Should you travel to new places or go back to old favorites?

I often say that the problems I have now are the best problems I’ve ever had.

One of these “problems” is deciding between traveling to new, exciting locales or going back to locations that I already know that I love. Even as a remote-working digital nomad, my travel time is limited and precious to me.

My dream, and one of the reasons I travel so much, is to see as much of the world as I can. Travel has given me a great amount of perspective and really shaped my worldview, and I think I will also want to visit new places.

But that said, having been to 49 countries and most states already, there are so many places that I’ve loved and want to revisit (in fact, as I write this, I am on a flight to Maui, having just stayed there – at the same exact hotel – 4 months ago).

As a remote worker, it’s almost always easier to go to a location that I’ve been before, especially if I stay at the same hotel/Airbnb – I already know that there’s reliable WiFi, where to go nearby for quick meals, and will sometimes already have friends in those locations. This is one reason that I keep going back to Medellín and Puerto Vallarta, where I already have work routines in place.

Also, when my friends ask me to travel, just given all the places that I’ve been, it’s often to locations that are old hat to me. When that happens, I’ll usually look past the fact that I’ve been somewhere because the experience of going places with friends is usually worth the repeat in travel.

And just because I’ve been somewhere doesn’t mean that I’ve experienced it all. The third time I was in Medellín, for example, I took a tour that took me to some stunning places 2-3 hours outside of the city. Sure, I didn’t get to mark off a new country, but that trip was unforgettable.

So, for me, it’s a delicate balance and I usually try to split my travel 50/50 between places I’ve been and places that I want to go. Of course, when I was newer to travel, I was purely focused on new places, which I think makes a lot of sense if you’re just getting started – it’s very hard to tell what you’d like and what you wouldn’t if you only have a small sample size.

Do you prefer going to places you’ve been or to new destinations? Let me know in the comments!

How hiring an assistant can help freelancers travel more

We could all probably use an assistant. But when you’re a freelancer running your own business, hiring an assistant can often be a practical way to increase both your revenue and quality of life (including your ability to travel more).

Let’s use a hypothetical freelancer, “Sally,” to illustrate this point. Sally is a freelance consultant who charges $80/hour for her services. She just started her business last year and spends roughly 10-15 hours per week on administrative tasks, like data entry, qualifying leads, and scheduling calls.

If Sally were able to take the 10-15 hours per week that she was spending on these non-revenue earning tasks and focus the time on working with clients and growing her business, she could increase her revenue by around $800-$1,200 per week. Assuming Sally pays $15/hour for an assistant (because Sally knows that everyone deserves a living wage), Sally would still be earning an additional $650-$975 per week.

Additionally (and, for purposes of this blog post, more importantly), hiring an assistant can help freelancers travel more. In addition to being able to take the increased revenue and use it for trips (both for business and fun), hiring an assistant makes it easier to work outside of your “home” base.

The reason for this is that even though the world is becoming increasingly digital, there are still reasons that freelancers may be tied to a specific location. In my own freelance business, a pain point I’ve faced is that I will sometimes need to get mail or mail documents out (yes, snail mail!), which can make it hard to plan trips that last more than a week or so. But by delegating these tasks, where possible, I’m able to extend my trips and worry less.

It’s often the case that if you’ve just started your freelance business, the last thing you want to think about is bringing on an assistant. Likely, you’re still trying to figure out if it’s a sustainable business and you want to keep every last penny of revenue that comes in (which is something I can totally relate to). Also, hiring an assistant sounds like something more “successful” people do.

But once you’ve established your business, and particularly if a goal of yours is to use your freelance business as a catalyst to travel more, it’s a step that’s definitely worth considering.

When you’re at the point where you’re ready to hire an assistant, there is great recruiting technology available to help make the process seamless.

Are you a freelancer who has used an assistant to help your travel more? Let me know in the comments!

5 steps to take before visiting a new country

Whether you’re new to travel or a regular globetrotter, visiting a new country is always exciting. It can also be a bit nerve-wracking, particularly for solo travelers, as you may be worried about safety, maximizing your time while visiting, and making sure you have a good time.

