When Meredith McIntosh and her husband Chris both found themselves working remotely full time, they discussed the possibility of not renewing the lease on their apartment in the Washington, D.C., suburbs and instead traveling for a year, taking their work with them on the road.
“It was a lot of conversations around the logistics of it all, like good internet, the cost of staying wherever we are, maintaining our car, where does the mail go?” says McIntosh, a technical support engineer for subscription commerce company Recharge Payments. “A lot of those pieces we eventually figured out and decided to make the move.”
In November 2021, the couple loaded their two dogs and minimal personal belongings into their Jeep and hit the road. More than six months later, their travels have taken them from coast to coast, switching time zones and scenery while keeping full-time schedules for their respective employers.
As flexible work arrangements become the norm for a variety of roles and companies, employees who work from home may find themselves with the freedom to visit family or go somewhere else for a change of scenery without using vacation days to do so.
Benefits of Remote and Flexible Work Arrangements
U.S. News recently conducted an internal survey of 200 companies in technology, digital media and financial services. The findings show that of these 200 companies, 77% offer remote job opportunities, 74% offer hybrid job opportunities – where employees are expected to be in the office part time and work remotely part time – and a whopping 86.5% have offices outside the U.S., opening the door for employees to virtually work from anywhere. Only 5% of companies surveyed do not have any kind of flexible work arrangements.
“I’ve noticed companies being more open to hiring talent from other parts of the country, which of course we know is a great way to bring diversity into the workforce because you’re not pulling from the same pool that’s kind of niche to your geographic area,” says Tiffani Foster, a Nashville, Tennessee-based leadership recruiter who has been working from home since 2017. “So it’s actually a benefit for companies and employees altogether.”
But just because a company offers remote roles doesn’t mean every job opportunity with that company can be done remotely, or that “remote” means working from multiple locations, potentially in varying time zones. Before you apply for a new job, you should understand the expectation for remote, hybrid or return-to-office work associated with that position. Foster’s team at her current company was remote prior to the coronavirus pandemic, which means guaranteed flexibility, but not all remote work arrangements are created equal.
“Within any organization, there will be some teams that are fully remote and some teams that don’t have that option,” she says.
Traveling While Working Full Time
If your company allows employees in your role to work from anywhere, should you take that opportunity to travel for an extended period of time? Life on the road isn’t for everyone, and there are some things to consider before taking the plunge.
Make sure your employer is supportive of employees working on the road. Just because a company allows you to work from home doesn’t mean your job is compatible with a full-time travel schedule. So before you start planning to take your work on the road for more than a few days, ensure you get the green light from your employer. Some companies may even assist you in your travels; McIntosh, who spoke to U.S. News over the phone from a WeWork in Phoenix, says her employer pays for her coworking fees when she utilizes coworking spaces in various locations.
Have a cushion in your bank account. It’s important to make sure you have the money to cover unforeseen expenses while traveling. For example, taking an extended road trip means putting wear and tear on your personal vehicle faster than if you just used it to commute back and forth to an office each day – something McIntosh has experienced while driving across the country over the past few months. “Since traveling – don’t get me wrong, it’s been a beautiful adventure – but we had transmission issues that we had to get fixed in Pensacola. We had a tire blow in the middle of nowhere Texas. And we just had to get our windshield replaced … because we got hit by a rock in our travels and got a huge crack going across the windshield,” McIntosh says. “Life still has surprises even when you’re traveling.
“We said we were not even going to consider doing this until we had X amount in savings so we could handle little emergencies like that,” she adds. “And I feel like it would be so much more stressful if those unexpected traveling things happened without having that safety net.”
Make a lodging plan that works for you. While RVs and van life are popular among some travelers, investing in a vehicle like this might not be the best choice for everyone, especially if you’re not sure what the future holds for the vehicle after your trip. When your time on the road concludes, will you have somewhere to park the RV or camper van, or are you confident you’d be able to find a buyer if you try to sell it?
McIntosh and her husband researched multiple options before embarking on their yearlong road trip and found that staying in Airbnbs is the best fit for them. They also discovered that in many places, booking an Airbnb for an entire month rather than a few days results in a substantial discount.
“A lot of times, our rent for Airbnb is cheaper than our rent was in Alexandria, Virginia,” McIntosh says. “We’re about to go to LA and San Diego; they’re going to be more. But it kind of balances out because we’re not paying for water, we’re not paying electric, we’re not paying for trash – just a lot of those things that are additional to rent.”
The couple usually checks out of an Airbnb on Sunday morning and drives to their next location so they’re ready to log in to work Monday morning. They also try to reserve their lodging for each stop three months in advance to ensure they have a pet-friendly place to stay in their desired neighborhood at each destination.
