10 Tips for Working from the Road (and How It’s Different Than Working from Home)

Have you ever dreamed of grabbing your laptop and taking off to work from the road? It can be done, but it might require some extra planning and flexibility.

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Follow Molly Barnes’ adventures on Digital Nomad Life.

Working from the road might seem more complicated than working in an office, and in some ways, it is. My boyfriend and I have been doing it for three years now, and we’ve had our share of glitches — technical and otherwise.

I’m going to share 10 ideas that I hope will make your work-from-the-road life easier, but first, I want to tell you a story about a lesson we learned.

Not long after we first started our RV life, we were driving through Nevada and decided we wanted to take a detour to see an abandoned silver mine. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Unfortunately, the road up into the hills turned out to be a lot rougher than we expected, and we wound up popping a tire on a rock we didn’t see, right as we pulled up to the mine. Thanks to the uneven ground and our lack of experience, we couldn’t change the tire ourselves.

So there we were, a hundred miles from nowhere. Fortunately, we’d subscribed to a roadside assistance service. Not so fortunately, we didn’t have a cell signal. As if that weren’t stressful enough, Jacob had a Zoom meeting with a new client scheduled for later that afternoon.

Jacob was able to hike about a half hour into the hills to find a signal. From there, he was able to call roadside assistance and let his client know he wouldn’t make the meeting, but we had to wait around for several hours before the tow truck arrived and we were able to get moving again. We didn’t see the mine, and the client was less than thrilled with Jacob.

That brings me to my first tip…

1. Have the Right Equipment

We didn’t want to wait for roadside assistance, but we didn’t have an option. I’d changed tires before, and I’d seen Jacob do it, too. But we’d only done it on a car, never on an RV. We tried the jack, but the ground underneath was soft and uneven. The jack kept sinking too far down, leaving too much space between the ground and the RV frame.

The tow truck driver told us you can buy ramps that make it a lot easier to change an RV tire, so we picked one up at our next stop. We also ended up buying a satellite phone that would let us reach out for help in dire circumstances. Even though we’ve never had to use it, I sleep easier knowing we have it.

2. Invest in Roadside Assistance

Fortunately, we’d listened when a seasoned nomad had advised us to invest in a comprehensive roadside assistance plan. We would have been truly stuck by the mine if we hadn’t. Who knew how long it would have been before someone else might have decided to take a detour to that mine?

We got our roadside plan through our RV club. Good Sam and FMCA Roadside Rescue are a couple of options. But if you don’t want to join a travel club, you can get it through your insurance company, too.

3. Get a Cell Booster

If you’re working while traveling, you’ll need a booster for your cell phone signal. At home, Wi-Fi is pretty much a constant. On the road, it’s exactly the opposite. Plus, part of the point of the RV lifestyle is to go exploring. It opens up opportunities to go off the beaten path and enjoy scenic areas that are away from “civilization,” let alone Wi-Fi or a strong cell signal.

A good cell booster can help ensure that you have a signal and access to the internet wherever you go. It certainly would have helped us call for help when we were stranded. Had we had one, Jacob might even have been able to make his meeting and avoid making a bad first impression on his new client.

4. Back Up Your Power

Before you start to think Jacob and I are unfit to be digital nomads, I want to share something we got right: bringing a backup power supply. We invested in a portable generator and learned how to safely use it to keep our rig operational (and our laptops and phones charged) without draining our battery or wasting gas by idling the RV. Having a generator on board has been a godsend more than once.

Having backup power is especially necessary if you plan to take advantage of the free stays offered by travel clubs. We knew from the start we wanted to check out the free sites at wineries, farms, and secluded private property, both to take advantage of the cost savings and soak up the experience, but there was one catch.

The hosts typically don’t offer hookups of any kind. The money we spent on a generator has saved us thousands on renting campsites, and we’ve been able to keep working without interruption.

5. Keep Your Ride in Top Shape

While this tip may seem obvious, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping your vehicle road-ready. After all, if something goes wrong with your RV, you’re out of your home, office, and vehicle all at once. That’s why it’s so important to do regular maintenance checks on your RV, whether you’ve rented it for a short time or you live in it permanently.

My best tip is to laminate and physically check off arrival and departure checklists as you move from one place to the next. We also clean the rig inside and out every week and keep a paper and digital log of when we’re due for an oil change, new filters, new spark plugs, a brake check, and a tire rotation.

6. Stick to a Schedule

This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s even more important to have a work schedule when you’re on the road. Your clients and/or co-workers need to know when they can and can’t get in touch with you. Plus, when everything around you is always changing, it’s easy to get thrown off. (Do changing time zones constantly confuse anyone else, or is it just me?)

Luckily, there are a ton of scheduling, time management, and communication apps and tools out there to help you maintain your professionalism and stay on task. As someone who used to take pride in my vast workspace covered in sticky notes, it took me a while to get comfortable with my tiny workspace in our noisy RV. (Thank you, Evernote and AirPods Pro!)

7. Create a Workspace That Actually Works

It may be tempting to try to re-create the work environment you were used to, where everything was at your fingertips. Trust me: It’s better to pare down your workspace before you’re forced to do so. Start figuring out what you need and what you can do without while you’re still at your home or office, before you get on the road. Consider it a dry run.

I thought I had my desk in the RV organized perfectly. I’d found a place for everything, even the items I needed only occasionally at home… Long story short: If you need a good printer/scanner combo or 10 brand new Moleskine notebooks, check the Goodwill in Prescott, AZ.

8. Manage Others’ Expectations

Whether it’s your boss or clients you work with regularly, give them a heads-up that you’ll be working while traveling. While your goal should be to give the same kind of performance you would if working from a dedicated space at home or in an office, that may not always be possible.

Luckily, Jacob tells all of his clients upfront that he is a digital nomad. So, as disappointing as it was to miss an introductory meeting with a new client, it wasn’t a dealbreaker. Because he had managed their expectations, they were more understanding when he ran into an emergency.

9. Stay Connected

Being on the road, you’ll need to pay more attention than ever to cultivating your professional relationships. Since you aren’t there in person for face-to-face interactions, you’ll miss out on a lot of water cooler conversations that foster engagement and connection with your colleagues. Spending a few minutes of each interaction chatting before you get down to business can help your team work better together from afar.

Traveling has its advantages when it comes to professional networking too, though. Take advantage of the opportunity to connect with clients and peers along your route. Meeting in person, even if it’s just for a cup of coffee or a meal, can strengthen your professional bond and may even lead to a new connection or two.

10. Enjoy the Ride

Have fun. This might seem like a no-brainer, but that’s why you’re on the road, right? Don’t let work slide, but don’t put your head down so far that you forget to enjoy the scenery. As a freelance creative, I’ve gotten some of my best inspiration from being on the road.

No matter what you do for a living, I can guarantee you’ll be inspired and recharged by what you see and experience during your travels. It can take some getting used to at first, but once you get the hang of working while traveling, you may not be able to remember how you ever stayed glued to an office chair before.

Just be careful if you plan to visit any abandoned mines.

Featured image: Virrage Images / Shutterstock

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