By the time summer 2022 arrived, it had been more than two years since many people at Globalia had been working remotely. I decided to take it a step further by living, travelling, and working as a digital nomad in my little 2013 Honda Fit. It was an adventure that ended up lasting four months and covering approximately 25,000 kilometres.
In this article, I will share my main challenges related to pushing remote working to an extreme and the solutions that my experience allowed me to develop.
Main preparations before departure
I will mainly talk about aspects that are directly related to work leave aside more general considerations such as food, hygiene, clothing, laundry, etc. Since this trip wasn’t a vacation and I was going to keep working and coding full-time, there were two major things to consider: electricity and internet connection.
Electricity was something important to think about because it was a requirement to be able to work for eight hours per day. In addition, electricity was going to be used for everyday activities such as watching movies, cooking and boiling water for my tea. I already had multiple power banks of various sizes for charging phones.
While researching electrical options, I came across power stations in which you can plug in multiple devices simultaneously through USB-A, USB-C, and wall outlets. There are also multiple ways to recharge power stations: 12 V car socket, wall outlet, and solar panels. The cost of these isn’t cheap, but it is definitely worth it as it allowed me to work and survive in forests, deserts, and on the beach for four months.
I ended up buying a 288-Wh power station with 160W solar panels. On sunny days, this setup was more than enough to meet my electricity needs. On cloudy or rainy days, I had to pay attention to electricity consumption, but since I was a digital nomad, I could easily drive to sunny areas.
Having a good internet connection is of the utmost importance for any type of web developer due to the nature of the work. Furthermore, it is essential for communication with colleagues, family, friends, and for leisure activities.
All of it requires some amount of bandwidth that can be random depending on how many conference calls you have, how many movies you watch or how large the files you transfer are. Due to this unpredictable nature, I chose a hotspot service that provided unlimited data throughout Canada and the United States. The speeds in the field were unfortunately slower (less than 10 Mbps) than what I am used to at the office or at home, but it was fast enough for video conferencing with multiple people.
Challenges that only appeared during the adventure
As in so many aspects of life, we can always prepare and plan, prepare and plan, but there are always unexpected things that happen.
Nature and the weather
Nature is easily at the top of the list, because it is the least controllable aspect there is when living on the road.
The weather can be unpredictable, and for a voyage like this one, it directly affects the amount of electricity I can use per day. Sometimes when the sky was cloudy or rainy for several days over a large area, I would work in cafes.
Even sunny days had its challenges, because solar panels need to be aimed properly at the sun in order to maximise their capabilities, so I spent quite a lot of time moving them as the Earth turned.
Nature and animals
Another challenge related to nature was flying insects such as mosquitoes and flies that were omnipresent in certain areas. In the desert, I encountered coyotes on occasion. During those moments, I would take a quick break from work to research how much of a threat they were to humans and as it turned out, they generally leave humans alone if they are left undisturbed.
On another occasion, I had an infestation of insects that forced me to interrupt work completely in order to pack up and move elsewhere.
Overall, these encounters with animals added an element of unpredictability and required me to be mindful of my surroundings while working and living in the wild.
Focusing with distractions
Days with strong winds and rain could certainly be distracting, just from the noise. Since it was summer and I was working outside most of the time, the heat was a major source of distraction. When that was the case, I would sometimes split my workday and take a long break during the hottest part of the day. It was a strategy to deal with heat stress while remaining productive.
The most unexpected distraction was the beauty of nature. There were times when I looked at the beach, the mountains, and the landscape, and I was simply in awe of the beauty surrounding me and I was filled with gratitude for being able to go on such a voyage while still working. It was a deep and heavy feeling that I don't know how to express properly in words.
Working while having car problems
With the amount of driving I did, I expected car problems, but I couldn't predict them precisely. During those four months, I had a flat tire, a spark plug that mysteriously unplugged on its own, a brake pad change, and some loose screws.
What is interesting about car problems on the road while living in a car is the absence of stress of having to wait for help without any survival equipment. When you sleep in your car and have food and electricity, you can do anything exactly where you are without worrying about going home or going back anywhere. This thought made my car breakdowns relatively stress-free. I would have reacted completely differently if it had happened in Montreal with an empty car, without food or electricity.
I didn’t have a full desk like I had at the office. The size of my workspace was reduced to the size of a small camping table and a small three-legged camping stool.
It is worth mentioning that I only had my 13-inch laptop without an external monitor. This is usually how I work at the office and at home, so I was already comfortable with that.
The time zone differences played a significant role in collaboration and meetings. While I was on the West Coast, which is three hours behind Montreal, I had to wake up at 5 AM for early meetings. During the summer, I typically went to bed around sunset, around 9 PM, so it worked out nicely in terms of sleeping well.
Solitude and loneliness
The pandemic has increased the rate of depression with regard to remote work due to social isolation, a shift in work-life balance, etc. These are issues that can arise in different ways when living on the road.
For example, when there were social events such as barbecues, being away meant that I could not participate, and the decision to leave meant distancing myself from everyone and everything in and around Montreal.
The advantage of living in an era when the internet is accessible everywhere, even in the middle of the desert, is that it is possible to connect with people, even when in different physical spaces.
What helped a lot
Support. The support of my entourage was very encouraging; from family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and even strangers. No one told me not to go. No one told me it was crazy. Some people expressed concern for my safety and it was the expression of warning rather than objection.
I admit that I had a huge performance stress related to the fear of failure, of not being able to survive on the road while working full-time. To cope with this fear, communication and transparency with the team at work were paramount for me to show my colleagues that I was present as if I never left. Every week, I used one of our internal communication tools to write a brief summary of my prior week. It turned out that some colleagues found me even more efficient than before.
Another thing that helped a lot was that it wasn't the first trip where I would be sleeping alone in a car. My first time was for a four-day trip to Puerto Rico for which I barely prepared beyond reserving the car that I was going to drive and sleep in. Then, the following time was for a week of vacation on the Gaspé Peninsula.
These moments showed me that I had the mindset to be comfortable sleeping in a car in various places.
Who can do this?
Everybody of all ages and all walks of life can do this with proper preparation. I have encountered young adults, retired people and families with young children.
What makes such an adventure easy or difficult are the circumstances of each person and the type of person they are. For example, people who absolutely want to work with multiple monitors will need to rethink their electrical setup, as they will need more electricity. Personally, I would triple or quadruple my electrical capacity if I added a second monitor.
This four-month journey of living on the road in the United States, camping, and working in the middle of nowhere, away from everything and everyone, was life-changing and offered me peace and serenity.
This adventure also confirmed that I had the skills, discipline, and the right employer to make this extreme remote-working adventure a success.
Among the things I would do differently would be to increase my electrical capacity and get a larger vehicle.
If anybody wants to undertake something similar, I suggest starting small. Go away for a weekend or for a week. Then, go for a month. Each time, allow yourself to be flexible with the return date until you don’t have one at all. Perhaps you won't like it, and you'll only come back after a few days. Perhaps you'll love it, and you can extend your adventure.
What's certain for me is that there will be a next time.
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