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Working on the Road

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We've been meaning to write this post for a long time. I think I've mentioned the subject before (I know in our "About" section we talk about it some), but we work and run our business(es) while we're on the road. Most work days we're sitting at the dinette for most of the day working while gazing out at a beautiful view of wherever we happen to be. Right now we're in Colorado and our view is spectactular; out the dinette windows, out the vista view windows, and even out of the skylights…mountains all around.

We know that people who read our blog want to see the cool places and hear about the good restaurants and weird roadside attractions and so we blog about that. We don't often blog about the difficulty of running a business and keeping office hours while traveling, but we think that part might be interesting as well. 

Certainly the ability to work while traveling has its perks, but it's also got its drawbacks. It's like a vacation, but it's not. It's like going to work like everyone else, but it's not. There are no "real vacation days" besides the weekends, and even then we're usually working some on weekend days as well. It can be frustrating and disappointing, and can be extremely difficult to navigate, but we wouldn't trade it for anything. 

(Kevin's going to take over the post from here):

When you try to combine two normally-opposite things like "Normal Work Day" and "Vacation Day" into one thing – there are lots of issues to consider. First, by working in a mobile office (our Airstream) on the road, there are a lot of advantages. In many ways, we can work more efficiently than a normal "go to the office for work" model. First, we can get out of bed, stop by the espresso machine, sit down at the dinette, pop open our laptops, and BAM! We're working.

We don't have to take the time to get ourselves dressed and prepared to "work in the office with other people" standards. We don't have to commute. The time from getting out of bed to sitting down and working productively is literally five minutes or less. We usually get our first few things done, then one of us will whip-up some breakfast, and we'll eat while we continue to work. Compare that with the more "normal" ritual of getting up, having a normal, non-work breakfast, showering, dressing for the office, commuting, arriving and greeting everyone, settling down in our cubicle, and getting busy. We save a LOT of time. Reverse most of that process at the end of the workday and we save even more.  

We also don't have all the social distractions of working in an office. We don't spend the normal amount of time catching up on gossip with the office-mates, signing up for the office kickball league, going to administrative meetings, and so forth. Our workday can be fairly efficient by comparison.

There are a lot of downsides too, though. We run a company with about ten employees from the road. It's difficult to get the same team spirit and camaraderie using only electronic communications – compared with what you get working with others in person.  We have to hire a very special breed of self-starting, self-motivating, self-managing talent to make our business work with us on the road so much of the time.

Keeping ourselves focused while on the road requires a lot of discipline. When you're at a new, beautiful, vacation-y place, the last thing you want to do is spend 10 hours or more working inside the trailer all day while the vacation place goes ignored right outside your window. Nothing about being on the road reduces the number of hours you need to work. We still put in 8-12 hour workdays most days while we travel, which makes it very hard to find enough time to also do the sightseeing, "vacationing," and blogging that we also want to do.

We have had to learn to deal with a weird, double-guilt feeling. When you're at Yellowstone Park and you've been there for two or three days, and you haven't gone out and seen a single Yellowstone sight because you've been swamped with work – you feel guilty. You've taken all the trouble to go to Yellowstone, but you're not even able to enjoy it.  In the same way – if we decide to break from work for an hour or two so we can go out and explore, we immediately feel guilty for leaving work behind. Yesterday, we left the trailer for an hour or so to go and explore Silverton, Colorado while the shops were open. I found myself checking email on my smartphone every five minutes or so – guilty that I was abandoning work. At the same time, I was also feeling guilty that I wasn't focused on the exploring we were doing. No matter how much time we spend working OR how much time we spend exploring, we always feel like we're not doing enough of either.

Working on the road, you have to be your own IT department. You have to be ready to fix complicated technical problems all by yourself, because there's no IT pro waiting to fix it for you. You have to deal with antennae, broadband amplifiers, wifi routers, laptops, datacards, sys-admin functions, software installs, problem diagnosis – all in an unpredictable and rapidly-changing environment. Running her photography business, Laura has to bring along several terabytes of archived high-resolution photos, because she'll get a call from a client who needs a high-res version of this or that RIGHT NOW, and we'll be 1,000 miles from her studio. Sometimes, you have to drive down the mountain with a cell booster and a portable Wi-Fi hub so you can get enough signal sitting in the car for that important conference call. It's a constant challenge to keep a professional level of IT support (which is much different from what you need to update Facebook from the road with the latest vacation photos and send a couple of emails back to Mom.)

Running our own business from the road adds to the complication. We agree that we have not had a real "vacation" (where you can forget about work and just have fun for a week or two) in the nine years since we started our company. Every single workday we have to be online – running our respective businesses. That bleeds over into the weekends too. We have carefully created a lifestyle where we can do that WHILE being on the road and seeing and exploring exciting places, but it's a huge challenge. You also never get that full-stop mental break from work. It's always there, nagging at you.

We also run into the issue that there are often just not enough hours in a day. If we're on the move, trying to fit 8-10 hours of work in with an hour to break-down camp, 3-4 hours of driving, another hour of setting up camp, and somehow feeding ourselves – going to the market for more supplies – it uses more hours than there are. If we're on the move for several days straight – it's very difficult just to find enough time to do the basics – work, move, eat, camp – with no extra time allocated for sightseeing (or blogging). (Sometimes when Laura's driving I'll be working on my laptop while we're going down the road, using the Wi-Fi connection from the Airstream.)

Speaking of blogging – writing this blog has actually helped force us to pay attention as we travel. Since we're working full-time while traveling, we found it easy to fall into a kind of tunnel-vision where we aren't really even seeing the places we visit. We were sometimes just going from place to place, working hard, moving on along, and we'd suddenly realize that we hadn't really seen very much at all. Capturing words and pictures from each stop for the blog forces us to enjoy things for ourselves a lot more.

(Posted by Kevin & Laura)