When Remote Working Really Is Remote

by | Dec 14, 2018

By Paul Garth

I recently took a working holiday. Not one of those gap year trips you did as a 20-something-year-old but a proper adult working holiday. That is, I went on leave and work emails were checked and responded to regularly. My employer did not want me to. They recommend switching off properly and having a good break. But you know how it is. Like most of us, I can’t help myself.

Well, good for you I hear you sarcastically opine. Nothing new there.

giant bug

True, but I had the chance to do it in a truly remote environment; the jungles of Laos. When a friend of mine recently asked if I wanted to join a group of entomologists on a jungle trek tour of central Laos, cataloguing beetles and butterflies, I could not say no. I don’t like creepy crawlies, but I do like new and interesting experiences.

Be Prepared

There are myriad sites on which you can look up internet access across the globe. Rarely is the inability to get online due to geographical limitations. If there are limits they are more likely to be political. For email purposes, ideology is not usually a roadblock, though you might be careful with highly sensitive information over unknown networks.

You can’t travel with your entire desk, but you can snap phone pics of important notes and documents. Not an ideal way to work, but it does allow you to travel with a large amount of information at hand if needed.

Consider time differences and let people know.

If your mobile phone plan does not include global roaming and you are keen to avoid hefty feeds, you can also look at a couple of other options:

  • You can buy a roaming pack from your current provider. I am with an Australian provider and found the roaming packs did not give me sufficient data. For just checking and sending emails, it is fine, but if you want to use Google Maps to find your way in a foreign place then it eats up data pretty quickly.
  • The other option is to buy a local sim. I did some research on the situation in Laos and found one for around AU$16 which gave around 30GB over 30 days for around AUD$40 or $50. Turn on your phone Hotspot, hook up your laptop or tablet and away you go!

Getting Connected

You might be surprised at how readily available internet access is around the world. Restaurant and coffee shop chains almost always have free Wi-Fi, but in some countries like Laos, there are no such chains available!

You can do a little research beforehand via this handy Oxford Internet Institute map that shows internet penetration by country. Obviously the higher the percentage of penetration, the more chance there is of being able to connect to the internet around all parts of a country.

To give you an idea, Laos is ranked at 20% or below and I found I could access Wi-Fi at least twice a day, often more. Anywhere where there are at least backpackers then Wi-Fi access is  a selling-point readily advertised by local guesthouses, hotels and restaurants.

Here’s a view from my guesthouse in the one street town of Nahin. I would describe the local facilities as basic at best, but I had sweet Wi-Fi all day long if I wanted to stay around the lodgings.

So here’s a few notes on my experience getting connected in a place where it is often a luxury.

When there was no Wi-Fi I had the more expensive option of data roaming. Given I could time my access around the day, I turned mine off to avoid expensive charges. However, I found I had coverage all around Laos, even in the jungle.

As a final but quite expensive option, you can always purchase a satellite phone or internet hotspot. The global satellite options will ensure you can communicate no matter where you go, but if you are looking to browse the internet or use VoIP for communicating, you are in for a frustrating time. Fine for email, but speeds are slow, so attachments will be slow. If you want anything above 400-500Kbps you will need a portable satellite dish.

Of course the satellite connection option is quite expensive. Expect anything from US$1,000 to $30,000 depending on how serious you want to get.

A Parting Thought

Not all workers are lucky enough to balance sight-seeing around the world whilst also working remotely. For freelancers such as Varios, the ability to juggle life passions with quality work is a huge benefit. Technology has made it easier than ever to remote work and it will only get better.

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