How to Work on the Road
Many people have been introduced to working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic, illuminating just how many jobs can be done outside of traditional workplaces. While this remote work phenomenon is new to many, van lifers have known the secrets of working from home—or rather, from van—for years. These van dwellers demonstrate that you can make a steady income while also enjoying a nomadic lifestyle full of adventure.
Whether you’ve recently shifted to remote work or you’re planning to change things up soon, you’re likely curious about some of the ins and outs of working on the road. We asked a wide variety of van dwellers some of the most important questions about the lifestyle, collected their insights, and compiled them in this handy guide. You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.
Cover Photography by @van.there
1. What is there to love about working on the road?
Working on the road lets you put the “life” back in “work-life balance.” As Jess Shisler says, “Remote work is all about creating an opportunity to live your best life.”
“It gives us the flexibility and freedom to explore a place more in-depth. The best part is that the outdoors is more accessible right after work. We love our sunset hikes!” -Lauren Mathews and Logan McDaniel (@vangogh_adventure)
“Working on the road and being in charge of our own schedules allows us to skip the crowds, and adventure when everyone else is doing their 9-5 thing.” -Chad and Paul (@chadandpaul)
“It’s absolutely mind-blowing to have a rolling ocean or massive saguaro cactus as the backdrop to my laptop. What freedom!” -Brenda (@theroadthroughmyeyes)
Van life clearly makes working more fun, but working can also sweeten your van life experience by providing structure, a sense of purpose, and social connections.
“My job helps me fight loneliness as well. I stay connected to colleagues each day through Slack chats, meetings, and coffee catch-ups.” -Brenda (@theroadthroughmyeyes)
2. What kind of jobs can I do on the road?
Some van dwellers choose to work part-time, others choose full-time. Some work set hours for a company, while others are entrepreneurs with a great deal of flexibility. Many are digital nomads, but working physical jobs in different locations is also an option. With endless possibilities for working on the road, your job can be perfectly tailored to you.
“Keeping my 9-5 job was important to me because it’s helping kick some major investment goals. Regular income, minimal expenses, saving heaps to be completely financially free at a young age!” -Brenda (@theroadthroughmyeyes)
“Sunny works two remote jobs. First is a desk job in the finance industry that was able to go remote since the start of Covid-19. The second job is the CFO of a startup that does Covid testing. Luna’s work as a makeup artist wasn’t able to go remote so she left her clients to live on the road full time with Sunny and is currently creating content and starting a new business.” -Sunny and Luna (@sunnylunaliving)
“My husband and I quit our full-time careers and each started our own businesses: a mobile art shop for Mike called Drawn There (website, IG) and a science communications consulting business for myself. After a couple of years on the road, I partnered up with fellow van lifer, Breanne Acio, to launch a startup company, called The Vanlife App by Sēkr, to help improve the camping experience.” -Jess Shisler (@van.there), Founder of @thevanlifeapp
3. How can I transition to working remotely?
Your transition to van life work could look like anything from talking with your existing employer about working on the road to taking the leap and changing career paths entirely.
“There are so many opportunities now to work remotely. You might not think it’s possible, but we’ve met many nomads who convinced their boss to let them work remote full time.” -Chad and Paul (@chadandpaul)
“When Emily and I set the goal to take on van life, neither of us had remote jobs, but we both saw an opportunity to create mobile work from what we were doing. For me, although I was working in a CrossFit gym, I had been doing some kind of online fitness for over 7 years and figured I could scale that up to a full-time income. This morphed into what today is The Get Better Project, an online fitness program that lays the roadmap for people that want to physically thrive, and look good doing it. Emily’s job at Trupanion Pet Insurance could have been done from anywhere, it was just getting her bosses to let that happen. Her company has been incredibly supportive of our strange way of living, and Emily is the top producing employee in the Fast Track claims department.” -Emily Kramer and Joe Bauer (@thevantasticlife)
4. How should I set up my van office?
To work effectively and ergonomically, van lifers need to get creative with turning various spots inside (and outside) the van into home offices.
“We have two work stations: one is the kitchen table and the other is a custom desk (built by Logan!) that slides into the passenger dashboard. We also have a mobile wifi device and we usually find a public park to work in during the day.” -Lauren Mathews and Logan McDaniel (@vangogh_adventure)
“We moved into our Storyteller Overland because of all the flexible and modular workspaces—it allows for us both to have our own workspace. And with the comfortable roof deck, we can both even take work calls at the same time!” -Chad and Paul (@chadandpaul)
“For me, it’s all about portable, packable, and ergo dynamic! I have a laptop stand with a foldable keyboard and mouse. This can be used inside the van at our seating area, but the outdoor office is also a key component. We recommend having a folding table that packs down small and a comfortable chair, so you can easily work outside on days with good weather! A portable power supply, like the Jackery Explorer 300, is a perfect size to power your outdoor office.” -Jess Shisler (@van.there), Founder of @thevanlifeapp
We have three dedicated office spaces in our van. The first is in the front of the cab. We installed two swivel components to make both front seats turn all the way around to face the back of the van. The second dedicated office space in our van is in the bed area. We have a convertible bed that can break down into a large dinette. The third dedicated office space is our large outdoor pull-out table. When weather is optimal, it’s the easiest setup we have and makes those long work hours fly by. There’s something very special about working remotely while being able to enjoy the outdoors. -Sunny and Luna (@sunnylunaliving)
5. How can I get wifi while working on the road?
This is one of the most popular topics in the van life work community. Luckily, there are plenty of solutions to ensure you have the connection you need.
