Out Of Office: Even Though I'm Traveling, I'm Not On Vacation

Finding a work-travel balance is hard.
The author in Berlin.
The author in Berlin.
Sahaj Kohli

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend the first five days of my European adventure with my parents and brother in Germany, exploring Berlin and Munich. We were there for my mother’s 60th birthday, reminding me that this flexibility in location now allows me more time to spend with my family.

And while I feel lucky to be able to do so, they were on vacation and I was not.

I did take a couple half days off to get more time with them, but I still had to be online for four hours a day to edit essays, respond to my freelancers and stay on schedule with my team.

It was really hard to keep reminding my family that I had to get work done. They understood in theory of course, but they were still slightly annoyed I wasn’t able to be totally present.

Out of guilt, I kept pushing work aside and ultimately ended up having to stay up hours later than my family (and still wake up at the same time as them the next day) to stay on track.

Thankfully, my jetlag was conducive to these hours, but I’m only at the beginning of my five-week adventure in Europe, and I feel like I started off flailing. I don’t want to continue to feel that way for the rest of my time working remotely, but I’m realizing how much harder of a feat this is going to be than I thought.

“How hard will it be to travel full-time and work? Now that I’m doing it, I realize that I have to completely purge all my vacation travel habits and start anew.”

All of my short-term travels have been vacations with an out of office auto-reply set. While I’d do the occasional check-in, I was never expected to work and would deal with anything that came up when I was back from my trip.

Even though I normally travel at a slower pace and more spontaneously than most, I still like to see everything. I like to have a few things that I definitely need to see, do or eat, and I usually create self-made walking tours with the time and freedom to wander, shop and discover things as I go. I especially love sitting in cafes and people watching.

So how hard will it be to travel full-time and work? Oh, silly me.

Now that I’m doing it, I realize that I have to completely purge all my vacation travel habits and start anew. My weekdays need to start with a really early wander to a café and then a few hours of quality work. Thankfully, with the time difference, I’ll get afternoons to explore, but then it’s back to my lodging or a restaurant to work through the evening.

In order to feel like I have enough time in each location to “travel” but also feel productive and satisfied with my work ethic, I’ll need to slow down. No more “three-days-in-each-city” mindset. No more day trips on weekdays. No more being oblivious to what day of the week it is.

While in Munich, I had no idea where I was going after my parents left. I still want to allow for some spontaneity to go with the flow, but I’ll need more structure in doing so. I opted against seeing the Neuschwanstein castle in southern Germany (I really want to see it!) because it was a Wednesday when my parents left and I couldn’t in good faith take a day trip and feel productive at work. Instead, I worked the day and flew into Poland late at night.

I’m currently writing this in a café in Warsaw and so many tourists are walking by with their cameras and light daypacks laughing, exploring and shopping. I am no longer one of those tourists and that’s OK. I just need to create new habits.

The author's laptop in a cafe in Warsaw.
The author's laptop in a cafe in Warsaw.
Sahaj Kohli

When I’m on vacation, I budget before the trip, buying plane tickets and lodging months in advance so when the trip creeps up I’m still financially prepared to indulge, shop and go on day trips or tours if I want to. I like to eat out every meal and splurge on the souvenirs and local goods I want to take home.

Right now, I don’t have rent to pay, and it’s exciting to see the full amount of my paychecks in my bank account, but this doesn’t mean I can do everything I want to. I have to remind myself that even with my NYC rent I was paying about $44 a day, so not paying rent now doesn’t mean I get to indulge in luxury lodging. (Not that I want to spend this, but $44 isn’t a lot in most European countries for lodging unless you’re doing a hostel dorm.)

In the past, one of my favorite things about solo traveling was staying in hostels and meeting other people. Instead of solely doing that this trip, though, I’m going to alternate between hostels and Airbnbs so I can have the space and comfort to work, sleep well and take care of myself but still have the opportunity to meet other travelers. It also gives me the space to save more money than I had in New York and budget for traveling between places. These are all things I never had to consider on prior vacations.

“Right now, I don’t have rent to pay, and it’s exciting to see the full amount of my paychecks in my bank account, but this doesn’t mean I can do everything I want to.”

When I first came up with an idea of going to Europe for five weeks, I was so excited and overwhelmed by all the places I was going to see. The world is your oyster, I initially told myself. But it’s not. Even with a budget, traveling costs money and inter-continent traveling takes time. This new lifestyle requires me to change the way I think about how I travel. Usually I’m totally fine taking the overnight, slower, longer but so much cheaper ways to get places, but with work responsibilities and a need for structure, I am opting for quicker and slightly more expensive routes.

I’d also tend to want to see as much as I can in as little time, and more than three days in one place usually makes me restless and ready to move on. But I need to slow down and remember that I can come back to these places in the future. I also need to remember that slowing down and spending more time than I usually would in cities gives me the chance to really get a feel of what it’s like to live there rather than just visit. I might miss out on a few touristy things to do, but I’m OK with that.

I chose to come to Europe for so long so I can really savor and experience the lifestyle here: the long lunches, the after-dinner cappuccinos, the fresh food stalls in market squares and the ringing church bells every hour.

For now, I have a cute little apartment in Krakow for a week. If you know any locals or travelers in the area, I’d love to meet them! Otherwise, send over some working café recommendations (preferably with cute views) and must-dos. I’ll get around to them, but I’m really looking forward to having my own space to watch TV, use my own bathroom and kitchen, and get my laundry done. Glamorous, right?

Out Of Office is an ongoing series where Sahaj navigates her adventurous dream of working remotely while exploring different parts of the world. Read her previous piece here, and feel free to email her with recommendations or curiosities at sahaj.kohli@huffpost.com, and follow along on her Instagram.