Work Is Work, Wherever You Are…

I see a lot of blog posts selling the dream.

The dream of location independence. Of life as a digital nomad.

The dream of the laptop propped in your virtual office, looking out over the Mekong, the Sahara, the high Andes.

And, yes, location independent working can be great.

It’s magical to be able to work from anywhere in the world. It’s great to be able to travel and earn a living as you do so.

But, y’know what?

I hate to break it to you.

Work is work. Wherever you are…

And all the laws of freelancing – the immutable clash of deadlines, the sheer bloody inevitability of getting paid late when you REALLY need the cash, the horrors of pitching – do not magically disappear because you are permanently in transit.

Back in January, I was in the throes of the transition from a one-year trip spending the alchemical substance that is home equity – I mean, seriously?! How can that even work?! – to life as what the internet insists I call a location independent professional.

I was anxious. So I wrote a post called HELP!!! I’m Location Independent.

And now?

I’m less anxious.

Work’s going good.

I have, umm, quite a bit on.

Possibly a bit too much on, in fact.

You see…

It’s not that I don’t like what I do.

I make money from this site, now, and I like doing that. I do a little light copywriting, and I like that, too.

I review bars. And that’s fun, though not the merry self-indulgent cavalcade anyone might expect it to be.

I write specialist drinks stuff. I write a bit about travel, though not as much as I’d like because I rarely seem to have the time to pitch. (I’ve even – insanely! – been nominated for an award.)

There’s a couple of projects in the pipeline that I’m excited about. And will deal with once I’ve finished earning some money.

In theory, my work, and my work-life balance, should be pretty bloody good.

Yet still, to be utterly frank with you, I’m a bit pissed off with this working lark.


The plain honest truth? I don’t want to work.

I want to be permanently on holiday, with a little light unschooling thrown in, a little bit of blogging and the opportunity to learn some languages.

Right now, I want to be focused on finding us a nice place to stay in China, some Mandarin language classes, a VPN, some Chinese cash, and all the accoutrements one needs to enter the Dragon Kingdom of today.

I don’t want to be frantically finishing off a job while I’m still somewhere I can (sometimes) trust the internet. I want to be getting my head round Chinese history and exploring Vientiane.

Because location independent working is NOT the same thing as a holiday.

Honestly, it’s not.

And if you don’t get the balance right, your little mobile office on the banks of the Mekong can become as big a cubicle prison – or even worse – than your little cubicle back home.

Only with much, much slower internet.

And the prospect of an hour or so’s expedition to complete a task as basic as printing, scanning, signing and returning a contract.

My recommendation?

Play the Lottery.

/rant over/

Would I have it any other way, in lieu of the Lottery, that is?


I’m lucky enough not to need to work anywhere near full-time. I get a huge amount of time with my son.

He gets a great education. (He’s been doing some writing and teaching himself Flash while I work.)

We see things we’d never have dreamed of seeing. We read a lot. Relax a lot. Travel a lot… Eat a lot…

Over the last week we’ve been kayaking, tubing, swimming and motorbiking. We’ve navigated an underground river and guzzled steak tartare and pastries.

It’s a great way to live.

Yet, also, the location independent life is not a bed of roses. And if you pay money to anyone to sell you that dream, you’re going to get pricked.


Or maybe I just need a vacation from my vacation?

*: I took the junk vehicle shot up above in Coober Pedy. Click here for more crazy shots from there.

21 Responses

  1. what i’ve learned, when you run your own business online, is that the work is NEVER done. although i so do not want to have a cubicle and a schedule, i sometimes envy work-free evenings and vacations. sigh.

    • Theodora says:

      Ain’t that the truth? I work less than I did before I travelled, actually — but you’re juggling unschooling with the whole lot too, right?

  2. Ainlay says:

    Hey Theodora, we have been in China for almost three weeks now and be prepared for a very different internet experience. For the first two weeks I couldn’t post photos then suddenly, no problem. Even with a VPN you won’t be able to see FB or youtube and can get kicked off without notice. All those internet cafes that were on every corner the last time I was here 5 yrs ago have been shut down. On the other hand lots of restaurants have wifi. The hotels have wifi but I hope you have port that takes ethernet because that is much better than their usual wifi (we had to pick up a connector since mac laptops don’t have ports for ethernets any more). Anyway, you will have a month or so in Beijing to figure it all out right?

    • Theodora says:

      Right. I’m getting a VPN today — I understood from friends that you can get FB on those? We actually start in Kunming — is that where you are right now?

      • Ainlay says:

        We left Kunming, went to LIjang, Shangri la and are now in Chengdu where we were panda keepers for a day (scooping panda poop). Read our blog on TIger’s Leaping Gorge – you and Z would love that hike (and be much more fit for it). You can get on FB with a VPN but they always find you and kick you off then you have to wait till whenever you can get back on again.

