The Working Traveller
I think people usually associate somebody travelling or backpacking across a country, a continent or around the world, as someone who is on an extended vacation, or on a long holiday, which doesn’t involve much work if any at all. Of course that is the case for some travellers, especially if they have commitments to return to such as with work or study. But there are travellers out there, such as myself, who have committed themselves to study, work and development as they travel over much longer periods of time. .
A Little Discipline Goes A Long Way
Discipline. Many people claim to dislike the word, probably because it serves as an unwelcome reminder that proper application of will power, hard work, focus and effort is required to kick-start and maintain any intention, and goal to strive towards. But what if the goal or intention is aligned with something vocational instead of occupational? What if the thing to work towards is something first of personal benefit? What happens when the very thing the individual is working towards has personal meaning behind it? It seems to me that an added wave of motivation and enthusiasm is more frequently available to those aligned with something vocational. That is, a subject, topic or activity that one has freely chosen to pursue. And with vocational ‘work’, the line between work and play easily becomes blurred. The process is far more enjoyable, of course because it is something we want to do, and the ability to sit down and be productive with the activity, along with the intention to practice and improve is not as daunting. Discipline then should be easier with a chosen vocation. The apparent burden to work hard becomes lighter during the activity. But if the work you have to do on your trip is not exactly something you feel enthusiastic and excited to take on, you can still reap the benefits of keeping a little structure and focused activity in your schedule.
The process of being able to be productive and focused when travelling requires a level of discipline which can be refined and worked on every day, in small incremental steps, just like working a muscle. It’s definitely not an easy task if you’re starting from a place of having zero level of discipline, it can be a huge struggle when there no positive habits are already in place, and especially when you have a plethora of invites to do all kinds of activities that come along with staying in hostels, and the excitement of being in a new place and wanting to explore as much of it as possible, as soon as possible. Not to mention the difficulty and vulnerability of being in a position where you are not yet established in your chosen field, and consider yourself having a very long way to go before you get close to the role models you look up to, and whatever ambitious heights you wish to scale. But that doesn’t mean the struggle has to be something you despise, seek to avoid, or refuse to undertake.
You can embrace the struggle, and accept the fact that you are pushing yourself to grow and improve, which will inevitably lead to greater personal growth. Remind yourself in difficult times that your chosen act of vocation is something you have generated a deep inner admiration and love for, which should enable you to actually really enjoy the process. You have to stay centred and grounded, keeping as much focus as you can, but also making the most out of the entire experience. Staying centred and grounded involves being organised, taking proper care of your physical, mental and emotional health, eating a healthy diet, resting properly, and fuelling yourself adequately. A healthy diet should not only consist of fruits and vegetables to eat, but also of right ways of thinking, spending time with positive, inspiring, enthusiastic and hard working individuals, reading, listening and watching educational and uplifting material are other examples of a more holistic mind/body/spirit healthy diet.
Travel life experience is immense, exciting and euphoric at times. But it can also be lonely, testing, frustrating and exhausting. Before, during and after the work, wherever you are around the world, doing your best to stay healthy centred and true to your goals is essential. It can be done.
Self Reflection & Improvement
We should always have a little time to pause and reflect on what has been, on where we are and where we are going. I am still working on improving my own level of discipline and work ethic as a travelling artist, and I’ve had to learn a lot by falling, failing, and not always meeting my own goals and personal deadlines. But I’ve definitely improved a lot, especially with organisation, which I once considered a personal weakness. But we have to be careful not to beat ourselves up or be too harsh on our progress which can slow down development reduce enjoyment. Patience and persistence are very important here. I still have the intention of becoming much better at all of the jobs, wearing all the hats that come with being an independent freelance artist. There’s always so much more to learn as with anything worthwhile. But I have learned a few things that might be of help to the traveller who has also chosen to stay focused and productive on their trip to some far away land.
Work Ethic For The Focused Traveller
It can be very difficult to maintain focus and productivity when travelling, especially when staying in mixed dormitory rooms in hostels and always sharing your sleeping space with strangers. There is a high chance your sleep will be disturbed by someone in the room at least every other day, vs. staying in the comfort of the familiar, secure surroundings at home and your own private space. Sometimes you would like to go to sleep early but you can't, and you have to constantly adapt to the change of environment and situation. Your usual routine will likely need constant adaptation and evaluation. Your positive habits might need slight re-adjusting on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes you won't be able to find a suitable working space. You might even wake up to find that something of yours has been stolen, which is what happened to me recently.
The list of things that can potentially knock you off center, and contribute to change of mood, loss of focus, enjoyment, productivity and ability when travelling are endless. But we always have the choice of responding well and with a positive mental attitude. We can always take a break, go for a walk, and do whatever it takes to relax our mind and create better wellbeing within us. When travelling, we have the flexibility that comes with the freedom, and precious time is on our side, if we can first acknowledge it, and then use it.
Here are some of my tips to stay focused, productive and enthusiastic towards your goals on the backpacker road...
33 Tips For The Working Traveller
1. Make a written statement about your main goals and then verbalise them. Tell some of the people you meet about some of your goals without revealing all the details. This will help to reinforce in your mind what you have set our to do and will do. And it will also help people around you to understand when you need space.
2. Work out how many work/study hours per week is your minimum target and do your best to stick to it by keeping to a schedule. Make a rough plan and set targets. Not too high and not too low. You want to do good work, feel a sense of accomplishment, and enjoy yourself after your efforts.
