Dispatch From The Mines: Working On The Road

Dispatch From The Mines: Working On The Road

by Stephan Edwards

Overland adventures are all about the escape - leaving the every day behind and setting off for the trails less traveled. But most of us have to shovel some coal or split some rock to keep those journeys moving down the road. What about working while you're traveling? Here are some strategies for combining the best of both worlds.

If, like my wife and I, you're fortunate enough me to have remote work that you can do from home, what's to stop you from taking your home on the road? Well, this year we asked ourselves that question and the answer was: "why not?" The first week of March we loaded up our new (to us) Nissan Frontier with all the gear we could think of, hitched our camper to the back, and headed for parts south.

Nissan Frontier with camper


Southern Utah is one of our favorite places to go when Montana gets too grey and rainy in late winter. The red rocks and long desert vistas of the Four Corners region are restorative, even cleansing. We hoped for some warmer temperatures and quiet campsites. The latter we found, the former... not so much. Early March in the high desert can be fickle. We learned this as we ran the heater full blast for four days in Torrey, Utah (just outside of Capitol Reef National Park) while blizzards raged around us and 15 degree temperatures taxed our plumbing. 

Despite the "hardships" we were still working our day jobs, shoveling that digital coal and punching the internet clock.

We traveled to work, and worked to travel. The rewards were many, the challenges, relatively few. Here are a handful of lessons we learned.

Space and Time

One of the big issues to negotiate during our time on the road was workspace. This depended both on timing and available space. Think carefully about what physical tools you need to do your job effectively and efficiently. Will a small laptop balanced on your knees do the trick, or do you need more expansive real estate for your set up? Living space in an overland setup is always at a premium, and if my power cables have occupied all the outlets, my partner won't have any electricity. If her computer pushes me off the one tiny table in our camper, I wouldn't have room to type these very words.

The space problem can often be solved by coordinating work schedules. As a writer, I tend to work at odd times - late nights, insomnia-driven early mornings. Julie's job is a 9-5 kind of gig. This is a good for symmetry for us. I hack away in the dark hours and she works when "normal" people do. But this situation won't fit for everyone. Communicating effectively with your travel partner is important (more on this below).

Desert scene with sandstone


Once we laid out our needs and work responsibilities, we were able to find the physical space to accommodate the time demands. When she works, I don't. When I work, she doesn't. This frees up the physical space and allows both of us to enjoy the benefits of life on the road. 

Get Connected

The overriding concern of remote work is connectivity. If you have the opportunity to take your job on the road, you will constantly be searching for bars, for wifi, for any link to the outside world. For better or worse, this problem is getting easier to solve. It's a little bit of a conundrum, since one of the main goals of traveling overland is getting away from our connections, to unplug a little bit. But, if work is a component of your travel, it's essential.

Here's what we found during our time on the road in southern Utah - one of the most remote landscapes in all of North America.
 
 

Landscape, Idaho


Apps Are Your Friends
: If you're looking to stay linked up with cell phone signals that have robust data connections, there are effective apps that will help with that mission. Coverage Map and Opensignal are both free apps that leverage user-reported data, as well as cell signal strength to show coverage overlays on top of Open Street Maps. Onyx and Gaia offer the same coverage for more investment, but the additional perks that both of those apps offer might make it worth it.

Hardware: We installed a cell signal booster in our camper but - honestly - I have little data to report on its effectiveness. The idea of a cell signal booster is that it uses an outdoor antenna to amplify weak cell signals and transmit them via an indoor antenna to your cellular device - whether a phone or a hotspot.

Our luck with this device has been spotty and very difficult to verify. Generally, using freely available apps that measure cell signal strength, when our phones had service with the cell signal booster disconnected, we had the same level of connectivity when it was turned on. Do they work? The jury is out.

One weird tip we found was that many far-flung, rural communities are now benefiting from state-of-the-art cell service technology. Since these towns and villages are usually the last to get cell towers and infrastructure upgrades, they often - strangely enough - end up with the best equipment when they finally do. One rural community in Utah where we stayed had 5G and data speeds that completely blew away any wifi we could find out of the desert.

Wifi FTW: However, When you really need a solid internet connection, wifi is often the only solution, especially if you need a fast connection for conferencing or to upload large files, like video. Many businesses will offer wifi access simply for the cost of a cup of coffee or a beer (not a terrible thing!), and public libraries are your friend in every community you visit. But finding good wifi sometimes takes research, which lead us to...

Plan Ahead

If your livelihood depends on your ability to complete projects on a timeline, be sure that your over the road travel plans don't conflict. Using the tools you have to guarantee a solid cell phone data connection will help, but an oasis of wifi might save the day. When you know you need that robust connection, be sure to plan your travel ahead of time to take advantage of it.

Those days you have back in communion with civilization you will likely find offer other opportunities. Do your laundry. Take a shower! Eat out. It's all part of the rhythm of the road.  

Nissan Frontire

Communicate

I hope it's become clear that working from the road is all about communication - communicating with your partner, with your fellow travelers, with your boss, with yourself. What's the goal of your on-the-road work life? If it's generating more stress than you anticipated, step back, analyze your situation and recalibrate.

Where can you find the solitude you really need while getting the work resources you need to have on a day-to-day basis? To that end, share with us how you dial in your work/life balance. Communicate here down in the comments and let's get a conversation started!


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