Working Remotely from Asia

Try to rest, travel and enjoy your time on your trip, work less and be prepared that even if you have organized everything perfectly, you WILL work overtime when you come back.

Hi there. In October 2019 I visited Asia for the first time. It was quite a stressful experience, since I didn’t know what to expect. I thought that I would have no wifi or good internet connection for most of the time (so I was stressing out about how I will keep up with the work or leave my team alone for over a month) and I thought that there are way too many things trying to kill me. I ended up traveling with more medicine than clothes, which shows how hypochondriacal I was at the time. So I was all packed (2 weeks before we left), updated the team and prepared them for their goals and tasks, updated the clients and was ready to go. I prepared the team not only for the work ahead but that I may have NO CONNECTION whatsoever, so they should handle things on their own and not count on me for the most part.

For me it was a very dynamic (hectic) travel since we visited 5 countries for less than a month: Doha, Qatar (2 days); Bangkok, Thailand (1 week); Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1 week); Bali (5 days), Singapore (2 days). Also I realized that for 2019, me and my team have been working remotely (from different parts of the world) for over 6 months out of the whole year. We decided to share some insights on how we do it and here is my advice about working remotely from Asia:

Plan your best time slots for work
Time Difference + ~5-6 hours (for the most part):

One thing that is very important when going away for a longer period is what part of the world you will be in. In this case I was going East so that meant early in the morning when I woke up and until late in the afternoon – noone in Bulgaria is awake. Which meant that if I organize my time to go sightseeing and going around in the morning, that would be perfect, since in the late afternoon and evening I can catch up with the team and the work, if I have to. Also, if I wanted to write some emails I can do it early in the morning when I wake up and schedule them to arrive in a decent hour in Bulgaria. It’s a very good plan since early in the morning it’s not too hot outside and you may go to a popular tourist destination and be one from the very few there, which is a priceless travel experience whatsoever. So this time table is a perfect fit both for work and for travel.

Get your own mobile data – it’s affordable and very useful for both work and for travel:

I didn’t expect it but for 90% of the time we had amazing mobile data that was soooo useful not only for work, but for traveling and sightseeing as well.
Qatar and Singapore – we were there for 2 days only, they had good wifi in the hotel and in the restaurants so we were good (no mobile data used there).

Bangkok, Thailand – we bought SIM cards at the airport for less than 10 EUR with more than 10GB mobile data for a week. Much more than we ever needed and the data was good, so we used it all the time to call for a ride, look at Google maps and, of course, catch up with emails while taking a ride.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – same as Bangkok – cheap offers for mobile data at the airport. Useful tip that we saw from one of the guys selling the SIM cards – scotch tape your original card to the paper/cardboard that the new one comes with. This way you know you won’t lose it since it’s a big cardboard that you can put in your luggage. Otherwise with these nano/micro/macro cards nowadays… it’s ridiculous to keep them safe and sound. So bring your own scotch tape next time when traveling.

Bali – always, ALWAYS remember to buy your card at the airport. Sometimes you can buy it from the mall (KL and BKK are good examples), but sometimes you won’t be able to find one or it is going to be too difficult to do it (good example is Bali). The other annoying thing is that you may need cash to get the card and also that you don’t know your number and you need to find it and give to your travel mates, so that you can call each other. Some of the times, you can get an offer with mobile data PLUS some free time talking to your friends that bought the same card.

Organize your types of tasks according to your travel schedule:

For me it was easy, since I mostly work on client and team communication, clarification, etc. and here is how a typical day looked like for me in Asia (specifically in KL, BKK and Bali). So I was doing this to make it work with my travels and not against it:

  • In the morning we were getting up early (~8 AM Asia time, ~2-3 AM Bulgarian time)  to go sightseeing before it was too hot outside. I would have a quick breakfast, read the emails from the last day (night) and go out. Since usually we would order a taxi (Grab) and travel for at least 30-40 mins, I would have time to answer the important emails or archive the ones that didn’t need my response, so that I don’t go back home overstressed with inbox mess.
  • Then I would have good 4-5 hours of relaxation, enjoy the new country, explore, have fun and have a nice lunch. 
  • Since we were traveling with a group of friends, most of us had to work, we would go back to the hotel in the afternoon (~2 PM Asia time, ~8 AM BG time) to catch up with tasks for good 2-3 hours. Also, it was October and it was raining almost every afternoon, so it was fitting our plans perfectly. This was the time when I would either focus my energy on a bigger task (go over a contract, deep dive into a new project or give feedback to the team for their work and catch up with them) or if everything is going smoothly and didn’t need my attention, I would go gifts-shopping in the nearest mall (usually right next to the hotel).
  • After everyone is sick of rain and work, we would gather together to chat, figure out what we would have for dinner and hang around. Since my team are almost all of them night owls, we start (11 AM)  and finish work a bit later (around 7 PM on a good day :D) than most of the people on a normal day. So when it’s around 7-8 PM in Asia, in Bulgaria would be 1-2 PM, which would be a great time to have a quick call with my teammates if they need any help or feedback on something. This is when they have finished their daily call, talked to clients, did their reports to clients and answered their emails, so we can talk in a more relaxed time. I may join the daily call earlier if I find the need to do it.
  • After dinner and later in the evening (around the end of the standard work day in Bulgaria), I may have a quick look at the emails and messages as well.
Tools, amenities and other quick tips:
  • Your phone: my iPhone is always with me when I travel and I do most of my remote work with it. Thank God for my amazing team and that the work I do allows me to be so flexible.
  • My laptop: Some people switch off completely when traveling. Maybe I should try this as well. But for me sometimes to write a longer email (for work) or to watch a movie on an airplane (for my own peace of mind) is crucial.
  • Almost every hotel has a desk and almost every AirBNB has a good kitchen table, so you are all set. Unless you like to hang out with your laptop in the bed – that’s almost a given everywhere you go. I mean, if you are not glamping in the jungle of Mexico (as I did in 2017), you are good 😉
  • Ask for the wifi in the hotel so that you are not abusing all your mobile data for no need and connect all your devices right away after check-in
  • Everywhere you go you can find laptop-friendly cafes and places, where you can chillax and work at the same time, enjoying avo toast and local ice tea. So take advantage of this and don’t miss the opportunity to dive deep into the city’s subculture – it’s interesting how much you can grasp about the local dynamics while sitting half a day at a cafe, skipping through your inbox. Or you can visit an infinity pool – for instance Jungle Fish in Bali – get your laptop out, while enjoying the view.

Here are some more recommendations with my favourite cafes – one per city:
Bangkok, Thailand – Wallflowers Cafe, China Town
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Merchant’s Lane, China Town
Bali, Indonesia – The Shady Shack in Canggu and The Seeds of Life in Ubud

Overall Asia is much safer than I thought, especially in the areas we visited. It was much better connected than I expected and all the stress I experienced before the travel was needless. The mobile data was quite good for the most part, wifi was ok and quite accessible. Since it was a rainy season, that balanced my holiday/work time perfectly. Of course, you can do good work and not miss on everything while traveling to Asia. But still my main advice is:

Try to rest, travel and enjoy your time on your trip, work less and be prepared that even if you have organized everything perfectly, you WILL work overtime when you come back.

Especially if you have your own business or you freelance. So enjoy both and don’t stress out 😉

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Polly Desheva

Founder

/ mathematics, informatics, spreadsheets, travel, eco, startups, design, handmade stuff and food lover
/ feminist, doer, freelancer, wanna-be-designer and activist ✌