Becoming a Digital Nomad (Part 2 – The Expedition Vehicle)
Jul 28, 2020
If you missed out on Part 1 of my ‘Becoming a Digital Nomad’ series you can check that out HERE.
In Part 1, we covered the first conceptual steps towards your change to a travelling lifestyle; giving you an idea of how we overcame the commitment of an office-bound role and a glimpse into what working on the road is like.
If you have that initial offering fixed firmly in your memory, welcome to Part 2! I’ll be digging into the details of what vehicle may be a wise choice and what pitfalls may be lurking. Obviously, this is all subjective. These are just my reflections on how I feel different vehicles would suit me based on my experiences and the work I do.
This is not a total evaluation of overland vehicles, it is simply a look at three vehicle types and how they fit into a lifestyle of working on the road. It should come as no surprise that the longer and more thorough your role, the more comfortable and equipped you might want your surroundings and this could lead you to a larger vehicle. That said, I know people that will happily design a website with the MacBook balanced on their motorcycle seat, parked up outside a coffee shop with free wifi. I know others that couldn’t proofread an article if they weren’t in their 6×6 with a huge cube apartment on the back and full washer dryer facilities. It’s horses for courses. So saddle up and see what this filly thinks of the following types of ride.
Choose Your Office
Let’s look at three types of working Overlander vehicle. I’ve named them the Outsider, the In-Betweener and the Insider.
Of course, we all love ‘the great outdoors’ but I’m talking about how you live and work outside of that leisure time. There is no right and wrong. The super agile small vehicle has many benefits over a mammoth on wheels; the ‘perfect overland vehicle’ debate being a stinging topic on the overland forum of your choice.
What we’re looking at here is how these three different styles of overlander suit the Digital Nomad lifestyle. The type of role you have, and how much time you spend working, may significantly impact your choice of vehicle.
Tent campers, converted small vans, ‘sleep in’ cars or vehicles with an RTT (roof top tent) are all destined to live outside. After all, they don’t have a great deal of square footage inside to live inside.
Outsiders usually have a couple of camp chairs and a small table, with an awning for element protection. If the vehicle is more comfortable when you’re outside, living next to it, and you’ll tend to only get inside to drive or sleep, maybe it is an Outsider.
Anyone aiming for a proper work environment will find the constant search for a quality location can be tough. Those who succeed usually do not have a face-to-face role or make lots of phone calls. In which case being outside of the vehicle is good for short stints; whereas a table, a coffee shop or some other random location can be ideal for longer sessions.
Despite the small space, outsiders are experts in storing every item they need into every available space. And as you can see from the Land Rover of Mundao Cao, some insiders get a surprising amount of room too. In my experience, Outsiders range from ‘hoarders’ to those that have their small minimalist looking space completely dialled.
Top Tip: Strangely, outsiders can also be surprisingly good people to accept a coffee from. Fresh roasted beans, a small grinder and a quality brew method are often present. If they offer, always say yes!
However, what they gain in coffee making chops they lose in electrical amps. Their ability to spot a spare electrical socket from distance is legendary and most of their limited solar juice is sucked up by a small fridge. The nomad worker will need to ensure their power needs are met with the Outsider vehicle.
Outsider Vehicles suit:
- Those who work in short to sessions.
- Those who can work in an informal environment.
- Those who prefer the agility of a small vehicle over space and comfort for work.
- Those who don’t require a lot of power resources.
From Sprinter vans to VW Kombi’s. In-betweeners usually have the ability to cook inside and work inside, but the smaller environment usually means they rely on an outside space too. Bringing the inside outside, or the outside inside. Whichvever way you see your blend of outdoor setup and indoor comfort.
Having this flexibility ups your game when it comes to workplace formality. Being able to shut the doors and sit at a table means you can work well, but sitting in for long stints in a smaller space is going to become tiring and sometimes a second person in the space with you can be awkward.
You do get much better protection from inclement weather without calling time on your working day. It’s also a safe haven from pesky canines (the friendly ones are the most distracting!), curious locals, insects and a certain volume of irritating outside noise. Plus, you gain the ability to make your surrounding look at least somewhat respectable.
Zoom meetings will look a little more pro with an In-Betweener. Set up a suitable backdrop and you’ll appear office-bound. This opens up some doors (including your rear double or sliding side if you enjoy work with a view) for a broader range of work-related tasks. But, it is important to be realistic. A smaller workspace is categorically not the place for quite a few hours a day unless you have massage therapists pre-flagged on Google Maps.
