Ingo Fast on extreme telecommuting

Most of us spend our precious could-be-traveling days saving up enough money to hit the road—which might take months or years. But then you read the How magazine article about Ingo Fast, who learned how to bypass that wait time and successfully take his illustration business around the world with him. Mind you, when he first took up freelancing abroad he had a mortgage and a successful career that he didn’t want to throw away, but he made it work. So what kind of excuse does that leave for the rest of us? Thankfully, none.

I got the chance to ask Ingo a few questions (and congratulate him on his illustrations for recent editions of The Frugal Traveler), with the hope of getting some practical advice and good inspiration. I wasn’t disappointed.

How long have each of your trips been? Did you travel solo the whole way?

Looking back to when I started doing really long trips, in 2004: That first trip brought me to southern Africa and Europe, and lasted eight months. My first RTW trip between 2005 and 2006 also took eight months. And the second RTW trip (the slow trip) lasted 13 months, from 2006 to 2007. Most of the time I traveled alone, but I was sometimes joined on sections of a trip (or when I stayed in one place for a month or six weeks, like in Rio de Janeiro or Hong Kong) by some of my friends, my girlfriend, and my sister. I also visited my family and various friends at different times throughout my travels.

Were your stopping points planned in advance, or as you went along?

The first trips were planned ahead in that I had booked the major stops in advance (but still left the in-betweens to chance), while on my last trip I didn’t book anything until a few days before each individual leg, like train, bus, or boat tickets. Only the first leg on that trip—the transatlantic sailing trip—required a little bit of advance planning.

What was the biggest surprise about freelancing while traveling?

I was most (and most positively) surprised by the many times I was encouraged to “keep going” by my clients, and how often they told me that they enjoyed to vicariously travel with me through the drawings and photos I sent them regularly. One client for instance, whom I’d worked with on a column that I illustrated every week for three years, knew pretty much every step I took over that period of time, and they were so cool and supportive about my telecommuting experiment that I would have never imagined: I communicated with them (and sent them drawings) by satellite-link from the sailboat when I crossed the Atlantic and from the container ship on the Pacific, and used all sorts of communicating tools while traveling overland, including mobile phones, VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), Skype, internet cafés, wireless public WiFi, etc.

Does the fact that you’re traveling change how you keep clients or get new clients? Or is it the same as if you’re back at home?

It did change somewhat over time: I simply couldn’t focus that well on promoting my work as I usually do, like participating in competitions, advertising in source books, and keeping my work up to date in various online showcases and with my agents, and my work began to suffer somewhat. Since I’ve returned, I’ve gotten back into the groove and spend more time again doing this important part of the work, with good results.

Do you have a certain work routine, or does it change by location/project/day?

All of the latter. My work routine under normal circumstances (when I’m settled into one place for at least a few weeks or months) is already pretty irregular since how much and how quickly I must do and deliver my work mostly depends on the schedules and deadlines I accept with each assignment. So you can imagine that, when traveling with a constant moving pace, it’s even less predictable. The one routine I keep is to check my email and voice messages regularly (usually a few times a day), and make sure I always have some room (a few hours) every day in case I need to finish up some sketches, even if it’s very early in the morning, late at night, at a stop at a train station or at an airport. And occasionally I would also “take a few days off” from traveling and hunker down for a project that needs more time and focus.

Any advice for others wanting to telecommute from the road?

It’s pretty obvious these days that internet is more and more readily available, mostly in the form of cyber cafés. One thing I can think of is (if you take your work really seriously) always try to have an alternate communication tool at hand (like a wireless card for your laptop, an extra SIM card, or even a satellite phone), and make sure you’ve got all the cables, adaptors, flash drives, and extra batteries.

Are you planning another telecommuting trip? And how would your preparations change, if at all?

Yes! I’m planning to go to Southeast Asia in a few months, for six months to a year, and after that perhaps New Zealand, or God-knows-where. I have a six month-old baby, so this time it’s going to be less vagabonding but rather relocating. No satellite phone, long sailing trips or horse trekking—I’ll rent an apartment and plug in my VOIP-adaptor, and hopefully will continue my work seamlessly as if I had never left New York…

Posted by | Comments (1)  | September 10, 2008
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

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