I was texting with my sister the other day when I mentioned something about work. She responded with something to the effect of "but you're on vacation!" I insisted that no, I'm not. Even though I'm traveling, I am in fact still working - even with the nice safety net from selling my house, I NEED to work if I want to continue living this way beyond a year or two. My sister argued for a second about the fact that I'm always posting pictures of doing something cool before she let it go.
The thing is, she raises a really valid point. It DOES sound like I'm on vacation when I explain what I'm doing to other people, and I also have to intentionally remind myself that I am in fact not on vacation.
Image: Me and Harley at the Kentucky Horse Park
In the past, I've traveled a lot internationally, and I always picked places with shoddy wifi and limited cell reception because I didn't want the university I worked for trying to get hold of me. (More importantly, I didn't want my own anxiety to cause me to check my work email.) So for me, traveling means very purposefully not working. Now, however, working from home is what allows me to travel, so that line is blurred. On a sunny day in a new place, it can be tempting to just plan out an agenda of cool things to do and nice places to eat without even thinking about work. But if I spend a full day doing cool touristy stuff, chances are I'm going to be tired enough when I get home that I simply won't settle down to the 5 hours of work I try to do each day.
Learning to live with the balance between traveling and work is going to be an ongoing process, but here are the things I'm trying right now:
1) "Reversing" my schedule to maximize prime activity time
When I worked at the college, my schedule was banker's hours (well, in theory. Sometimes there were also evenings and weekends.) In the winter, this meant sitting in an office through all the daylight hours and going home in the dark. If I did this while traveling, I'd never get to enjoy the place I live. So for the winter, I've switched my hours so that I work from dark (around 5pm) until about 11 at night, with a break of course for dinner. This may change in summer so I can avoid the hottest part of the day. (I hate heat.)
Image: The Lexington Opera House
2) Foregoing the weekend
There's also no need for me to work Monday-Friday, especially since non-profit clients are most communicative over the weekend. So I take 2 weekdays off so that attractions are less crowded and I don't need restaurant reservations. Yes, this means that on a Saturday evening, while other people are out having fun, I'm plugging away at a grant. It also means that as everyone else is driving to work in the dark on Monday morning, I'm either out enjoying a nice park, or I'm still snoozing.
3) Living by the weather forecast
One of the reasons so many people suffer seasonal depression is that traditional work schedules literally only let us see the sun for 2 days a week over the winter. That's not healthy. So when I'm scheduling my 2 days a week off, I look for the days with the best temperatures and clearest skies. If there are a couple days in the week that look like they'll be gloomy and rainy, I might cram my entire week's work into those two days so that I can enjoy the rest of the week. Sure that makes for a couple long days, but if it's miserable out, I'm stuck inside anyway.
4) Taking my dog to a sitter on the 'off' days
I'll post later about the challenges of having a dog with serious anxiety while traveling, but I've found it helpful to arrange daycare for Harley during my two days off. I miss her of course, but this allows me to go do things you just can't do with a dog, like eat in a nice restaurant, tour a gallery, or grocery shop. It also serves as mental reinforcement that this is my 'off' day and not like the other days of the week.
Image: The Kentucky Castle, which does not allow dogs
5) Give myself plenty of time in a location
This I think will be key. There are some digital nomads who move every few days, but for me, the temptation would be to try and cram as much tourist stuff in as I could in those few days, which would mean not getting any work done. However, if I have a month in a new place, I can spread out the tourist activities and still get lots done. In a small city like Lexington, a month feels perfect. If I were staying in a big city, I'd give myself two months because there's simply more to see. When I stay near Asheville, I'll give myself 3 months because there's not just a lot to do- there's a lot to hike and kayak, and that's my real passion in traveling.
Will there be weeks that are so brilliantly pleasant or full of local events that I slack off on work some? Yeah probably. The nice thing about freelancing is that I can always do more hours the following week to make up for it. Overall, it's a balance and it will always require thought and diligence to maintain it, but I'll still take it over a mindless 40 hours of daily sameness any day of the week.