Below is a wonderful blog post about organizing work-holidays for independent workers by the Czech Republic’s own Robert Vlach, founder of na volné noze. Read the original Czech version here.
26 September 2012, by Robert Vlach
Translated by David Creighton
Organising a longer holiday can pose a real challenge to freelancers. But do you know how a holiday can boost your business?
Although it may not seem very obvious, a quiet revolution is sweeping through the labour market. In the USA, 25% of the workforce is now working on a freelance basis, and this number is the same in a number of European countries. This revolution is ushering in new lifestyles, including the freelancer‘s approach to holidays. In this article we’ll look at the main principles and then offer full advice on everything you‘ll need to know about organising holidays abroad for digital nomads.
The problem: irreplaceability
One of the downsides of being a freelancer is irreplaceability.If employees are on leave, colleagues can usually stand in for them, but most independent professionals have nobody to replace them, and they can’t be offline for more than a week(according to recent research, up to 80% of freelancers are in such a position). And what if a long-standing client needs urgent help, or a lucrative project comes in?
Such fears are justified. Self-employed people running small businesses need to think twice before heading off on a break to the middle of nowhere. What’s more, unlike employees, self-employed people have to pay travel costs and run the risk of a considerable financial loss in the form of lost income. In other words, the traditional summer holiday is much more expensive for a freelancer than an employee.
The solution: a nomad holiday
The market is able to find ideal solutions to very tricky problems. When I first wrote about digital nomads, I thought the term meant a fringe phenomenon involving holiday adventures. But I was very much mistaken. Among freelancers abroad, nomadic work is coming to the fore, which is a huge leap in just one year!
Essentially, digital nomads are independent professionals able to work remotely from abroad for their clients, using a laptop or mobile phone. The nomad holidayusually involves an average of two hours’ work a day; the rest of the time is spent like any other holiday – with families, partner or friends. And as with classic holidays, nomads go on trips lasting several days and meet local people, among other things.
A traditional holiday has a different “structure“ from a nomad holiday, but a huge benefit of the latter is that it promotes relaxation, inspiration and ideas, and is an opportunity for nomads to recharge their batteries. And in these respects, traditional and nomad holidays are practically the same. In professions that don‘t require frequent contact with clients (such as translating or programming), the stay can be several months longer, making the holiday impact even stronger. And earnings can be a pleasant surprise during the stay, in line with the well-known Pareto principle, where up to 80% of your income is earned from 20% of your work.
A holiday for nomads is therefore a surprisingly neat solution. It answers the problem of irreplaceability over a longer period and the corresponding impact on income. At the same time, the positive features of a holiday aren‘t lost. You can easily alternate between a traditional and nomad holiday, depending on your situation, taking into account the season, agreement with your partner, etc.
How to organise a group nomad holiday
A good number of people have asked me how I organise the successful nomad holidays about which I’ve just been writing. Over the past few years we’ve developed an approach, through trial and error, that deals with most of the familiarrisks and suits those involved. This method can also be used on a wider level, and should be regarded as just one of many approaches to a holiday for nomads:
- Why a group? Group dynamics have, over time, become the theme of our holidays. When you put together a group of fantastic people for a month and mix in local friends, you have a recipe for amazing things. Can you remember the last time you spent a whole month in one place with your peers?! It’s a very intense experience and–for all the participants–an enriching one too, with a creative explosion of ideas as well as discussions, trips, shopping, new friendships, and who knows what else.
- Organiser On our holidays I take the role of initiator of the entire project. This key role must be the responsibility of someone who is fluent in English, is reliable and trustworthy, and can smooth out problems and minor conflicts.
- Holiday dates As the organiser, I have to start with all the date options and then come up with suitable times. I tend to have less work in the winter and summer holidays. So I organise shorter winter breaks of two to three weeks and longer summer holidays of three to five weeks. In summer, it‘s good to go away for at least four weeks because it gives us enough time to make friends with local people.
- Destination country My responsibilities also include making a list of possible destinations. Most people want to spend the holiday by the sea, somewhere where it’s warm and quite safe. Ideally, it should be somewhere relatively close at hand, and I comply with these criteria. After this year‘s experience in Morocco, I‘ll leave out the Arab countries. Women are worried about travelling there.
- Sending out invites beforehand When I have an idea of where we’re going, I then send out invites to friends. A month, or at best two months, before the date under consideration, I send the list to 120 potential nomads (all members can travel with their partners). The goal is to ensure a number of participants expressing a preliminary interest, defining who will make up the core group.
- Core group These are the serious candidates who want to stay for the entire period. They‘re willing to equally split the costs and responsibilities, including for resolving issues. They also share the risks associated with organising the holiday and property rental. The core is made up of three to six people (including me).
- Firming up arrangements We confirm the date and place with the core group members. For long summer breaks, we prefer an attractive seaside resort that also offers cultural and other activities, because we would become bored after a week in a small resort. Barcelona and Lisbon are excellent examples of places where you can combine a resort holiday with other activities.
- Estimated number of participants The core group is present throughout the holiday, but we also need to have spaces available for those who are with us for a shorter time. When the core comprises five definite people and 20 tentative people, we know that we have to look for a property with a capacity of 10 beds. Seven would be too small (there wouldn’t be enough room) and 15 too much (we would run the risk that we would be unable fill more expensive properties). On the other hand, the more people the better!
