Editing in the Tropics: Be Careful What You Wish For

One of my biggest career dreams had always been to edit book manuscripts on a beach beneath sunny, tropical skies, palm trees, and palapas.

In January 2014, I had the opportunity to do just that when I went on a six-week tropical getaway to southern Mexico with my husband. He’s retired and attracted to the snowbird lifestyle, and my work is not location dependent, so it seemed the ideal time for me to combine some adventures in Mexico while working not-quite full-time.

The previous year we had spent three months in Palm Springs, Phoenix, and Maui, and I had no trouble keeping up with work deadlines. I figured that as soon as I found that special beach and palapa, I’d be in editing bliss. I already have a perfect job; what more could I want but the perfect environment of tropical beaches and sunshine in which to do it?

Temperate climates, like Palm Springs, are one thing. It’s relatively easy to stay focused on work while enjoying a few hours of hiking or lunching in town. But a tropical environment turned out to be a little different than what I expected. There’s a lesson here: if you’re stuck in an office or suffering through the cold Canadian winter and are dreaming of working in a tropical locale, be careful what you wish for. When your dream comes true, it may not be everything you imagined. The reality rarely lives up to the fantasy.

Our trip began with a one-month condo rental in the rustic, authentically Mexican beach town of Puerto Escondido, on the southern coast. For the other two weeks, we were in a lovely B & B and then a charming old-world-style hotel in nearby Huatulco, a more developed resort town.

Impediments to Productive Work

After spending a day or two getting our bearings in Puerto (as the locals call it), I tried to settle into a part-time editing routine: morning walk, editing for a few hours, afternoons off for pool and beach, dinner, and then a few more hours of work later in the evening. It didn’t take long for that schedule to crumble. Here are some of the reasons.

  1. Internet Problems
    Many Mexican towns have lower bandwidth than what we’re used to in Canada. Also, cement and cinderblock walls are the main methods of construction in Mexico. These provide a cheap, effective way to build a home and keep it cool, but these thick walls create a big impediment to getting reliable wireless internet.
  2. Computer Problems
    My seven-pound laptop was too cumbersome.  Screen visibility, not to mention dust and sand in the keyboard, was also a problem. When editing outdoors with a laptop, even in the shade, a matte screen is essential. For my next trip, I downsized to a tablet.
  3. The Heat
    While the temperature in Puerto and Huatulco is consistently around thirty degrees Celsius, the humidity makes it feel eight or ten degrees hotter. At these temperatures, sluggishness sets in. There’s a reason people in hotter Hispanic countries take afternoon siestas.
  4. Distractions
    Besides the usual holiday distractions, a few that I hadn’t anticipated interfered with my productivity. These included the following:

    • Spectacular views and beaches. Once they draw you in, it’s hard to disengage.
    • Facebook. I tended to find myself spending more time reading my feed than I budgeted.
    • Socializing. It’s all too easy to get caught up in conversations with interesting people at the pool; all our new friends are retired and want to spend time with us.
    • Recreation. Snorkelling and other recreational activities take up a few days a week, something I didn’t factor in when budgeting work time.
    • Iguanas. Besides scurrying around the pool, basking in the sun, and scuttling up and down palm trees, each afternoon they appeared like clockwork and began, er, copulating. Who can concentrate with a sex show going on in front of them?
  5. Hazards
    Death by coconut is a real hazard here. So much for editing under a palm tree. Iguanas and things like unripe almond fruits also fall out of trees. For health and safety reasons, sitting under shady trees is best avoided. At the beach, wasps alight on the straw of your margarita, then crawl down the straw and get stuck. Unaware, you blissfully take a sip of your drink, and . . . The heat can get you down, even make you feel ill. Scorpions, deadly centipedes, and other critters turn up from time to time: always wear shoes or sandals in the tropics!
  6. Self-Discipline
    I am a disciplined editor, but I found it increasingly difficult to get down to work. Routine is important for working, and it’s hard to establish one with all the distractions.
  7. Leaving
    The thought of leaving is depressing. The only thing that kept me going was the thought of summer—and coming back to Mexico the next year.

Final Thoughts

These are hardly the worst problems an editor could have while trying to work while travelling. But I learned that my fantasy of a professional life of editing beneath a palapa on a tropical beach just wasn’t realistic, and I had to plan differently for my future trips to the tropics.

As they say, the worst day in paradise is better than a good day anywhere else. And sometimes the things we wish for do come true in unexpected ways. In summer 2017, we began building a house in Puerto Escondido, which was exciting but extremely stressful. A freelance editor working abroad needs discipline, and with all the building activity, I found it difficult to focus on work. I’ve had to use every ounce of my discipline like never before. Even now that the house is built and we’re settling in, every day is filled with house maintenance we never expected, and a regular work rhythm continues to be difficult to achieve. It’s still paradise, but the caveat remains: be careful what you wish for.

This article was originally published on February 27, 2014; it has been updated and adapted for Active Voice.

Arlene Prunkl (photo by Bryan Small)

Arlene Prunkl is a freelance manuscript editor and the owner of PenUltimate Editorial Services. You can find her on Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

3 Replies to “Editing in the Tropics: Be Careful What You Wish For”

  • My husband and I travel a lot, but we are always on the move: cycling and hiking mostly, or just getting to the next place. Clients wonder why I can’t—or won’t—work while I’m travelling. Editing requires full concentration over significant blocks of time. We never stop long enough, and I’m not willing to give up sleep. So that’s another take on this.

  • Thank you for adding perspective on a dream shared by many I’m sure, specially as we are getting tired of winter.

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