Posted by: Jo Duxbury | 23 October 2009

Why freelancers should travel regularly

pocari(I wrote this column for this month’s Freelancentral newsletter, inspired by a recent trip to Istanbul and Dubai.)

In my life BSMOB (Before Starting My Own Business), I always had a holiday to look forward to. I’d return from one and within two weeks, the next one would be booked. I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively (thanks to a nine year stint in London, earning those lovely pounds). But since returning to Cape Town in 2004, and more specifically starting Freelancentral, finances and responsibilities have seriously curtailed my globetrotting.

But this month I’ve been able to travel again and I’d forgotten how refreshing and inspiring it is.

So here are my five reasons why I believe all freelancers, regardless of discipline, should travel regularly:

  1. Reset your perspective. There’s nothing like 6,000 miles between you and your day-to-day stresses to make you realise that those things that you thought were super-critical really are not.
  2. Unplug and be present. Going for a week or two without Twitter, Facebook, email and – gulp – even your cellphone (just ‘forget’ to ask your network to activate your international roaming…) is extremely liberating. For the first day or two, you’ll jump each time you hear a phone ring, or might have social media withdrawal, but it’s amazing how quickly you adjust to being unplugged. You’ll be a lot more present with the people around you and more aware of and receptive to everything you see and experience. Rather than multitasking, you’ll be able to focus on absorbing the place you’re visiting. While being connected certainly has its merits, being disconnected does too. And you may well find you are able to do without some of the noise when you get back. For example, I am going to be cutting down on my personal Twitter account dramatically as I didn’t miss it at all while I was away.
  3. Get out of your comfort zone. For some people (yes, I am one), the ideal trip is landing in a remote island where no-one speaks a word of English, at 3am with no accommodation booked. For others, it’s about lounging around a 5 star beach resort and doing nothing more taxing than ordering a cocktail. Either way, breaking out of your routine, comfort zone and shaking up your habits (down to having something different for breakfast) will get you thinking differently.
  4. Practice what you do, in a non-work way. If you’re a freelance writer, keep a travel journal and write about your experiences. Designer? Looks for interesting details in the buildings you see and sketch them. Photographer? Well, you’ll have a field day! Try your hand at a different skill too – I’m a writer but when I’m on holiday, I take thousands (literally) of photos and like to compile a small album of the most interesting ones when I get home. It won’t feel like work, but you’re still being creative – and this may even inspire your future projects. It will also be a good reminder of your trip – I love to reread my travel journals.
  5. See how things are done elsewhere. And I don’t mean how people freelance in another country – rather tune into what products are popular and how they are marketed. The photo with this article is of an isotonic drink that apparently originated in Japan and is sold in several countries around the world. As a writer, I find the name ‘Pocari Sweat’ pretty amusing and totally off-putting… what’s a pocari and why is its sweat bottled?! One of my favourite things to do in another country is to wander around a supermarket for half an hour – it’s a great insight into the culture and how companies market in that country. Just because we do things a certain way here doesn’t mean we should get stuck in a rut – sometimes seeing how it’s done elsewhere can spark all sorts of ideas.

Obviously, freelancers can’t take off at the drop of a hat – you need to plan your income and cash flow before, during and after your travels, otherwise it can be extremely costly. But do try to make a plan to travel internationally at least once every two years – and go somewhere you’ve never been before. Planning in advance will often mean you can take advantage of special offers and cheap deals. Just because you’re freelancing doesn’t mean you should deny yourself a good break.

Bon voyage!

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