No doubt about it, the freelance life has some perks.
Sometimes, you can set your hours and make time for a mid-morning yoga class or make a doctor’s appointment for the middle of the day.
But despite these perks, it’s hard to really, truly get away as a freelancer. Sure, you can work from a hammock (full disclosure: I am typing this from a hammock on my back porch right now).
But you’re still working.
But getting away — not just from your typical surroundings, but also from your phone or email inbox — is possible.
Here are a few tips for taking a real vacation — or as close to one as you feel comfortable taking.
Pick your destination with unplugging in mind
It’s hard to ignore a blinking message light on your phone.
What does that little green flashing light mean? Does it mean your editor hates the piece you submitted? Is a new editor excited to work with you on a time-sensitive piece?
It could mean anything, really, and it’s tempting to succumb to temptation and check your messages, even when trying to “disconnect.”
The surefire way to avoid this notification anxiety? Go somewhere your phone doesn’t work.
It’s not too hard to find a campground with no cell phone service, data connection, or Wi-Fi. Even just a weekend where you’re disconnected can go a long way towards unwinding.
Of course, it might also make you a nervous wreck who drives 30 miles for a data connection twice a day just in case. Some people find it less stressful to “unplug” somewhere they can check in once a day or so for five minutes and turn their phone off the rest of the time.
A “disconnected” vacation doesn’t have to mean being disconnected 100 percent of the time. Trial and error is the best way to figure out what works best for you.
Communicate ahead of time
If you don’t normally work on the weekends, going far out of cell phone reception for one weekend isn’t likely to be something that requires advance communication with clients.
But if you’re disconnecting for a longer period of time, it’s important to communicate when you’re going to be unreachable. And this doesn’t mean just slapping up an auto-reply on your way out the door saying you’ll be gone for the next month.
If you’re heading away from cell phone reception for more than an afternoon or so, look at the calendar to see which clients might need to get a hold of you during the period you’ll be away.
Are you expecting to receive edits on a piece soon? Is it a client’s busy season where they frequently send you last-minute assignments? There’s definitely a bit of guesswork involved, but it’s important to consider what might happen while you’re away.
A lot of this depends on how long you’ll be gone for. If you’ll be gone for an afternoon, you likely don’t need to do anything at all, since you can respond to your messages in the same evening.
But if you’ll be gone for a month, you’ll have some serious work to do ahead of time.
Tie up loose ends
Before you leave town, let your clients know you’ll be mostly unreachable. Be sure to do this well ahead of time. Don’t just send an email blast to every editor you’ve ever met.
If an assignment is due soon, try to turn it in early, letting the editor know when you’ll be unreachable and that you’ll be happy to address edits before you leave or after you return.
Likewise, if you’re expecting edits on a piece soon, let the editor know a few weeks ahead of time so you can hopefully complete any necessary editing before (or after) the trip.
Of course, from time to time, you’ll still have to spend some time working on the road. But using this system can definitely cut down on the amount of time spent working when you’d rather be relaxing.
Dealing with a freelance disaster
No matter how well you prepare, the occasional freelance disaster is inevitable. What do you do if this happens while you’re disconnected?
If you’re completely disconnected, you likely won’t know about the disaster until you return to the land of Wi-Fi and cell phones. The thought of this makes some people’s skin crawl, but others find freedom in the idea.
Whether or not being completely disconnected works for you is something every freelancer has to figure out for themselves.
But if you’re checking in once a day or every few days, you might just check in one day to find trouble brewing.
The extent of such a potential disaster largely depends on your line of work. If you work as a PR consultant and your big client has a major problem and needs spin control pronto, you’ll likely have to jump into work mode for a significant length of time.
But if it’s just a client who needs a quick copy edit? That’s easy enough to refer to a trusted freelance colleague.
In order to minimize stress if a disaster requires you to respond to while on vacation, be sure to have what you need with you on the road. Bringing any passwords you might need and important documents on a flash drive can make responding to the situation much easier. Also consider storing important documents on the cloud for any access anywhere.
Another great option to consider is using the buddy system.
Use the freelance buddy system
Working in an office comes with a built-in backup system. If you’re out of town, you can set up a voicemail message and email auto-reply saying when you’ll be gone and asking people to contact another team member with urgent needs and concerns.
Freelancers don’t typically have these built-in systems available. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own. Knowing other freelancers, especially those in your field and those who write for similar clients, is invaluable.
Take some time to get to know other freelancers and consider working out an arrangement with those whose work you trust and respect.
Leave their information as an “in case of work emergency” contact, and work out with them ahead of time what they will do if they are contacted on behalf of one of your clients.
Of course, you need to trust this person and everyone needs to be clear on expectations.
But it can be a great way to get a reprieve from your phone and email while leaving any work concerns in the hands of someone you trust.
And, of course, you can return the favor when they go on vacation.
What do you do to prepare for an unplugged vacation?