When you ask proponents of remote work what they love about remote working, they’ll likely parrot the ability to travel anywhere as the best benefit.
This is further reinforced by the large swath of apps that are dedicated to remote workers who travel. Being a remote worker is almost synonymous with being a nomad, if this collection of remote worker tools and trends is anything to go by.
But is it true that remote workers actively take advantage of their ability to freely travel?
The Real State of Travel and Remote Workers
While there is no definitive study on the travel habits of remote workers, anecdotal evidence tells me remote workers don’t travel nearly as often as people think. In fact, 46% of respondents marked in a Twitter poll they travel “rarely, if ever.”
How often do you travel as a remote worker? ?
— Work Afar (@WorkAfar) December 14, 2015
This follows quite closely with my experience and the experience of other remote workers I know. And even the most travel-focused of my remote acquaintances travels outside of the country, at most, once a year (though they do hop around the states quite frequently).
Why Does it Seem Like Every Remote Worker Endlessly Travels?
While the Twitter poll lines up with my personal impressions, it does not line up with the impression office dwellers get of remote workers. This difference in perception probably comes down to how remote workers talk about themselves.
Even if a you are a remote worker who doesn’t travel outside of your home often, it’s likely you’ve worked in a place that’s outside of the norm, such as on a beach or in a hip café in New Delhi.
But social media, as we all know, can be deceptive. And our lives often look a lot more like this video, which parodies our deceptive public personas.
So What Are Remote Workers Doing With Their Freedom
If not traveling, what do remote workers do with their increased mobility?
While every remote worker is different, I would hazard a guess they’re simply enjoying the fact that they don’t have to deal with the requirement of being in a place they don’t want to be every day, such as an office. And for me as a remote worker, just the knowledge of having mobility if I want it is good enough.
There are also practical limitations to being able to travel. While not having to be in an office to make a living certainly drops many of the barriers, it does not get rid of the majority of them.
At the end of the day, traveling is expensive. An international trip is estimated to cost $3,000+ dollars; a domestic 4-day trip comes with an average price tag of $500+ dollars. That’s not chump change.
And traveling doesn’t just cost money. It also costs productivity.
No matter who you are, it takes time to go back into a normal workflow. Traveling interrupts many of the normal daily habits we as remote workers leverage to maintain focus on our work. Finally, if you want to maintain stable relationships, leaving for Bangladesh for months at a time probably isn’t the most loving way to go about that.
Then What’s the Point of Remote Work?
So we’ve established that remote workers probably don’t travel that much due to a myriad of practical limitations. So why even bother to work remotely?
It’s the small things.
Being a remote worker gives you the flexibility to pick your kids up from school early because of a snowstorm. It gives you the flexibility to be around people you genuinely like, whether that be with your roommates, significant other, or friends at your local coworking space.
So while it is not likely remote workers are traversing across the globe, it is likely they are taking advantage of the ability to leave their desk without worrying about how their boss will perceive an empty seat. The ability to pivot around life’s obstacles has become much more accomplishable.
And in a lot of ways, being able to maneuver around the small things in life is just as awesome as being able to go anywhere in the world.
Thanks for pointing this out. You’re right, most people conflate nomad and remote. I’m a nomadic worker who gets asked often to talk about remote work at web conferences. I try to do the topic justice and I do know more than a few things on the topic being that all my staff are remote, and I’m a nomad (the only nomad in the company). There are however frankly better speakers on “remote work” than I. I need shift those talks towards nomadic work and it’s unique challenges and rewards which I do have a lot of unique expertise in. The audience for that is really a lot smaller than remote work, but maybe I get inspire a few of those remote workers to become nomads.
FWIW, our total cost of living as nomads is no more than it was living full time in the US (granted I lived in Hawaii and California where the cost of living was pretty high to start with). I don’t know any full time nomadic workers though who are actively try to do it on a backpacker budget. Most full time nomads have the income necessary to live a bit larger than that. We do it because most places we can live larger (house keeping / cook / driver, swimming pools, upscale restaurants) than we could back home on the same budget. The only place that’s not true tends to be in the US and EU, where we live about the same as if we were geographically tethered.
Hi Holden, thanks for the article. I’m inviting you to travel with me or someone else from the vastly growing nomad community. Each one of us can show you a way that makes traveling inexpensive and depending on where you live, you can most likely spend less than where you are currently based (I have personally saved thousands of dollars since I’ve started traveling and left London in less than 10 months). I think most of us (I can only speak for the 4988 members I’m connected with through a nomad slack channel), that we have the same struggles as other remote workers in terms of productivity, and each one of us has to find their own hacks and routines to make it work, but I would definitely dispute that a nomad is less productive. Happy people are productive people, wherever they are 🙂