Instagram may have us believe that working remotely in a campervan is glamorous and equivalent to an endless holiday (#vanlife!). Still, life as a digital nomad comes with both perks and challenges. As the pandemic crisis spiraled out of control, remote work became the right course of action for the global workforce. But not everyone decided to work from home. Instead, many chose to work on the road, using campervans and RVs to work and travel simultaneously.
Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, van life for digital nomads serves as a safe way to go off the grid and change our daily routine. If you want to seek solitude and balance your work and life, then working remotely in a campervan may be the right option for you.
The Rise of Remote Work and Digital Nomad Life
Although working remotely while traveling is not as glamorous as you’ve been led to believe, the benefits of this lifestyle outweigh its limitations. For starters, you don’t have to commute to work and face traditional office or home distractions. And when you work and live in a small comfortable space, you can cut down on many expenses. Plus, you can take meaningful breaks, indulge in healthy activities, and visit places you never had time to see before.
But long before the epidemic hit, remote work was already gaining attention. In fact, Stanford research proves that remote work leads to a productivity boost. Whether you’re a freelancer, independent contractor, or working for a renowned company remotely, digital nomad life in a campervan can be a life-changing experience.
Understand the Life of a Digital Nomad
It’s never too late to transition to a digital nomad lifestyle. After all, it comes with high job flexibility and compatibility that helps you work efficiently and live an exciting life. Technically, digital nomads are individuals who work remotely through technology to earn a living. As remote work becomes more popular, many of us can adopt the digital nomad lifestyle without forgoing the comfort (and steady paycheck) that comes with a corporate job.
The truth is that there is more to the life of a digital nomad than meets the eye. Inherently, human beings are nomads. And discontent with life is (in our opinion) probably due to lack of travel. But once you learn to harness the power of tech, you can work remotely and travel at the same time.
To help you get started, here are some essential tips & tricks to make your digital nomad remote work in a campervan a success.
Get a Van First
If you’re ready to start the digital nomad journey, you’ll need to select a suitable van. In fact, the type of campervan you choose is a major factor that can impact your experience. Opt for essential features and make sure the campervan is practical and offers comfort.
At the same time, ensure interior space is comfortable and minimalist at the same time. And try not to buy or rent a van with too many mechanical issues that might create more problems down the line. You’ll want to spend your time exploring and working, not fixing your van.
To Build or Buy a Campervan
As a remote digital nomad, you have the option to build a DIY van or buy a prefabricated van.
Unfortunately, most prefabricated campervans are pretty expensive. So, if you don’t want to spend six figures on a van, choose the DIY build approach. If you go down this route, be sure to set time aside to work on the campervan and try to stick to a timeline. Most people tend to underestimate how long it will take them to complete their build. In the end, the whole point of getting a van is to use it, not to spend years building it…
But if your budget is flexible, it might make more sense to purchase a high-quality, professionally-built van. Besides, prefabricated vans come with a wide range of options and features. And if you have sticker shock after seeing a few prefab vans, you could buy a used van or opt for a conversion company that sells “modular” kits instead. These two options will significantly bring down the cost of your campervan.
If you don’t want to do electrical or carpentry-related work on the van, buying a prefabricated van would be a clear choice.
On the other hand, retrofitting and building a campervan gives you more wiggle room. It means you can design each aspect of the van that caters to your needs. In most cases, digital nomads with basic electrical and carpentry skills prefer to build a DIY van to not compromise on any element of the campervan.
To Buy or Rent a Campervan
You can buy or build a campervan for your new lifestyle, or you rent from a reputable campervan rental company. In comparison, purchasing a van comes with a little more freedom and peace of mind. But renting a campervan has its benefits as well.
Overall, buying a campervan is more economical if you are embarking on this lifestyle long-term. You won’t have to worry about mileage or fees, and you’ll have the option to sell your van to another traveler or digital nomad once you’re ready for an upgrade. If you plan on becoming a digital nomad permanently, you’ll save more money owning a campervan than renting one.
