This story begins when Gerrell & Hard took the decision to fully embrace (optional) remote working after the pandemic, and ends with a fantastic adventure that my family and I would love to repeat—and very likely will one day!
I met my wife Ellen while we were travelling and she gave up a lot to leave Sweden and live with me in England before we were married. When she became pregnant with our second child, my new remote working arrangements presented us with an opportunity to have an adventure while seeing her family. We began to plan a trip in which I would combine travel with work. The idea of travelling and working, with the freedom that brings, appealed to us both.
From the outset I should say that it was hard to get it right, and it wasn’t glamorous. It took a lot of planning and organising to make it work; Ellen and I are both highly-organised and we were totally aligned: in our vision for the trip, in our motivation, and in how seriously we took it as a project.
With two young kids (one a toddler, one only a few months old) we knew we’d need the freedom to take things at our own pace. We had no illusions about the discipline it would require to travel and work. We decided to buy a camper van and turn it into a living-and-sleeping space, family transport...and my office.
That way we could drive through Europe to Ellen’s family in Sweden, I could use some holiday for our travels, and work from the van once we were there. We planned for a six-week trip, with me working for half of that.
We wanted to be free to go at our pace, stopping and spending more time in a place if we liked it, or if the kids needed some down time. The real excitement began when we drove through the Channel tunnel to France, then on to Belgium, where we stayed in Bruges. From there we drove to the Netherlands (stunning) and then to Germany, where we spent some time in Hamburg. Then it was onwards to Denmark, where I found myself gawping at the engineering of the country’s famous bridges, especially the Great Belt.
From there we drove northwards through Sweden to Ellen’s family in North Gothenburg. Apart from Sweden, we spent the most time in Belgium, Germany, Denmark and The Netherlands. We took nine days to drive to Gothenburg, spent three weeks with Ellen’s family, and had a more leisurely twelve-day return journey.
Turning the van into an office
For the duration of those six weeks, our van was everything. While travelling, we ate in it, slept in it, and it was our shelter if the weather was bad. For the three weeks in Gothenburg, my van-as-office was parked on the drive of Ellen’s mum, Christina and I could use her Wi-Fi. But I didn’t want to be too presumptuous about this, so I’d already arranged a bolt-on work package to my network carrier to ensure I could “hotspot” and stream data anywhere if I needed to.
To make the van work-ready I bought a little stowable table that flipped up to provide just enough room for my laptop, keyboard and phone. I was really happy with the ergonomics and comfort of my set-up, and had a small kitchen and coffee machine to hand – almost literally. I’m a coffee-lover and those coffees were vitally important to me.
It was a clean, clutter-free and efficient set-up and I loved the minimalism. For those three weeks I really didn’t miss my home office and often forgot that I was working in a van. I worked as hard as ever, made plenty of calls and nobody knew that I was working (very) remotely unless I told them!
When you’re working like this, you really appreciate the convenience of contemporary technology. I’m sure there are plenty of digital nomads who will relate to the freedom that Apple Air Pods gave me (no, this blog is not sponsored!). They were a game-changer for calls, Zooms and the like. And with Sweden being only an hour ahead of UK time, there was little-to-no disruption at all to my working day. In fact, lacking the interruptions that working from home typically foists upon home-workers, I enjoyed some of the most focused work-time I can remember.
We were very fortunate that my parents kindly agreed to look after our dog for six weeks. The cat you’ll see in one photo didn’t come with us. He’s called Håkan, belongs to Christina and was a frequent and welcome visitor to my four-wheeled office! My parents’ kindness, and the kindness of Ellen’s whole family—not to mention the trust Gerrell & Hard has in its staff—were what really allowed us to have this experience.
Would it work for everyone?
Our trip, and my digital nomadism, was a fantastic experience. That being said, I don’t know that it would suit everyone. It took a lot of planning. Ellen and I both love organising things and we’re a good team. We don’t need much and we were happy to adopt a “quality over quantity” lifestyle for our travels, which meant a lot of focusing on what we really needed and an understanding of what we couldn’t live without. We had to make sure we had the means to entertain and (of course) look after two young children, in a van, for three weeks of travel. For all of that time, things were pretty intense: we were constantly active, whether making food or driving and navigating and looking after the children, as well as trying to take in the sights. While living and travelling in the van, we barely went to the shops – we’d planned to carry nearly all the food we would need.
What surprised me a little was that at no point did either of us feel we’d had enough: we could happily have stayed at each of our stopping-points for longer, done more, seen more, explored more. We could happily have extended the trip. It was gratifying to come home feeling that we’d done the right thing, and were hungry for more.
Our trip worked because we were a good team, closely-aligned, respectful of one another’s ambitions and needs for the trip.
It was important that we got the ergonomics right of a small space that would become both a home and workspace for six weeks.
Though fun and a fantastic way to make memories I will cherish forever, our trip wasn’t glamorous. We had to pare our lives down to the bare minimum required. We enjoyed that, but some might not.