Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chapter 7 - House Sitting and the Technology of Travel

A few weeks ago a coworker, who knew I was house sitting and assumed I was in a home office of some sort, asked me over instant message where I was at the time. I replied, "Right now I'm barreling down interstate 40 at about 75 mph." A few seconds later I added... "of course my wife is driving," so he didn't think I was working on a laptop and operating a high speed motor vehicle at the same time, because quite frankly I don't think there's even laws yet for that level of stupidity.

But seriously, people often ask me how I can manage to keep working with all the driving we do. Do you take a lot of vacation time? Do you work at night after you arrive? Do you lie about how many hours you put in? The answer is no, no and NO! The fact is, I do work from our car, and very effectively at that.
This week's route

 Writing this post from somewhere on I-76 in CO

The fact is, maintaining consistent connectivity from the passenger seat requires a special set of tools in order for it work properly, so I thought I would write a post about the various types of technology I use when we travel.

Personal Technology 

Before we sold our house and hit the road, Charli and I needed to take care of a couple of personal items. Because we could no longer receive mail at our old address, we made sure that all of our bills and banking transactions were set up as paperless. Then, for any straggling snail mail that still might come through the postal system, we changed our address to our son's house in Phoenix. Now, whenever he receives something that looks important, he takes a picture of the envelope and texts it to us. That way we can decide if we want him to open it and read it or send it to our latest house sitting location.

Online Business Requirements

Because I work for a global organization, I have to abide by one very simple rule… be online from 8-5 CST Monday through Friday. Our company uses a secure, encrypted VPN for all traffic between the employee and the corporate network, and once logged in we communicate primarily via a beefed up corporate instant messaging application, as well as through email and conference calls. So, to satisfy that, we make certain all the houses we sit at have a consistent high speed internet access, or we don’t apply for the gig.

It's worth noting that working these hours has advantages no matter where we are. For example, in Connecticut I don't have to be online until 9 a.m., which allows me to stay up later and enjoy a little night life every now and then. But in Hawaii I need to start working at 3 a.m., which sounds terrible until you realize that I get done at noon! This of course leaves the entire afternoon to play with my pail and shovel on the beach.

Cell Carriers

For the past 20 years or so Charli and I have been faithful Sprint users. We’ve always liked their “family and friends” plan and the unlimited data is perfect for a large family like ours. However, there are pros and cons to every cell phone company and unfortunately for Sprint, Verizon has better coverage and signal strength. I know this because at my last job I was issued a Verizon phone for work and during our travels Verizon would outperform Sprint consistently. Therefore, when it came time to make a decision about what carrier we would use to support our requirement of being able to work on the road, we went with Verizon. HOWEVER… the tradeoff for using Verizon is that we now have a LIMITED data plan, and with 6 people sharing it, I frequently end up at the end of the month sounding like a bad TV commercial... with me screaming at the kids to stop using Snapchat so much.

 Jet Pack

That being said, the core technology I use to maintain an online presence in our car is this Verizon Jet Pack.  
Sure, I could simply turn on the hot spot feature of my phone and broadcast wirelessly from it, but that would add additional strain to our already expensive monthly data plan. Therefore, I decided to go with an independent prepaid Jet Pack solution. With this I pay $60/mo for 3GB of data, which is more than enough for the type of work I do. To save data usage, I reserve all my large downloads and email archive activity for when we get to a hotel or new house. That way, the only burden on my plan is instant messaging and standard email traffic, which isn’t much. The only frustrating part of this plan is that it expires after 30 days is up, whether I’ve used the 3GB or not. If Verizon REALLY wanted me to be satisfied, they would allow us to simply use the data until it was gone and then renew as needed, but then I guess that’s how Big Cell makes their money.

(note: other prepaid plan options include 250MB for 1 week at $15 and 10GB for 30 days at $90) 

The Cockpit

SO... here is what my “office” looks like when we’re traveling.

 jet pack on the dash

 laptop on my lap, conference call on my phone

 the pilot

The Benefits of House Sitting

So far this arrangement has worked nearly flawlessly. In the last few weeks of traveling from Connecticut to Minnesota (and now on to Phoenix), I’ve only lost my internet connection one time for about 20 minutes while we were traversing a section of the Appalachian Mountains in GA. That’s pretty amazing in my book.

Here's the thing about house sitting...

Obviously, being able to work remotely is a great perk for anyone, but adding house sitting to your career plan provides huge benefits we never even imagined... benefits for both the employee AND employer. For example, because we are free to explore the country while we're (relatively) young, I am not simply schlepping through my job on a daily basis and pining for the day I can retire so I can do it then. Since we've started house sitting, my job satisfaction has increased dramatically and my productivity has never been higher.

I mean, come on... this is my "office" view right now as I type this post...

Do I need to say anything more?