How we took our jobs from office to the road and what it’s like being a digital nomad!
The Rat Race
Before we even thought of moving into an RV, we both had full-time ‘office’ jobs. I worked for a major insurance company in one of those catch-all roles – supporting a few teams, admin support for one manager, managing the entire office space, vendor relations, supplies, a major renovation and more. I was in the office every weekday unless I was sick or it was snowing. Then, I’d take my laptop home and work from there; but a good part of my job required that I be in the office.
Brian worked (and still does) for a large restaurant corporation. They don’t have an office in Washington, but they wanted him and offered a remote position with the request he fly out a few times each year for ‘face time’. Of course, this made it easy once we decided to pursue full-time RV life. Brian’s boss and co-workers were not only okay with our future new lifestyle, but were excited and continue to ask questions about where we’re at and what we’re doing even after a year on the road.
My job, on the other hand, worked out a bit differently.
Transitioning Julie’s Job
Once we were sure we wanted to take the nomadic leap, I told my boss our plans. We both wanted me to continue working with him and the team, so he launched a campaign that lasted about a year to try to get my position made into a remote one. I had to write up statements about how our technology would work and what I’d do versus what we’d need other people to take on since I wouldn’t be in the office. That year was so up and down! Someone would say yes and move it up or over to the next person, who’d say no or give me more information. It was such a struggle but, literally a few days before my last day in the office, we were given the final ‘yes’ as a pilot for that position. You see, there are hundreds of others in the same role across the country. This would be seriously breaking the mold; but it had been approved by several Executives including the Head of HR, so it was a go! I received my new offer letter, signed it, and was working from home the next week!
I worked out of our RV for three months and it was great! I loved that job and was so happy to continue working with my boss and coworkers. Unfortunately, at the end of our shake-down trip around Eastern Washington, there was a snafu in HR because my position is hourly and the remote part of my position was revoked. My boss fought hard, again, to keep me on; but HR had made up their mind. My choice was to come back to the office or resign. We’d already been in the RV for three months! We’d sold everything with nothing in storage. No way were we going back to hour plus commutes and the rat race of the Seattle Metro! I very sadly resigned.
Though I looked for another job for a few months, I ended up taking several months off to work on my health and get our social media going. I plan to start freelance administrative work in mid-April (2019). I’m very lucky that Brian has a job that’s been able to support us these last nine months.
Does this mean that hourly workers can’t be digital nomads? No. I firmly believe this was just a matter of closed minds in a large company. I’m sure other companies are different – though I’m also sure some are the same. It doesn’t hurt to ask though. If you’re really going to travel full-time, you need to know sooner than later how you’re going to be supporting yourself on the road.
Tech Prep and Testing
Brian wrote an excellent Digital Nomadism article about our desk set-up and the technology we started out with. The only difference now is that we got rid of the Peplink router and just have two hotspots – an AT&T Mobley and a Verizon Jet Pack. The router was causing us some problems back in October, so we got rid of it in favor of the Verizon hot spot. These seem to be working really well for us! We rarely use campground WiFi as it tends to be slow, especially in the evening when everyone’s streaming YouTube and Netflix.
I will add that Brian purchased our Mobley several months before we moved into the RV and tested it in our apartment. I think this is a smart thing to do. Get to know your technology and work out any bugs before you really need it.
People have modified their RVs to accommodate one or two work spaces in so many ways it’s amazing! The creativity in the RV community is wonderful! (Born out of necessity, I’m sure.) We pulled out our dining room table and chairs, plus a euro recliner, to insert our dual desk set-up. Our friends, Lisa and Dan of Always on Liberty, did an awesome RV renovation that included swapping a couch out for a dual desk. A few rare RVs are starting to come with desks and many people choose toy haulers, using the garage as office or work space. There are so many ways to incorporate desks into an RV. I would just recommend really looking at how you can make that work before purchasing an RV. Get floor plans of your favorites and figure out the dimensions of where you’d put the desk or desks. Do you need to build something? Can you buy desktops like we did or a whole desk? Will you need drawers? Ask all the questions and figure it out before you put down money if you can.
Campendium and Open Signal, as Brian mentions in his Digital Nomadism article are still our go-to resources for ensuring we will have cell service for our hotspots and phones where ever we park. While neither shows coverage everywhere, they do show quite a bit. Campendium fails only when a campground has no reviews. Open Signal, also relying on the general public, only has coverage information where people have uploaded the information. You may not be able to tell if a smaller, out of the way campground has good cell service. Sometimes, you can read reviews and get information on service; but be sure to look at the date on the review.
If you’re working regular hours and need to be online for that, we don’t recommend relying on campground WiFi as I mentioned above. They might say it’s fast, but that might have been tested in the off-peak season or at 6am. Even the best campground WiFi will slow down at certain times of day and many of them, in our experience, don’t start out super fast. That does seem to be changing though. We’ve heard that campgrounds are starting to upgrade and have experienced a couple of good ones ourselves. The issue there is that they’re often charging for this improved WiFi. They don’t charge a lot ($20 for three weeks at one), but it can certainly impact a tight budget. It’s also not secure, so you’ll want to have some sort of protection such as a VPN service. We use Express VPN on our phones and laptops when we’re using open WiFi.
Working as a Nomad
Honestly, working in an RV is no different than working from an apartment or a house. If you can work remotely in a sticks-and-bricks location, you can work remotely in an RV. You just have to set up your tech and make sure where ever you’re going will have connectivity – if that’s what you need. You’ll also need to have good motivation and be able to ‘shut off’ work. Figuring out how to avoid distractions – noise, cats or kids wanting attention, the laundry piles calling your name – is another challenge. When I was working remotely, I found it was easy for me to be in ‘work mode’ if I stayed with my normal office routine – showering, eating breakfast, and wearing something other than pajamas when I sat down at my desk.
I will say that our set-up is not the best in our opinion. Because we went with a class A motorhome, this is how it pretty much has to be – desks in the living room and having had to lose our dining space. I’ve seen a couple of photos of people who’ve put a desk in their bedrooms, using the dresser top or a standing desk; but ours is too small to do that and be ergonomic. This is what we did and it works well, but we do miss our dining room table and chairs. The other thing is that it’s not conducive to both of us being on the phone at the same time because we’re so close together. Even with super-spendy awesome noise-cancelling headphones, we can hear each other and so can the people on the other side of the calls. If there’s two of you and you’re both going to need to be on the phone for work, you may want to think about separating your desks and what sort of RV you need to be able to do that. We do love the bamboo, our amazing view out our floor-to-ceiling windows, and the way it camouflages the cats’ litter box.
Alternative Office Set-Ups
If you aren’t too worried about noise, put your office outside on the campsite’s picnic table or your own. Head down to the lake or up to the top of the hill. Bring a hotspot if you need it or work offline if you can. Don’t stay in your RV if your job and the weather allow for it!
There are other options out there that don’t require you to work on a computer. If you want to stay in one spot for a few months, look into workamping or find local temporary jobs. If you’re a nurse, physical therapist or other medical professional, I know there are groups out there providing traveling medical professionals with jobs around the country. Watch videos, surf the net, talk with people in online groups or forums. If you want to live this lifestyle, figure out a way to make it work. It is possible!
As always, we’re happy to answer any questions in the comments here or in our Facebook group.
Be groovy, friends, and remember to live your journey…