Let me start out by highlighting that I’ve had some particularly hectic circumstances since I left Austin to live in the van last December, so this post isn’t a how-to for working on the road, nor is it generally applicable to everyone. I haven’t been handling the normal hardships like theft, bad weather, creeps, or overrun campsites, though I did deal with some car trouble, my bike getting lifted, and some below-freezing nights. But this is more my personal, crazy story that you might find interesting, followed by some lessons learned about handling client work on the move.
My relationship immediately started deteriorating once my boyfriend and I hit the road, and like a trapped animal it seemed to panic and claw everything in sight, paying no mind to damage done to itself or the surroundings in the process. This spanned almost 6 of the last 7 months, before we managed to end things warmly and lovingly, with big opportunities for growth on both sides.
Additionally, the company I work for (I maintain a part-time day job) got acquired only a month after taking off, so I’ve been rolling with those changes and stepping into an entirely new job description. This has been absolutely lovely and such a good change for everyone involved, but all changes are stressors.
A month after that, I landed a big, fantastic illustration project. I started work the day after I dropped the boyfriend in LA to tour with his band, the day I started traveling solo (though we hadn’t broken up yet.)
A month after that, the van started having trouble in Southern Utah, serious enough trouble to spur me to actually rent a room for two months in Salt Lake City while I found a new vehicle (which I did, pictured above, isn’t she lovely?)
A month after that, my only sister had her first child, Hildegard, who had my heart at hello.
A month later, my boyfriend and I had officially cut the cord, and I came to Mill Valley to work in a beautiful apartment, so graciously offered to me by a friend who was out shooting a documentary all month.
A month after that, two days ago, I wrapped the project, and then turned 30 years old the next day.
Holy hell, are you still with me? Am I still with me? What even is life?
So in the little bursts of travel between being with family at Christmas, a work trip to Canada, a week house-sitting in Vegas, a week at my dad’s house in the guest room, two months in my rented SLC room, and a month in an apartment in California, I learned a lot about “working from the road.” Mostly I was taking day hikes near whatever desk I happened to be borrowing. Not exactly what I had envisioned, but definitely not a bad situation either. And, I learned many things.
Short-Term Projects Only
If I were to get a client project that put me at 40-50 hours for a week or maybe two, I could handle that, but I learned that I won't be able to do long-term client work from the road. Here are some reasons why:
Time to work on my own stuff.
From this experience, I learned I can maintain about a 30 hour work week on the road as is. Twenty hours at my day job, and 10 to dedicate to maintaining my business including producing, marketing, administrative stuff, and everything else. That’s slow going, but it’s enough to maintain and even to progress in bursts. You can do a lot in 10 focused hours.
Traveling minus free time = driving.
When I was too busy to immerse myself in a place, I started to feel less like I was traveling, and more like I was just driving. It hardly mattered where I was, because I didn’t have the time to go out hiking, meeting people, or climbing most days of the week anyway. Additionally, I started to feel less like I was creating and more like I was working a job, so finding places to stay became crucial to continuing to enjoy the work itself.
Everything takes forever when you live this way.
Being in a place that's temperature-regulated (or just in western California), with a stove and refrigerator and dishes (even a dishwasher here in Cali!) shaves an enormous amount of time off my tasks for the day.
When you live nomadically, especially alone, everything takes longer. Brushing your teeth, washing dishes, getting ready for bed, getting ready for the day, going to the bathroom, getting to a place to work, and especially cooking.
These extra minutes added to every activity can easily add up to hours in a day, hours that I no longer had. On top of normal life stuff, I also needed to factor in things like building and putting out fires each night because it was getting down to freezing fairly reliably (I was in the eastern Sierras for the first few weeks in February), and of course driving time, dealing with mishaps, car maintenance, errands, traffic, getting lost, and so on.
Basic self-maintenance is important.
All of this amounted to essentially a constant state of rushing, and I’m a person that thrives on slowness, quiet, and contemplation. I found that I was sacrificing eating 3 meals or exercising any given day, just so I could squeeze in some quiet time for me around work hours.
Life keeps happening.
Aside from leaving enough room in my schedule to enjoy the place I'm in and work on my own stuff, the inevitable curveballs of life that are bound to happen in this long of a period require time as well. Life keeps happening, and leaving enough wiggle room where I could properly deal with things like, say, a breakup, car problems, buying a car, or important family events should actually play into a time quote for a project this long.
Note: Asking for What You Need
I’ve learned this one before, and I learned it again. A while into this work I ended up asking for an extension on the deadline. Asking was scary, as I've never actually misjudged a deadline before. I wasn't experienced enough just living on the move before I took on a project, so I took it on as though I were still at home in Austin. But I’ve found that 9/10 times people in general surprise you with kindness and flexibility. Clients are no different, and this one very happily gave me what I needed to slow down a bit and "enjoy the ride," as they put it.
As much as I’ve been a bit heartsick as well as antsy to get moving, I’ve also been so grateful for the exciting work opportunity that I just had, and for the forced slow-down that it provided. I got some really good insights during these months that I may have otherwise been too distracted to see, and I’m taking a hard look at my trajectory in life and mainly, in work.
I’m so grateful for any of you who are along for the ride with me here. I’m excited to share my hard work with you, and to get going on some changes for the future.
Now through the end of July I'm running an Etsy sale for the first time, use NEWBEGINNINGS for 15% off anything over $20! Here's to starting my 30's out with a clean slate.
There's also a sign up for an email list on my homepage. I have yet to write a newsletter. Can we lump this into said "changes for the future?" Feel free to sign up now, though tbh it's a bit down the list of things I'm rethinking and revamping. Think of it like a surprise for your inbox one day!