        • Theodora says:

          Where did you get to help with the pandas? Is that the sanctuary in town or the one further out? I’ll check out your Tiger’s Leaping Gorge post soon…

        • Theodora says:

          I’ve just read your Tiger Leaping Gorge post… It looks amazing and sounds like hell on earth. Not sure my vertigo will love it, but we’re doing it over three days (well, 2.5 days), so it will be interesting to compare. Good to know they have Tibetans with mules handy, though…

  3. I completely agree. I’m working from home at the moment and people always comment on how lucky I am. The reality is, I’m still stuck in front of a computer for 10 hours a day. It’s pretty much the same as working in a cubicle, the only difference is I can work in my underwear if I want to.

    I’d imagine this would be the same as working while travelling. I’m flying out in October and I’ve already started to cut back on a bunch of work because I don’t want to be working when I can be exploring.

    • Theodora says:

      I think it’s vital to cut back. Some of the people I know with online businesses work harder while “travelling” than some freelancers do from home. And, if you don’t get the balance write, travel can feel exhausting when combined with work…

  4. Yvette says:

    Thanks for this post- one reason I find myself getting snarky with more than a few travel bloggers is the “you too can be location independent and it is going to be a better life than your current crappy one!” is it sounds a hell of a lot like snake oil peddling. It doesn’t cover the reality that every job is a job and there are some things that are bad about every one of them, it’s just a question about how much you love the rest of it to put up with it.

    Mind it’s not that I don’t find locations important, I found mine important enough to enough to move to another continent a month ago, it’s just it’s not the magical answer everyone claims it is.

    Oh and on another note, I spent 5 weeks in China a few months ago and my lifeline on things like Facebook and Twitter was my Kindle- turns out they have non-Chinese IP addresses! On a regular computer you can still set up automatic updates through sites like StumbleUpon… and the locals probably know the best VPN options. 😉

    • Theodora says:

      Thanks, Yvette. There is a degree of snake oil salesmanship about it, particularly the folk who are funding their trips by selling — literally selling — products to help you live the location independent life (and, often, working 16 hours a day at it while selling the dream of the 4 hour work week).

      And, yes, it’s not a magic bullet. Any more than home ownership, or car ownership, is a magic bullet, either.

      I have a VPN set up now — recommended by a local. I thought I’d better get one here rather than in China, because I have no idea whether you can actually arrange one in China.

  5. From the perspective of a career freelancer and now a “location independent” one, I’ve observed the snake oil sales with curiosity. I just don’t have the fire in the belly anymore for feverish pitching and brand-building. Yet, I still need to make SOME money, but the work of travel writing for magazines (little $$) or websites (less $$) doesn’t interest me. I do have a little gig that pays well and isn’t too intrusive, so lucky me. I really enjoy working on my blog, but unlike you I haven’t begun to “monetize” it. THAT would be the only pursuit I’d put energy into right now. Thanks for pulling back the curtain. I suspected there was no wizard behind it.

    • Theodora says:

      I think what we freelancers always forget, Kate, is how much freelancing seems like the dream when you’re in a 9-5 (9-7) type job. I didn’t start blogging to make money. But once money appears on the horizon, it makes total sense to try and earn more of it by doing what you’d be doing anyway. You are lucky to have an unobtrusive, low-hours, good rate gig — and I’m sure you could also earn some pennies from your blog if you put your mind to it.

  6. I feel you, Theodora. Most of the time we enjoy the work that we do (and appreciate the fact that we can do it from anywhere), but I’d love to not HAVE to work. The days I feel like snorkeling or hiking or reading an entire book in one day? I kind of just want to do all those things and not feel pressure to be productive.

    • Theodora says:

      You know what’s really great? Is being somewhere with NO internet. So you just *have* to read the book, do the snorkelling, do the hiking…

  7. Jodi says:

    It’s true that there’s a huge trade-off to being location independent, which is that time on the computer is time away from doing what you came to do (and what everyone else thinks your shiny life consists of). I find it funny to see people surprised when I say I need to do work; apparently because I quit my job as a lawyer, everything I do can’t possibly be ‘work’ – it’s just playing on the internet. Right.

    Appreciate the rant! Here’s to finding a balance between work and play.

    • Theodora says:

      I find when you only have a little on that location independence feels great. When you have a LOT on? And you’re grappling with a deadline somewhere where you’d really rather be on the beach? Not so much fun AT ALL.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Dear Theodora,
    thanks a lot for this post. i’ve been writing my phd in a couple of nice spots and left behind people believing I’m travelling all the time – that can’t be working. Nevertheless it is only achieved in long hours on the pc. However I am happy to have organized it in places I appreciate and I had the chance to explore parts of the world in my freetime.


    I wanna add, I’m deeply impressed by your way of travelling and if I had a kid of my own I’d love to do something similar!

    Good luck to you both,

    • Theodora says:

      Aw, thank you Stephanie! I can imagine it being particularly difficult what with you being BOTH a student AND travelling. I mean, how much leisure can a woman possibly have? And I do hope you take your kid travelling in time…

  1. December 22, 2016

    […] Work Is Work, Wherever You Are… // by Theodora Sutcliffe You are not a travel blogger // by Rick Calvert […]