On a conference call at Wyeth Campground in the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon. We’ve been combining work with full-time camping and travel for nearly two years.
I still remember my sad, old office: the white board, the calendar, the window overlooking a parking lot. Today, my office is a meadow overlooking Oregon’s mighty Rogue River…or wherever I want to be.
In 2014, my husband Chris and I upended our lives so we could travel full time by van, mostly camping around North America. Selling all our stuff? Easy. Deciding where to travel? Easy. Figuring out how to work remotely while camping? Not so easy.
But we’ve been working remotely while traveling full time for two years and finally have it figured out—we think. We’ve broken out the laptop in the Florida Keys and video conferenced near kangaroos at a national park in Australia. If you want to spend more time outdoors while still earning an income, here are some tips for taking your work from the office to the campground.
The most important part of working remotely while camping is having work you can take anywhere. That usually means knowledge-based or creative work. But you needn’t be a software engineer. Lots of professions have room for location-independence, whether it’s seeing patients via telemedicine, translating documents or selling your art via Instagram. Here are some ideas for getting started:
Doing some writing before taking off on an afternoon bike ride at Valley of the Rogue State Park
When choosing campsites, think about any specific requirements for your work. A writer working on a novel might be OK camping in a remote canyon without phone or mobile internet access, but a project manager who needs to interact with team members might not. Look for these work-friendly campsite features:
When we know we have to prioritize work, we camp at state parks or county parks. They are usually closer to municipalities, so they typically have better cell and data service.
This gazebo offers Wi-Fi, electricity and shade from the brutal desert sun at Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area outside Palm Springs, California
Because most location-independent work requires internet, you’ll likely care most about getting online and keeping your devices charged (which I’ll talk about next). When you’re at camp, you have three options:
A beautiful outdoor office in Long Key State Park in Florida; with that view, we didn’t get much work done!
Catching up on work, tethered to my smartphone, after the sun went down in Palmetto State Parkin Texas
My husband and I have a rule called ABC: Always Be Charging. We keep a power inverter that allows us to charge our smartphones and laptops off of the car battery while we’re driving. We’ll occasionally top off our smartphones while we’re parked at camp (with the engine off—don’t be those people!). The inverter has a built-in safety that switches the power off if we’re in danger of draining the car battery. Here are other ways of keeping your devices charged:
Hiking around the canyon rim at Dead Horse Point State Park (depressing name, beautiful place) outside Moab, Utah
You might be thinking, When am I supposed to have fun? Maintaining balance if you’re working while camping is super important, especially since snafus like a downed cell phone tower can throw your fun plans out of whack. (This happened to us when we were at Moran State Park on Orcas Island, Washington; fortunately, there’s a library on the island.)
My biggest piece of advice is to plan on staying places for a good length of time, whatever that is for you. Two days to explore Arches and Canyonlands national parks isn’t enough if you have half a day of work to do.
When we know we only have a day or two somewhere, we prioritize only the most pressing tasks or take the days off entirely. We’ve even adjusted our itinerary when we know something important is happening, like a time-sensitive shipment arriving at a UPS Store for my husband’s business. You can also decide that mornings are for exploring, afternoon is for working, and evenings are for the campfire. With a little planning, you can make almost anything work.
Even if you’re working on something difficult, you’ll be amazed by how soothing it is work surrounded by nature instead of a cubicle. Just remember: When you’re done for the day, switch off and take a hike!
Have other tips or hacks for working while camping? Please share them on the Hipcamp Facebookpage!
Words and photos by Tamara Murray
Tamara is one half of the van-dwelling duo at Nomads With a Van, where she shares practical van-living tips. Her favorite campgrounds are on Forest Service land. She helps social-good nonprofits with their communications, earning jealous laughs when joining video conferences from campgrounds.