Some Reflections on Being “Nomadic” – 10 Tips for Road Warriors

It has been a long run, but after working in the following cities over the past 37 weeks:

  • 10 weeks in Seattle
  • 1 week in Los Angeles
  • 1 week in Las Vegas
  • 12 weeks in San Jose
  • 6 weeks in Beijing
  • 1 week in Orlando
  • 3 weeks in San Francisco
  • 3 weekends in places like Winnipeg and Minneapolis for Code Camps

… it appears as I will be back in Chicago – for at least a week! (I know… wow!).  The last one was a project we finished in 3 weeks out of 5 budgeted – which was a nice way to end what has been the most insane run of travel I have done in my career.  Now, I work in consulting, so I will likely be on the road again soon, but I thought I would take this opportunity to provide some thoughts on what works and what does not work when you are on the road as a traveling consultant.

Tip #1: When Possible, Get an Apartment

During my longer stints, in this year’s case, Seattle and San Jose, I managed to at least get corporate apartments that had fully supplied kitchens and laundry facilities.  While such arrangements are not practical for shorter projects (i.e. 2-3 weeks), I found that having such a place is a huge win/win for my clients as well as myself.  The cost of a corporate apartment is almost always lower than a hotel room – despite being far larger.  But more importantly, at least with me, is that I tend to prefer to cook my own food – which costs far less than spending a typical $35 per day on restaurants.  I often would have a net food cost – eating very high quality stuff, well under $100 per week, which would easily be blown on 3 meals during a week at a restaurant.

Probably more important though than the cost element is that I always felt healthier at the various corporate apartments.  I would routinely eat healthier when I prepared stuff myself.  It also kept my domestic rhythm going, as the practice of constantly eating out can make you stop remembering how to operate in a kitchen.  Same goes for having laundry facilities – something for me makes me feel normal if I have a daily routine, regardless of where I am, that involves taking care of myself.  Seems to make life, for me at least, feel more “normal” on the road.

Tip #2: Find the Local Bookstore (or Local “Whatever It Is You Like Doing”)

I am a bookworm – I read 3-4 nonfiction books a month, and probably skim through at least a dozen more.  Whenever I arrive in a new city, the first thing I do is find where the nearest good bookstore is, preferably an independent if I can find one, or the B&N or Borders if I can’t.  On the road, unless you are working 14 hour days (god help you), you want to find something to do with your idle time that isn’t work.

Tip #3: Do your Expenses Weekly

(note: I say this as I stare at a basket with 3 weeks of receipts in it…  ugh).

Expenses is a minor hassle if it is a weeks worth.  Much past that though and you a.) have what feels like an insurmountable burden in front of you and b.) you tend to forget things.  Just make it part of your routine to do them on Thursday night.

Tip #4: Avoid Too Many “Drinking Adventures” With The Team

This may be controversial – and thankfully, I learned this more in my twenties than in my far more tame late thirties I find myself in today, but man, does your effectiveness go down when you come into a client hung over.  I see people tend to drink more than they would at home when they are always going to restaurants, out with the team, and so forth.  After about 4-5 nights in a row of it, your liver will be screaming at you.  Do it, but certainly not to excess.

Tip #5: If You Have Family, Make Sure They Know You Still Exist

Another one where I all too frequently fall short, especially with west coast travel when I work too late and find myself home past bedtimes.  If you have kids, or a spouse, make sure they know you are around at least every couple days.  I swear, I got in the worst arguments with my spouse when I forget to call for a few days, and suddenly need to call because I need something “done at home”.  It is too easy to get lost in your project and forget to do things like that (at least for me)… but staying in frequent contact is critical if you have a family.

BTW, even if you don’t, tip #5 still applies to friends and extended family – though probably not at the same duration.

Tip #6: Stay Connected to your Tech Community

User groups mid-week in your home town are going to be hard to attend.  Make sure to use code camps or other weekend events to continue to stay connected and keep those networks intact.  One of the worst things you could do is take up travel, and then find that nobody remembers you 8 months later!

Tip #7: Use Travel to Expand Your Network

Find the local user group in the location where you are staying, and find a way to attend, or even better, contribute.  Travel, all things being equal, should be a net positive with regard to your network.

Tip #8: Airplane Time = Book Time, not Work Time or Internet Time

One of the worst developments I can possibly think of, at least for me personally, is the “GoGo Internet Service” that has been invading American Airlines planes.  Not that I am not thankful for innovation or what have you – but I use that time to take in materials that, well, take a long time to take in.  Whether it be books I have been wanting to read that require a good deal of concentration to successfully grok, or anything else that requires not being around distractions, leveraging airplane time to get those things done is one of the best ways to take advantage of that “temporary captivity”.

Tip #9: Spend at Least One Day On Location Doing “Touristy” Stuff

During my first four years as a road warrior, I visited places from Sydney to Madrid to New York and many places in-between.  Yet – I have never been to the Statue of Liberty, the Louvre, or other places I have perhaps walked by, but never really took in.  It took many years to remember that when being out here, I ought to use the opportunity to actually see a museum or do some of the things that, at the very least, give you interesting conversation fodder.  Getting to travel the world, and then promptly choosing to simply work on some 9th draft of a proposal in your room rather than experience some wonder of the world is, well dumb.  I know.  I have done it, and I still regret it!

Tip #10: Stay Healthy

Work out.  Eat healthy.  Read a balanced diet.  Don’t overwork.  Take care of yourself.  I know far too many people that burn out with this stuff because they forget that, even if you are on the road, you still have to take care of yourself.  Just because your employer is sending you somewhere does not mean they own you every hour of every day.  A burnt out consultant who goes through zombie like motions for a client isn’t terribly valuable to anyone, consulting firm, client, or themselves.

Happy Road-Warrioring!

Some Reflections on Being “Nomadic” – 10 Tips for Road Warriors

5 thoughts on “Some Reflections on Being “Nomadic” – 10 Tips for Road Warriors

  1. All excellent advice, Aaron. I especially like the bit about touring the area where you are consulting. Everyone erroneously assumes that that is what you are doing anyways and that it is somehow a perk of travelling. Might as as do it for real.


  2. Aaron Erickson says:

    @James – Definitely agree, it is hard to break out of the “airfare was expensive, therefore it is an ’employee benefit’ mode.

    @Juan, @Tom – thanks for the comments :)

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