Kateproof offers an affordable and efficient proofreading service

Taking your editing or proofreading service on the road: Balancing being a tourist and a business owner?

Posted on 20th November 2017; revised and updated 19th March 2018

So far in this mini blog series, I have largely focused on the practicalities of running my proofreading and editing business but as I think some people are interested in more of what I actually do on a day-to-day basis from the travel perspective, I thought I would write a little about my personal priorities and what I like doing.

As I've said numerous times, my eyes (and brain) can only really do 4 or 5 hours' solid proofreading or editing in a day, meaning if I don't have admin or marketing to do, I can have plenty of free time on top of my holidays or more formal time off.

One question I was asked was this: Do you do the tourist spots or are you more of a down-to-earth, soak-it-up-and-meet-the-people-to-get-a-sense-of-the-country person? (Wow, what a lot of hyphens!)

To be honest, I am more of the latter, though I won't repeat all the hyphens. I love seeing how other people live and what people do, which is a large part of why slow travel while working appeals so much to me. That's not to say I don't also visit museums, go to galleries and check out major sights, but I really enjoy getting off the beaten track, mooching round residential neighbourhoods, chatting to people and just watching everyday life.

Our week in Belarus really typified this approach: we went purely on holiday and had no work to do, and we booked to stay in a hotel in the capital, Minsk, for the duration. Websites and tourist agencies tried to convince us to head out of the city to see some of what Belarus considers its main sights and attractions, but instead we did a lot of urban hiking. We learned long ago never to wear shoes not appropriate for a walk on the assumption we were just nipping to the shops – I have lost count of the number of times a 'quick trip out' has become a 30-kilometre walk so we go prepared, and Minsk was no exception. We trekked to the outskirts to see 'normal' residential areas away from the grander central areas; we got the metro out to a park on the outskirts and walked back to town. It means sometimes it's hard when people ask us what we saw or did in places because there are often no wow photos or big tales to tell, but this is how we like to feel we really see a country and understand how people live. Having said this, urban hiking in some of the supposedly most dangerous cities in the world (San Salvador and Bogota to name two) does give me some interesting stories but perhaps best not shared on my business blog.

Bringing this slightly back to the relevance of proofreading and editing, I think these sorts of insights can be particularly helpful for gaining broader knowledge and understanding, though I suppose if I was working on a thriller based in the Prado Museum in Madrid, I might wish I'd spent more than 20 minutes in there all those years ago... (And yes, the guidebook suggests two days!)

The above is perhaps more an example of how I take time off while travelling, and I do still do that, in the same way I used to take holidays when I was running my business from a UK base. But how do I approach more of a mix of work and leisure?

As mentioned in my previous blog about choosing where to take my proofreading and editing service, I love sunshine and I love the sea. But I am not really the type to spend a day lounging on the beach. This is how tourism/feeling like I'm on holiday really fits with working as well – I can work in the morning and then spend an hour or two at the beach to sate my sunshine cravings meaning I feel relaxed, but I've also managed to work. The same applies when I'm in the mountains – I prefer to work in the mornings but if the weather's good and I have capacity in my work schedule, I can get up and go for a hike, be back by lunchtime and work in the afternoon. I also don't mind getting up early (by which I mean 6 or 7am) and getting work done before 10 or 11am and then heading off for the day, really feeling like I have the best of both worlds.

Many might call us contrary (or perhaps heathens) for not visiting 'must-see' places but I hate crowds so would always much prefer to get out and about in nature, be it traditional or urban, and we also aim to go to places in shoulder seasons too (a friend queried what shoulder season means so I've edited to clarify that shoulder seasons are the months around peak season that aren't peak but aren't low either). Zakopane in Poland in late September/early October was amazing – the walking routes weren't too crowded but restaurants and bars were open and there was enough of a vibe to be interesting. Most of the tourist-focused services were still running (not that I ever get on cable cars) but queues were minimal and prices not hiked to the maximum. Peak seasons in busy resorts can also be noisy, which might make the working side of life more tricky so this is another reason to really consider when to visit certain places.

As for travel days, these are blocked out and I never plan on working. I get travel sick if I try to read while on a bus or train, though Pete sometimes does admin if there's space. If we're heading somewhere to settle for a while, I also tend to block out the first day or two so I have time to get my bearings, stock the fridge and check that the work set-up is suitable. If there are issues with the workstation or internet, then this gives me time to investigate coworking spaces or coffee shops, though thankfully this has only happened once.

Talking of travel, getting trains with local people is one of my highlights. Through Eastern Europe, the prevalence of sleeper carriages even for daytime trips or more communal booth-type rooms (compared with the rows and rows one gets in the UK) mean that not only can I watch the landscape roll by but I often get to chat to local people or other holidaymakers. In Ukraine, we were in a cabin with two other men, one of whom spoke some English. Our Ukrainian was non-existent (beyond hello, please and thanks) but even then, the language of football took over – it helps if you support a team known the world over. Long story short, our new Ukrainian friend who spoke no English did speak the language of Liverpool Football Club, which was enough for me to give him my LFC winter hat and us to all spend the very long and slow journey in a fug of camaraderie and contentment (and some dodgy liquor if truth be told).

I also love seeing what people do on their train journeys: on a journey through Romania, Pete downed shots of some random spirit with a local chap while I tried not to show too much shock as the local and his wife munched on bunches of parsley alongside their impressive array of pastries and other local delicacies. I hope they didn't think I was rude when I declined their very kind offer of having some too!

By viewing the travel as part of the fun and enjoying it, I feel it becomes less stressful and all part of the experience. This does of course very much depend on the transport options. The cheap but very comfortable buses in the Balkans were a joy, but buses in Latin America tend to need a few days to get over. I am still unsure how one bus I was on in Guatemala managed to fit eight people in a space usually designed for four (and let's not even discuss the time I was pulled through the passenger window of a bus as a local person in Suriname felt sorry for me and knew I'd never get a seat on the bus if I carried on queuing patiently, despite having been one of the first to arrive)!

In fact, a lot of the infrastructure in Latin America made running my proofreading and editing business more difficult than I'd found in Europe. As I've mentioned in other blog posts, the electricity wasn't always reliable, the internet was sometimes painfully slow to the point it was difficult just sending text-only emails, it wasn't always easy to find suitable accommodation with space for work, and temperatures and climate meant it wasn't always comfortable to really settle down and focus, all of which meant that in the end, I probably spent more time in the region being a tourist than working. This was fine from a budget perspective and made for some wonderful trips, but if my financial situation had been different, this might have been a lot more difficult to juggle.

We had originally thought we'd spend 18 months in Latin America and though there were some personal points on the pros and cons list, the difficulty in finding suitable accommodation and the discomfort with public transport and such massive distances added to the list of reasons to leave the region earlier than expected and head back to Europe. But this is all part of the joy of this lifestyle, to see what it's like but be flexible to change if required.

In summary, for me, being settled in a comfortable place for a month or more makes the balance of being a tourist and a business owner much easier than when travelling quicker through a country or region, and the space and comfort of the accommodation makes a massive difference in how easy it is for me to work.

Written by Kate Haigh.