Below are some tips for steps to take after you’ve booked your adventure but before you step foot in a new country:

no one deals like we do!

1. Learn basic phrases in the local language

Aside from my love of unlimited soda refills, probably the most American thing about me is that I am terrible at learning foreign language. After taking almost 8 years of Spanish and spending 4 years living less than 100 miles away from the Mexican border, my Spanish language skills are still very basic (though get better with alcohol consumption).

That said, before traveling to a new country, I always make sure that I learn how to say the basics, which include:

  • Hello
  • Thank you
  • Sorry/excuse me
  • Goodbye

While it would be great to know more (and see tip #4 here for help with that), I’ve found that knowing these words in a local language, a smile, and some body language are often all that I need to traverse a new, foreign destination.

2. Figure out currency conversion rates

One great way to save money when you travel is to use local ATM’s rather than currency exchanges to get your money, as the rate your bank charges is often lower. To do this, you should have an idea of how much money you need to get out by the time you land.

A trick that I like to use is looking up typical currency denominations and their corresponding value in USD, and writing down what it amounts to. For instance, in Colombia, here’s a list of the bills they have and current value in USD:

  • 5,000 Pesos = $1.75 USD
  • 10,000 Pesos = $3.50 USD
  • 20,000 Pesos = $7.00 USD
  • 50,000 Pesos = $17.50 USD

Knowing the exact worth, in USD, of these bills helps me avoid math (or really, getting the currency conversions wrong) when I’m out and about and possibly with no internet/cell service.

3. Learn about the local public transit system

If you’ve ever been to a new country and tried to hop on a local, non-tourist focused train/bus, you’ve probably experienced some anxiety related to it. Are you going the right way? Do you have enough money to cover the fair? Will there be signs for where you need to get off?

Even with proper research, a new city’s public transit system can be intimidating. I was in Tokyo a few months back for the annual cherry blossom festival, and Shinjuku station was hectic and confusing enough that, even with a plan, I almost had an anxiety attack.

But if you plan on using public transportation at all (and you should!), you should download a copy of the city’s local transit map and look into things like day passes, cost of public transit tickets, and hours of operation. Sometimes, you’ll find that private options (such as cabs or Uber) offer better value for your time and provide a way of saving time for you to explore.

4. Download “Google Translate” and “Google Trips” apps

Recently, I wrote an article about how Google Trips is my new favorite travel tool. I’ve linked to the article itself but, basically, it provides amazing day trip itineraries based on your interests.

Although Google Trips is my new favorite travel tool, Google Translate has been a favorite travel tool of mine for years. You can use Google Translate in a few ways, including entering a phrase you’d like to say in English and having the app tell you how to pronounce it in a local language to placing your phone over a menu (or anything in a foreign language) and having it auto-convert into English or another selected language.

5. Look into visa requirements

A few years ago, I was flying from Lima, Peru to Buenos Aires, Argentina when, at the Lima airport, I overheard 2 Americans talking. Apparently, they hadn’t realized that travel to Argentina required a visa for Americans, and because the system to apply for a new visa was down, they were stuck in Lima until they could get the visa approved.

Now, admittedly, I’m not the best at this — I’ve got a trip to Georgia planned in 7 weeks and I haven’t looked into the visa… yet. But you can save yourself a big headache by having the visa situation figured out a few weeks before your trip (or potentially a few months out for places that are known to have a difficult visa process, such as China).

Are there steps you take when you traveling to a new country? Let me know in the comments!

8 reasons why Tulum is the perfect destination for remote workers

Beautiful beaches, reliable infrastructure, and a community of digital nomads — read on to discover why Tulum may be the perfect destination for remote workers.

1. Easy to get to

Tulum is located about 90-minutes away (by car, bus, or shared shuttle service) from Cancún International Airport. Flights to Cancún are easy to get, with direct service from most major American cities.

