9 Essential (Not So Obvious) Tools for Working Abroad

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 08/06/12 •  10 min read

I’d just arrived in Guangzhou, China.  It was nearly two days of travel, followed by an hour long wait at the taxi stand, and then a driver who could only be described as the least knowledgable taxi driver known to man.

I finally rolled up to my friends in the middle of the street trying to flag us down after 3 different phone calls giving exact directions to the driver – in Mandarin.

We grabbed a couple beers, went upstairs and started chatting.  Before bed, I went to Facebook to catch up on everything I’d missed while I was traveling and was met with a message saying “This Page Not Available”.

“Dude is your internet working? I can’t access Facebook or Twitter.”

“Dude. You’re in China. It’s blocked.”

Ooooooooooh. Riiiiiiiiight.

As you’ll see, little things like this can be completely avoided with just a little bit of pre-planning before you’re trip.

Got Your Tickets Booked?

So you’re thinking about making the plunge.  Maybe you’ve already quit your job and you’re venturing out to the unknown and moving abroad.  Perhaps it’s just a little trial run with a quick two week vacation to see if this whole remote work thing is really possible.

Where ever you’re at, there are a few essential tools that you’ll need to be successful, which you may normally overlook.

On just about every trip I take, there’s always at least one inconvenience that if I’d planned properly for, could have been totally avoided.

There’s no need to cover the obvious stuff, like a computer and backpack, you already know all that.  But here is a small list of things that I’ve overlooked at one point or another, and wish I’d thought about.

1) Reliable VPN

For those of you who have never traveled out of the country or done much tech work, you may not even know what this is.  VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and the primary purpose is to allow you to allow you to securely connect to a network remotely.

Why would you need this when traveling?  Well, essentially a VPN can allow you to hide your actual identity or location.  Many countries around the world block certain sites completely, so the only way to access them is when connected to a VPN.  I couldn’t get on any social media in China.  Thailand and Indonesia also had certain sites blocked.

I also use a VPN when doing SEO work while abroad.  In Thailand I wanted to get US search results, so when I was connected, I could make it look like I was in the US.  There’s a British site that shows every single event in the olympics online – but it’s only for UK residents.  A VPN can make you look like you’re in the country.

If you want something free for basic private surfing check out Hide My Ass. If you’re abroad you’ll want something a little more feature rich (because they’ll probably have Hide My Ass blocked), I use Express VPN and it’s worked out great.

#2) Conference Call Tool

I remember sitting in our apartment in Playa del Carmen earlier this year trying to have a call on Any Meeting with my 4 interns at the time.  It went something like this:

“How is ehd, uh, what was, sor, berh”

You know, one of those calls where the combination of service, internet, whatever makes it so you can’t actually have a real conversation.  Luckily, I had Go to Meeting, which for whatever reason worked beautifully and has been my go to (pun slightly intended) conference call service when abroad.

Obviously when you’re abroad it’s not as easy to simply pick up a cell phone to talk to your team or clients, so for this reason a good conference call tool is essential.  There are all sorts of options from free to very expensive, but the best bet is to figure out your price range, try a few, and see what works.

Personally I use Go to Webinar for big calls and webinars, Go to Meeting for smaller private stuff, and Skype for one on one calls.  These work great for me, but the Go To products aren’t the cheapest option.  I know plenty of people who use Free Conference Call and love it.  Any Meeting is also usually a good option if you don’t mind a few ads, and if you want to be on video while others chat Spreecast is good as well.

What you use totally depends on the type of calls you’ll need to do, but a cell phone won’t quite cut it when you’re abroad.

#3) Skype In Number with Google Voice

I’m often asked what the best solution is for receiving phone calls when abroad.  Yes it can be kind of a pain to have to tell all your clients they have to get on Skype if they want to reach you.  This is especially annoying when there are major time differences.

Luckily there’s a solution.

By getting a Skype In number ($60/year) and a Google Voice number (free) you can use the GV number as your local number, and then have it forward to your Skype number.  Essentially this means anytime someone calls you, it calls you directly on Skype.

Want to take this a step farther? Forward the Skype Number to your local cell phone.  Now for minimal money, someone can call you on their cell in New York, and you can answer it from yours on the beach in Bali.  Pretty cool right?

This post gives you the full rundown on setting it up.

#4) Computer/Device Tracking

Let’s face it, when you’re on the road the chances of someone swiping your stuff go up a notch.  While in Bali, my buddy Evan lost his iPhone because of a couple tricky thieves on a motorbike.

