Danielle is a freelance teacher and writer, originally from the UK, but currently travelling all around the world.
You’ve done it! You’ve scored the job that will provide you with the ultimate freedom to travel to new and exciting destinations, to work from pretty much anywhere that you want in the world—or have you?
When I dreamt of travel, I had this vision of a quaint little beach hut in Thailand or a beautiful bungalow on one of the many islands in Greece. There is, however, something that these two have in common aside from the idyllic visions of peace and serenity—they are both unlikely to have fast, or reliable enough, internet for teaching.
Poor internet speeds are just one of the many issues that you could face if you don’t do your homework before booking your accommodation. Here I have compiled a list of questions to ask your future host to ensure that you keep your job while on the road.
1. What Are the Internet Speeds?
The internet is your first and main consideration when selecting accommodation. If you are working for a school, they are likely to have already provided you with some specifications regarding the download and upload speeds. Most schools will ask for at least 5MBPS download and 2 MBPS upload.
Many schools will also request a hard-wired connection, meaning that you will need to use an ethernet cable to plug your laptop directly into an internet access point or to the modem. This improves the stability of video calls as latency is decreased. Latency refers to the delay between when information is sent and when it is received. This is often expressed as ‘ping.’ As you can imagine, if there is a significant delay, conversations will be much more difficult.
Now, with higher speeds, you might be able to get away with using a WIFI connection (providing that this is not something your school checks before classes). Just be aware that your speeds will also be affected by other people and devices using the same connection. Certainly though if the speeds do fall at the lower end of the requirements, it’s undoubtedly better to ensure that you have direct access to the internet—through a modem that is and not a router or extender. The latter two are used to increase the signal from a distant modem. The speeds will already be significantly lower here than at the central modem.
Keeping all this in mind, my first question to a potential host is definitely about the internet speeds. Yet, in my experience, not all people have a good understanding of what this means or why it’s important. I often receive responses along the lines of ‘the internet is good; I can use Facebook and Netflix without problem.’
To be honest, that doesn’t really mean a lot. The truth is, even the most rudimentary connections usually offer these without issue. You will need to press the host for specific numbers and, even better, photographic evidence of their connection speeds. Direct them to a service such as speedtest.net. This will provide the three key numbers ping, download, and upload. Do also double-check with the host that these are the speeds in your accommodation and not merely from the central modem. Some hosts might contact their provider and pass along the speeds from them. These speeds are inaccurate as they are the ones for the neighbourhood rather than specifically for the accommodation.
Now, it may feel like a lot of work to get photo evidence of the internet speeds prior to booking your accommodation. However, you need to keep in mind that, if you are booking the housing through a third-party supplier, it’s unlikely that you will be offered a refund over internet speeds unless the host has expressly agreed to it in advance. You could find yourself vastly out of pocket if you do need to find somewhere else.
2. Do You Get a Lot of Power Cuts?
Chances are, if you have a penchant for small and beautiful tropical islands, as I do, you will encounter this problem sooner or later. There is absolutely no point having access to high internet speeds if you are unable to use them half the time! There is nothing to be done about power cuts, but your employer might not be very forgiving if your classes are being frequently disturbed in this way. You could quickly find yourself out of a job.
You do have a couple of options here. Firstly, you could reconsider your choice of destination, power cuts are less likely in cities compared to more rural areas. You could also plan for a back-up working place such as a coworking space, café etc.
You might find that some accommodations in places where this is a regular occurrence. Due to increasing demand, they may actually have special generators for this eventuality. Those in the latter category are likely to cost you a little more as they are often marketed specifically towards digital nomads and, as with everything with a trendy title, ‘co-living spaces’ are considered to be a luxury option.
Another possible solution is to invest in a local sim card. If 4g is available in the area, this is a workable option for short periods (consider the battery life of your laptop and your phone). When making use of this option have a power bank on hand for your phone and always keep your computer at full power. When the power is out just quickly switch over to tethering and ensure that you give the student some make up time. In the evening, take care that you also have lighting if you provide video classes so that the student can see you. This last option is currently working for me as we usually only have short-term power fails where I am based.
3. Is There a Suitable and Comfortable Place for Me to Work?
This is another factor that people often forget about. A lot of accommodations aren’t all that well equipped for people who plan to work from there. In my early days of teaching, I found myself in all kinds of weird setups. Once I taught all 20 hours of my weekly classes while sitting on the floor and resting my laptop on a cardboard box! I do not recommend this option.
