In a recent SecondAct piece, photographer Fran Reisner, who's roaming the country in a Winnebago, noted that the most frustrating aspect of being a fiftysomething motorized nomad is the difficulty of finding a reliable internet connection. "Most RV parks have free Wi-Fi, but it's often weak at best," she lamented. Reisner also mentioned the challenge of staying organized on the road, when her vehicle has to double as her living and office space.
While there aren't reliable numbers on how many other middle-aged Americans are following Reisner's template, chucking it all and going on the road seems to be a nascent trend. There are enough people who run businesses from their RVs that there's a publication for them, the 14,000-circulation Workamper News, which offers a three-day annual seminar for those interested in adopting a mobile work lifestyle.
"Just about any business that you can run from an office, you can run from an RV," says Workamper president Steve Anderson. He says if you'd rather work for wages, there are employers, such as Amazon, who employ RVers on a seasonal basis to bolster staffing at their far-flung distribution centers.
Whether you're a restless soul in search of adventure or someone who's trying to balance wanderlust with the reality of earning a living, there is a whole host of new tools that make the mobile life a lot more feasible.
1. Navigate without a map.
Reisner uses a GPS device to guide her to destinations, but one recent survey shows that most business travelers simply rely on the GPS chip and map programs in their phones for navigation. Better yet, smartphone apps will guide you around traffic jams and warn you of road construction and other obstacles in your path. Traffic View allows users to see live video images from 3,400 cameras mounted at intersections across the U.S., and SignalGuru allows drivers to adjust the pace of their cars so that they can roll through a long string of green lights.
2. Stay connected on the road.
While campground Wi-Fi connections are spotty and working at Starbucks and Kinko's requires you to find a parking space, there are other workable alternatives for connecting to the internet on the road. If you're in a developed area where you have cellphone towers and 3G connectivity, it's easy to configure your smartphone to share its internet connection with your laptop, a trick that's known as tethering. Be forewarned: Wireless providers may charge you an additional $20 a month or so for that ability. If you're planning on spending a lot of time in rural areas, you still can connect via a satellite-based ISP such as StarBand.
Related: The Secret to Living Well on Less
3. Carry your office in your knapsack.
The latest generation of lightweight laptops such as the MacBook Air and the Asus ZENBOOK weigh in at less than three pounds and are equipped with super-fast, energy-efficient flash memory so they can boot in seconds and run for hours on battery power. You can stash files and projects on a cloud server with Google Docs, and utilize the Swiss Army Knife of smartphone apps, Evernote, to store and search through notes, contact info, photographs and even audio recordings of meetings. For scheduling and project management, Google Calendar and Remember the Milk, which can be integrated with Google's Gmail, beat a Rolodex any day. You can keep your business records pretty well with QuickBooks. Another beauty of these cloud apps is that they keep a backup copy of everything on the web, so you never have to worry about losing anything.
4. Charge up without an outlet.
When you're driving, you can obviously charge your electronics using either a car charger or a device such as the PowerDrive RPPD 150, which has outlets like a power strip and plugs into your cigarette lighter. But if you're parked somewhere and don't want to waste fuel by running your engine, you can use a device such as the FreeLoader Portable Solar Charger to get some juice for your gadgets.
What technology do you use on the road? Leave a comment below.
SecondAct contributor Patrick J. Kiger has written for publications ranging from GQ
to the Los Angeles Times Magazine
and is the co-author of two books, Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions and Lore that Shaped Modern America