So often we think about travel as a chance to get away, to escape our daily lives for a week or a month or a year. I love this aspect of it, but I have a confession: sometimes I prefer to combine work and travel; to get away from my daily life without foregoing a daily routine.
Bringing remote work with me, whether it’s editing or writing for a client or a personal project, gives me an additional purpose. It gives me a reason to sit in another city’s coffee shops for extended periods and a reason to get to know more locals. It gives me a taste of what it would really be like to live in the new place. In a way, it even becomes my companion when I’m traveling solo.
In conversations with other passengers on the Passport Express, I’ve discovered that many of us take working holidays each year. We find sublets in various cities, where we spend five-six weeks really concentrating on work. Why not just quietly take six weeks to do so at home? Because there’s something about being removed from daily distractions, and being surrounded by a new city, that seems to spark creativity. It’s different from actually moving to that city permanently, because there’s no need to set up a complete life.
I discovered my love of combining work and travel in the spring of 2010, when I was 24. I spent the first two weeks of that year in Spokane, producing features for the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships. I came home for four days, then flew to Vancouver for four weeks to cover the Olympics.
Each day I woke up, went for a run and went to work, just as I’d do at home. But my daily runs took me over bridges I’d never heard of; I got to know the barista at the coffeeshop; my days off involved museums I may otherwise never have visited. Everything just felt easier. I spent more time alone, thinking about upcoming projects or planning potential stories. I read books. Overall, I seemed to be able to live a more balanced life when working on the road.
The next year I decided to create my own long-term work trip. I picked up a four-month contract in Boston, where I also enrolled in two nutrition science classes. From there I moved on to Hawaii, where I joined an outrigger canoe team for two months while editing a blog remotely. I made local friends, but also marveled at how much I loved having free time to myself. Two summers ago I chose Santa Monica for two months, where I got to see old friends but also created my own experience; in 2015 I worked in Europe and Colombia for about a month total.
I’m completely hooked on these trips. They’re my chance to do something just for me. But be warned: When you try to do them with friends, or try to bring work along on a trip that others are considering a vacation, the trips never go as well. If I’m traveling with anyone else, all work stays at home. Otherwise you feel torn between adventure and work, and you’ll just start to resent the work.
Tomorrow, I’m setting off on my first working holiday of 2016. I’ll spend six weeks in Sydney and Melbourne. A week would never be enough time, but nearly two months without work would drive me a bit insane. For me, work travel is as transformative as any leisurely travel.
Have you attempted any long-term work trips on your own? Do you ever try to pick up contract work to balance your wanderlust or a deep desire to get to know foreign places on more than a surface level? What drives you to do so? What elements do you love? Or do you prefer to travel simply to travel, to see, to explore, to get away?