As a freelance writer, the only thing that can be more unpredictable than my travel plans is how much work I will get any given week. I’ve had to learn to manage the ebb and flow of my unconventional career, while also travelling the world.
Sometimes getting writing work is like waiting for a bus- you wait around for ages for one to show up and then three come along at once. That’s what happened a few years ago in Hanoi, Vietnam. As I weaved through the heavy flow of motorbike traffic, strolled through the busy markets and sat on plastic tables in the street drinking freshly brewed local beer – my inbox suddenly started to overflow with writing assignments.
It was as if my freelance clients from all over the world were somehow psychically connected and had all agreed to send me article assignments at the same time – with very short deadlines. As any digital nomad freelancer knows, it’s a sin to turn down work. Freelancing is a cycle of feast and famine and when the work comes in, you embrace the opportunity to shine.
However, this influx of work didn’t come at an ideal time. I was staying in a cheap dishevelled hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It was typical of many budget hotels in Southeast Asia – dusty stone steps, exposed wiring in the corridors, broken tiles, unreliable electricity and Wifi so slow that it made you want to throw your laptop against the wall in frustration. As luck would have it, when all of those sweet juicy writing jobs came pouring in the hotel Wifi simply disappeared.
So what could I do? Thank goodness for Hanoi’s coffee shops. In Vietnamese culture the coffee shop is somewhat of an extension of the living room – a place where the locals gather and spend time drinking and talking rather than taking their cappuccinos in a paper cup to go. It’s not uncommon for the Vietnamese to head to their favourite coffee shop and spend the entire evening socialising with friends – so it seemed an acceptable place to hang out for a few hours.
Plus, Vietnamese coffee was just what I needed to get me through a marathon writing session. The stuff is like rocket fuel, so strong it made my hands twitch. It is mixed with syrupy sweet condensed milk and served iced, which is perfect in the sticky, humid climate.
So I found a friendly local café – a simple place with a handful of tables and colourful paper lanterns decorating the door. I plunked my laptop on the table, ordered a drink and started tapping out the first of thousands of words I would write that day.
With the single-minded determination of someone running a long distance race – I sipped and typed furiously. I worked from 8am until 8pm, taking short breaks to gobble some street noodles and then returning back to my tiny coffee shop office. To justify the table I was taking up I felt like I should order a drink at least every hour or so. I worked my way through the menu methodically until I had sampled nearly every tea, coffee and soft drink they had to offer.
Daylight was fading into evening and the neon signs of downtown Hanoi were lighting up as I typed the last words on my final article. I clicked “Send” on the email with a triumphant sigh, closed the laptop and slumped back in my chair – fingers pressed against my bloodshot eyes.
The coffee shop owner, who had been watching me with curiosity, startled me by letting out a cheer. He came over to my table with a bottle of whiskey and poured two glasses. I laughed, toasted and took a hearty swig.
I had just pulled off a particularly difficult juggling move. Now it was time to celebrate.