The Lisbon Lowdown – how I made it possible to take a month-long working holiday and everything I learnt along the way

Lisbon viewpoint

To give you some context, if you have managed to avoid the Lisbon spam on the Planner Bee VA Services social media, back in September 2022 I booked to move to Lisbon for a month-long working holiday in April/ May 2023. I have always been a lover of travelling, so when my friend invited me to join her as she travels around Europe, it was a no-brainer. For the last couple of years, I have been desperate to learn to surf (despite having only been surfing twice, I know I am a surfer gal at heart), so with Portugal being a surf hotspot, Lisbon was an obvious choice for our working holiday. 

So, without further ado, here is the complete Lisbon lowdown, including how I made it possible to embark on a month-long working holiday to make my surfer gal dreams a reality and everything I learnt along the way.

How I made it possible to take a month-long working holiday as a Virtual Assistant

At the time of booking, the working holiday was over 6-months away, so I figured I had plenty of time to put everything in place before I went, to make the working holiday possible. A big part of this involved practicing what I preach and growing my team, to manage my workload and take some of the pressure off me. Since I founded the Virtual Assistant business back in 2021, the business has grown and we are now run by a small team of 3 digital marketing specialists, including Sally who joined me in Lisbon for our working holiday. Growing the Planner Bee VA Services team was about much more than the working holiday, it was about increasing the impact we can have by supporting more small businesses. But the planned trip to Portugal gave me the push I needed to take that next step and grow the business beyond just me.

As part of my trip preparations, I also took on a couple of digital marketing students from Robert Gordon’s University, who supported me in planning and creating content for the Planner Bee VA Services social media. Having support with content creation gave me the time (and headspace) I needed to work on creating and optimsing our current systems. This meant I was able to ensure that our processes were as efficient as possible, to allow me to be really targeted with my time while I was away.

And it worked.

Whilst I was in Lisbon I worked for an average of 20 hours per week, whilst continuing to serve all our wonderful clients as well as having conversations with potential new clients looking to book our services once I returned. Having the support of my little team as well as putting systems and processes in place before we went meant that I was truly able to embrace the trip and balance supporting our clients and growing my business with sightseeing and of course, surfing.

3 Lessons I learned from embarking on a month long working holiday as a Small Business Owner

1. The value of a change of scenery

When you work from home, like I do, it can be easy to quickly form quite a mundane routine and that is exactly where I found myself – stuck doing the same thing every day and lacking inspiration. Travelling somewhere new, with a change of scenery and the headspace to think, meant that the inspiration was well and truly flowing…

I started a long list on my phone of social media ideas and started showing up on socials every single day.
I began creating more and more long-form content because I had fresh, new ideas for the first time in months.
I put together a bucket list with so many ideas for things I want to do and places I want to see in my life.

There is nothing like a change of scenery to get the inspiration flowing and this inspiration has in turn led to me feeling more motivated than ever to build my business and pursue the life of my dreams.

2. Getting intentional with my time

As I mentioned above, whilst I was away, I was only working for 20 hours per week, so I had to get really intentional with my time. Being away gave me the push I needed to be really disciplined and utilise my working time as effectively as possible so that I also had time to explore Lisbon. To do this, I turned off my phone and really focussed on one task at once because ultimately, I would rather spend my free time surfing than scrolling social media in between work projects!

To manage my time as effectively as possible, I also committed to keeping meetings to mornings, leaving my afternoons free to crack on with client projects or for a cheeky surf lesson. Managing my time in this way and keeping afternoons free was absolutely game-changing because I find it much easier to progress a project when I can do a big chunk of work uninterrupted, rather than doing an hour here and there, in between meetings. Before I went away, I would not have thought it was possible for me to manage my diary in this way (which is silly, because it is my business, so I really can do whatever I want). But this is something I am taking forward now that I am back in sunny Scotland. Rather than keeping meetings to mornings, I am currently trialling having meetings Monday – Thursday and keeping Fridays free.

Virtual Assistant working virtually from Lisbon

3. Pushing the boundaries with our goals and dreams

Two years ago, when I started Planner Bee VA Services during Covid, I could never have imagined that I would be able to move to Lisbon for a month. I would love to say that this trip was on my vision board, and I looked at it every day. But honestly, I could never have imagined that I could do this, so I would never have even put it on my vision board.

So, one of my biggest learnings from the trip is around the goals we set, the dreams we have and the parameters that we set those within. While I was in Lisbon, I realised that there is something big (and I mean REALLY REALLY big) that I want to do. But it wasn’t on my vision board. It wasn’t anywhere. I hadn’t admitted, even to myself, that this was a goal I wanted to pursue. Because the goal is so big, I didn’t think there was any point even trying to reach it. But if I don’t try (or even admit to myself that this is an ambition I have), then I definitely won’t achieve it.

So, that goal is now firmly on my vision board, staring me in the face when I turn on my laptop every day. It is still a big ambition, and I might not get there. But I know I will get a lot closer to the goal if I try to pursue it, than if I hide from it.

Embracing the freedom and flexibility that comes with running your own business

As entrepreneurs and small business owners, we are incredibly lucky because we are the boss, we make the rules, and we really can do whatever we want (and whatever we put our mind to). Of course, there is a lot of hard work that comes with it, and I have worked really really hard over the last two years to build my business and get to this point. If there is something you want to do, you may never feel ‘ready’. And it may never be the ‘perfect time’. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be YOUR time.

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