With access to the internet almost universal, working on the road is pretty much a piece of cake—well, as long I don’t have to teach my computer to speak English!
Back in 2014, when I made my first foray into solo, independent travel, I had not yet begun harvesting my Social Security benefits—that bit of gold at the end of the rainbow that we always claimed we would never see. I am a book designer. That means that I design the insides—the guts—of books and prepare them for publication. I also take on other graphic design jobs as well as some administrative work. I can do all of these things remotely.
There have been jobs where I have never even met my client face to face. Once I was a virtual administrative assistant helping move a rather large estate through the probate process. I met the executor face to face once during the two-year process, and never met the lawyer or accountant!
“How Much is Your Trip to Peru Costing You?”
In 2014, I was in Peru doing some design work for my friend Daniel. It was February—summer in Peru, but a long, gray winter in the northern United States where he lived. Daniel has traveled in and has many fond memories of Central America. After one two-hour business conversation via Skype, he was lamenting the cold, wet weather.
“Where do you work? Do you have an office, or what?” he asked.
“I tell you what, I will send you a photograph.” I replied. I sent him an image of the sunroom terrace of the guesthouse where I was residing for a month. My computer in the foreground—Lake Titicaca, in all its glory at my feet.
A bit later, he texted me, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how much is your trip to Peru costing you?”
Teaching a Computer to Speak English
In 2015, my second four-month trip to Peru was barely two days old, when my computer went south—completely south…well almost. If it were not for the amazing technogeek experience and patience of my ex-husband, Roger, my days of world travel may have come to a screeching halt. I had to be able to work remotely—clients were waiting. To make a very long story short, thanks to the milagro (miracle) that is Skype, a little Samsung tablet that was still working, and the ability of Roger and I to still work together like a well-oiled machine, my journey was rescued. Taking a leap of faith, we heated up the machine until some magical links inside reconnected and we got the thing to boot.
Don’t try this at home, unless you don’t care if your computer never works again!
Then, Roger helped me research what computer to purchase and even find the store in Arequipa to purchase it. Let me tell you, walking into a department store electronics section with rudimentary Spanish knowledge and trying to ask technical questions can be pretty daunting. But, hoping I was getting the right computer model, I brought it back to my guesthouse and we proceeded to transfer everything over…bit by bit.
Did you know that some computers sold in developing countries do not have the Windows universal language pack installed? This one only spoke Spanish. Between us, we researched how to “teach” it English by tweaking some line of code deep in the bowels of the registry.
Again, don’t try this at home without expert help!
I was in business. My trip was saved!
A few weeks later, I added up the minutes Roger and I had spent on Skype—over 200 hours of conversations, trouble-shooting, and finger-crossed trials! It is nice to be friends with your ex especially when he is a “technogeek!”*
Over the next several years, without
warning, the computer would still sometimes
stubbornly speak to me in Spanish.
Fifty Days on Foot
The impetus of my trip in 2017 was to walk the Camino de Santiago del Norte along the coast of Spain. I was going to make the pilgrimage and return home. But during the planning process, I kept adding countries, resulting in (what I thought would be) a six-to-eight-month trip. Once I was in Europe, I kept adding more countries, and before I knew it, that eight-month trip turned into two years. Hmmmm, how did that happen?
Anyway, back to the Camino. Before leaving home, I had promised my client, Ann that I would be able to complete some extensive edits to a small regional hiking guide, Walks, Trails and Parks of Vashon Island. This was the fifth edition to be released in time for the holidays. It turned out to be almost a complete re-write. But thanks to the magic of the internet and my ability to carry a small laptop with me the entire 715 kilometers of the Camino, the finished copies were in the hands of my clients in time for the holiday market.
A bonus to this job was that it required me to take one or two days off from walking every week or so, in order to work on the page layouts. Ann kept apologizing for interrupting my trip, but those rest days may have meant the difference between my Camino’s success and failure.
My favorite Camino office? In the sweet town of Santoña. My albergue (hostel) balcony overlooked a quintessential town square where Spanish food and wine was served to me at a sidewalk café.
It was also on this trip where I worked in the nadir of my array of temporary offices: two days in a seven-euro-per-night albergue, sitting in a bunk bed in an airless room. (You get what you pay for! But they had decent wifi.) What preserved my sanity was that just outside the door was the captivating city of Oviedo, Spain.
The Valley of the Douro
After I finished the Camino, I spent three-weeks in the Douro Valley of Portugal and that is where I finished the hiking book’s layout—in between gorgeous fall days walking through yellow, orange, and red vineyards.
