. / Career / Travel

All about Workations (or: how i’m able to be a part-time nomad)

I’m writing a blog post every day in November as part of a writing challenge. Read why here.

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Since I recently wrote about a day in the life of my current workation I thought I’d write more about workations in general. This is a long post but I thought you might prefer having all of the information in one place.

How & why I started workationingWorkations

Before this year I either traveled for work or I was on vacation. (Well, except in grad school when I was abroad doing research – that felt a lot like a workation.) Sometimes, when I traveled abroad for my job I’d take a few vacation days to see some of the local sights. Other times I saw the airport, the hotel, the work site, and maybe a restaurant. Either way, work and vacations were very separate.

Late last year I was brainstorming ways I could feed my nomadic soul while still  working full-time. I was working towards being location-independent, so I was starting to have a lot more flexibility with when, where, and how I worked. But since my husband likes his location-dependent job, and I like being around my husband, full-time nomading isn’t an option right now.

Enter: the workation.

I’d been toying with the idea of spending 2-4 weeks abroad a couple times a year with Aaron joining me as his vacation days allowed but I wasn’t sure when or where I wanted to go. Then, in January, I found out I’d received a grant to attend a conference in Germany in March. I decided to make that trip my first workation. While in Germany, I found out that some of my consulting work would include international travel. So I planned a couple more workations.

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My temporary neighborhood in Munich.

 

It’s now the end of 2103 and I’ve workationed in Germany, Oregon, Australia, and the UK. I also traveled to the Netherlands, Indiana and Maryland (for work), and to Arizona and, again, Oregon just for fun (with a couple hours work here and there). In December 2012 I had only one trip to Oregon planned for 2013, but I ended up traveling somewhere 10 out of 12 months this year! It’s been a great year. 🙂

Workation Logistics

Planning. I plan workations as far in advance as possible. Since I have various consulting and teaching gigs in addition to SPS, I first check my calendar to make sure I have enough time to workation before or after my scheduled on-site work days. Sometimes I do, but other times I need to be back in North Carolina to teach a class, attend a meeting, give a workshop or, you know, see my family.

Location. All of my workations this year have been based on where I’m going for consulting gigs or conferences. In the future, I’d like to do some workations that aren’t attached to a specific event so I have more flexibility, but for now arranging them around specific events works well. I mean, it gets me abroad!

Length of time. This year my workations have been about 7-10 days long. I’d love for them to be 2-4 weeks, but that time frame didn’t work with my other commitments.  Whether I do my workation before or after my scheduled on-site work just depends on my schedule. I kind of like doing it before because then I’m over jetlag and have familiarized myself with the host country by the time I arrive for my on-site work, but it works just fine either way. The important thing is that I’m getting to spend some time abroad.

Where I stay. I typically stay in one city and rent an apartment. But not always. On my current trip to Scotland I decided to get a Britrail pass and visit Edinburgh, Isle of Skye, and Glasgow before heading down to London for work. But when I come back to the UK in January, I’ll stick to one town and will rent an apartment. I’ve been using Air BnB to find apartments but I’m also going to start looking into housesitting to reduce costs.

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Day trip to the Alps near Munich.

 

My work schedule. I usually plan to work about half the time and sight-see the other half. Depending on the weather, work deadlines, meetings, and which local sights are open when, I’ll either work for half a day and then sight-see the other half, or I’ll work a full day or two and then spend the next couple days out in the city. In Australia I spent the first half of the week working and the second half sight-seeing (with some work here and there in the mornings and evenings.) On my current workation in Scotland I’ve been sight-seeing or traveling during the day and working in the evenings from about 5pm-10pm, on the trains, and here and there in cafes.

I schedule Skype meetings, Twitter chats, and will attend webinars or other online events while I’m workationing but I won’t schedule as many as if I were at home. I also avoid hosting webinars or other online events while I’m abroad due to time zones and sometimes unreliable internet connections. Since my workations have been relatively short, keeping meetings and events to a minimum has worked out fine, but it does mean I often cram a lot of meetings and events into the weeks before and after my workation.

Working vs. sight-seeing. On my first workation in Germany I often felt torn; when I was in my apartment working I wanted to be out in the city. When I was out in the city, I kept thinking about all of the emails sitting in my inbox, the blog post that needed to be edited, and my next project deadline. It took me a few days to get oriented and by the time I got into a groove it was time to pack up and head to another town for the conference I was attending. Since then I’ve learned to be much more realistic about what I can accomplish sight-seeing-wise and work-wise.

Thinking about workationing?

Enough about me; let’s talk about you. Have you been looking for a way to spend time abroad and keep your day job (and maybe also a home base)? Workations could be just the thing.

There are many ways you can workation:

  • If you’re location-independent, you can work from anywhere. (I’m writing this from a train in the Scottish Highlands!) You can workation where your work takes you or choose your location and how long you stay there. Being location-independent gives you the most flexibility.
  • If you’re not quite location-independent but have chuncks of time where you don’t have to be in any specific location, schedule a workation for that time. For example, when my main consulting client was UNC, I had all of July where I didn’t need to be on campus. So, I’d typically spend most of that time out in Oregon. I’d take a week or two of pure vacation and then spend a couple weeks working on other projects while hanging out with my family.
  • If you currently have a full-time job, can you take a couple weeks and work from a satellite office? If you already work  from home periodically, could you simply telecommute from another country? Get creative in thinking about how you could make it work. Then, create a proposal in which you clearly define how you working from abroad will benefit your employer. Most importantly, prove that you’re disciplined and reliable before pitching a workation. Your employer might not go for it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • If you have a location-dependent job that requires you to be at your workplace to do your job, you may want to stick to vacations for now.
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On the Great Ocean Road near Melbourne.

 

3 Workation Tips

If you’re thinking about taking a workation, here are a few tips gleaned from my recent experiences:

1. Create a realistic plan. Before you go, decide how much time you want to devote to working, sight-seeing, meet-ups and other local events, skypeing with family at home, downtime, cooking or eating out, etc. Make a list of the work tasks that absolutely must be done, and a list of sights and events you absolutely want to experience. Realize that you probably won’t be able to get as much done as you think, both work-wise and tourist-wise, especially if you don’t stay in one location. Plus, it’s sometimes hard to stay inside and work when you know adventure is right outside your door.

2. Add a buffer. Give yourself a day or to when you first arrive to settle in. In addition to getting over jet-lag, you’ll want to unpack, find food, figure out the transportation system, and get to know your neighborhood. By not scheduling any online meetings or deadlines for when you first arrive you’ll also have enough time to find solve unforeseen internet issues (that happened to me in Munich). Do the same when you go home. We all know how demotivating re-entry can be!

3. Know yourself. Do you like to be on the go all the time? Do you need 8 hours sleep every night? Do you work better in isolation or with other people in cafes or co-working spaces? In the morning or late at night? Are you disciplined enough to finish answering email when you’re tired from being out seeing the city all day? Take stock of how you like to work and travel and set up your workation to meet your needs.

What else would you like to know about workations? If you’ve taken a workation share your story – I’d love to hear it!

About Author

Hello, I'm Dr. Cate Brubaker! Are you a returnee who has been surprised to find your return "home" harder than going abroad? I created the Re-entry Roadmap workbook just for you. If you work with returnees, I'm here to help you with innovative resources and training that will make it easier to provide meaningful support for your returnees.