How to be a Laptop Bedouin

This article originally appeared in 24hrs Vancouver on October 1, 2008.

roz savage rowing pacificIf you spend much of your day anchored to a keyboard and monitor in a dull cubicle with a crowded commute – you can change your life.

With easily accessible online tools, you literally can work from anywhere: Europe, the beach, even the middle of the ocean.

Julie Szabo and Darren Barefoot run Vancouver’s Capulet Communications. For most of the spring, the couple worked at a handcrafted pine desk in an open office that echoed with the squeals of seagulls mixed with the scuffle of children chasing a soccer ball through the back alleys of Essouira, Morocco.

And that’s just one stamp on their passports. They’ve also run their company during extended stays in Ireland and Malta.

When choosing a work-worthy destination, Julie says the deal maker is simple: “Broadband internet.”

The reliability and speed of a web connection is the first thing the couple investigates when looking for an overseas “office” and the exact opposite of what solo rower Roz Savage found herself with on her summer adventure rowing across the Pacific.

Roz rowed solo from San Francisco to Hawaii in the first leg of her voyage and posted a blog entry each day of the trip.

She sat cross legged on the cramped floor of her vessel and used a laptop charged by solar panels to write her posts. She then emailed them via a satellite phone to SailBlogs, a service which provides mapping and blogging solutions to the sailing community.

While it worked, it was a painfully slow 2.4kBps connection, much less than 1% of what broadband speed would be.

Roz also used the satellite phone to record a weekly podcast of her adventure to raise awareness of the state of the oceans and the environment.

“It was challenging, but hopefully it’s worthwhile,” she smiles.

Julie, Taking Her LeisureWhen it came to communicating with the Capulet clients, Darren and Julie relied on email, but also maintained a Vancouver area number while they were out of the country and used a service called PhoneTag.

“Basically as soon as you get a voice mail, it immediately emails you [the text of the message,]” remarks Julie.

They could then return the call using Skype, a voice over internet protocol that’s cheaper than international calling rates.

“Half the time they had no idea we were out of the country.”

The time change between Europe and clients in North America allowed the couple to spend leisurely mornings exploring their surroundings before getting into serious work in the afternoon, something they long for now that they’re back in BC.

In addition to the exotic change of being overseas to work, there are also financial benefits.

“When you’re living abroad and you leave with a backpack with all your stuff and your office in it, and you intend to come back with just that backpack, you just don’t buy anything,” she says.

“When you stop buying things, it’s amazing how much money you save.”

From an ancient medina in Morocco, to a rowboat in the middle of the pacific, if you can find the internet you can get the job done. They do call it wireless for a reason.


The next portion of Roz’s Pacific rowing adventure will start in May from Hawaii. She will continue to blog the journey and take part in a regular podcast with Leo Laporte. She’s hoping to have more video of her journey, but her slow satellite modem takes 30 minutes to upload 30 seconds.

Raising awareness by using blogs and social media tools is becoming crucial for those trying to affect social change. Musician David Usher recently highlighted the need for charities to move this way on his blog. “It’s so important that ’causes’ get on board with social media right now. As messaging gets .. crowded it’s going to become harder for charities to .. gain awareness,” he writes.

Julie Szabo and Darren Barefoot recently wrote Getting to First Base, an eBook on social media marketing and are turning it into a print edition this fall. Another book tracing the stories of The Laptop Bedouins, people who work online and overseas, will follow.

Jack Layton’s New Democrats are getting seriously into social media. While the Liberals and Conservatives are tossing up parody sites of each other, the NDP are handing bloggers all the tools they need to spread the message. The recently launched Orange Room is a wealth of tools, images, videos and widgets.

The Canadian Internet Project recently released a report on the web habits of Canadians. We spent, on average, 17 hours a week online last year, up from 13 in 2004. 80% of internet users or 54% of Canadians access the web via broadband connections. 97% of teens are online regularly, while more than half of those over 60 mouse around.



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