“In order to get fast internet on the road, we have a multi-tiered approach. First, between the two of us we have 15 GB of hotspot on Verizon, and 30 GB of hotspot on AT&T. For most work needs this will be plenty, but if I’m uploading videos, I could go through this in a day. Second, we figure out where the local coffee shops are before heading into a new place. Ideally, we’ll have 2-3 of them that can be cycled through if the first or second don’t have fast enough internet. Third, libraries can be totally awesome or completely suck, but if there aren’t any coffee shops that will work, they can be a lifesaver. Secret Sauce—Whole Foods Markets have (on average) the fastest internet across the country. Unfortunately, during Covid-19 they are no longer allowing people to hang out and work. Hopefully, this will change soon.” -Emily Kramer and Joe Bauer (@thevantasticlife)
“I highly recommend using a cell booster for areas that don’t have many cell service bars. This will boost your service up a bar or two and hopefully be enough to get your work done! Additionally, because vans are essentially Faraday cages, it’s hard for cellular waves to penetrate to the inside. The booster can help ameliorate this effect. The only caveat for boosters is they can’t multiply zero, so if there is no cell service at your campsite, the booster won’t help. As for wifi, we use a separate hotspot device with an unlimited data plan. And of course, you can always use your phone as a hotspot if your plan allows.
Other solutions for wifi when working remotely are cafes, coffee shops, and breweries. Post up outside in the sunshine and soak up that free wifi for work. Another great option when in a pinch for great wifi, maybe with a client call or an interview coming up, is to check out getting a day pass at a local coworking space!” -Jess Shisler (@van.there), Founder of @thevanlifeapp
6. Where can I camp in nature with cell service?
To do any work that requires internet or communication with a team, you’ll need to find campsites with cell service. Jess Shisler, the founder of The Vanlife App by Sēkr, kindly provided Rec Van with some of her favorite campsites across the U.S. for working remotely, all of which have at least 3 bars of cell service. Download the free Vanlife App to explore the links below.
Jess Shisler’s picks:
Dispersed Camping: Chemult, OR
Dispersed Camping: Outside of Arches Ntl Park, UT
Bonneville Salt Flats, UT
Dispersed Camping: Gregory Creek, CA
Alpine Junction, WY
Cypress Creek Preserve, FL
7. What habits do I need for remote working?
Whether you struggle with staying focused with beautiful scenery right outside your window or you and your partner are facing the challenge of working next to each other in a tight space, developing healthy working habits is key.
“Being a couple, personal space is important. When we worked typical 9-5’s, we spent most of the day apart, so when we came home we’d have a date night and enjoy our time together. Now, we spend practically every minute of every day together within arms reach! So it’s been important to make sure we’re taking enough “me time” and giving each other enough space so we can work happily in our van together.” -Chad and Paul (@chadandpaul)
“The things you, or at least I, want to do generally involve hard-to-reach locations where cell service is at a premium. The best thing to do? Plan. Schedule your projects and your travel plans out in advance. If you can’t, be flexible. Roll with it. When you need to work, dedicate ‘time and a half.’
It can feel at times like your travels are secondary. That you’re just bouncing around from cell tower to cell tower. When it’s all said and done though, those parking lots in the middle of nowhere in Idaho with cell service, or that dive bar with wifi in a drive-through town in New Mexico got you to pull over and stop. If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have seen that mind-bending sunset or eaten those killer green-chile cheeseburgers. Being on the road isn’t about being on the road. Being on the road is about getting off the road.” -Tucker Shanley (@tucker_shanley, @vanrepeller)
“Full-time remote work can be taxing if you’re trying to travel far distances, so make sure to plan your routes according to your work schedule. I always try to be stationary for work days, whether that means camping at a place with good service so I can wake up ready to work, or waking up early at an epic remote spot so I can get back into town/cell service for the work day.
Be sure to set your working hours even though you’re now remote! This is so important for keeping your work and play separate. Create breaks for yourself to get up and enjoy your surroundings! What’s the point of working from the road if you’re not taking the time to enjoy it?” -Jess Shisler (@van.there), founder of @thevanlifeapp
8. Where can I learn more about working on the road?
We’re glad you asked! Check out our “Guide to Remote Working While Boondocking” post for more specific information for those who’d rather forgo cafes and libraries to work in nature. The Instagram accounts and blogs of the van dwellers who contributed to this guide are also great resources to learn more about van life with a variety of career paths.
Looking for the perfect van to serve as your traveling office? Read our “8 Great Camper Vans for Working Remotely” post, then visit Rec Van to find the right van for you.