2. It’s safe

Mexico is going through a crime wave right now, and even typical tourist hot spots like Cabo, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta have had incidents occur over the last few months and in recent weeks.

But the Yucatán Peninsula, including Tulum, Merida, and Cancún have largely been insulated from this wave of crime and violence.

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Having traveled to Mexico many, many, many times, I have never once felt unsafe in the country. That said, there is nowhere that I’ve felt more safe in Mexico than in Tulum.

3. Easy to get by on English

If remote workers needed to know the language of every country they traveled to, for many, their world would be quite small. While I encourage anyone traveling abroad to a country that speaks another language to learn basic greetings and words, it’s always nice to know if you can get by on your native tongue.

In Tulum, speaking only English isn’t an issue, with taxi drivers, hotels, and restaurants all accommodating Americans and English-speaking travelers from all over the world.

4. Reliable WiFi (unless you’re right on the beach)

I spent a week working remotely from Tulum and had no connectivity issues, except while I was sunbathing on the beach itself (and it probably was better to take a full-on break at that point).

The closer to “town” you get (which is about 2 miles west from the beach), the better the WiFi gets. To ensure you’ll have service while you work, I would recommend staying closer to central Tulum and taking a taxi to the beach, which costs about $5 per trip.

5. Simply stunning beaches

Tulum1

Turquoise water, soft, white sand, and warm tropical sunshine help make Tulum’s beaches some of the best in the world.

While there, be sure to get a massage on the beach, where you can listen to the waves crash while your worries float away — and cheap-ish by American standards (~$40 for 60-minutes).

6. Community of remote workers/digital nomads/freelancers

Tulum is almost synonymous with digital nomads and remote workers. If you go to a coffee shop in Tulum in the morning or afternoon, you’ll see laptops and iPhones galore, with people typing away, (presumably) working.

If you want to get away from the beach or need to be in an office, Tulum even has a dedicated coworking space, Coworking Karma Tulum.

7. Cenotes

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One of the main attractions of staying in Tulum is visiting some of the nearby cenotes.

“Cenotes are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock, which has revealed a secret subterranean world of groundwater pools,” according to Lonely Planet.

“Most cave cenotes have fresh water that has been meticulously filtered by the earth, making them so clear and pure that you can see straight through to small fish frolicking in the plant life below.”

A number of cenotes surround Tulum, including Gran Cenote and Cenote Dos Ojas. You can snorkel, dive, or just check out the beautiful scenery away from the warm, Mexican sun.

8. Ruins (with a view)

I’ve saved the best for last — the famous Tulum Ruins.

Tulum4

Tulum’s history goes back to at least the late in the thirteenth century, during what is known as the Mayan post-classic period. Tulum was built with a wall surrounding it, and while the reasons are still largely unknown (and may have been lost with the decline of the Mayan world), it’s thought that priests and nobility were hosted within these walls.

For the best experience, you should arrive shortly after opening before the crowds come. Once you experience the ruins themselves, be sure to head to the beach for a swim in the crystal-clear blue water, surrounded by history.

Setting up a yearly travel routine: A guide for remote workers

Whether you’re a freelancer or have a job that allows you to work remotely, depending on certain circumstances in your life (finances, family, health, etc.), you may be able to travel much more than your friends who work more “traditional” jobs.

I began working remotely in 2015, first for a company and then as a full-time freelancer. Though I am still constantly learning from my travels, I have found that I enjoy being based in a city and booking ~monthly travel, rather than being a full-time digital nomad. Having a base helps me establish better personal and business relationships and it allows me to focus more on my physical and mental health.

Regardless of if you’re a remote worker like me who prefers having a travel base or if you’re a digital nomad constantly on the run, you may benefit by establishing a yearly travel routine.

What is a yearly travel routine for remote workers?

Both to keep my finances in check and for business/health purposes, I try to limit my travel to around one trip each month (and yes, I know I am ridiculously lucky to have this ability). Assuming I’m able to accomplish this goal each year, this means I’m generally taking at least 12 trips each year.

