vancouver, Canada
Currently In: Philippines
Last Stop: Malaysia
Next Stop: Hong Kong
Favourite Country So Far: Vietnam
Top Bucket List Item: See the pyramids in Egypt and visit more wineries than I can remember in Italy

I fell in love with travel at a young age, but it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really got to experience it. My 20s were jam packed with volunteer work, post-secondary, getting my Chartered Accountant designation and then launching a successful apparel brand called Naked Underwear. I’m currently on a one-way ticket travelling all over Asia and having a blast. If you want to catch me, you’ll find me at homestays, on local transit or eating street food down a back alley. Hope we can meet sometime!

If you have any other tips you think I should add to this guide, please send your suggestions to alex@kosantravel.com. Would love to hear from you.


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