Travel has played an essential role in Optimistic Anthropology from the very beginning! The idea for this consultancy emerged from my seven months of travels across the world.
And as anyone who has clicked around this website knows, images from my travels play a central role in illustrating blog posts and pages, and communicating about our energy and values. Heck, even my bio photos are from traveling.
At Optimistic Anthropology, we work with our clients and collaborators almost exclusively through phone calls and video conferences. It’s of benefit to them because it saves them a bit of money, and it’s of benefit to me, because it allows me to work from almost anywhere in the world and continue to be inspired by different cultures and communities, exposed to new ideas, and open to new possibilities.
In the last year, I’d estimate that I’ve spent about 5 months outside of DC, and 7 months working from my home base. Some of this time on the road wasn’t “as a traveler”— visiting my parents in my childhood home is more relaxing than anything else. But, I’ve also been fortunate to spend a month each working from Berlin and Japan, and a week or two in Asheville, NC; Brooklyn, NY; the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere. Occasionally, I even snap a photo of what my “office” looks like.
Of late, I’ve had a few people ask me about how I manage to integrate work and travel. My colleague Amanda Gulino, Founder of A Better Monday was one of them. When I finished writing her an email with five tips, I realized it was actually something I should share more widely. In her response, she agreed (thanks for the encouragement Amanda!) and so here we are.
So, here are five tips on how I’ve integrated travel into my work!
1. Set the expectation that you travel with clients and collaborators form the start of your relationship.
As I’ve noted, I do almost all of my work with clients virtually (via video conference) and I set the expectation up front that while DC is my home base, it's not where I always am. I even include known periods I will be out of DC, or won't be available in my contract agreements with clients as a way of setting expectations. I also explain to them that traveling is a way to keep my ideas fresh, and my mind open to the world. It helps that my work is steeped in anthropology (the study of human culture and how it evolved) and social change and continuous learning, so there’s a natural connection between being exposed to lots of different places and experiences and cultures. However, I suspect that there are many types of work where strong connections could be identified.
2. Schedule a period of time each day while traveling to do work.
If you’re really going to integrate work and travel, you really have to integrate work and travel. Which means setting aside some time each day to actually do work. I find that the carrot of getting to explore a place I’m visiting makes me work really efficiently, so thus far I have approached this by creating a window of 2-4 hours a day to be available to clients and get work done. In Berlin, I was usually available weekdays between 3-8 pm Berlin time, which was 9 am - 2 pm EST. In Japan it is a bit trickier, but I have made myself available between 5-9 am for video conference calls, though I did do one with a new client at 2 am.
3. Set an out-of-office for all travel periods, even if you are working.
For trips in the U.S., I don’t usually make a big thing about my travels save for if I’ll be on long plane rides and unreachable. But, overseas (especially in different time zones) is different. I remind clients of the dates I’m traveling before I go, and even had a special Calendly link just for them to schedule meetings with me while in Japan. And I use out of office messages to continue to remind them that I'm traveling, and will be slow to respond because of time differences.
4. When emailing with clients -- share a taste of what you're seeing and experiencing!
For instance, I was doing a follow-up email with the new client - and they actually responded while I was completely offline hiking on the Shinto pilgrimage route. I started my email by explaining that I was sorry that I was slow to respond, but I was off hiking the Kumano Kodo (and linked to the UNESCO description of it). And if they wanted a 30 second meditative taste of it, to check out this video of the trees swaying in the breeze that I'd taken and posted on Instagram. Her reply was so appreciative. One of my other clients is a former college soccer player, so when I knew she’d get a kick out of a picture I snapped when I literally stumbled into an indoor soccer tournament in Sapporo, Japan. This sharing only takes a few minutes, but it deepens my connection and understanding of the people I work with — an important part of trust!
Remember, most folks in the world don't have the luxury of extensive non-work-related travel. So, in alignment with my values of joy and sharing knowledge and resources, I try and give the people I work with — just as I try to give my friends and family — a little opportunity to come along on my travels.
5. Do good work.
I had a day that I was working in Kyoto where in the span of four hours, I helped a client and a collaborator work through challenges, and then received an email with some really positive feedback on a project that I had worked on from Japan. It felt great to know that even after 4.5 weeks traveling in a different country, I was doing my job well., I celebrated by going out to visit a Buddhist temple and eating a delicious bowl of ramen.
If traveling doesn't affect the quality of your work (or better yet, enhances it) and your relationships with clients, I’ve found that clients and collaborators are very accepting and encouraging of it as a practice that I do. In fact, I have one client who always likes to start a check-in by asking "where in the world do we find you today?" And he always seems a bit disappointed when I say that I’m in my home base of Washington, D.C.!
Bonus tip: Only do it if you enjoy it!
Find travel stressful? Prefer to have a routine? As much as I love traveling the world and exploring art and nature and great food, I also really appreciate sleeping in my own bed, cooking in my own kitchen, and spending time with friends and family. We all have to figure out what works for us! As Henry David Thoureau wrote in Walden: