Skip
Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

5 minute read

Lessons Learned

How I've Built My Own Business While Traveling The World

Five months ago, Arianna O'Dell quit her job to travel Europe, using the money she saved on rent as her startup's seed funding.

[Photo: Sean Pavone via Shutterstock]

One month ago, I woke up to the smell of espresso in Madrid. Today I woke up in Romania, ready to wander the streets of Bucharest. Next month I’ll awake to an Istanbul sunrise.

Five months ago, I quit my job in New York City and decided to start my own business. But I decided to do that from the road.

As a result, these past few months have been a whirlwind crash course in sales and marketing as well as a journey through new cultures. I've had to manage more than my fair share of Skype calls across time zones, which has meant making certain allowances to my sleep schedule. But I've stuck with it, and I'm as committed as I've ever been to my company. My time abroad has taught me that it’s possible to work from anywhere while still being able to connect with clients and team members across the globe. Here's how I've learned to pull it off.

Moving Around Can Save You Money

As soon as I quit my day job and decided to travel, I first had to take a hard look at my finances. I knew that starting a business without any venture funding or loans would be tricky—but not impossible. While I loved living in New York, by the time I left I’d accepted that the only way to fund my passion would be to limit spending and tap into my savings in order to get me started doing what I really wanted.

Previous trips to Spain had taught me I could save on the cost of accommodations (as well as on glasses of wine) simply by changing locations. Going abroad has proved not only a way to enjoy a life of travel but also a smart choice financially. I started to get serious and used Mint to allocate funds for living expenses. I knew that a room in Santiago de Compostela, Spain—almost double the size of my tiny shoebox in New York—was only one-sixth the price.

The next few months were spent making tactical switches between hotels and Airbnb listings to keep my budget on track. I found that in Budapest and Prague, it was even possible to live in a five-star hotel for much less than my average New York rent.

To find accommodations and flights at a discount, I tapped into Airbnb, HotWire, Booking, and SkyScanner, just to name a few. And yes, hunting down deals took time and determination, but so far, strategically switching accommodations has saved me a whopping $6,000. I’d become my own venture capitalist: The money I saved became seed funding for my business.

Can I Have The Wi-Fi Password Please?

With clients and team members all around the globe, a stable Wi-Fi connection was a crucial part of my new nomadic approach to work. If you’ve traveled in any capacity, you’ve probably also learned the hard way that "free Wi-Fi" doesn’t always mean "fast Wi-Fi."

To avoid any interruptions in service, I bought a backup mobile hotspot that came to the rescue in emergency situations. For around $8 a day, a mobile hotspot can help you work from essentially anywhere— especially when "anywhere" means "the beach." Since working from Canary Island beaches and a rocky Romanian train became my new norm, I soon found myself working my nontraditional office anywhere I switched my hotspot on.

Picking Tools That Cross Time Zones

One of the most common questions I'm asked by aspiring freelancers and entrepreneurs is, "How do you manage your business abroad?" For me, it comes down to organization and a willingness to find ways to connect no matter what time-zone differences there might be.

To chat in real time, my clients and I set up a Slack channel to share files and collaborate. To manage our projects, we created several Trello boards to show where we were in production with various deadlines. To collaborate on documents in real time, Google for Work has been a godsend.

When certain projects got too tough for our team, we turned to UpWork to help us contract out for everything from video production to social media assistance. Starting a business can be chaotic, but these widely available tools have been invaluable for creating and scaling manageable systems from anywhere.

How To Win Friends And Influence People Abroad

With a mobile hotspot in hand, I've been able to use my freelance freedom to bounce from city to city for anywhere from just a weekend to months at a time. No matter where I wander, I always end up closing deals through networking and making connections with lifelong friends.

Each time my feet hit the ground in a new city, the first thing I try to do is ask my network to introduce me to their friends in the area. A simple Facebook or LinkedIn post often results in a few new connections. Searching for expat and digital nomad groups can make for a great digital community on the go.

Another option on that score is office sharing, which is far from just a North American trend. From WeWork to IMPACT Hub, you’ll find that many cities have a vibrant community of freelancers and entrepreneurs to exchange ideas with and learn from—even just for short stretches.

Living The Future Of Work

Brexit's ultimate impact notwithstanding, it's generally getting easier to work across borders with just a passport in hand and a working knowledge of visa requirements. As an American with only 90 days in the European Schengen Zone, I decided to split my time between Western and Eastern Europe for five months.

Even if you’re not daydreaming of French croissants or Italian espresso, many countries in South America and Southeast Asia are all becoming popular choices for thousands of digital nomads.

Today, nearly a third of the U.S. workforce is estimated to consist of freelancers, entrepreneurs, and other independent workers. In my experience, that's thanks to how much easier it's become to support yourself from anywhere. So grab your travel shoes and pack your bag—just don’t forget to bring your laptop.

Arianna O'Dell is the founder of Airlink Marketing, a digital agency that helps hotels, restaurants, and travel destinations attract and retain clientele.

Related Video: Are You Ready To Go Freelance?

ARE YOU REGISTERED TO VOTE?
Register now to make sure you have a voice in the election.
loading