As a freelancer, it's hard to picture a vacation guilt-free. You start counting the days you're not going to work —turning them into red numbers, the clients you might loose, the expenses you'll still have to pay... the list of worries just goes on.
Another characteristic of freelancing is that when you had a very productive day or week, you feel like you can relax a little, either for the rest of the day or the weekend. Being able not to worry is like a reward for all your hard work. I know a lot of freelance designers that feel this way, because the reality is that we actually do have a lot of responsibilities to make "the freelance life" work.
What I'm trying to get to is that since 2009, the longest vacation I took was 9 days long. You see, as an Argentinian, that's a shame. A real shame. Ten days are not enough to really disconnect, specially considering all the worry and stress that managing your own business entails. Disconnecting is necessary because that's how you get perspective, and you need perspective so that you can see the forest instead of the trees.
That said, I find it interesting that I go the idea of travel and work experience during my first 2-week vacation in 8 years. As soon as I came back home I opened my computer, found a really cheap ticket to Madrid and bought it. I decided to have 2 working-weeks in San Sebastian and a week off in Madrid.
Here's a few tips that helped me having a great experience:
01. Perfect for Creatives
Creative jobs tend to be more flexible, without a lot of meetings or hour by hour obligations. We also need inspiration, constantly! and everybody knows that travel is one of the biggest sources of inspiration. So basically, you can look as travel an investment for your business.
02. Co-working Space
Specially if you’re traveling solo, reserving a spot in a co-working space will help you meet people, find out how different —or similar your job is in that city, and make new connections.
03. Light Workload
If you can, plan your trip with a light workload and projects that you love doing, you don't want a project that demands a lot of hours or that will end up stressing you and your client. Remember your time away shouldn’t be about making a ton of money, but to allow you to stay there longer without guilt. The ideal would be 4-6 hours of work a day.
04. Cultural Exchange
Something I regret not doing was finding design related events to go to like workshops, networking events, conferences. It would be a great way to really immerse yourself in the city you're staying at and really experience the place in a non-touristic way. You would be bringing something to the table as well. The best part? you can deduct all the fees and money you spend as a business expense.
05. What Your Clients Should Expect
My last day of work in San Sebastian I had a phone meeting with my favorite client. My plan was to work on a single branding project but I ended up doing a lot of emergency projects for them as well (and this is why #03 is so important) so I asked her how she felt about the 8-hour time difference. Her reply was not what I expected, she said that she loved it because she started the day off with all her design requests delivered and she could either reply right away if it was urgent or simply relax about it until EOD so that she could have it resolved by next morning. The fact is, if you decide to go to Europe or somewhere in those same coordinates, you'll be around 8-hours "ahead of time". Not the other way around.
So when the work day ended, these are some of the things I saw:
In retrospective, when I look back at the entire trip (I just got back about 3 weeks ago) I don't feel like I was working at all, and I think it's because although I had some 10-hour workdays, the whole time I was there it felt new and different. Which is why traveling is so nurturing, it forces us to get out of our comfort zone and learn new things, it inspires us to think outside the box (our routine boxes) which is so important for designers. And last but most important, we create new experiences that we will never forget.