Of those roughly dozen yearly trips, there are certain destinations that I will (almost for sure) visit. For me, they are:

  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Medellín, Colombia
  • Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Hawaii
  • New York City

I consider these destinations to be part of my “yearly travel routine,” which is basically a set of locations that I try to visit once each year.

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Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: one of my yearly travel destinations.

Why have a yearly travel routine?

Having a yearly travel routine is not right for everyone. If your singular goal is to see as much of the world as you can while you can, having a yearly travel routine could stifle your ambition.

But for many remote workers, setting up a yearly travel routine has a lot of benefits. Advantages to having a yearly travel routine include:

  • Having a base of friends/clients in the places you’re traveling to. As a remote worker who’s traveling, your days may often be spent on your computer, on calls, and away from society. After you get done working, you may be itching for human interaction, but may not want to put forth the effort to meet someone new. By traveling to the same locations each year, you’ll slowly get to know people, and can have built-in post-work and weekend plans.
  • Assurance that you’ll have working infrastructure. Before each trip I book, I do everything I can to make sure I’ll have the necessary tools (mostly, reliable WiFi) to work. But I’ve been unpleasantly surprised before, arriving at a location where the internet was subpar (or lacking completely). Two qualities my yearly travel destinations all have in common are great infrastructure and settings which are conducive to my remote practice.
  • Knowing how to navigate these locations. Something I love about travel is having new experiences. That said, there is something great about arriving in a city and already knowing where to find the things you need and like, like grocery stores and restaurants, and having a feel for the city’s public transportation system. This can reduce time spent trying to learn a city, can lower overall costs (like knowing where the cheapest place for a great, quick lunch is), and can reduce travel anxiety.
  • Knowing where to stay. One of my favorite parts of my yearly travel routine is that for each of these locations, I already have either set neighborhoods or locations that I like to stay in. Almost uniformly, I pick these places because I’ve stayed before, have had good experiences, they are conducive to remote work, and they reasonably priced. Trying to find lodging, especially for a remote work trip, can be stressful, so having set places to stay makes planning travel a lot easier.

How to choose your yearly travel routine destinations

Choosing your yearly travel routine destinations can be difficult. Below is a brief description of how I chose my destinations:

  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Since I live in San Francisco, Puerto Vallarta is an easy (and often fairly inexpensive) flight away. My friends like to go once a year, and I’ve added myself onto their annual trip, usually around March/April. The weather is perfect around that time of the year and I can save costs by splitting my room/remote office with a friend who also works remotely.
  • Medellín, Colombia – Thanks to Copa’s direct-flight service from SFO to Panama City, South and Central America have become much easier to access from San Francisco. Medellín is a surprisingly easy flight, and it’s relatively inexpensive (for around ~$50/night, you can rent an apartment in one of the best parts of the city with an amazing view in a luxury building, and for ~$20-$30/night, you can still find some amazing deals). It’s also stunningly beautiful with a great freelance community.
  • Scottsdale, Arizona – Having gone to college in Arizona, I like heading back to Arizona at least once a year to see friends, and also to enjoy the weather and lying by the pool.
  • Los Angeles, California – Since I have many friends and clients located in the Los Angeles area, I usually need to go at least once a year for business or social purposes. But even if I didn’t need to go, I still would, as I love the weather, the hikes, and (for the most part) the people.
  • Hawaii – I don’t know if I’ll live in San Francisco or California my entire life, so I want to take as much advantage of being a 4-5 hour flight from Hawaii as I can. Also, having lived on Guam, I have a lot of friends that relocated to the islands, so I can often see them whenever visiting.
  • New York City – Growing up in New Jersey and having gone to law school in Philly, I have a lot of friends in New York City. In fact, my sister lives there and I also have clients in the region. While I am not generally a fan of the northeast, the people here make it worth a yearly visit.

As you can see, one of the main factors behind the locations I’ve selected is people. In making your list, you may want to base your yearly travel routine on seeing friends, clients, and family (especially those located in amazing places).