In November, the book layout was magically transported to a printer in Seattle, where Ann picked up the finished copies a few days later.
You rarely see the designer mentioned in a book’s credits. We are an invisible part of the crew. So, I was honored when Ann included me on the Acknowledgements page, “Foremost thanks to Cathy Fulton who designed and produced this edition as she walked the Camino de Santiago, Spain.”
For most of the six weeks I was in Kyrgyzstan, I stayed in a very special yurt camp called Happy Nomads with the most incredible hospitality, breakfasts, and flower garden. I switched from working in my cozy yurt to an open-air structure, depending on my mood. Sometimes, Altynai, one of my hosts would bring me a tea tray with a snack of borsook (bread puffs) and fresh vegetables. I felt like an Asian princess.
It was in Kyrgyzstan that I first got encouragement from my friends to transform my hobby travel blog into a professional blog and website. So, I went to work learning about travel blogging, producing valuable content, SEO (yuck!) , how to use WordPress. In short, I felt like I had returned to university—it would open up a whole new world.
Sri Lanka: Birthplace of CathleensOdyssey.com
I spent 3 months in Sri Lanka. I had decided to get serious about putting together a travel blog and to begin writing a book. I had heard that Sri Lanka is kind of like India but without all the chaos. India had been overwhelming for me, so when I landed at the airport in Colombo, the country was like a breath of fresh air.
My first stop was the seaside town of Hikkaduwa to get my bearings and choose where I wanted to settle for a while. Well, it was not long before I fell in love with the little town and decided to stay. It just turned out that there was a nice airy apartment available right next door to the first guesthouse I stayed in. We agreed on a rent for two months and I moved in.
Here is a little tour of that apartment.
The great wifi in the compound came in handy, because once again, I had to acquire a new computer while on the road. The little blue machine I had been using had served me well, but I had begun to dabble in video editing. That little computer just did not have the capacity to render video without gasping for air—or just downright quitting.
Once again, Roger stepped up to the plate and helped me choose the best machine for my purposes, and then get it up and running.
This time, I had the computer shipped from the US—an anxiety-producing decision. Despite several attempts to learn beforehand what the import duty would be, I still had no idea what the real computer’s cost was until it was delivered by Fed-Ex. I “guessed” the duty would be somewhere between $15 and $150 US. I knew it would have to be paid to the delivery driver in cash, so I collected a bunch of rupees from the ATM so I would be ready.
The delivery was made by official FED-EX motorcycle (!?!?!!!), laden with a huge collection of boxes. The driver showed me the invoice. I was dismayed to see 28540 rupees scribbled on the paper. (Almost $150 US!) But at least I was prepared and asked the driver to wait while I retrieved the money from the apartment. My host was standing by in case I need some translation. As I counted out the rupees, he and the driver looked at each other. The driver’s eyes got bigger and bigger. They spoke rapidly to each other in Sinhalese. The host stopped me, “What are you doing?” It turned out that there was some scribbling after the amount on the invoice that looked like a “0” to me. The duty was actually less than $15!
Now that I was using OneDrive to store all my files in the cloud, it took several days to download them to the new computer. Actually it took “several nights” because data was cheaper at night. In Sri Lanka, it appears that there is no such thing as “unlimited data plans”—most people just pay for some amount of data and top up as they need more. I knew I would be using more than my fair share of the compound’s data, so I voluntarily paid my landlord a little extra for all the data I was hogging. $25 was not much for me, but that is quite a bit of money for locals. Besides, I had a few extra rupees left over from my “duty” stash!
Kuala Lumpur: A Taste of Luxury
And finally…a rare kind of office for me…but such a sweet treat! My daughter Rebecca works for the Hyatt Corporation. She has a great perk—if a room is available, she can stay in any Hyatt in the world for three days for free and eat for half-price. AND she can bring a friend (or mother!). We decided to meet in Malaysia for her two-week vacation in February 2019. After 30 hours of travel, she knew she would be ready to crash. And, she knew the perfect place to do so—the Grand Hyatt in Kuala Lumpur—next door to the Petronus Towers. And that is how I came to be sitting in a luxurious cotton robe with a computer on my lap. Who couldn’t be productive? It was there that I edited the first in a series of “We Travel to Cook” videos featuring Rebecca.
When I started traveling in 2014, I never really intended to be a “digital nomad.” It kind of just happened because clients would contact me and ask tentatively, “Cathy, can you do…?” And I would just say “Yes!” It certainly helped that these little jobs created the financial buffer that made this nomadic lifestyle possible for me. I am grateful.