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4 Tips to Help Plan a Working Vacation

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Working on a laptop on a hillside
Image: AJay - stock.adobe.com
My partner and I recently took a vacation to Sugar Mountain, N.C., so we could look at something other than the same four home office walls we’d been staring at since the COVID lockdown in March. We were lucky enough to be able to stay for free in a beautiful mountain cabin, with a view all the way to Tennessee! Yes, this time away was supposed to be a vacation, but I did expect to spend a few minutes each morning and afternoon keeping ahead of email — so I thought I’d share a few lessons learned from our experience.
 
We arrived to a reminder never to assume Wi-Fi access, not even at a high-end rental. Fortunately, I had an iPad with cellular data, and one of those nice tablet keyboards that sort of turn the tablet into a pseudo laptop and mini-TV. This setup is my first recommendation for enabling temporary, vacation connectivity for part-time work.
 
Scratch that. My first recommendation is not to assume WiFi access, but rather ask the owner or property manager about availability before booking. And, if they do offer WiFi access, be sure to ask about signal strength across the property, to include outdoor spaces like patios, and bandwidth. Are we talking a 3-Mbps DSL or a 75-Mbps cable connection?
 
If you’ve fallen in love with a certain spot, and it doesn’t have WiFi, then be prepared to bring a WiFi hotspot and use a cellular data plan on your carrier’s account. But beware the pitfalls, like only being able to work on a small screen for a week. Plus, even the newest smartphones don’t work as well as a real hotspot.
 
(Before I go on with recommendations, here’s one funny story about not having WiFi. We were bound and determined to binge watch the latest season of Netflix’s The Crown while on vacation. Because I was already using cellular data on my iPad for work, I didn’t want to live stream the 10 episodes. During a stop for groceries at the bottom of the mountain, we discovered downloading the season on the shop’s guest WiFi took no longer than the time it took to wait in line to check out.)
 
So, my second recommendation is bringing along a tablet with cellular data and a hinge keyboard. I had an expensive, supposedly rugged, Zagg keyboard for my iPad, but the hinge wore out and eventually broke. I replaced it with an Earto keyboard, at half the price, and I’ve been thrilled with it. The screen hinge bends in multiple directions and angles, and the keyboard is backlit.
 
Third on my vacation prep list is to scope out workspaces. Our cabin had no desk or desk-like area to set up a laptop. Although spacious and beautiful, the dining table was too high. That left me working from a comfy, overstuffed chair in the living room, propping up my iPad-turned-laptop on a decorative pillow on my lap. Although this worked, it’s not ideal for more than 20 or so minutes at a time.
 
So, if you’re searching for a vacation rental, don’t just consider the view or the kitchen. Spend time picturing exactly where you’ll work. Despite our lack of WiFi, we loved our experience so much that we decided to start looking at the area for summer rentals. We came across a rental that specifically said it had a great setup for a temporary workspace. But upon closer inspection of the pictures, there wasn’t a desk to be found anywhere. If you’re not sure of what you’re seeing, email the rental landlord and ask them to take additional pictures for you. If they refuse, swipe left.
 
As for my fourth recommendation, try — and I really mean try — not to work on vacation. I came home from Sugar Mountain feeling much calmer than before I went on vacation, and I have a renewed clarity about my work. I have a new equation for you to consider: vacation = perspective. I’m now grateful that we didn’t have WiFi, as I know I wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation to handle just one more email, rather than relaxing and enjoying my surroundings.  Instead, I was "forced" to read a real book, gaze peacefully at the flames in the fireplace, and wonder at the water-colored mountains in the distance.
 
In summary, if you’re planning a vacation:
 
  1. Ask in advance about WiFi, including the strength of signal and bandwidth
  2. Bring a cellular data-enabled tablet with a keyboard, as you can use that anywhere
  3. Inspect the rental pictures carefully for where you will sit and work
  4. Don’t plan on working
Thank you to our generous cabin benefactor for giving us a COVID-free — and work-free environment — to rebuild our bodies and souls. As for not working on vacation, as the old Alka-Seltzer commercial said, “Try it, you’ll like it!”

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"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide. 

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