9 Things to Know for Working from the Road

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Are you thinking of throwing in the towel on the nine-to-five to hit the open road? All around the world a resurgence in van and vehicular travel culture is happening, exemplified by the ever-growing #vanlife movement. But for most, there are significant obstacles to joining the #vanlife. One of the most common obstacles (after family) is work and careers. While I can’t give you the one size fits all answer to how to take your job mobile, I can share the lessons I have learned, relocating my life from 80 hours a week in the office to working permanently from the road.

Quitting my corporate job in the Netherlands to begin a life working from the road was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. The risk of leaving a safety net and a sense of financial security for the unknown is not something anyone let alone an accountant like me enjoys. But, two years later, reflecting on this decision, I now realize it was also one of the best and most rewarding things I have ever done.

You may be sitting at your computer right now looking up remote travel jobs, googling how to travel and work remotely, or trolling the internet for any and all information on working remotely while traveling. And while there are plenty of lists available with all of the best remote travel jobs, I want to tell you what it is actually like working from the road and the lessons that I have learned along the way. Things you may need to hear to give you the extra little push to join the bunch of remote travelers, digital nomads, and vanlifers working from the road.

1. You Can Have a Successful Career Working from the Road

Mexican Pesos Money
Even better if you are spending in pesos

Before leaving my office job, I thought my only path toward success was sticking out the daily grind to one day possibly become a partner in the firm I worked for. I left feeling as though I was leaving a prospering career behind me and that the only definition of success I’d ever known might no longer be achievable.

But what I have learned as I work on the road is that I can be successful at working remotely and traveling. Now, I work 20 – 25 hours per week, make more money than I did working 60-80 hours per week, and, to top it all off, I actually enjoy my life.

Working from the road is not incompatible with success. While working from the road, I successfully started my own consulting practice using my network and resources available such as UpWork which connects companies looking to fill specific job requests with freelance professionals.

And I have also learned being successful is what you make out of it. My definition of success no longer includes dreams of making a 7 figure salary, but simply earning enough to support myself while saving something for the future. And achieving these goals while working when I want, where I want how I want and for as many hours a week as I want, definitely falls into the spectrum of success that most people dream about.

2. Time Management is Crucial

Squeezing in a sunset and a couple of emails before close of business

I am probably flogging a dead horse by telling you something you have heard your whole life. But let’s face it, it is a reality and when working from the road time management becomes even more critical.

Working from the road (or at home) adds an additional layer of distraction and difficulty to achieving your work tasks that you do not get in the office. For me, it is a new place to explore, a new beach calling my name, or even the hours we spend each week driving from one place to the next, finding a campsite or collecting water. There are so many “other” things that fill our day that it is hard to find time to sit down and focus our attention on work when we aren’t forced to do so by going to an office everyday.

So in order to focus on work, we set up dedicated focused work time each day, four days a week. We like to work in the mornings, but maybe you prefer to work in the evenings. It doesn’t matter when you schedule your work time, the point is that you schedule it and then you plan the rest of your day and week around this dedicated work time.

Time management and scheduling focus time is one of the most important keys to maintaining a successful career while working from the road.

3. Routines are Important

Coffee, perhaps the most important work routine

Routine goes hand in hand with time management. Establishing a routine while working from the road is important for two reasons. First, it establishes a regular time when you will be available to your colleagues, clients, customers, students or whoever it is you need to be in contact with to do your job.

Unlike working from an office, people cannot just pop in unannounced to seek advice or run something by you. Establishing a routine, communicating this routine with the people you work with and sticking by this routine lets people know you are dependable and reliable despite working from the road. This is essential for building trust between yourself and the people you work with. Trust with which can be slightly harder to come by when your emailing in your work from a beach somewhere.

Secondly, establishing a routine is equally important for you. Establishing a routine early while you work on the road creates a habit. And good habits are, well, good. We find that a routine gives our lives order and makes it feel a little more normal even when it may be anything but.

It is easy to get into a habit while living and working on the road that you are on a permanent holiday, but this isn’t the case. You can easily fall into this trap and not ever reach your goals of working remotely while traveling if you view every day as a holiday.

Establishing a routine will allow you to be effective during work time and enjoy down time traveling, getting off line, exploring, and relaxing

4. 4G Is Everywhere (and Affordable)

Before we headed out on our first vanlife adventure in Central and South America, we were wary of the availability and reliability of mobile internet throughout the developing countries we wanted to explore. After all, stable internet is a fairly basic requirement for most jobs where you work on the road.

Information about network availability or the ins and outs of getting online in various foreign countries was hard to come by. And we personally didn’t know anyone who had been working remotely while traveling who we could ask. But trusting ourselves to figure it out, we set out for South America and to begin working remotely while traveling.

What we found out, much to our surprise, was that technology today enables you to do your job in places you never would have dreamed of. Moreover, the capability and availability of this technology is increasing exponentially every day.

We have worked in all sorts of places from the Amazon to the Australian outback and many many more remote destinations. Destinations where, even just a few years ago, remote work would have been impossible. Countless hours of emails and video conferencing, simply through the hotspot on our cell phone. No fancy gear* no satellite phone, or giant dishes attached to the van. What’s more, is that the cost of being online continues to plummet which means running your virtual office from your mobile phone is no longer unaffordable. As an example, in Australia (not a cheap country), we spend AUD $100 each month on our phone bill which supports two part-time jobs and everyday phone usage. Similar to what many people spend on there personal mobiles at home.

