I’m extremely fortunate that my work as a freelance writer enables me to be located pretty much wherever I want in the world. In fact, if it wasn’t for my work, there’s no way I could have moved to the Philippines in 2010, get married, have kids, etc.
All I need to be able to work are three things: electricity, my laptop and a reliable Internet connection. However, having all three at the same time isn’t always guaranteed when you’re living in a province in the Philippines like me.
A laptop – believe it or not – is actually the least of my worries here. The last one I bought came from Lazada and was delivered to my door here in the province within a week of ordering.
I’ve also managed to secure a reliable, fast Internet connection. We use Globe LTE and (touch wood) it’s been damn good. It’s fast enough to watch Netflix HD uninterrupted and that’s with my kids hammering YouTube at the same time. We also get a decent data allowance of 350GB per month, which is more than enough for our needs.
But what about the power?
[Recommended reading: How To Transfer Money To The Philippines As An Expat or OFW]
Before I go any further, I want to talk a little about the terminology commonly used in the Philippines to describe power outages. Most locals use the word ‘brownout’ when they are referring to a total power outage. However, as most of you will know, a total loss of power should be referred to as a ‘blackout’. A brownout is merely a drop in voltage, whereas a blackout is a complete loss of service.
Nevertheless, throughout this post I am going to use the word brownout (because that’s what the locals use), but what I’m actually referring to is a total loss of power.
On average, I’d say we get a brownout where we live at least once a day. Sometimes it might only last a few minutes, other times a few hours. Is it any wonder our province is known as the ‘brownout capital of the Philippines’?
Now I’ve lived in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro for the past five years or so, and I must admit the electricity supply is much better than it used to be. However, it’s still a big problem if you’re reliant on power to earn money.
The sad thing is I’ve become so used to it now that it no longer surprises me when the power goes off – even if that is a few times every day.
Nevertheless, as with most things in life, we learn to adapt, and I’m pleased to say that brownouts don’t impact my ability to earn money as much as they could or as much as they used to.
Here are some of the gadgets I use and things I do to cope with brownouts in the Philippines as a freelancer:
1. A generator is a must
Before I moved to the Philippines in 2010, I’d experienced about three power outages in the UK over the course of my entire life. Therefore, a home generator is not something that I’d ever owned, but it was one of the first things I bought when I arrived here.
Even if you live in a more urban area or on a larger island, brownouts still occur. This is especially true when it’s typhoon season and you have absolutely no idea whether the power infrastructure is going to be affected by a colossal storm.
My previous generator was a 1,000-watt Ryobi. It was ex-surplus from Australia and didn’t miss a beat in the four years that I owned it. It cost me 8,000 pesos from a guy in Manila, and there still seems to be some available on sites like OLX.com.ph.
When my Ryobi finally died, I checked Lazada to see if there was anything similar. I bought a 1,000-watt Powertec digital inverter generator. It’s a little four-stroke that gives me around seven hours of power off a full tank of fuel (around 120 pesos), so it’s pretty damn cheap. I also only run it in the evenings from about 6pm to 11pm and there are several reasons for that:
- The house doesn’t require illuminating during the day
- The breeze is usually a lot stronger in the daytime, so fans aren’t needed either
- The fact I’m a freelancer means I can choose when I work
The generator I’ve got doesn’t seem to be available on Lazada anymore, but something like this Powergen 1kVA Digital Inverter Generator should be more than sufficient if you just want to run a few lights, a TV, computer, etc.
2. Get a UPS
A UPS or uninterruptible power supply is basically a device that automatically provides instant power in the event of a brownout. It is an absolute must if you use a computer (especially a desktop with no battery backup) as it will give you enough time (approx. 15-20 minutes) to shut everything down safely should the power suddenly go off.
The UPS that I’ve got cost just 1,868 pesos and it’s been bloody reliable since I’ve had it (about 18 months). Again, as with most things I buy, it came from Lazada – iLogic Blazer 720VA UPS with Built-in AVR.
I’ve even got my home Wi-Fi modem/router plugged into my UPS so I can finish sending an email or logout from what I’m doing should a brownout occur.
3. Keep your gadgets charged
It sounds obvious, but don’t take power for granted. If your laptop or smartphone is getting close to being empty, charge it while you have electricity. I learnt that lesson the hard way, as I was always finding myself with partially-charged electronics when a brownout struck, which invariably didn’t last for very long.
I’ve now got into the habit of charging both my laptop and my smartphone whenever they hit around 60% battery. I’ve also got an Asus ZenPower 10050mah Powerbank which can charge both my phone and my wife’s from empty to full in very little time. It can also charge my Globe pocket Wi-Fi device (discussed in the next section), significantly extending its life and giving me even more Internet time during a brownout.
For 779 pesos (at time of writing), you really can’t go wrong! We take it with us every time we travel and it’s been an invaluable purchase. It’s another great gadget for ensuring you’ve always got enough juice should a brownout strike.
4. Buy a Pocket Wi-Fi
While my UPS gives me a good 15-20 minutes of power and Internet, it’s not that long when you consider my laptop battery lasts for around 2.5 hours. That’s why I bought a Globe LTE Mobile WiFi device. Whenever there’s a brownout and my laptop is fully charged, I simply transplant my Globe LTE sim from our modem/router into the pocket Wi-Fi and can work for several hours even without power.
5. Take full advantage of international time zones
All of my clients are based outside of the Philippines, and apart from the ones in Australia, I’m at least six hours ahead of most of them. This gives me a distinct advantage; one that I leverage to its fullest.
For example, a client says they want something completed by the end of play Wednesday. That means the end of their working day on Wednesday. So if they’re based in the UK, I am, at present, seven hours ahead of them. That means I can submit the finished piece of work any time up until around midnight that day (my time).
So even if we’ve had a full day of no power, I can start working on the assignment when I start the generator around 6pm, and I’ve got a good six hours in which to complete it.
I’m not suggesting that people always work that way, but it is a very effective tool in your freelancer arsenal for fighting the sporadic nature of brownouts.