- Choosing a place The advantage of travel in a large group is that we can afford to pay for very luxurious, centrally located, accommodation, which is just what we‘re looking for. We don’t want to be stuck out in the suburbs or in accommodation with mouldy walls. We look for an airy, bright flat, ideally with a cleaning service, air-conditioning, a terrace, and more than one bathroom. We also look for a property with double bedrooms and a quick, reliable internet connection. All of us have the task of finding accommodation, most often on Airbnb, Homeaway, and Homelidays.
- Discussions with the owner We usually choose from a selection of apartments. Beside the price, what‘s important is the communication process with the owners, how quickly they can hand over the property and a willingness to accommodate our requirements. When renting a property for longer periods we can sometimes agree to a discount of up to 30%.
- Deposit The core of the group divides the overall accommodation cost equally. The deposit is paid, and the organiser is responsible for paying the rest. The reservation is binding upon everyone, and payments are not refundable if somebody has to cancel and the only option is to find a replacement. The amount involved is quite high, so it pays to consider your plans carefully. We all then buy cheap flight tickets.
- Costs for visitors Short-term guests pay more for the beds available than the core group members. This is because they do not bear any risk or additional costs connected with renting the holiday accommodation. Generally we agree on a price of around EUR 20 per person per night, which is similar to the price of a bedroom for 10 people in a cheap hostel. On the other hand we are all together, and visitors can take advantage of all the comforts of property. In addition, they are sharing it with friends, not strangers.
- Gender balance It‘s quite important to have a balanced number of men and women, otherwise the holiday doesn’t quite work. I therefore give priority to inviting a couple of men or and a couple of women, so that there is balance. At this stage I’m still fine-tuning the make-up of the group, through personal meetings.
- Reservations In the first stage I send those who are tentatively interested an invitation with detailed information and instructions. The reservation goes through the system on a first come first served basis and becomes binding when the full payment is deducted. Everyone can track their reservations and occupancy rates online. This year in Lisbon we were fully booked in a record two hours!
- Costs split equally Ultimately, the payments from the short-term guests make the stay cheaper for the core group members, who bear all the costs and risks of the holiday. This is a good system, and ultimately everyone is 100% satisfied. Once we are fully booked, we spend part of our funds on other items, such as renting a car. It is available, including petrol, to everyone. We also spend money on minor items for the kitchen, refreshments and such things. It is the little details that make the holiday perfect, and we want our guests to feel at home.
- Sending out more invitations If there is a lack of interest, all members of the core group send out invitations. We don’t try to have a full house at any cost, but rather our aim is to have a holiday with lots of great people! Having free spaces left is better than a full group that doesn’t work well together.
- Before we depart When we reach full capacity, the preparations are essentially finished, although there is work to do a week before departure. At this stage I contact the owner of the property. I check with him/her that everything is in order, that there will be enough keys, beds and tables, etc. Then I send everyone in the group an email with last minute instructions, our telephone numbers, etc.
- After we arrive There are almost always some minor niggles after we arrive, and as the organiser my responsibility is to resolve them tactfully with the owner. First of all we check the workspace and the internet (it’s a good idea to carry a spare Wi-Fi router). Then, as soon as possible, I see what’s on offer in terms of local groups and activities on Couchsurfing. Then we can start meeting the locals! It’s best to do this on the same day that you arrive.
- During the holiday We have just one rule: we mustn’t disturb others, and should respect their rights to work and peace and quiet. If people are still up at 4 o’clock in the morning and making a noise, I try to sort this out, but usually people are considerate and tolerant so there isn’t much to deal with. As the organiser, the only thing I have to deal with is buying minor items for the accommodation, and managing the transition when short-term guests come and go. Everybody can get up when they like, nobody is forced to do anything, and organising trips and entertainment is spontaneous. Some people eat out; others do their cooking at home, as they wish.
- Departure and settling the bill The holiday accommodation tends to be in my name as the organiser, so I always want to be there when the property is handed over and have assurance that everything is okay. Within a week after we return we settle the bills. If there’s any money outstanding, we divide it up equally between the core group members. And I’m pleased that everything has turned out well!
“I’m back at home after spending three weeks in Lisbon. What was the break like? Inner and outer worlds came together. On the outside, people are just travelling through a new world, meeting people and enjoying life. But at the same time they are changing inwardly, imperceptibly. The idea of coming back from the holiday is an illusion – and it should be, otherwise travellers lose a bit of what they gained while away. The digital nomads were great friends on the journey. I took everything back with me and nothing. And I’m not back – I’m a step further on.”
What next for digital nomads?
So far, nobody knows, but things are looking up for us. Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing global nomads is the actual – not entirely intuitive – concept,which has almost endless possibilities. It‘s evolving organically through imitation, improvements and coincidental innovations.
Everybody has the chance to discover something new and share this with others. For example, designer Vít’a Válka travelled with his family around Europe in a caravan and writes about it in his blog. It may be that this trend inspires travel agents to offer packages for nomad travellers. I’d love to hear about your nomad holiday experiences and would be happy to share them on our Digital Nomads page on Facebook.