As with any job where you are going to be spending a significant amount of time sitting at a computer, you want to ensure that you are going to be comfortable. Opt for accommodation with a specific workspace, consider the type of chair available and also the lighting. Don’t forget to ask the host about access to plug sockets and, if needed, the modem.
Many schools also ask that you provide a particular background—either blank or with their branding on view. You will need to think about whether this is possible in the accommodation you wish to book.
Consider also the overall apartment. Given the amount of time you will be spending there, you want to make sure that you will be comfortable and happy. It might be tempting to opt for a smaller room so that you can dedicate more of your hard-earned cash to exploring, but consider the impact on your mentality if you are spending hours and hours a day cooped up in a small space. Even the nicest of views from the window won’t stop it from starting to feel like a prison cell!
When selecting an apartment, for me, it’s always essential that I have space to move around, different places to sit and enjoy various activities away from my general work environment.
4. Am I Likely to Get Disturbed When I’m Working?
It’s true to say that a lot of people that I’ve met don’t really seem to understand the concept of working from home. They seem to see it as a bit of a lark, a hobby, not something to be taken seriously. In that respect, I haven’t always been afforded the same consideration by hosts as they might give other professionals at work.
I’m very aware that most of my students pay quite a lot of money for their class with me. I know that they are likely to be quite unhappy if they are unable to hear what I’m saying because of background noise, or if they have to suffer through constant interruptions if people are coming and going. I’ve even had hosts rebooting the connection without letting me know, kicking me out of my class.
For this reason, it is vital to be clear with your host about what you want and need from the accommodation. Make sure that they understand the importance of not being interrupted in any way during the specific hours that you are working. If access to the modem is in a communal space, it might be best to avoid booking this particular place.
Another consideration here is the general noisiness of the neighbourhood. I once had to work in a room about ten metres from an actual honest to goodness circus. Every night at eight o’clock, right in the middle of my classes, they would start belting out music from the loudspeaker atop the Bog Top! In another place, I was about 20 metres away from a 24-hour construction site!
Noise-cancelling headphones are useful pieces of kit, but they can only do so much. Ensure you not only ask your host about the neighbourhood but also check the reviews to find out other peoples’ experiences.
5. Am I Likely to Disturb Others When I Am Working?
If you’re working for a school where you can pick your own hours every week – congrats to you, it’s unlikely that you will ever have to work unsociable hours if you choose not to. However, if you’re working for a school with set times, you need to consider the time zones in which you will be travelling. It could be that you end up working through the night. If this is the case, you will need to think about the impact of that on other people around you.
If you’re the kind of person who prefers to rent a room in a house—as a way of saving money and to allow you to meet and connect with fellow travellers, You’re unlikely to be their favourite person if you are keeping them up! Even separate accommodation might place you in the vicinity of people to disturb, especially when renting tiny bungalows in exotic beach resorts. It would undoubtedly be worth enquiring as to whether this would be the case.
Residential accommodation might be your best bet if you have classes during the day. Many locals are likely to be at work or otherwise away from their houses at this time. As for the night time, just be as considerate as possible. Ensure you close windows and doors and make use of headphones with a built-in mic so that you don’t have to speak so loudly.
Either way, it’s best to be as upfront as possible with your host about what you will be using the space for and at what hours. This way they can’t come back at you later if there are any complaints.
Hopefully, this guide has proved useful in highlighting some key issues linked with finding accommodation as an online teacher who travels. I know that it may seem that you don’t have as much freedom as you initially thought you would, but honestly, you’ll be surprised by the kind of places you can get high-speed internet connections these days.
I will be teaching today from a gorgeous bungalow overlooking the sea on a tiny island in Thailand. The speeds here are good enough to use a wireless connection even though the internet access is provided via an extender. I’m a little worried as it has just started to rain, but I have my laptop at full charge and my phone on hand for tethering—just in case…
Danielle Matthews (author) from Vietnam on September 29, 2019:
Hi Janet, thank you - I really do hope so. These are lessons it took me a little while to learn and I feel that I'm still learning.
Janet Dai on September 29, 2019:
hello Dane, good job here. and think this article must be very useful for the internal teacher who are travelling...