3. Work out when the best time is for you to work. Are you most productive in the day or at night? Personally the first 2-3 hours in the morning for me are best. Followed by another round in the evening. Then go and find a place where you can use the Wi-Fi, plug in and tune everything else out. When people see you with headphones in, they usually won't disturb you.
4. When you wake up, don't reach for your phone, instead spend a few minutes visualising how you would like your day to go. Practice gratitude. Meditate. Drink a glass of water and start to move your body.
5. Turn off and tune out all distractions when working. That includes your phone. Research shows that focus suffers when we respond to the alerts on our phone all the time. Keep it on airplane mode when focusing.
6. Write down what you want and need to do the next day, the night before. This will help prepare you mentally for the next day.
7. If you're an artist, start the sketch, or prepare a little for the art you want to work on the night before.
8. Turn your bus journeys into educational trips. Download podcasts in advance. Charge your device to read electronically if you don't have a physical book. And practice writing digitally.
9. If you can, be the first to go to bed in your dorm room. By doing so you have a better chance of getting the sleep you need. Going to bed late only to be woken by the multiple alarms of other travellers a few hours after going to bed isn't fun.
10. Put your headphones in when you need to focus and don't want to be disturbed, even if you don't want to listen to anything. Or choose specific kinds of music or background sounds, which can help aid focus.
11. Find a quiet space in the Hostel away from most distractions early on which you can temporarily claim as yours.
12. Take extra care of your things. Don't make it easy for potential thieves, especially in low cost hostels where chances of robbery are higher. Stash your quality things away and out of site, preferably in a locker.
13. Be mindful of where you put things. Constantly living in and out of your bag can be frustrating if you don't organise yourself and pay attention to where you put everything. Talk about your travel experience and what you’re up to today after you properly organise yourself. And don’t be afraid to tell the other person in the room you need a few minutes to yourself to get organised.
14. Write short, to do lists daily. Just to get things out of your head and on paper so you can see them. Try to stick to the main tasks you want to achieve in that day instead of writing pages of minor things, all of which can’t be done in a single day.
15. Track your time. Use an app to track all of your work time so you can keep check of your progress. I like to use an app which sends me an email report at the end of the week, showing me the times I spent on each activity.
16. Reward yourself after hard work and targets reached. You can reward yourself with a book, a film, a walk, something nice to eat, or a night out socialising.
17. Don't beat yourself up for missing the mark. Accept the situation and be fine with it, just aim to try harder on other days.
18. Make sure to have enough time to properly relax and enjoy yourself whether alone or with others.
19. Be selective with the people you converse with. You could spend all day starting the same conversations with everyone in the Hostel, which can eat up all the hours in your day. This is no good if you need to be focused and productive for a certain amount of hours. If you have things to do and need to be alone, say so, be polite and excuse yourself. You can always chat and enjoy social downtime later. People won't assume you are working in a hostel communal area unless you say so.
20. Exercise in the morning. Starting the day by moving your body, activating your energy and feeling good about yourself benefits learning and productivity in many ways. I find that I get second and third waves of energy later on in the day and into the evening if I have exercised in the morning.
21. Eat as healthy as you can. Invest in fresh, organic produce if you can, it will fuel your mind and body and is an investment on your health.
22. Listen to and read inspiring and motivational content often to help reaffirm positive thinking. You might end up in an environment where most people are on a downer, you don't want to be pulled into that headspace and energy for no reason which can impact your work and productivity negatively. Change your environment if necessary.
23. Read. Keep learning about whatever interests you. Daily reading will help you focus for longer periods of time on your work.
24. Write often. Writing, reading and speaking help to organise your thinking and thought processes.
25. Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol kills motivation, inspiration, focus and creativity. Moderation is key.
26. Take regular breaks to give your brain a boost. Walk outside and around the block. Take a short power nap or siesta, whatever works best for you.
27. Get out into nature every day (if you can). Nature will help you to recharge, relax and de-clutter your mind. It will also bring you back into present moment awareness.
28. Record inspiring thoughts and ideas with notes and voice recordings as soon as possible when a pen and paper is not immediately available. By doing this you can refer back to them later when you're not over busy. This can be very useful.
29. Practice gratitude, every day. No matter what your situation is, there is always something to be grateful for. Reminding yourself to be grateful helps you to put things in perspective and encourages positive, healthy and correct thinking.
30. Keep a pocket notebook or sketchbook with you everyday, which you can pull, out anywhere and record your thoughts, inspiration, or practice drawing.
31. Download pdf, kindle or eBook versions of whatever it is you want to read/study to your phone. That way you can learn on the go while on a bus or while waiting for long periods in line. (Brazilian supermarkets for example).
32. Have at least 1 day off, or the entire weekend. We produce our best work when rested properly and relaxed, there is no point pushing yourself towards stress and burn out. You deserve a day off no matter what.
33. Back up all your files and content to cloud storage daily. This is something I've been doing lately. It helps put your mind at ease when you know all of your oprecious files and photos are stored away on the cloud. As a friend recently put it to me, think of It as ‘travel insurance’ for your work and memories. Don’t rely only on backing up to a physical pen drive or hard drive.
A Complete And Rewarding Experience
Make the most of all your time when travelling whether with work, rest or adventure/experience/play. Try to be 100% present with whatever it is you are doing. By doing so you will feel much better about yourself and you will grow more self respect and self love as you progress and make small achievements along the way. And that individual need must come first before it can be given and expressed outwards to others. By training your mind and body to embrace such a worth ethic, you will surely progress as you travel, and you might just serve as inspiration for someone who would like to emulate such a way of living.
Thank you for reading and listening.
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