Days before a bullet pierced the front door of his Chicago Avenue townhouse on the night George Floyd was killed, Kai Lucas-Baradan had already bought the pop-up trailer he would use to get out of town.
The Minneapolis office of Public Radio Exchange, where he is the IT director, had been shut down since mid-March. His wife, Dani, had been working from home, too. After a few months, it was clear that the pandemic had settled in for a long stay and that it hardly mattered where the two were, provided they had Wi-Fi. Their response to the unexpected new reality? Buy a Coachmen Clipper to hitch to their Jeep.
“With COVID and working from home, we thought, ‘Let’s buy a camper,’ ” he said from a cafe in Vail, Colo.
A grassy field on a family farm in New Glarus, Wis., was the first stop. There, Lucas-Baradan worked via remote login. Emphasis on remote.
He is part of a growing tribe of working travelers. They are people with the luxury of a flexible office job who have stretched the work-from-home model that emerged with the novel coronavirus outbreak.
VRBO reports that searches for three- to four-week stays from March 15 to July 20 were up 15% over the same period last year. Airbnb data hints at the same kind of uptick. “Remote working” references in reviews on the homeshare site have nearly tripled since last year, and searches for homes that allow pets are up 90%.
Meanwhile, hotels and entire countries are trying to lure these digital nomads with extended-stay offers and special long-term visas.
The farm stay for Lucas-Baradan, which he pushed up a few days to escape the city, proved such a seamless work experience that he and his wife decided to take the long way home. Very long.
They motored up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, scooted to Bayfield, Wis., relished the forestlands of northern Minnesota and explored South Dakota’s Badlands before hitting their southernmost spot, near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. “We were able to work and also drive to a national park every day last week. That’s really cool,” he said.
Most visitors consider these places vacationlands. To Lucas-Baradan, they were an office with a view.
Traveling with a Wi-Fi hot spot, solar panels for charging electronic equipment, a tent with screened walls and their Lab-mix dog, Talia, the couple opted mostly for inexpensive national forest campgrounds. During their three-month work adventure-cum-road trip, they covered more than 4,000 miles.
Cecily Cutshall logs far fewer miles to her remote work spot. The senior business analyst at TCF Bank has spent chunks of the summer connecting to work from her husband’s family cabin near Luck, Wis., just over an hour’s drive from their Minneapolis home.
Her husband, Jason, dubbed the family’s Chief Growth Officer, stays with their three young boys so he has spent more time than Cecily at the getaway on Half Moon Lake. When she’s there, Cecily generally works inside the pine-paneled cabin, where Wi-Fi is strongest, and watches from a picture window as the children jump off the dock into the lake. “It is everything I want for them, but I sometimes feel pangs of wistfulness that I am not able to be with them.”
Cutshall’s sister lives in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit in the early days of the global pandemic, so she saw the long office shutdown coming. She expects to work remotely — sometimes in her office-at-the-lake — for months to come. “I look to tech companies because they are leading the return-to-work prophesies. Many won’t return until June 2021. I am taking that as my marker,” Cutshall said.
Countries welcome workers
People who want to go farther afield than Wisconsin or Colorado are getting a boost from services attuned to the needs of wayfaring office workers. Zoom conveniently provides fake backdrops that obscure palm trees and other sights that might bring on envy from co-workers. The Airbnb app has a special search devoted to stays of 30 days or longer. Hotels from Los Angeles to Nantucket offer discounts for people who book 30 days or more, while touting cleaning protocols that keep travelers safe.
Some countries that would otherwise be off-limits now to Americans are offering special visas to people who want to stay for months and bring their work with them.
At the end of August, Georgia launched its “Remotely From Georgia” program, which allows citizens from the U.S., who can’t visit as tourists, to stay at least 180 days and up to a year. Freelancers, remote employees and business owners are invited to fill out an application form. They can enter the country, free of a visa, once they receive a preliminary confirmation.
Estonia offers a Digital Nomad Visa. Applicants must have a gross monthly salary of at least 3,000 euros (about $3,500) and quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. Barbados has the Barbados Welcome Stamp, which gives individuals who have filled out an application form and paid the $2,000 fee up to a year to stay in the island nation. Jamaica and Albania also have special programs for foreigners who want to work remotely.
Winter prompts plans
Cold, dark winter may entice more people to work in a home far from their own. When temperatures drop, gathering with friends in the relative safety of outdoors and engaging in mental health-boosting open-air exercise will be more difficult.
“Hiking outside has been our saving grace for mental health and physical health,” said Mo Perry, who runs the communications company Logosphere Storysmiths, with her husband, Quinton Skinner, out of their Columbia Heights home. “Wanting to do that safely — without ice — is part of our plan, to keep that lifestyle going in the winter,” she said. The couple hope to spend four weeks or more in a temperate place, such as New Mexico, come January.
Perry said they haven’t nailed down a destination, but they have certain parameters.
“It needs to be pet-friendly, it needs to have a hot tub, and it needs to be sunnier and warmer than Minnesota in January.”