Power is usually not an issue for well prepared In-Betweeners. A small to medium battery bank and more space for solar usually sees the In-Betweener juggle power needs reasonably well and a pee-break is also easier to accommodate if you can gain some inside privacy.
Straddling the line of indoor and outdoor living these comfortable living quarters hold cabin fever at bay for a day of poor weather, while being outdoors will feel like an escape from the fear of bumping your head or banging your elbows.
Vans, like this one from ‘Don The Whale‘ also allows you to get creative and build something that suits you in the space available for a truly custom experience on the road.
In-Betweener Vehicles suit:
- Those working in shorter to mid-length work sessions
- They are good for solo work or mixing in some client contact.
- Mix agility with a little comfort
- Usually have more power capability than an Outsider vehicle, but less than an Insider.
- Although usually less capable off-road than a 4×4 SUV or a 4×4 truck, they are fine on most trails.
- A popular choice for overlanders mixing a little off-road with on-road travel.
The holy grail of nomadic workspace is the ‘Insider’ vehicle. Truck campers, large conversions and larger MAN style trucks with living containers on the back.
Quieter, more comfortable and, if you choose the right camera angle, your Zoom attendees will not guess you are ‘away’ from an office. At the end of a meeting, turning your camera to an epic outside view is a ‘big reveal’ you will never get tired of; your colleagues struggling with the reality that you just conducted your meeting from a tropical beach as a hawker delivers a fresh Coco Frio to your door. Your nomadic lifestyle choice will never feel sweeter.
Anyone with a more dedicated job will ideally find themselves in one of these insider Vehicles. The lines between working from home and a nomadic lifestyle gently blurring into obscurity.
All of your creature comforts are usually available, just a lot closer than in your home. There is usually a larger table or dinette with dedicated power or USB ports. Two people, comfortably working at the same time with one able to freely move around the vehicle without fear of interrupting the other.
Speaking of power, the Insider Vehicles are usually equipped with larger battery banks and more solar. Running short of power a rarity; scrabbling to re-charge your laptop no longer required. Overall, working in an Insider Vehicle is a breeze, extended desk work no less comfortable than a well-appointed office. Lighting, refrigeration, fans, recharging – all these things add up to making working on the road a much more pleasant experience.
Insider Vehicles suit:
- Those working short to full-time hours.
- Solo work through to full online client communication – voice or video.
- All comforts of home.
- Lots of space, suitable for two or more people working / using the camper.
- The trump card for many Insider vehicles is the ability to take a comfortable home with you on some fairly gnarly off road trails.
The Freedom to Roam
Whichever way you cut it, having an income while travelling makes a huge difference. Some jobs require connectivity, which means you have to factor that into your movements; but there are benefits both in financial freedom and routine. For long term travellers having some routine can be comforting and, for many, breaking up the day with a work project can add value to the free time you get. Personally, I love spending a few days a week online, working around 3 hours on those days.
Our camper allows us enough space, comfort and electrical power to work all day for several days if required. But remains agile enough to get us into some amazing locations.
If you are looking to top up your funds with. Couple of hours a week, then any vehicle could suit this. If you are looking to make a change, move your office to the road and expect to drop some hours at the desk, then an Insider Vehicle is the way to go.
If you have any questions about ‘Working from Roam’ or vehicle choice. Feel free to get in touch.
Some tips on Vehicle Choice
- Establish your requirements.
Knowing what you need to do from a work perspective, and ensuring you have the correct vehicle to match that is important. Space, comfort, electricity …. what exactly are you going to need to do your job.
- Be Realistic
Having established your requirements, be realistic – rather than optimistic – about what vehicle is going to work for you. The overland lifestyle is littered with people that have started their journey and realized they did not have ‘enough’ vehicle. Sure, Land Rover Defenders are amazing, but if you are in inclement weather and have to work inside for hours every day …. that’s going to really suck.
- Don’t go in blind.
A truck camper is a great way to move into better comfort levels whilst maintaining an agile offroad vehicle. But make sure you get inside one and try it out because they are not all equal.
Is the workspace solid, big enough, comfortable? Is the cabin light and airy and open or a bit closed in? What’s the window situation like? If you are camped in an epic spot, can you see it through a big picture window, or do you have to stretch to see it through a small square? Get a feel for the space, you’ll know whether you feel comfortable or whether you start making compromise noises like “The seat isn’t very comfortable but it will be ok”.
- Office Facilities
Are your battery banks big enough? Is there enough solar? Is there an inverter so that you can plug into AC? Are there sockets for 12v fans to keep you cool while you work on that stunning white sand beach?