Becoming Location Independent: Technology, Business and Personal

By staff writer Lisa Carter. Photos Copyright Β© Jon Lee.

This is Part III in a series on becoming location independent. In Part I, Lisa shared the process of deciding when, where and how to start the experiment. In Part II she talked about arranging the essentials, such as accommodation and what to do with the home she was leaving behind.

THE CLOCK ON MY BlackBerry doesn’t actually tick, but I could hear time passing. Loudly. Four weeks before we left for our location independent experiment in Costa Rica, Jon and I had to prepare everything we’d need to live and run our freelance businesses.

After arranging the essentials, we turned our attention to the next most important consideration: technology. I say “we,” but you know how every long-term relationship evolves into a natural division of tasks? Well, in our family, tech falls to Jon. It’s an integral part of his being. Rather than a chore, this opportunity to determine our exact needs and research the perfect solutions had his fingers flying over the keyboard in glee.

Our business headquarters in Ottawa


Both of our businesses — translation and software design — are relatively easy to run. We need a computer, general and job-specific software, e-mail and Internet access. This simple tech (and our complex brains, of course) allows us to meet our clients’ needs from wherever we might be.

Because we had hoped to incorporate international travel into our lifestyles for some time, Jon had already taken certain steps to make this possible. We have virtual business numbers that can be forwarded to a cell or landline. Our BlackBerries are unlocked so we are not tied to our Canadian carrier and can buy a local SIM card. We use Dropbox for online file storage and LogMeIn should we be away from home yet need to get into our desktop computers.

Jon asked what mattered most to me in a laptop beyond the technical specifications. I wanted a decent-sized screen (15″), reasonable weight (6 lbs), and high-quality sound (Bang & Olufsen audio) since this would also be our entertainment system. After days of meticulous research, Jon found the ideal laptop for me.

Finding one for himself was a little more complicated. Because of the specs Jon needs for his work and gaming, he decided it was not the right time to buy. Instead, he thought he could make do with our existing netbook, bringing a USB keyboard and mouse to make this tiny machine more functional. We could also share the bigger new laptop because our schedules tend to be opposite: I like early mornings, while he likes late nights.

Now that we had the machines we’d be taking to Costa Rica, Jon had several more days of work installing all the necessary software. This had to be done as soon as possible so we could work on the computers at home, iron out any difficulties and discover what we might have forgotten.

The sum total of our tech


While Jon took care of the tasks that utilized his strengths, I dove into those that suited mine: details, paperwork, forms and organization.

Travel insurance was at the very top of my long (and evolving) to-do list. In 2010, when we travelled to Peru for five weeks, we found it was much less expensive to subscribe to an annual policy versus trip-based insurance, so that was already in place. However, our policy only covers a maximum of 60 days abroad, so I had to top this up by calling our provider.

Car insurance was next. This we opted to put on “suspension of coverage.” Once we parked our cars on specific dates – Jon’s at my brother’s acreage just outside of Ottawa, mine at Jon’s aunt’s in New York – they could not be driven until we returned and reinstated the insurance. We would continue to pay our premiums each month, but these are refunded up to 90% when coverage is restored. According to my insurance broker, the advantage of suspension over cancellation is that your rate is guaranteed to remain the same.

In terms of banking, I had to ensure that all client receivables were paid electronically, through direct deposit or PayPal, and all payables were also automatic. Most of this was already in place, but I saw it as the perfect opportunity to wrangle up any stragglers.

It was also important to let our bank and credit card companies know we would be travelling. Otherwise, they might assume identity theft and suspend or cancel our cards at the first transaction in Costa Rica.

Ticking every item off our list was eminently satisfying, but each tick also equaled the passing of at least another day. It was time for some serious multi-tasking. In every spare moment between our work and personal lives, Jon and I fit in one errand or another: shopping for clothes and shoes, filling prescriptions, getting vaccinations.

Not only did we have to get ready to leave, we also had to make sure our apartment was ready for the tenants. Because they were a mature couple who came on a personal recommendation, we felt comfortable leaving all of our personal art and knick-knacks in place. We did, however, have to empty the bedroom and hall closets of clothes, and the cupboards, fridge and freezer of food. This was a good time to sort through our possessions, downsize and organize. But it all took time.

Our days were long, every 24-hour period used to its fullest with our alternating schedules. In the last week of July, Jon and I did a test pack to make sure all of our tech and personal items fit into two backpacks and one small duffel bag. These two little mounds would be our life from then until mid-November.

Our two little mounds of clothes to last three months

Everything else had been tidied, disposed of or stuffed into the storage closet for our return. We spent the final two days ensuring our place would pass the white glove test when the tenants arrived.


We were exhausted, a bit dazed at the speed with which we had decided to try location independence in Costa Rica and got ready to go. Ten days of family visits and a four-day conference lay ahead before we actually boarded the plane, but we were embarking on this adventure. We had prepared as best we could; only experience would show how well we’d done.

As I pulled the apartment door closed, Jon looked at me and asked:

“Passport? Tickets? Credit card?”

I nodded.

“Everything else is negotiable,” he pronounced.

And we were off.



Part I – Becoming Location Independent: Decisions, Decisions

Part II – Becoming Location Independent: Arranging the Essentials

Lisa Carter of Intralingo

Lisa Carter


LISA CARTER is a literary translator and writer with a passion for travel. She and her partner, Jon, live in Ottawa, Canada – at least for now. They are currently experimenting with being digital nomads based out of Atenas, Costa Rica. You can find Lisa on her professional website, her personal food blog and on Twitter @intralingo.

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  1. That was SO cool! I love the details and how you were able to split everything up! I have to say, I thought you would have packed more…. I would have never thought of an annual trip insurance policy! I get travel insurance when I go on a cruise because my father is elderly. You guys are SO ready!

    • Hey Ann! Splitting everything up was the only way we got it all done. Thank goodness we have different strengths. πŸ˜‰
      As for annual travel insurance, it only makes sense if you plan to leave your home country at least once a year. But just that once can often result in a savings versus trip-based. Keep it in mind!

  2. Samantha says:

    I have to agree with Ann, I could never pack so little. Whenever I go on a backpacking type trip I struggle with limiting what I will take.

    This is such an inspiring idea. Good luck to you guys. I am looking forward to reading more about how it goes!

    • Hello, Samantha! So glad you checked out the post and were inspired.

      As for packing, because we were going to be renting a house for a month at a time, with access to laundry, we really only needed to pack for a week. That’s actually how I do it for most trips, since you don’t want to be carrying around a bunch of dirty laundry. Try it the next time you go!

  3. Again, very impressed Lisa. I had trouble getting my gear into an 80-litre rucksack when I was just travelling for 5 weeks, so to see how much you managed as well as storing your home is gob-smacking!

    Good luck to you both on your adventure.

    • Hi, Jo! One thing really worked to our advantage with packing was the temperature here. The places we planned to be are all temperate to hot, meaning we didn’t need to pack bulky sweaters, boots, etc. And because our homes here are all rented fully equipped, we didn’t need anything but clothes and our tech to work. I’m a big proponent of travelling light no matter what, though. At only 5 feet tall and not particularly muscular, I need a small backpack or I crumple under the weight! πŸ˜‰

  4. Lisa,
    This whole series is so inspiring! I would so like to do this. How do you like it so far? Are you all settled in?

    I’ve started to pack light since I started doing only carry-on, on the flights I took. It’s a lot easier than dealing with baggage claim. You’d be surprised how much you can fit in one carry-on bag if you are clever enough.

    I cant wait to read more! Thanks.

    • Hey Betsy! Yes, my dad used to travel like you, with carry-on bags only. It does teach you how to pack small, yet also shows how little you need and how much you can fit into a relatively small space!

      I’ll let you know all about how we’re doing here in my next post! Suffice it to say, I’m smiling. πŸ˜‰

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  6. This is an excellent series of blog posts! It is so helpful to hear other translators talking about location independence, and I’m getting a lot of ideas from you. (I’m preparing for a big move abroad, which is its own process, but I also want to use the move as an excuse to become more location-independent!) I’m looking forward to your next postβ€”I would love to hear about how much you’re enjoying it, but I am also curious about any unexpected surprises you’ve dealt with since getting there.

    • Hi Rachel! I’m so glad you commented and are finding these posts useful! If I’m not mistaken, from your tweets you’re moving to Germany? To work? I’d love to hear more.
      As for arriving in Costa Rica and all the unexpected surprises, that’s precisely the topic of the next post. πŸ˜‰

  7. Hi Lisa,
    Love the details; checklist for our upcoming trip – done! πŸ™‚
    And boy, did you pack a lot into just a few weeks!
    I can’t wait for the next chapter in your adventure.

    • Katherine,
      Glad to have helped with this checklist! I hope I didn’t forget anything important. πŸ˜‰
      Hopefully the next installment will give you some more ideas for your own planning.

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