On the other hand, renting a campervan has its own set of advantages. When renting, you won’t have to worry about mechanical issues, routine maintenance, DMV and registration fees, etc. In fact, most rental dealers pride themselves on taking care of all of these items (and more) so you, as the traveler, can kick back and enjoy your trip.
Furthermore, renting a campervan provides a short-term economic gain. For example, if you plan to become a digital nomad and work remotely for 3-6 months, it might make more sense to just rent a van. Be sure to ask the rental company for long-term rates!
Get Reliable Internet Connection
Whether you decide to buy or rent a campervan, the next step is to get a fast internet connection. Practically, it would be ideal to have more than one internet option to make sure you’re able to complete your work on time.
Indoor campervan environment matters. You will have to make sure the workspace is comfortable and quiet enough to take conference calls and draft documents. Also, make sure you have multiple electric outlets to charge your laptop and cellphone.
Yes, you can get an internet connection by accessing one or more public parks’ wifi. In fact, most waterfront parks have free and fast Google wifi. You can use unlimited internet access with beautiful scenery. Many camgrounds also have wifi as an amenity. This is a great option if you are staying at campgrounds throughout your trip.
Coffee Shop Wifi
If you’re thinking of depending on coffee shops for the internet connection, don’t – they provide unreliable internet that would make it difficult for you to take care of day-to-day work. Public park projects are sponsored by top internet providers.
The internet connection offered at coffee shops, however, is the bare minimum because it’s not the key focus of their business. In layman’s terms, public parks offer a more secure, private, and fast internet connection than coffee shops.
Hotspot & Cell Phone Wifi
When it comes to the van life of a digital nomad working remotely, the last thing you want to do is compromise on an internet connection. Realistically, you should have a backup plan if the primary internet connection fails.
You can use a hotspot device to increase the coverage and connectivity options through your cell phone internet data. You can also buy wifi signal boosters and cell signal boosters for your campervan. Essentially, signal boosters amplify a weak cell phone signal and boost it from, for example, one bar to three bars.
If working remotely and your income depends on you being online, you might consider a signal booster. It could make the difference between being stuck or being able to work.
Interior Space Made for Remote Work
When it comes to the remote workspace, you have to exercise the same professionalism as you would in a home-based remote office.
When you work remotely from your campervan, you will start to count on several must-have specs. There are numerous features and capabilities your campervan needs to help you work remotely and live the life of a digital nomad.
Here’s an overview of required features for suitable working and living conditions in a campervan.
As a digital nomad working remotely in a van, you will start to appreciate the value of portable or secondary battery options. In fact, a portable battery makes it possible to go mobile and work outside. Ask experienced digital nomads, and you will find out how valuable secondary batteries can be in the campervan.
Moreover, if you’re out of fuel and stuck somewhere, you can use the secondary battery to get the work done and communicate with the outside world. (As long as you have internet or cell reception!) The van’s primary battery is bound to fail at some point, and this is where the secondary battery comes to the rescue. You can use the small, portable battery to charge essential electronics in the van overnight.
Low Roof Vs. High Roof
At first, the roof height of a van might seem irrelevant. Still, it determines the overall level of comfort of the campervan. Without a high roof van, you won’t be able to stand up, exercise, or make quick meals. Although a low-roof van can still offer the same features and functions as a high-roof van, it takes away the freedom from you to stand up.
In terms of electricity, there are plenty of options. You can opt for an electrical system that uses the alternator for power or one that leverages the power of the sun (yay, solar panels!). Some people even install RV-like electrical systems, so they can hook up to shore power at campsites. You can’t go wrong here. It all comes down to personal preference. Whichever option you choose, just make sure there are multiple charging outlets available.
You can also get a seat cushion for a more comfortable and enjoyable work experience. It would also help you maintain your posture and avoid back pain during long remote work sessions. If you want to make your campervan more spacious and cater to the needs of two individuals, opt for swivel seats.
If rain or thunder strikes, you have to hunker down. But for the sake of entertainment, you can get a TV with a direct HDMI cable. But in most cases, a laptop is more than enough to watch movies or stream Netflix. As a digital nomad working remotely, your best entertainment, though, is experiencing nature at its finest.
Refrigerator and Sink
While a refrigerator is not exactly a must-have item for digital nomads working remotely, it would bring something new to the van. A mini portable fridge or ice chest would be an ideal purchase and would allow you to store meat, beverages, and leftovers. The sink is also not a must-have feature in a campervan, but it would be nice to wash the dishes and veggies inside the van.
If you love to cook your own food, you will need a spacious cooking area. In fact, it is a crucial part of living as a digital nomad. Naturally, you don’t want to work in heavy rain or scorching sun, nor should you have to cook in it. Even if your campervan is small, make sure it has a food preparation designated area to place a hot plate or camp stove.
As mentioned earlier, a reliable internet connection is quintessential to live a successful digital nomad and campervan life. And if you want to work remotely, get the best data plan that offers fast internet and hotspot features. Most campervan owners either opt for aftermarket or standard mobile broadband connection. The best and the cheapest option is to buy a prepaid SIM card
Remote Work Space
Your remote work area should be unique to you. If working in the bedroom kills your productivity, then be sure to set up a professional workstation. Many prefab campervans have a small personalized desk with a retrofitted convertible bed and table. Just make sure to separate your bedroom area to maintain work productivity while living a van life.
If you’re one of the lucky few that doesn’t have to be on Zoom calls all day, then you might be able to work from anywhere inside or outside the van. If that’s the case, carpe diem! Work under a tree, on your bed, on the roof of the campervan… do whatever works for you and allows you to be productive!
Besides the must-have campervan specs we shared above, there are a few other items we recommend when working remotely in a campervan.
A good pair of headphones goes a long way, especially if you are working remotely. Invest in high-quality headphones, preferably ones with noise cancellation. This will allow you to comfortably work inside an echoey van or loud outdoor area. If you’re on a lot of calls, maybe invest in a professional headset instead.
A mirror might not seem like an important item, but it will make all the difference if you are on a lot of video calls. Surprisingly, many vans don’t have visor mirrors, so getting ready in the morning or quickly touching up your make-up before a Zoom call isn’t as easy as it is at home. There are some inexpensive vanity mirrors that attach to your visor or fold up for easy storage.
The life of a digital nomad working remotely in a campervan wouldn’t be complete without coffee. Therefore, get a coffee press like Aeropress or handheld Minipresso for your daily caffeine intake. These gadgets allow you to prepare coffee with minimal effort. We also like how portable they are, so you can take them with you if you go hiking or backpacking.
A Good Planner
Last but not least, we recommend getting a planner to become more disciplined in your remote work and life as a digital nomad. Take a page from professional digital nomads who use a planner to plan daily remote work and activities. Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner serves as the stepping stone to start a digital nomad life and work remotely in a campervan. You can use the daily planner to set and achieve dedicated goals, increase focus, and much more.
A New Sense of Freedom
On the surface, the life of a digital nomad working remotely in a campervan may sound attractive. And in most cases, it is, but it takes effort and time to create a suitable plan of action and start this type of remote work and life. Remember that off-the-grid routine even surprises first-time digital nomads.
So, take a chance of becoming a digital nomad rather than working from home all the time. In a short time, you’ll notice a transformation and a new sense of freedom.
Of course, the key is to properly navigate outdoor space, weather conditions, interior space elements, etc. But so long as you have a reliable campervan, you will love the experience of working remotely as a digital nomad.
Learn More: Renting vs. Buying: What to Consider Before Buying an RV or Campervan >
This blog is part one of a two-part series discussing renting vs. buying an RV, campervan, or other overland vehicle. In this post, we break down some important considerations in the decision to rent or buy an adventure home on wheels.