Scottsdale
Sunset from Scottsdale, Arizona

Another factor is reliable WiFi – every location listed above has an infrastructure that fully supports remote work. Similarly, each location above is located in a time zone that is conducive to my schedule. While I often take a few trips each year to time zones that are “difficult” to work from for me (such as Asia and Europe), my yearly travel routine is focused on destinations that I can work seamlessly from.

Something that’s also important in establishing your yearly travel routine is easy flights. Whenever possible, I like to fly direct, and with the exception of Medellín, I can get to each of these destinations directly from San Francisco.

Final tips for establishing your yearly travel routine

If you are a remote worker who is interested in establishing a yearly travel routine, I would recommend leaving room so that about half of your trips are to new (or rarely traveled to) destinations. Part of the fun of being a remote worker who can travel the world is seeing and experiencing new places. By visiting new destinations each year, you’ll be sure to expand your mind, you’ll likely have more interesting stories to tell, and you may even find new places to add to your yearly travel routine.

Are there places you try to visit every year? Let me know in the comments!

5 budget-friendly tropical islands for freelancers

If there’s anything I’m an expert on, it’s tropical islands. From a young age, I’ve been obsessed with them and even had a tropical island-themed Bar Mitzvah.  I love tropical islands so much that after law school, I spent 2 years living on Guam, an idyllic paradise near the Mariana Trench.

As a location-independent freelance attorney, my practice takes me all over the world. At least a few times a year, I try to travel to a tropical island and look for destinations that are budget-friendly with reliable WiFi/infrastructure.

Below are 5 of my favorite budget-friendly tropical islands for freelancers (and really, anyone else).

Bali, Indonesia

It’s almost a cliché to talk about how great Bali is for freelancers. Bali has practically everything a freelancer is looking for: a strong freelance community, co-working spaces, beautiful beaches and nature, and reliable WiFi.

Bali

Bali has a diverse landscape which includes rice paddies, beaches, and volcanoes. My favorite places on the island are Ubud, Seminyak, and Nusa Dua. While these places are more laid back, if you’re looking for clubs and bars, you should stay near Kuta, which is an essential stop for many backpackers and Europeans/Australians who are enjoying their gap year.

One reason Bali is so popular with freelancers is the reasonable prices of food and accommodation on the island. As an example, for $20/night, I was able to get my own 2-story bungalow at a yoga retreat on a rice paddy in Ubud, complete with an outdoor shower and bathtub. You can also find luxurious lodging for way less than what you would pay almost anywhere else in the world — for less than $100/night, I was able to get a 2-bedroom villa with my own private pool just a short walk from the beach in Seminyak.

If you use Secret Flying or The Flight Deal, you can sometimes find flights for $500-$600 round-trip to Bali from the United States.

Tenerife, Canary Islands

Europe isn’t generally known for its tropical islands; but if you keep flying south, you’ll eventually reach the Canary Islands. Located off the southern coast of Morocco, these islands are technically a part of Spain and the European Union.

Tenerife.jpg

Tenerife is a volcanic island with stunning beaches, great infrastructure, and affordable hotels. It’s also the largest and most populated of the seven Canary Islands (and is the most populated island of Spain).

On the north coast, you’ll find Puerto de la Cruz, which serves as the perfect base for freelancers wanting to thaw out during the winter. A rental car is helpful, but you can walk around the city’s dark, volcanic-sand beaches, explore local cuisine, and see stunning cliff-side views that are only short walk away.

While Tenerife isn’t as warm as the other islands listed here, I visited in November and it was still hot enough for me to spend my non-working hours tanning on the beach and swimming in the ocean.

The icing on the cake: with Ryanair, you can find direct, round-trip flights from Madrid to Tenerife for as low as $38.

Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker, located only a short (and cheap) boat ride from Belize City, is the only island in North America to make this list. As a rule of thumb, the Caribbean is generally not budget-friendly for freelancers or tourists, especially in the winter where tourists flock to the warm weather and pristine beaches. That said, Caye Caulker bucks this trend, with reasonable accommodations, decently priced food, and an amazing climate with crystal-clear blue water surrounding the island.

caye

Earlier this year, I had the chance to visit Caye Caulker. I wrote a more expansive write-up of why this island is amazing for freelancers, and you can check out my blog post here: Caye Caulker, Belize: a remote worker’s dream.

Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Thailand is one of my favorite countries in the world. And, within Thailand, my favorite spot is Koh Phi Phi, an island off the coast of Phuket.

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Even if you’ve never visited the island, Koh Phi Phi may look familiar to you — it’s where they shot the movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Koh Phi Phi is truly stunning in terms of natural beauty, it has reliable cell coverage and WiFi, and you can find more than reasonable accommodations all over the island (I shelled out less than $30/night for a room that was steps away from the ocean, with an infinity pool overlooking the Andaman Sea). The island is also easily accessible from Phuket’s international airport, being a short, inexpensive, and beautiful boat ride away.

If you have time, be sure to check out nearby Krabi, home of some of the most beautiful tropical beaches in the world.

Palawan, The Philippines

Asia is truly spoiled when it comes to budget-friendly tropical islands and Palawan, which was named the Best Island in the World for 2 straight years by Travel + Leisure, is arguably the crown jewel of them all.

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I took this picture in November 2016 at Marimegmeg Beach in El Nido, Palawan.

With crystal-clear blue water, breathtaking mountains and rocks rising out of the ocean in every direction, and landscapes that look too stunning to be real, Palawan can quickly overwhelm you with its beauty. Beyond its natural beauty, Palawan is a great option for freelances because of its affordable food, transportation, and accommodations.

While WiFi is not can be spotty on the island, particularly in less-developed El Nido, you can easily find comfortable cafes with reliable connections.

If you have a favorite budget-friendly tropical island that you like to visit, let me know in the comments!

A year into my quest to improve my travel, fitness, and freelance business

Last July, I set an ambitious goal for myself – to get into the best shape of my life while running a successful business and traveling the world.

None of those things are “supposed” to go together. Traveling the world is amazing (hence, this blog!), but it’s harder to eat right and exercise while on the road, which is something I’ve discussed in previous posts. Also, running a successful business is tough enough on its own, but when coupled with working out and visiting amazing countries regularly, it can seem impossible.

But, a year later, I am happy to share that I’ve achieved my goal! My law practice has never been better, my travel in the last year has taken me all over the world (including Chile, Turks & Caicos, Colombia, the Philippines, Belize, Greece, Turkey, London, Hong Kong, and Portugal), and, below, you can see my fitness progress.

First, here’s a picture from almost exactly a year apart:

Fitness comparison.jpg
August 2016                                                                          July 2017

Though I was opposed to “progress pictures” when I started working out (hence none from July, when I first began), I’ve found these to be great motivators. There are times when I think my diet and exercise aren’t paying off, but when I look side-by-side, I can see that it really is making a difference.

Next, the numbers:

Fitness Chart

While I try not to let the numbers go to my head, taking measurements ~monthly helps me stay accountable. Some of these numbers might not be dead on (fairly certain my waist was closer to a 32 when I started, for example), but it’s accurate enough for my purposes.

The changes I’m happiest about from these numbers are:

  • Body fat down from 16.4% to 10.6%
  • Arms up from 11.9 inches to 14 inches
  • Weight is up from 150.6lbs to 160lbs

I’ve also had positive changes to my mood and self-confidence, have saved money on food by cooking most meals at home, and have only gotten sick once in the last year (and a short cold at that).

It’s challenging, though. Before starting this quest, I loved to eat cheeseburgers and cheese fries with a side of cheese pizza, and I still love that. I’m also addicted to Diet Pepsi/Diet Coke (I’m agnostic to brand, which is another one of my many flaws). I also love my bed more than life itself and consider myself to be pretty lazy.

But the results have been so good that I am going to make the same goal for myself this year, and hope I’ll be writing in July 2018 with an even cooler update.