Working while travelling with kids
As we reach the 12 month marker of embarking on this fulltime travel adventure, we wanted to talk about work. On our Instagram we’ve received a number of questions around working while travelling, so we wanted to answer those and share our experiences.
Many families embark on a travel gap year using savings. We have savings, but didn’t have them set aside for a year away. Nick and I always planned this as an open-ended adventure – two months, two years, we were open to whatever happened. The plan was always for my online business to sustain us (at least predominately), and for Nick to take a break from work.
Has it turned out like that? Not quite. So here’s all the details on what we do, how we do it while travelling, and “balancing” that with two young children.
We’ve previously written about our daily budget for van life if you’d like to see the kind of money we’re trying to earn to cover our expenses.
What do we do for work on the road?
I (Charlie) run an online wedding directory that’s in its 12th year of business. It started out as a hobby and slowly developed into my fulltime job when I went self-employed about 8 years ago. I primarily earn money through listings, with businesses paying to appear in my directory.
Nick worked in Product Management before leaving last year. Six months in he started looking into freelancing. After researching various freelancing websites and contacting his previous employers for any remote work, he signed up with PeoplePerHour. He now does a mixture of pricing, market research and data analysis projects for clients in UK and abroad.
He enjoys the diverse range of projects he works on and the flexibility to do as much or as little as he wants. Despite starting out feeling that his skills were quite niche, he’s found plenty of projects he’s applied for. If you have any questions for Nick do leave a comment below or contact us via Instagram. If you’re looking to sign up with PeoplePerHour here’s Nick’s referral link.
Do we have a work routine?
As much as Nick loves a routine, we are notoriously bad at implementing and sticking to them. I realised recently that I push back against routine because I like to work when I “feel” inspired to do so.
I work better during the day, so either morning or afternoon. It’s really whenever we are stationery for long enough. On our travel days I find it really hard to carve out time to work. For me, I work best when we stop at an aire or campsite for a few days. With a playground/stream/green space Nick can take the girls off for a bit and give me time alone in the van to work.
When Nick has freelancing work, he often gets up an hour or two before the rest of us in the morning to work. He also works in the evenings once the girls are asleep and I watch a film or listen to a podcast.
We have heard of others who work whilst the other does the long drives that vanlife often presents. Neither of us have been able to do this. I feel sick reading/looking at a screen, and Nick is usually ready for a rest and some quiet time.
How do we ensure all the family gets the attention needed?
We’re not very good at this! There are lots of families working while travelling who are doing this much better and more organised than us. We simply don’t seem to operate in that way. As I said above, we don’t have a routine, we just do what we need to do, when we can.
At the moment our priorities are personal work and being together as a family. I think we’re doing well with our personal growth, but I don’t know if we’re really getting the balance right of attention for our daughters. We do a lot of fumbling through. Nick certainly has more time with them than in our “old life”, but we always feel we could improve on this. Perhaps this is a feeling shared by most parents?
Psychological difficulties in working on the road
For me (Charlie) there are also a few extra elements that play into the difficulties around working on the road.
For Nick, this journey was about having a break from work and employment, but he discovered that he needed something to work on sooner. For me, this journey was about having the time to focus on work knowing that our girls were being looked after by their Dad.
However, I have really struggled with feeling guilty for working while Nick does the majority of parenting. For us this is a big role reversal. Despite running my business alongside mothering, I have been the main parent looking after both girls 5 days a week.
I find it super tricky to work on the road without feeling guilty that Nick’s looking after the girls, making meals, tidying the van, etc. For me this is a whole separate conversation around gender roles in society, cultural “norms”, mothering, and so on.
Practical difficulties working on the road
Only one laptop
As we mentioned earlier, when we set out the plan was for me to work, and Nick to take a break. So we only brought one laptop with us. Since Nick has started freelancing this has made things more complicated! As a result, we can’t both work at the same time – which would be useful in the evenings sometimes.
No separate home office
In the Baby Bus there is no separate space to shut yourself away and work in. For us, we also find it incredibly difficult to take the girls out for long periods of time – someone soon needs a snack, the toilet, rest etc. Working in the same tiny space as three other people all with very different needs and agendas is challenging!
We could add the internet to this section, but our experience is that we’ve rarely struggled with connection in the countries and places we’ve visited.
How do we power our laptop on the road?
We bought a new laptop a year before we left and made sure it had a long battery life. As we don’t have an inverter we are only able to plug in and charge the laptop when we are hooked up to electricity. Those days are in the minority.
When we are ‘off grid’ we have two powerbanks (the one we have is no longer available otherwise we would link to it). These have a USB cable so we can plug them in and charge them even when we’re ‘off grid’. Once they are fully charged we can plug them into the laptop to charge it while we carry on working. Or alternatively we can plug them in to charge the laptop when it’s off – like overnight.
We actually only ordered one powerbank, but received two. In hindsight we are really pleased to have two of them, because it can take a while to charge them up fully. Having two enables us to stay ‘off grid’ longer and/or not worry about the laptop running out of power.
What have we learnt from working while travelling with kids?
When we asked on Instagram for questions about working on the road, someone told us “I have a remote job but my company wouldn’t let me travel and work.” Thinking about this we wanted to share some of our personal learnings on work and jobs from this vanlife family adventure.
Confidence to ask for what you want
The main thing we’ve learnt in relation to work, is that feeling confident to ask for what we want when it comes to jobs. If we return to a ‘normal’ life Nick would be the main earner in our family again for the foreseeable future while our children are children. Since embarking on this journey, Nick feels more confident to ask for what he wants when considering future jobs. He no longer feels afraid to say “my family come first”, which is something he’d never have dreamt of saying previously, even if it was always true.
Nick can relate to feeling trapped, but now he feels differently. He feels like he could ask for what he wanted. We know of others on the road who have done exactly that, and their companies have been surprisingly flexible – more on that below.
When Nick handed in his notice, he was actually asked if he’d consider a year off work and to return to his job. That wasn’t what we wanted, but it just shows that companies are perhaps more open minded than we think they are.
From working remotely to working on the road
If you’re one of those people who feel their company wouldn’t be open to letting them work on the road, despite having a job that could be done remotely, it might help to hear from someone who’s been there. We asked our friend Laura from Rainbows on the Road to share her experience:
I was fortunate enough to have already wangled working from home for my employers twice a week. So the remote working concept was not new to my managers, but the idea of me never being in the office or even the country was a big shift.
Before I asked to make the arrangement permanent, I armed myself with as much information as possible. From the ways I would be able to stay connected, to the money I would save them by not being in the office, and details of the countries I would likely be visiting. I tried to imagine the questions and concerns they may have. I asked colleagues to provide some feedback on how they have successfully liaised with me whilst I’ve been working remotely in the past. Most importantly, I made sure they knew how much I wanted this (job?).
To my surprise, my managers agreed, with an initial trial period of 6 months and then reassess. After a successful trial period, I was hopeful the arrangement could continue, but never expected them to agree to make it permanent. I’m delighted that they have just recently agreed to it being a permanent arrangement! This means we can now travel indefinitely, something we always dreamed of doing.
Do check out Rainbows on the Road on Instagram to follow their travels in their converted Luton van.
If you have any questions that we haven’t covered, do leave a comment or get in touch with us via our Instagram, and we’ll update the post.