Alex Ahlstrom
I am in love with travel, culture and finance around the world. After working in international real estate finance around Asia and America, I want to share some of my experiences.

How I Worked Remotely While Living Out of a Suitcase for a Year

I was able to work remotely for about two years while moving around Asia and the United States, creating my own work and travel schedule. And, for one year, I actually lived out of a suitcase, which allowed me to move even faster. This is the story of how I did it and some of what I learned on the way. 

Choose Something to Market and a Market to Grow With

I wanted to market something that I could be proud of, was appealing, a little specialized and related to real estate. One of my former teachers was interested in investment immigration into the United States. I had already received my California real estate license and knew enough about real estate to find a decent deal. I messaged every investment immigration project that I could find online and, to get some experience, even took a part-time job giving presentations for investment immigration projects in Shanghai. After talking with many companies, I settled on marketing the Pendry Montage Hotel in downtown San Diego. And, though I was going to market across Asia, leveraging Mandarin language ability and local knowledge gave me an advantage in China, so that became my home market.

The Pendry Hotel in downtown San Diego was the first investment immigration project I marketed. The designs on this photo were done by an upwork.com graphic designer that later went on to work at JP Morgan on graphical user interface.

Find Local Partners 

My job was to find local investment agencies in Asia, sign cooperation agreements with them, and then support their marketing and sales activities. I could be much more effective supporting a team of salespeople than I ever could be alone. Some of the companies that I worked with, like WorldWay and Zhaolong, employed hundreds of sales and marketing staff. I created custom educational software to train local salespeople, and then sent them copies of marketing materials. Once I got the information of local printing companies in China, I could send them designs and they would mail the materials to addresses across Asia for me. The Local partners worked directly with customers and were the primary reason I could work remotely. Finding and supporting local partners was my most important task and took the majority of my time.

Running a booth at B2B events was one way I met local investment agencies

Find Online Partners 

There were parts of the job that would require the help of other people. I needed translators for project documents, graphic designers for marketing materials, online marketers to help with marketing campaigns, and a virtual assistant to keep track of all of the expenses. Upwork.com was crucial in finding people that could help. I found that when starting with a new online contractor not to let them work more than 2 hours without checking in with me, otherwise they oftentimes did work that wasn’t useful or misdirected. But, later they could work almost automatically when they knew what I wanted. There is a filter to find people with a higher than 90% approval rate for jobs, and after using that filter, I found some remarkable people. For example, a former graphic designer I worked with now works as a Graphic User-Interface Designer for Goldman Sachs. Another benefit was that online partners would charge by the hour, so I only was charged for the help that I received. It was a big plus for my boss that I could act as a single point of contact for such a wide range of work. 

Here are the search filters that I use to find great online freelance graphic designers from upwork.com

Support the Local Partners

Occasionally, local investment agencies would call me in to give a presentation and take questions from their customers at events that they hosted. Also, as construction projects developed, I would update the marketing materials and powerpoint presentations to show the latest construction photos with help from online graphic designers. It was important to not place my company contact information on any of the marketing materials, because the partner companies did not want the customers to cut out the investment agencies by contacting my company directly. I would also take partners out to dinner or coffee to debrief after presentations. I would also show up to their offices with Starbucks when possible. 

Local partners would set up events for my to present investment immigration projects to their customers

Prepare to Move Quickly 

My role required that I give sales presentations at partner events. I found that having all of my necessary supplies in a suitcase afforded me the freedom to go straight to my next destination. An extra-lite suitcase, though it cost a little more, gave me a little more weight for my belongings. And an expandable backpack meant I could carry more things onto a plane, because backpacks are never weighed. Instead of a big poofy jacket, I packed an electric heating vest that can fit under my peacoat.  I carried all of my electronics in my backpack, so an airline could never misplace them. I always packed two suits and made sure that my suitcase was less than 23kg before I went to the airport, because that is what 90%+ of the airlines grant as baggage weight. 

Here are most of the business destinations in Asia that I would have during the course of a year

MacBook, Dual-Sim Phone, HDMI Cord, ATM Card and AwardWallet

MacBooks have the fastest start-up times of all laptops, so when presenting to customers or agencies a MacBook was great. I used a Hong Kong China Mobile International SIM card that had a mainland China and Hong Kong phone number. for the card. Even in China, the card was able to offer me google services that are blocked in China and the card was usable around the world. Once I arrived at a new country, I would buy a local sim card at the airport and then switch the data from the Hong Kong sim card off, but keep the phone function on, so I was reachable by anyone that called. I always traveled with an HDMI cord, in case a local partner forgot one for a presentation. A free-withdrawal ATM card was also important to get cash at the newest destination without paying ATM fees. All the airline and hotel points accounts I had were consolidated into an awardwallet.com account, so I could pull up the info at the airline check-in and they would get the points to me. Also, this got me a few upgrades after a while. 

I really enjoyed working remotely during this stop between business trips in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Takeaways

#1 – Life became very stream-lined with no room for extra items, I hardly bought anything that year, because it would have to move something else out of my suitcase. 
#2 – It was a realization that I didn’t need to do everything, but I did need to be able to organize different helpers and my boss realized this as well.  So finding support from upwork.com contractors was great.
#3 – Living out of suitcase for a year isn’t for everyone, but it was a really special feeling to be able to move so freely. 

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