So if you think you cannot do it because the infrastructure doesn’t exist, don’t worry! The technological advances today make it easy to get online from anywhere in the world. Yes, you have to forward plan to make sure you will be in an area where there will be internet on days when you need to work but if planning your route in advance is all you have to do to be able to work remotely then it is just a small price to pay to work from almost anywhere you want to be. 

To help with our forward planning , one resource we use nperf.com. Nperf provides up-to-date map displaying coverage based on the country and provider. This map is conservative in that, it has always been correct when it says there is 4G signal in an area, but sometimes there is service in areas not marked on the nperf map.

Another resource we have used around the world is the Prepaid Data Sim Card Fandom Wiki which gives an overview (in English) of the various pre-paid sim card and internet providers around the world. Including prices, plans, and instructions on how to start using the various sims.

*ok, we did purchase a mobile repeater in Australia which we have found very helpful in the remote Australian outback

5. You No Longer Need a ‘Home Base’

Getting some work done on the cliffs above the beaches in Ayungue in Ecuador

Following on from the point above. In this day and age working from the road is not as restrictive as it was once staying in one place for weeks at a time and renting apartments or co-working spaces.

As internet connectivity improves year on year, the list of places you can effectively work from are rapidly growing. We work from cafes, libraries, but also parks beaches, but most often we work from the back of our car.

I spend at least half my working life on virtual meeting online. Using some creative backdrops people need never know I am sitting in a van parked somewhere in a national park (although it often makes for a good conversation starter).

6. Network, Network, Network

Logging on for virtual after work drinks

If you have taken your network for granted in the past, now is the time to change that. Networking is one of the most important aspects of your professional career. And your network becomes even more important when you set out on your own. With LinkedIn and other social media networks, remote networking has never been more accessible and these platforms are a great resource.

What I have realized working from the road is that maintaining your network is more important when on the road but also more difficult when you do not see your colleagues regularly. This means you need to put in at least twice the effort when it comes to networking.

Maintaining my network after leaving my office job landed me one of my consulting gigs. Moreover, my network is an additional resource for when I come across things in my consulting practice that I do not know the answer to. It is an invaluable asset that we take for granted when it is immediately available. Look after it!

7. Work-Life Balance Is STILL an Issue while Working from the Road

Packing up your computer to begin working from the road is only the first step to finding work-life balance. And taking this first step doesn’t automatically mean that you will find work-life balance. You still have to work on it.

You can suffer burn out on the road!

I am prone to working myself to death, to never saying “no”, and to taking on more than I can bear. And before working from the road, I thought if I can just stop working here at this place, I will be able to have a better work-life balance. But what I have found is that the work is always there. Just because you work from the road doesn’t automatically stop you from working too much.

What I have learned is that work-‘vanlife’ balance is still an issue for me even though I am not in the office. And, I have learned, I still have to make a conscious effort to keep my balance in line. I have to remind myself regularly how to TRAVEL while working.

8. Working Remotely Is Not Always Easy

Crouched in a cave in the Valle de la Luna in the Atacama Desert
Limited 4g in this cave meant I missed an important meeting

Working remotely while traveling is not always easy and in fact, sometimes it is just plain difficult. When working from the road requires you to work an 8 hour day in 30 degree heat with no breeze, it is a struggle. In fact, it is just downright miserable.

Or when you miss a meeting because the cell signal decided to play up. Or when it is raining buckets all day long so you are stuck inside your teeny tiny van. Or your battery dies and you have no way to charge your computer. Working from the road throws up all sorts of challenges you would never consider when working from your desk in an air-conditioned office.

But despite all of these challenges and obstacles, I can safely say that working from the road is infinitely more appealing than working in an office. And I would choose a beach over a cubicle for my office everyday of the week.

9. The Only Obstacle is You

Only YOU can decide to make a change!

The single most valuable lesson that I have learned since working from the road is that life is too short to wonder if it will work out. You won’t ever know if working from the road (or life on the road) is for you unless you take the leap of faith and try it out.

You can always go back to an office job (as long as you don’t burn your bridges flipping desks on the way out), but if you pass on taking the opportunity to at least try it out, you may never get the opportunity again.

If you haven’t got the support of your existing job to take things on the road, then leaving your job will be scary. Leaving financial security to pursue your dreams of working from the road is intimidating. It took me eight long months to find a job to suit my lifestyle. I was scared, anxious, and a lot of the time unhappy. And there were times I second-guessed myself on whether I made the right decision even after I found work. But now… I wouldn’t change a thing. I have more flexibility, more autonomy and a better quality of life than I ever thought was possible.

But the point is, I would never know if I didn’t try it. And to be honest, I had luck and the right people in my corner. You may not be so lucky, but you never want to look back on life wondering what-if I had taken those two years to work from the road, what would my life be like now.

I hope these lessons I have learned will help or inspire you to take the leap of faith or give you the extra push you needed to start your journey working from the road. If you have any questions on how we did it or want to learn more, please let us know in the comments.


Thanks for wandering with us!

If working from the road interests read about four additional insights we have learned from our time working on the road.

If you are interested in the vanlife, but not sure where to start. Why not check out our DIY van conversion guide for beginners (by beginners).

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