Teaching online offers the convenience of working from home. However, it also offers the convenience of working from anywhere in the world that has a reliable Internet connection. As soon as I secured work as an online teacher, my motto became “Have Internet card, will travel!” I started traveling often and far in 2011. That’s when I also began mastering the critical elements of teaching online while traveling. Below are my six rules for how to teach online and travel the world. Follow these rules and you too can keep teaching full time without ever missing a class, e-mail, meeting or paycheck.
Always have these three things handy when teaching online and traveling: reliable Internet access, a backup Internet access source and an emergency Internet source. An Internet card that plugs into your USB port is a must-have tool for teaching on the go. Be forewarned, though, that depending on your service provider and location, an Internet card may not work everywhere in the world. Your best back-up: a pay-as-you-go Internet site. Research your destinations prior to traveling so you know where and how to access pay-as-you-go locations such as Internet cafes or hotel business Wi-Fi centers. Since pay-as-you-go sites aren’t always reliable (they sometimes lack strong signals), travel with an emergency plan for a third line of Internet access. McDonald’s often make for great emergency access sites, even worldwide. Most McDonald’s provide free Wi-Fi, and I have yet to discover a major metropolitan area without one. Other public gathering places, such as laundromats, coffee shops and libraries, often have free Wi-Fi, too. Public sites can come in handy when you need to check email or post grades by a certain deadline. Make sure you know the security risks of public Wi-FI before logging on. It’s best not to engage in banking or other security sensitive log-ins using public access.
Travel with a backup laptop and a map to the nearest local business center. I travel with an inexpensive spare laptop. I download and prep all necessary programs, passwords and documents onto the spare laptop in case I hit an emergency situation. However, it is still possible to lose or damage both laptops. That’s why it’s always good to know the locations of local business centers that provide computer and Internet access. (Hint: Many hotel chains now provide business center Internet, fax and phone connectivity on a pay-as-you-go basis.)
If you will maintain a home address while traveling, make sure you put in place a reliable mail forwarding service. Many professional services can help you forward mail. Be sure you understand the terms of cancellation or modification before signing up for mail forwarding. You can also have a friend or family member forward your mail.
Having written paychecks forwarded to remote locations is a hassle from the Stone Age. Don’t do it. Have all income directly deposited into your bank account, and notify your bank that you are on the move. Notifying your bank of travel plans will help prevent the dreaded “fraud alert” that can potentially freeze your account while you’re abroad and least able to respond to such freezes. Having your pay directly deposited into your bank account should ensure that your money is immediately available to you from anywhere in the world.
Maintain a cell phone with a generous international plan. Most universities require that you give students a telephone number that actually connects directly to you rather than a telephone answering service. You will need to have a mobile number that students can call while you travel the world. Make sure your cell phone plan offers free or cheap international rates. I found out the hard way that not all providers work in all locations when my amazing smartphone became an amazing paperweight the first time I went to Reykjavik, Iceland. There is a significant difference in cell phone coverage depending on your carrier and your destination. I switched my provider and had excellent service at no additional cost during my second trip to Reykjavik.
Traveling to some locations won’t make a significant difference in your office hours, but others will. If you live in the U.S. and plan to travel throughout the Caribbean, you can probably keep normal office hours. However, if you live in the U.S. and plan to move to Europe (like I have), you will need to make some sacrifices. I have a day with early morning office hours for my students (convenient afternoon hours for me) and a day with evening office hours for my students (middle of the night for me). Relaxing while working from beautiful locations does not have to be a dream deferred until retirement. A bit of planning and forethought can make traveling the world while perfecting how to teach online easy. Just be careful or you may decide to never return home again. The verdict is still out with me!
About the Author: Jaynelle Nixon has been teaching online since 2006. She first caught the travel bug in 2004 when she had the opportunity to teach on a remote Alaskan island, and she has been traveling ever since. She recently decided to take the plunge and move to Europe. She currently resides in Leuven, Belgium.