If you're like most freelancers and solopreneurs, the 24 hours leading up to a vacation are a frantic blur of sprinting to make one last deadline. “Packing," which is practically an afterthought, means hastily tossing a few mismatched outfits into your suitcase. And despite promising yourself that this trip will be different, you leave a handful of work matters unresolved - meaning your laptop's coming along for the ride.
As a long-time freelancer, I'm certainly no exception. But in recent years, I've learned a few ways to minimize pre-travel stress. Believe it not, it is possible for solo workers to finalize outstanding projects well ahead of our departure date. We can even get seven or eight hours of sleep the night before a flight, leave our laptop home and calmly make our way to the airport on a cloud of leisurely bliss. Here's how:
1. Give clients plenty of warning. When taking a sizable trip, give clients several weeks' notice that you'll be off the radar. Forget the silly myth that freelancers and entrepreneurs need to be available 24/7. The business world will still turn without you. If a client can't handle the fact that you need downtime, they're probably a client worth losing. “I give all of my editors and clients the dates of my trip early and often," says writer and author Sara Eckel. “It also helps to 'leave the country,' even if it's Canada. 'Out of the country' seems to me the only way people accept that you're unreachable."
2. Manage clients as your trip approaches. Don't expect clients to remember you're leaving town in two weeks or balance your workload for you; all they care about is that the work gets done. If a client isn't delivering the information or materials you need to complete the project, remind them firmly, as often as it takes. “Your vacation can get planned into a project schedule -- you just have to be proactive about reminding them you'll be away 'so let's get this into shape soon,'" says journalist and author Jane Hodges, who also runs Mineral School, an artist residency in Washington State. “'Manage your manager' is important if you want to enjoy vacation."
3. Be firm on what you can and can't do. Set boundaries and stick with them. Tell clients you'll need any assignments by the 15th at the latest if they want them completed before you leave for vacation on the 30th (or whatever turnaround time best suits the type of work you do). “For my most demanding clients, I build in additional buffers, like giving myself extra padding on either end or indicating that I'll be in an area with no WiFi," says copywriter Allison Ellis.
4. Let autoreply emails do the talking. Always set up an “out of office" automatic email response, even if you plan to scan emails from the road (though I don't advise it because, vacation). If you do check messages, limit doing so to once or twice a day. “Do not reply to anything other than the blindingly urgent," says copywriter and social media marketer Grace Alexander. “I tell people that I have a $100 minimum for answering emergency emails while away. Amazing how many things are not actually that urgent."
5. Turn down work if needed. I know it's hard to do. But so is being stuck in the hotel with your laptop while your friends head off to rappel down a waterfall. Be realistic about what you can accomplish before your vacation. If you're not sure you can hit a deadline before leaving town, turn the project down. Recommend a colleague instead, and hopefully, they'll repay the favor later.
6. Take off work the day before leaving. Aim to have all deliverables in the hands of clients at least three business days before you leave town, preferably six or seven. That way you can answer any urgent questions about your work or address revision requests well before skipping town. Reserve the day before traveling for last-minute invoices to submit, contracts to sign, bills to pay, as well as personal errands.
7. Farm out anything you can. Do you periodically hire virtual assistants, transcribers or subcontractors? How about splurging on dogwalkers, babysitters or takeout dinners? If ever there was a week to call in the cavalry, it's the one leading up to your trip. Save precious hours however you can so you finish your work in time.
8. Set up a personal WiFi hotspot. I'm not saying I've driven many miles from a vacation cabin in search of a café with free WiFi to submit something to a client, but I'm not saying I haven't. Sometimes despite your best-laid plans, you don't hit a deadline before leaving town. If you really can't avoid working several hours on client deliverables while away, you at least can avoid hunting for WiFi in remote areas by turning your phone or tablet into a personal hotspot. You just need a router, a few configurations to your device and the appropriate plan from your smartphone carrier.
9. Keep a packed bag handy. Do you frequently travel for work or play? If so, don't stop at enrolling in TSA PreCheck. Keeping a carry-on suitcase stocked with a travel pillow, headphones, snack bar, spare set of toiletries, extra socks and underwear and your usual travel apparel can make your pre-trip to-do list that much shorter.
10. Get rides to and from the airport. Traveling is stressful enough. Don't give yourself the added pressure of having to drive to the airport and find parking, too. If you can't get a ride from a friend or loved one, take public transport or a Lyft/Uber. If you must answer email en route to the airport, now you safely can.
11. Plan an easy first day back at work. Don't agree to any morning meetings, intense project planning sessions or sudden-death deadlines. Instead, line up new work, gently begin to chip away at the next big project on your plate and catch up on all that correspondence you ignored while sipping margaritas on the beach. The easier your work re-entry, the longer your vacation high will last.