Tech workers worked from the road during Covid, they can’t go back

Courtesy of Kartik Vasan and Smriti Bhadauria

When Erica Horn received an email from work in May 2020 saying her company would be completely remote for the next year, she knew immediately that it was time to make her dream of living in a van come true.

“Nothing made more sense than life in a truck once reality came true,” said Horn, who lived in Oakland before moving into his truck. “I had no reason, nothing, to tie myself to that specific location or that amount of rent.”

Horn is not alone. Many workers with jobs that allowed them to work remotely during the pandemic left their sedentary living situations behind and moved into vans full time. These remote workers drive from one location to another in their homes, work from Internet access points in their vans, and spend their free time in nature and exploring new places.

As vaccines roll out and states begin to open up, some workers return to their offices. But many workers who have embraced the van life do not want to give it up.

“It has become a way of life,” said Smriti Bhadauria, who lives in her truck with her husband Kartik Vasan and their dog Everest. Bhadauria and Vasan have been riding in their 1977 Dodge B200 Tradesman since leaving Toronto in August 2020.

“We are extremely happy in this life and the freedom it gives,” said Bhadauria. “There is no deadline in sight.”

Like backpackers abroad, the van life attracts those who love to travel or the great outdoors who have the privilege of working remotely and the budget to spend thousands of dollars buying and mounting their vans. They can transfer money from car and rental payments to a lifestyle of endless travel.

“I’ve always been someone who loves to travel, but I’m definitely a homebody at the same time,” said Cailey Dillon, who works remotely in customer service for Outdoorsy, a truck and RV rental company. “I really like that with life in a van you can always be traveling, but your home is always with you.”

Courtesy of Kenzo Fong Hing

For some, working from a van is less about traveling and more about an alternative to renting an office.

Kenzo Fong, CEO of tech startup Rock, began working from his truck in May 2020 after his children began doing their homework at home during the pandemic. Fong still lives at his home in San Francisco, but during the days, he gets in his truck and chooses a new location in the city. Fong spends his day working at the desk he set up in his truck and takes walking breaks to enjoy the variety of places and collect his thoughts.

Fong prefers this to having a one-hour commute each way from San Francisco to Mountain View, California, as he did in his previous job at Google.

“I can’t imagine myself doing that again because there’s a lot of flexibility working from anywhere,” said Fong, whose company creates software for remote workers.

Courtesy of Kartik Vasan and Smriti Bhadauria

‘Internet is the most important’

Buying and assembling a van can be a quick process. But people who really get into this can spend months or years preparing.

Fong, for example, bought a converted truck and financed it, paying a couple hundred dollars every month.

“Much less than finding office space in San Francisco,” he said.

Rather, Horn spent months working on her truck with her father and a contractor, setting up the truck to the specifications she wanted. By the end of the project, he had spent around $ 60,000 – $ 25,000 on a used truck and another roughly $ 35,000 on construction.

Van Life vehicles need a few basics: a place to sleep, a desk or space for a table, kitchen equipment, and some kind of bathroom setup.

But perhaps the most important thing is the computer and Internet equipment. Some truckers only need a laptop. Others have more elaborate multi-monitor setups. But most have at least two hot spots from different network providers so that they can pick up the signal from at least one of the services when they reach new locations.

“The Internet is the most important thing,” said Fong, who has an access point for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. “I basically have all the major operators in case I need them.”

These Internet requirements sometimes require innovative solutions. Horn says he found a great camping spot in Sedona, Arizona, but didn’t find a good sign. So every morning he would drive 30 minutes to a nearby town and park in front of a Staples store where he could finally have a solid connection.

“It’s not always glamorous,” Horn said with a laugh.

Working a nine-to-five job can also be a hassle for van workers. For full-time workers like Horn, a typical work schedule means they can be parked in a beautiful spot without being able to enjoy it until the weekend.

This is why so many in the truck lifestyle are self-employed, said Jess Shishler, the founder of Sekr, an app that helps people who live in vans find camping sites or Wi-Fi locations. Fi.

“A nine-on-five is difficult but doable,” said Shisler, who also lives in a truck. “The kind of distance races that allow you more flexibility in your schedule are easier to do in this lifestyle.”

Bhadauria and Vasan, for example, do project-based work.

Vasan works in information technology, while Bhadauria has a digital marketing job. The two of them spend the first hours of their days outdoors and then get down to business. In the afternoon, they will take a break from work and explore their area or drive to their next location. Whatever happens, they prioritize watching the sunset every night. Ironically, much of his actual work is done on Saturdays and Sundays.

“We hardly ever do activities on the weekends because there are usually a lot of people, so the weekends end up being business days for us,” Vasan said.

The disadvantages include dirt and loneliness.

There is also a lot of work that goes into living in a van.

Dillon said she was amazed at how dirty her truck gets. He spent the first four months of 2021 living on the road, and is now at home in Platte City, Missouri, working and preparing to buy an upgraded truck so he can return to his travels sometime this summer. While living in his truck, he cleaned and cleaned, but the truck got dirty again as soon as the wind blew. In time, Dillon said, you learn to live a little dirtier.

Another big challenge is dealing with the loneliness that comes with living on the road. Dillon said she felt very lonely during her first three weeks on the road, and it wasn’t until she got her dog Koda that she began to overcome that loneliness.

“I like being a loner, but sometimes I feel a little too lonely,” she said. “Getting my dog ​​really helped a lot with that loneliness.”

Horn said she spends part of her days doing the truck chores, like cleaning and putting away the bed every day to make room to live and work. You also have to empty the truck’s gray water tank and portable toilet and refill your fresh water and propane.

“Most of the moments are not epic sleeping in the most amazing place and waking up to the most amazing view, it’s very little of that in the vast majority, especially if you’re working,” Horn said. “However, those moments make it worthwhile.”

Bhadauria, who travels with her husband and their dog, Everest, says she doesn’t feel alone, but there are times when she misses the friends that come with living in one place. For example, Bhadauria said, she would have liked to throw a big party for her husband’s 30th birthday, which happened during their time on the road.

“Things like that that you miss, when you want a great gathering or a sense of community,” said Bhadauria.

Although she and Vasan love life on the road and plan to continue it for the foreseeable future, they understand that the lifestyle is not sustainable indefinitely.

“All in all, you get to a point where things start to feel dull or there is a burnout at some point,” said Bhadauria. “If we get to that stage, we will be happy to go home somewhere.”

Despite the challenges of life on the road, those who spoke to CNBC said they plan to continue their nomadic lifestyle until their companies stop allowing remote work or until they sell out. Horn said he originally planned to live on the road for at least a year, but that has now changed.

“At six months, I still feel like I’m learning this, just understanding it and getting started,” he said. “In fact, I could see myself doing it for over two years, and who knows, maybe longer.”

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