It’s been exactly one year since I came back to Poland from my crazy Korean adventure. When people asked me then what I planned to do next, I would say “get a remote job, get my stuff in a backpack, and get the hell out of here and round the Cosmos”. That was some abstract wishful thinking, cause at that time I had no resume, zero experience with working remotely, nearly zero experience with job seeking, and didn’t believe I have any useful skills I could turn into money. Hey, I didn’t even have a backpack back then!
Without any prior experience with working remotely and away from home, I had a very romantic and unrealistic vision of how that would look like. Now I had a chance to put this vision into practice, staying for a whole month in Canada and US, and trying to work while traveling around. While it was an absolutely amazing experience, and I can’t wait to do it again, not everything worked as smoothly as I expected. Here’s a few lessons I learned on the trip:
You can’t have it all
When you’re in a far far away land, you’ll naturally want to see as much as possible. There’s always so many places to go to, so many things to see, so many trails to hike. For me it was the first time in Canada (or any of the Americas, for that matter), so I tried to take as much of out it as I could. Yet there’s only 24 hours a day, so if you want to travel around, work a bit, and stay sane, you’ll have to give up on some things. We hiked much less than I expected, only saw a tiny little part of the Olympic park, skipped many amazing places and rushed through some other ones. Well, at least we have a reason to come back.
In America everything is far. Like, really far.
Before the trip we’ve marked a few spots on a map within what looked like a reasonable distance. We haven’t visited half of these, and yet we did around 3.500km in two weeks. That’s more than enough to go around my whole country (and it’s one the bigger side among the countries in Europe). Sometimes there would be signs on the road saying “Check your fuel. Next gas station in 120km”. Sometimes there would be no signs of civilization until that next gas station. I never thought of buying a car in my life, but wouldn’t survive a day without one there.
Towns are quite disappointing. But you don’t go there for the towns.
When speaking of downtown, what I normally imagine is this (that’s my home town by the way):
There’s many prettier cities than this in Poland alone, and if you take the whole Europe, you can spend your whole life traveling from one beautiful town to another without ever having enough. In the places we’ve been, nearly every town looks like a huge parking lot with a couple of stores and houses around. I understand how everyone needs a car to cover all these crazy distances, but I really missed some public space where people could go and hang out together. Out of the three exceptions (Banff, Jasper, and Whistler), two were in the middle of national parks and one is a famous ski resort, so I’m not sure if these are representative at all.
On the other hand, why would you ever bother with towns if there’s such amazing nature everywhere around? I’m in love with all the mountains, lakes, forests, rivers, and waterfalls. The night sky we watched from a cliff in Banff National Park is one of the best things I’ve seen my life. I could easily spend another few months there without even going to a city – if only I had a guaranteed Internet connection there. Speaking of which…
Check Internet options before you leave
I’m terribly spoiled by Polish mobile carriers. I usually top my prepaid SIM card up with $15 every month, and get unlimited data for this. It’s not the fastest connection in the world, but enough to work comfortably from pretty much anywhere. In Canada we bought a SIM card that costed few times as much, had only 2GB of transfer, and didn’t let us share the connection with any other device. To get one that would allow tethering, we would have to be Canadian citizens. So much of working anywhere.
WiFi is rare. WiFi is precious.
Well, what else would you expect of a national park? Even though I told my team I’ll be semi-AFK for two weeks and slowly adopt to the work-and-travel lifestyle, I worked even less than I thought I would be. Some campgrounds declared they have WiFi on site, but the most I could do there was checking my email. We had no choice but to hop from one chain restaurant or coffee shop to another, and hope we don’t get kicked out from company proxy every 5 minutes this time. Bonus surprise: a crowded McDonalds with kids running around might not possibly be the most optimal office environment.
You can get terribly stressed over bad Internet connection. And it will mess with your work.
Dealing with customers requires a lot of emotional energy, to keep empathizing with them without getting upset when they are upset, or angry when they are angry. Not being sure when and how long will be the next time to get something done depleted these energy levels much more than I thought. When you’re in a hurry, have so much distance to cover that day, get disconnected every few minutes, and suddenly there’s someone typing ALL CAPS and DEMANDING you solve their problem NOW, this can drive you to an edge, even if you normally solve cases like this one with grace.
Pack light, buy local.
I thought I’m a relatively low-maintenance kind of a girl that can survive with much less stuff than most of my friends. Still, the idea of getting everything I might need in a month, including computers, cables, shoes, towels, etc, into a backpack, sounded kinda surreal. In the end we packed only the very basics, and bought stuff as we needed along the way. During that month we’ve carried all of this by RV, car, taxi, ferries, buses, and occasionally on foot, so I’m glad we didn’t bring any more. In the end we’ve packed all extra stuff in a plastic container and shipped as a checked baggage on our flight. Now we’re left with some random cheap pillows and blankets from Walmart, and also a plastic container, but that’s another story…
No campground around? Just drive off the highway into the first obscure road you can find (and get woken up to the sound of a train passing by right next to your head). Don’t have a drone to shoot a good video? Tie the GoPro with a rope and swing it off a bridge. Need to pack all the extra stuff you’ve collected on your way? Just wrap it up in a blanket, tie it up with the same rope, and you have a nice pack to carry around. There’s a crazy disco party coming and you didn’t bring your make up bag? Just buy as many kinds of glitter as you can, and do your whole make up with that (it turned out amazing!). Your creativity might surprise you if you have no other choice but to be creative.
Embrace the chaos.
When we left for Canada I wasn’t even 2 months into my new job, and it’s a chaos on its own. The company culture is so different from anything I knew, especially compared with the army-style management in Korea, that it took me a good while to adapt. And once I started feeling a little confident in my job, we left for the trip, breaking all the routines and lifehacks I’ve set up by then. I really admire my team lead – she probably knew that my productivity would plunge dramatically, but wouldn’t give a smallest sign of disapproval. When you think about it, never is the perfect time to throw your life upside down and do something new. You can only do it anyway and accept the fact that nothing is under control.
There’s another trip coming in a few days, so I’m thinking of ways how I can take what I learned from these lessons and apply them this time. We’re giving up on pace – now we’ll stay mostly in the same place the whole week, and do sightseeing on weekends. We’re giving up on all these beautiful things that are just half a day driving away, cause that’s not sustainable in the long run. We’re doing research on mobile plans available to avoid getting surprised this time. My plan is to be at least as productive on this trip as I was on the week before – we’ll see how it turns out.
In the meantime, here’s a short recap of our month in the beautiful Northwest: