Do You Have Wi-Fi? Working in Remote Locations

This is content that I penned during the summer of 2019 while launching my book. It was originally posted on Medium.

As an American millennial, I’ve grown accustomed to nearly constant access to technology and Wi-Fi. Connectivity is the name of the game, and if what you want isn’t already available, then it’s typically accessible within a few clicks. Yet, that mentality just isn’t the case everywhere in the world.

Shortly after my graduation in May 2019, I decided to spend the next six months of my adult life abroad. I planned to extend the two-month trip that I had scheduled with a friend in Southeast Asia and continue to work remotely as I hopped from country to country. Sounds fun, right? Idealistic even. Everyone I told (including myself) thought it was a near-perfect gig.

“Do you have Wi-Fi?”

I set off on this adventure and found that everything that I read, researched, and wrote about remote work was correct in theory, but in practice, it was much more difficult to implement when factors were constantly changing. My constant search for good Wi-Fi and solid connectivity was beyond frustrating.

I always did my research ahead of time. I booked accommodations that had Wi-Fi, I read reviews about whether or not the connectivity was good, I had a mobile hotspot as well as a phone (shout out @T-Mobile) that could serve as a backup if need be, and I always kept an eye out for nearby workspaces. Yet, without fail, it always seemed that nothing was as accessible or instantaneous as it had been in my workspaces back home. And it did make sense — I had after all written the following phrase in my book just a few months earlier:

Connectivity is definitional in allowing any remote worker to thrive. In fact, any workspace loses its appeal if you can’t get on the Wi-Fi. If you go to a coffee shop to do work and the Wi-Fi is slow, what are the odds that you finish out the workday there? Next to none. Connectivity is vital in ensuring that you can gain access to the documents and databases that you need. It also allows you to work with individuals that you’d be interacting with if you were in an actual office space.

Rereading this paragraph prompted me to stop. It reminded me (even more than I was already being reminded) that Wi-Fi was the most essential element of my workplace, and if I didn’t have it, it was almost impossible to work. Two countries, in particular, illustrated this workplace confinement to me: Australia and Malaysia. Both had me questioning how to build a functional workplace with the tools I was given.

Workplace #1: Australia

Australia was country number two on my itinerary and one that I often think of as an extension of the world that I’ve always known. The food is familiar, the language is common, the culture is easy to acquaint yourself with, and the workspaces are more than abundant. Despite this, if there’s one component that Oceania might just be lacking, it’s solid Wi-Fi. As soon as I touched down, my phone may have said 3G, but it was as far from 3G as I have ever known it. I’d spend ten or more seconds trying to load pages that I was used to loading in an instant, and I was unable to download crucial documents that helped me to connect with clients. Needless to say, this was a rocky start to what I had anticipated being an exciting adventure into my working remotely. How could I possibly do it if the Wi-Fi was (from my perspective) so disastrously slow?

While it was never an issue of getting Wi-Fi in Australia — in fact, it was everywhere — it was an issue of ensuring that the connection was strong enough to do what I needed it to do. Tasks as simple as uploading and downloading documents became stress I had never known.

Needless to say, I got better at what I was doing. I learned which connections were better than others (i.e. never the airport Wi-Fi but often the big-name fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, or hotels), and I learned to work ahead. I began to bulk download items when I had the best connection I had for a long time. If it meant spending an hour downloading every single thing that I needed for the next four days because I didn’t know when my next great connection would be, so be it!

Connectivity issues were and are some of the hardest issues I face in my remote work. It’s all about adapting. It’s about using the absolute best possible resources in your situation and anticipating when it could get worse. And sometimes, you can’t even do this. There are unexpected issues all the time (looking at you Thailand and Cambodia with your power outages!), but that happens in an office setting as well. You adjust, move on, and get your work done.

Workplace #2: Malaysia

And if you want to talk about more unexpected obstacles, my Malaysia workspace was one that boasted a particularly unique challenge.

As a recent college graduate, I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a budget traveler through and through. I look for the cheapest flight deals even if it means staying the night in the airport lounge that my travel credit card allows me access to, and I stay in hostels or Airbnbs that have the absolute cheapest rates even if they’re windowless, co-ed, or slightly comfortable (provided they have Wi-Fi — that’s non-negotiable). While in Penang, Malaysia, I was staying in one such budget Airbnb that actually had a decent amount of space, a private bathroom, and a workspace in the lobby. Sounds nice, right?

One night, I was writing and researching in our private room when suddenly the Wi-Fi cut out altogether. I disconnected the Wi-Fi and attempted to reconnect. Nothing. I restarted my computer (an immense amount of effort given the number of windows and tabs that I typically leave open from session to session). Nothing.

Now what? It was only 11 PM, and nighttime is my prime work time. I typically work until at least 1 AM, and I had an order due before I could go to bed. I thought perhaps it was a router issue, so I went and sat out in the lobby. Still nothing. I ended up hotspotting and finishing my work that night with some annoyance. It looked like the Wi-Fi had gone down, and hopefully, it would be back up the next morning.

The next morning, I woke up around 7 AM, and the Wi-Fi was working just like it had been before it cut out the previous night. “Glorious,” I thought to myself, “I won’t have any issues tonight.”

Yet, that night, at 11 PM on the dot it cut out again. And it clicked. It wasn’t a router or connection error — the Wi-Fi was being turned off for a third of the day (likely as a money-saving tactic). My greatest work tool was being deliberately turned off in my shared accommodation, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it except hustle even harder before 11 PM. Sadly, this great Wi-Fi shutdown wasn’t the last I’ve seen. I’ve continued to experience it in hostels and accommodations without notice, and each time I just have to be a little bit more flexible and grateful that I have access to my own personal hotspot even if it can be a bit pricey to operate.

Looking Forward

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be sharing excerpts, stories from my book, Remotely Exceptional: A Playbook for Companies and their Remote Workers, and anecdotes from life on the road in this blog series. Remotely Exceptional launched on July 27, 2019, on Amazon. You can buy it by clicking here. If you want to connect, you can reach me via email at, visit my profile on Fiverr @kelseyyurek, or follow my travels on Instagram @kelseyyurek.