I take a sip of chilled Sauvignon Blanc while gazing at the sprawling vineyards below my balcony. With the sun on my face, my husband and I dig into some fresh fruit from the local farmers’ market—crisp pears, figs and goat cheese.
A warm breeze flutters the gauzy fabric of my sundress as we open our laptops to start the workday. It’s 1:00 PM in Santa Cruz, Chile, 9:00 AM on the West Coast in the U.S.—and day 17 of our “workation.”
Six years ago, my husband (then boyfriend) and I set out to find a way to develop our careers while traveling the world—and without breaking the bank.
People told us we were crazy.
During some of our low points—power outages in China, freak storms in Belgium and lost luggage in South America—we thought that they might be right. But the highlights, such as working from a cruise ship that was sailing through Chilean fjords, have made what we have dubbed our “workations” worth the effort.
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To date, we've taken our virtual office to 24 locations, turning the process of traveling while working into a science. Whether you're an independent entrepreneur like me or you hold down a regular nine-to-five (the way my husband does as a marketing manager for an education company), you, too, can see the high-rises of Shanghai, the peaks of Patagonia or the beaches in Singapore—all while achieving your career goals.
The Career Benefits of Workations
Before you decide that taking a workation would be the equivalent of committing job suicide, consider these facts:
- Research has found that multi-cultural experiences and exotic surroundings generate more inspired and creative work.
- Workations decrease stress, which increases productivity, and leads to fewer sick days. Studies show that people with high levels of stress spend nearly 50% more on health expenses.
- A study in the Harvard Business Review found that when employees take just one day off per week, they report greater job satisfaction, more open communication with team members and better work-life balance, compared to regular employees.
As long as you do it right, a workation could very well improve your performance. Here are six of my personal tips to help get you on the road to work-travel bliss.
1. Take Stock of Your Job
It’s true that workations best lend themselves to certain professions, especially ones that require a lot of computer work. So surgeons or chefs probably won’t be able to pull off a workation regularly, if at all.
But if you do have a job that can be done mostly by computer or phone, you should try to fit workations—even just one every year or two—into your life. As for work tasks that need to be done in person, most can be accomplished virtually on a temporary basis, such as face-to-face meetings via Skype or conference calls conducted using speakerphone.
For example, my husband is on work video chat from nine to five, so his team can send questions any time—and ask to see the view from wherever in the world we're working.
2. Prepare Before Talking to Your Boss
First, try to schedule a workation for times that work best with your office schedule, such as a slow month. Or look at tacking a workation onto a work conference or some other event that requires travel, so you can spend a few extra days workationing before or after the work trip.
Once you pinpoint a good time, draft a plan to make your workation go as smoothly as possible. It should account for any necessary meetings, time zone differences and your ability to stay in touch. If needed, plan to also work during the hours that you normally spend commuting. And try to propose the idea of a workation to your manager right after you’ve delivered on an important goal—no boss will grant a workation to an employee who isn’t performing well.
3. Choose a Vacation-Worthy Destination
Now for the fun part. If you aren’t tied to a specific location due to a work event, then pick a destination that excites you.
Our home base is Portland, Oregon, and my husband and I structure our workations based on locations with the best weather. During the winter we’ll travel to the Southern Hemisphere where it’s summer, such as South America, Australia and New Zealand. And we spend summers in the United States, Europe or Asia.
Our general schedule is to spend four to six weeks at home, regrouping and conducting in-person work, and then head on a two- to four-week workation. This allows us to conduct necessary face-to-face business, and get out of town.
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4. Organize Communication Methods
Technology is essential for seamless workations, so make sure that your destination has speedy Internet access. And coordinate with your office on which technologies you will need to use to keep in touch, like attending meetings via video (Google offers free video chat) and conducting conference calls on Skype.
If you're in a different time zone, designate working hours each day—and set boundaries with colleagues by letting them know when you will be online.
5. Travel Affordably
Workations don't need to break the bank. Consider swapping your apartment with a fellow traveler to save on hotel costs, or check out Airbnb.com and VRBO.com, which feature furnished, short-term apartments and homes for rent.
You can also rent out your own home to cover housing costs and earn extra travel money. (Some cities have made short-term renting illegal, so just be sure to research whether regulations in your cities make this a viable option for you.)
My husband and I pay about $1,200 in monthly housing expenses. However, thanks to the short-term-rental market rates in our Portland neighborhood, we can charge up to $3,200 per month or $108 a night—which covers our rent and gives us an extra $2,000 to spend on flights and other travel costs.
6. Balance Work With Vacation
Be sure to spend evenings and time on the weekends away from the computer, so you actually get refreshed by your new surroundings. If you are in a different time zone, designate certain working hours each day—and set boundaries with colleagues by letting them know when you will be online.
Although workations can help you feel rejuvenated, it’s also important to take full work-free vacations, which are essential for our minds and bodies to rest.