The ultimate in remote work? My life on the road as a digital nomad


Image: Laura Tiensuu

When Laura Tiensuu’s employer switched to fully remote working, instead of creating a home office space, she saw a chance to do something she always wanted: become a digital nomad, work, travel and live in a van.

Since last year, Tiensuu and his partner have been traveling around Europe in their personalized van, working their various jobs during the day and climbing and exploring places like the French Alps and the canyons of northern Spain during their free time.

“Being entirely remote has allowed us to combine our personal and professional passions,” says Tienssu, head of marketing data and analytics at tech company Aiven. “I just find it so much easier to disconnect from work.”

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Tiensuu’s working day is mostly spent inside the van, but she takes breaks throughout the day to walk or explore the new and beautiful landscape she’s parked in at the moment. Although work is a priority, she tries to take advantage of the good weather when it comes and rearranges her working hours to have more time for her favorite hobby: climbing.

“I try to get as many good windows outside as possible and try to work when it’s raining, any day of the week,” she said. “When the weather is nice and I’m working, I often work with the van door wide open or even from outside the van.”

The digital nomad lifestyle, or someone who works remotely while traveling to different locations, has increased among young workers since the start of the pandemic. In 2021, there were 35 million digital nomads worldwide, Tiensuu and his partner among them.

Becoming a full-time digital nomad took almost a year of preparation – working on the van in the evenings and on weekends to make it the space they could both live and work in. This included installing an external antenna in the roof of the van, as well as a Wi-Fi box inside the van so the two could have internet access whether they were in a city. or parked in an off-grid national park.

“We also buy a local SIM card in each country we visit, which allows us to have a pretty good connection,” she said.

The van life lifestyle is not without its challenges, however. Tiensuu said they had already broken down on the side of the road and ran out of solar power midway through the Zoom meeting.

The two also had to navigate working and sharing such a small space. Tiensuu said when building the van, they made sure they had enough built-in office space for both of them and invested in the right tools like headphones and noise-cancelling microphones so they could spend some calls simultaneously. “There’s a lot of planning,” Tiensuu said. “The proper workspace is hugely important, so we built it first, then everything around it.”

Tiensuu and his partner still travel to Europe, most recently to Spain. She said she wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything.

“It’s only had a positive impact on my motivation and commitment to my work,” she said. “I would like to see as many people as possible experience it.”

Remote work was once an anomaly – if you had a work-from-home policy at your job, you were one of the lucky ones. But once the pandemic forced many office workers to work remotely to some extent, it quickly became the norm for companies like Tiensuu’s to work remotely.

According to Owl Labs’ 2021 State of Remote Work Report, 90% of full-time remote workers surveyed said they were more productive working remotely than in an office. Additionally, 74% said working from home was better for their mental health, and 84% said a permanent work-from-home option would make them happier, even if it meant some sort of pay cut.

While research suggests that 21% of digital nomads are like Tiensuu and work in a van/RV, 27% choose to work in Airbnbs. Kelly Farrell, Senior Technical Product Manager at Vista/Cimpress, was one of those digital nomads who wanted to enjoy remote work life while traveling while having a few simple luxuries.

“We’ve stayed with Airbnbs in different places around the country that we wanted to visit,” she said. “We were able to get out more, be healthier and happier, eat lots of different foods, and take more steps.”

Farrell and her then-fiancé stopped by 17 different locations across the country, spanning five months, while working weekdays and exploring every chance they had after hours and on weekends. -end. In just two weeks, they were able to explore Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and the Badlands when they weren’t working in their Airbnb.

“I will never forget driving through Montana and stopping to look at dinosaur bones in a museum near a well-known dinosaur migration path between Glacier and Yellowstone National Park,” she said. declared. “Sometimes it was surreal to wake up on a Monday morning and call a daily [meeting] and pretending that I didn’t just walk through incredible terrain and see places I didn’t know existed.”

Like Tiensuu, Farrell’s travel logistics also required preparation — from booking places to stay to figuring out how to get to your destination and properly fitting in work when your office space changes frequently. For example, Farrell said they would build bedrooms or kitchens to function as offices and bring in things like standing desk converters, Bluetooth keyboards and mice, and noise-canceling headphones to turn those spaces into offices.

And, since the two were never in the same time zone for very long, they always worked on East Coast time, which provided them with extra hours of sunshine after work and allowed them to explore. if they were on the west coast.

“After a day of work, we would go out and explore where we were. In Austin, we would go out to see music or eat tacos; in Tucson, we would go play tennis or go for a hike,” Farrell said.

According to Nomad List, an online resource for digital nomads, some of the best places for digital nomads in the United States include Austin and Tucson, as well as Miami and Denver. Around the world, some of the top rated places to work remotely as a digital nomad are the Canary Islands in Spain, Lisbon, and Cape Town.

Whether traveling to the United States or Europe, the digital nomad lifestyle allows remote workers to explore these places and more instead of working day in and day out in the average home office.

“With remote first, you can do whatever you want. You can be a snowbird at 25,” Farrell said. “I think most people have to wait until they’re retired to take a road trip like the one I had the privilege of doing while working at Vista/Cimpress.”

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Despite the unconventional aspects of the digital nomad life, those who have experienced it firsthand say it has changed the way they compartmentalize their work and personal life, blending the two into one experience.

“I saw some pretty big benefits, especially in terms of appreciation towards my employer,” Tiensuu said. “I find that kind of flexibility much better than any of the more traditional perks you see.”

Farrell agrees with Tiensuu and says workplace flexibility has become too important for many remote workers to give up on.

“I think employees with more flexibility are probably the future of work, being able to live the way you want,” she said. “I think you want different things from work at different times in your life, so having that flexibility is super important.”


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