How to Set Boundaries While Working and Traveling

So you’re living the dream, traveling and working from this week’s uber-cool destination. I’m not going to lie – this is a totally awesome lifestyle. However, just like everything, it has its drawbacks. Working from a supremely exotic destination takes a lot of focus and discipline. Things are further compounded when you’re sharing a living space, such as in a hostel, because people assume you’re chatting on Facebook while you’re on your computer, not working. Here are a few ways to set boundaries with those around you so you can get some work done.

Tip #1: Find a Quiet Space

This is a very important component to getting work done effectively while traveling. If everyone hangs out in the TV room at the hostel you’re staying at, try to work in the kitchen, the garden, or somewhere else that has both a power plug and a desk. When you’re off by yourself, people will normally recognize your intention to be alone and respect that.

If you’re staying at a highly sociable hostel, you may have to take more extreme measures. Paying more for a private room guarantees your own space. If you’re staying in a city, there should be libraries you can sit in or a café with free wifi to work from.

donkey New Zealand
If you don't let me work, I'm gonna be mad like this donkey!

Tip #2: Sending Non-Verbal Cues

There are several ways that you can let people know you aren’t available to talk without saying anything. A look of intense concentration, having headphones in

your ears (even if you’re not listening to anything), not looking up from your computer, and not making eye contact are all ways to tell people not to bother you.

Tip #3: The Delayed, Short Response

Some people lack the ability to do more than one thing at once. Have you ever tried to talk to a guy watching a sports match? Yeah, not happening. Once you realize that the person can’t offer you their full focus, you give up and approach them at a different time. This same concept applies to work. Even if you can do 100 things at once, you can utilize the delayed, short response to communicate otherwise.

For instance, you’re busily typing away at your computer and another backpacker attempts to engage you in conversation. Scramble your face in intensely furious concentration, continue to type rapidly for the next minute or so, then look up distractedly and ask them to repeat the question. Giving them a short answer without maintaining eye contact will do the trick. If you feel a little guilty, you can always throw in the, “Oh sorry about that, I’m working!”

cafe New Zealand
This is my “don’t talk to me while I’m drinking coffee” face, but it can be used to say “don’t talk to me while I’m working” too.

Tip #4: The Postponement

Failing all the tricks above, you can attempt to postpone the conversation to a later date so that you don’t seem totally antisocial. Here’s an example:

Backpacker: Wow, cool, so how long have you been here in Colombia?
Me (staring at my computer): About 4 months.
Backpacker: Awesome! Where have you been?
Me (glancing up briefly): A lot of places… hey are you gonna be around later?
Backpacker: Yeah for sure.
Me: Great. Maybe we can talk later? It’s just I have a ton of work to do right now.
Backpacker: Oh sorry, yeah totally.
Me: Cool, have fun at (x sightseeing spot)!

Painless enough, right?

For us work-and-travelers, it can sometimes be hard to find a balance. Some days, I find I’ve worked practically all day without closing my computer. On the other hand, I’ve had a cluster of days pass when I could barely fit an hour in. Maintaining the equilibrium is a challenge, but setting boundaries so you can actually get work done when you want is a good start.

How do you set boundaries with other travelers when you have to work?

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