Lucky for him, he had software installed to not only locate it, but wipe it clean as well.

So how does this work? Say someone steals that fancy new Macbook Pro from you.  You login to a website, report the Mac as stolen, and you can actually remotely turn on the webcam and see who is using your computer.  Not only that, it will track their GPS coordinates as well.

For the wildest story of computer recovery ever, check out what my buddy Nick did.

The most well known of these services is Prey, and with the OS X Mountain Lion there is a built in feature called Find My Mac which does something similar.

At the very least this will keep your data safe, and best case you’ll actually get your stuff back and catch the perp in the process!

5) Social Media Scheduler

When you’re in a weird time zone, it can be really easy to miss everything going on back at home.  While everyone is tweeting and sharing away, you’re fast asleep, so you need a tool in place to help you not only manage incoming information, but also manage the outgoing stuff as well.

I personally use a combination of TweetDeck and Buffer.  TweetDeck allows me to easily manage all of my Twitter accounts, create groups of favorites to make sure I’m seeing everything I want to, while also providing integration for other social networks like Foursquare and Facebook.

Buffer allows me to schedule Tweets out at various times each day so that I can find all of my relevant content I want to share all at once – and easily schedule at the times where it will reach the most people.  This combo makes it possible to be social no matter what timezone I’m in.

Hootsuite and Timely are also good services worth checking out if TweetDeck and Buffer don’t work for you.

6) Reliable Hosting with 24 Hour Support

Do you know how many times I’ve been abroad and I’ve broken something on my site? Too many to count.  You might remember this gem (the first and most major debacle).  This is when I learned how important customer service is to a hosting account.

Because of that, I will never recommend a hosting site that doesn’t have really high quality 24/7 support. You have no idea how many times you might screw up something major and end up thanking your lucky stars your support person was able to fix things for you. Believe me, it will happen.

That said, I highly recommend two hosting sites. The first is Bluehost, they are great, reliable and very affordable, you can’t go wrong here. If you’re willing to pay a bit more money per month then WPEngine is pretty awesome as well.

#7) Email Marketing Tool

This one might be a little more obvious, because it’s essential regardless of where you are.  Google can change their algorithm and overnight kill your search traffic (look what happened to thousands of sites after Penguin).  Your site could break and completely disappear.  However your email list will always be there.

Whether you’re using it to communicate with potential clients, customers, or to simply keep people up to date on the happenings of your site, this is huge.

It’s especially useful when traveling for the same reason as Buffer, you can schedule when you want emails to go out and keep your business working for you, even when you’re unavailable.

I use Aweber, which is fantastic for the most part.  If you want a solution that is free starting out, check out MailChimp.

#8 Project Management Tool

There’s been times I’ve been working on a project with 4 different people, in 4 countries and 4 different time zones.  How do you effectively manage something like that?

Well aside from weekly office hours, where you hop on a call with everyone involved, I’ve found Trello to be the absolute best free project management tool online.  It’s simple, sexy, and for me, it’s worked way better than more expensive solutions like Basecamp.

When abroad, you should also check out Time and Date to make it easy to find a time that works for everyone.

#9) Portable Hard drive

There are SO many reasons you should have a high capacity portable hard drive with you at all times.

Whenever I travel, I always strive to have leave any new media (photos, videos etc) in two places.  Usually that’s in a combination of external hard drive, laptop, and SD cards.

You never know when something might fail, get lost, stolen, whatever.

It’s also essential it’s a portable USB powered drive as well.  The last thing you want to have to do is all around a heavy, fragile hard drive with a giant power source along with it.

This is even more important if you’re doing any media editing on the road as well.  All media is stored on the external when I’m editing on say Final Cut, so that it frees up the computer resources to make the software run smoother.

On some of my first trips I was external-less, and between running out of space on my computer for new photos and not having anyway to get the double back-up it was a mess.  Not to mention, I just don’t trust hard drives in most Asian electronics malls – if there’s one thing I won’t cheap out on, its storage.

I personally use a Seagate Portable 1TB, the size is great, but there are better options that don’t make you use a proprietary dongle.

And there you have it! Hopefully there’s at least a couple things in this list you may have overlooked that will leave you more prepared for your next adventure, regardless of whether it’s a long weekend or a permanent relocation.

What did I miss?? What essential tools do you have to have when you travel?

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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