Ensure you have good internet connectivity. It’s crucial that you’re able to do your job effectively while traveling. If your job includes video conferencing and responding to emails, having a strong internet connection is essential. If your lodging doesn’t provide good Wi-Fi, you may need to find another location that does.
“That’s one of the most important things about being remote: You have to have solid internet,” McIntosh says. “Sometimes we’ve tried to work at our Airbnb but the internet wasn’t great, so we had to do some last-minute quick trip to make sure that we both make our meetings, our deadlines and our metrics for work.”
And if you work from a coffee shop or other place using a public Wi-Fi network, logging on to your employer’s VPN can add a layer of security between your work and potential hackers.
How to Manage Work-Life Balance in a Remote Role
Traveling or even working from the comfort of your own home may sound like an automatic way to improve your work-life balance, but figuring out the balance that works for you takes effort.
“You should consider that as fun as it sounds, it’s actually a very steep learning curve,” Foster says of remote work. “I know that I made a calculated decision: ‘This will be better for my work-life balance,’ but I will say within the first year, I think my work-life balance actually suffered because it was harder to draw those lines between work and home.” She found that having a designated place to work – her home office – helps her separate her job from the rest of her life.
“The door between my office and the rest of my house is pretty much that thick line between work and everything else,” she says.
Fully taking advantage of flexible work arrangements at home or on the go involves determining when and where you do your best work so you can give the right amount of attention to your job and your life outside of it. Here are some ways to make a remote role work for you.
Find your work-life pattern. Foster says she’s taken work with her on multiple trips and has learned that a few consecutive days off followed by working for a few consecutive days is best for her. On a trip to Disney World, for example, she says she would go to the theme park the first half of the week and log on to work the second half of the week.
“I’ve known some people who say, ‘I’ll work on Monday and I’ll go have fun on Tuesday, work on Wednesday and have fun on Thursday.’ But that never works, because it’s too jarring, especially being in a new environment,” she says. “I know people have different ways of doing it; I’ve just found that personally, I need to almost prepare myself for work.”
Find ways to connect with other people. Remote work means eliminating the in-person interactions you’d have with coworkers in the office, but it’s still important to build community. On her travels, McIntosh says doing her job at a coworking space is an ideal way to interact with locals.
“You’re around people who live in the area, so they share their favorite restaurants or places to get coffee,” she says. “So while working, you kind of get to immerse yourself in the area while you’re there.”
Even when you’re not in the same physical space, it’s important to stay connected with your colleagues. You should still be as accessible to your supervisor and teammates when you’re traveling or at home as when you’re in the office, and you should contribute the same amount of work as if you were working in-office. Your teammates shouldn’t have to pick up any slack from you because you’re on the road, and your company likely will evaluate whether the remote work arrangement is a good fit. If you do have to be offline for part of a day occasionally to run an errand or make an appointment, communicate that to your colleagues and give them an estimate of how long you’ll be offline, if possible.
Foster acknowledges that while many people are tired of Zoom and other virtual meetings, actually seeing your coworkers’ facial expressions and hearing the tones of their voices on those calls can help build lines of communication. She also encourages building a network where you live by spending time with neighbors who are also remote workers.
“There are people on my block who work remotely too, and that’s a good way to build community and make sure we’re still connecting as people,” Foster says. “It’s easy to become a hermit crab; you don’t ever have to leave your house. But we are people who love and crave connection, so make sure you’re fostering that.”
Take breaks when you need them. One perk of remote work is the flexibility to step away from work when you need to. Go for a walk on a nice day to give your eyes a rest from staring at your computer screen, or run an errand in your neighborhood during your lunch break.
“Use that 15-minute break to kind of disconnect,” Foster says. “If your kids are in the next room, check in on them.” She adds, “It can’t be understated: Get out of the house sometimes. Go for a walk. Go for a drive. Do something else. Just like you get office fatigue, you’ll realize you can get home fatigue kind of quickly.”
This principle also applies to life on the road. McIntosh says that during the course of their trip, she and her husband have stayed at some places for a week or less, and that those stays are more tiring than monthlong stays. Because they’re in a city for such a short period of time during weeklong stays, they feel like they have to go out and explore after work in the evenings, which means less time to rest. Monthlong stays allow the couple to spend some evenings and weekends immersed in their new surroundings, and others to recharge their batteries in the Airbnb.
“At the end of the day, we’re human, and I don’t think we’re built to adventure every single day,” McIntosh says. “You definitely need those days to breathe. We have to be like, ‘It’s OK that we just sit at home and watch a show and eat popcorn and not explore.’”