The Way We Work

Editor’s Note: For the client side of location-independence, check out Jay Shapiro’s story published earlier this week. 

Sights and sounds that many of us will never see or hear are just another stop on the road for Bernard Vukas—from Ottoman mosques in Turkey, to rice and curry shops in Thailand, to a beachfront office in the Philippines.

With a lifestyle that is nothing if not location independent, Vukas—a Microsoft Office Business Applications (OBA) developer originally from Croatia—has embraced the “work anywhere” freedom enabled by online work.

Taking work on the road

Vukas’ adventures started with a rather inconspicuous piece of furniture: His couch.

When a friend referred him to Couchsurfing—an offbeat networking site that connects travelers with available “couches” (i.e. local hosts) in cities throughout the world and uses karma for currency—Vukas was intrigued. He began hosting couch surfers from around the world and, in the process, was bitten by the travel bug himself.

Soon after, he read the book The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau and realized that perhaps work and travel could go hand in hand. Since his freelance developer work was all conducted online, he decided to give it a try.

Vukas’ first stop was Istanbul, Turkey. Using a travel agency to book his trip, he took a bus tour from Serbia to Turkey.

As vacations go, however, he wasn’t thrilled with the experience. “The fact that we stayed in a hotel and ate quasi-European food wasn’t appealing at all. This motivated me to strive to stay as away from hotels (and as close to the locals as possible) next time.”

While his travel arrangements didn’t meet his ideal, his work experience went well. As the bus wound its way from Serbia to Turkey and back again, Vukas made use of the time between stops to accomplish work; he’d brought an extra battery, but it wasn’t needed as the bus had electrical power. When he wasn’t working, he took in the sights and sounds of the former Ottoman empire.

When his trip wrapped up, Vukas was hooked: Working while traveling opened up almost any place in the world as a place to call “home.”

It wasn’t long before he was preparing for his next destination.

Home is where the couch is

Vukas decided to venture even further from his home country of Croatia, ditching the cold European winter for the tropical climes of Thailand.

This time, however, he decided to give couch surfing a try himself.

“[Thailand] was my first time using Couchsurfing…and it was awesome!” he said. “I’m not a huge fan of planning, so I hired a girl on oDesk to help me organize everything. She had been to Thailand before and she connected me with Phiseak Klanutai, the organizer of weekly Bangkok Couchsurfing meetings. I ended up staying with him…for almost four months.”

Vukas spent a total of six months in Thailand before returning home. After logging another trip to Thailand, as well as a trip to Bangladesh, he was convinced: Location was completely irrelevant to his ability to make a living.

This realization freed him to take an even bigger step: Uprooting himself and moving halfway around the world to the Philippines.

For this decision, Vukas credits Google. “Pictures of Boracay that appeared on Google Images were part of the reason I moved. I’ve had 30 years of winter in Europe, and I wanted a change. This seemed like a perfect destination!”

What two years on the go can teach you

Based on his experiences, Vukas has some key advice for other contractors who want to embrace travel while still making a living:

  • Establish a work center: “I try to set up a home-base as soon as possible, so that I’m able to work,” he said. “When I travel, I usually work from my room. On rarest occasions I go to coffee shops. I rent on a monthly basis, usually apartment-style 1- or 2-bedroom units with a kitchen.”
  • Stay longer: “I try traveling as little as possible, spending at least three to six months in one location. Renting on a long-term basis is important, as well as arriving to your destination in the off-season.”
  • Make sure your costs are covered: Make sure to set or adjust your travel plans according to how much you expect to work and earn while you’re there—this means researching what your costs will be and setting a budget. And don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth, Bernard advises contractors. “I usually recommend starting in the $20-30 range, especially if they have a good career track record.”

For Vukas, online work has been the key to changing travel from a mere vacation into a way of life. Have you had a similar experience? Share your travel adventures and on-the-road work advice in the comments section below.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to Upwork a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.