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  • Writer's pictureAndrew

"Summering" aka temporary digital nomading

I’m not a travel blogger but travel is a big topic among FIREees (and also retirees) so let’s talk about it a bit.

My family is currently summering. I describe it that way because I was explaining to someone that we’re spending several months living on a farm near my wife’s birthplace, far away from our primary home, and “summering” was her astounded response. Summering sounded both European and archaic. Why is it so abnormal for Americans to “summer”?

Americans think of a “holiday” as a day when families rush to reach each other at a particular geography big enough to hold everyone, eat traditional foods and potentially share gifts and some fun, then rush home to get back to work. Several American holidays include an additional day (and sometimes a weekend!) for shopping and travel, but most allow only enough time for a day trip. Cosmopolitan Americans may have a sense of the European term and refer to a week in the Caribbean as “holiday”. Meanwhile, it’s not entirely uncommon for Europeans to spend weeks or months away from home in warmer and/or more interesting locales. Check out this wild graphic illustrating the disparity between American and European life-work-vacation habits.

Taking so much time away feels a bit un-American, no?

Summering used to be a common practice in America. I don’t even mean that summering was common among wealthy Americans; there was a spectrum of society who partook (of course, there has always been substantial inequality in America so many folks could not take part even when summering was common). Think of the resorts in the Catskills or the New Jersey shore, places yielding both fancy and financially accessible options. Generations of families relied on these vacations. At some point, however, prolonged vacations disappeared from our national consciousness. I suspect it tracks well with the work-life imbalance endemic at every level of American society. Now, most of us feel guilty taking more than a week away from our work/home lives.

So, you’ve reached FIRE and now you want to take a prolonged vacation. You may be considering digital nomading. You’ve considered and organized your finances accordingly. You’ve even tempered your anxiety about prolonged vacationing by approaching it deliberately. What else is there to think about?

While we’re having a good time summering, there are some challenges:

1. First, we’re both still working remotely so we have to have childcare. While our childcare here is great, it’s different from our childcare at home. We have a longer commute than at home, then we only have four hours each weekday to get work done (minus the time to get from daycare to a coffee shop or library). The baby naps after daycare so we have to rush him home and we usually only get to enjoy a few hours with him after nap before he goes to bed. Our days are wonderful but feel significantly more rushed than they did at home.

2. It’s great spending more time with remote family but life is going on at home without us. Weeds are accumulating in our yard, of course, but our friends there are also continuing on with their lives. Being a part of a community is great; being away for a long time means losing some aspects of community at home.

3. We were lucky to find the accommodations we did at the rate we did. Prolonged travelling is uncommon in America so doing so can be very expensive. Common travel-facilitating resources like AirBnb and VRBO really don’t have great search functions or discounts for prolonged travel. Even having reasonable accommodations, we find ourselves eating out a lot and cooking less. We drive the car more for our daycare commutes. The costs add up.

4. Because our accommodations are rural, there is no walking to things. We only have one car. Nothing is nearby. We have to coordinate logistics for grocery shopping, gym trips, haircuts, any side trips with the baby, and ultimately even alone time. If you’re someone who likes to be able to get up and go, a rural setting with one car and two people may not be your optimal state.

5. Adjusting to a new place and routine may be hard for kids (and is probably good for them in the long run within moderation). Our little one is very patient with us and really enjoys socializing so he’s been a great travel companion. However, his nap was pushed back an hour with the daycare switch and those kind of switches are stressful for him and us. It’s important to consider how travel will impact the little ones to make sure they’re properly accommodated.

6. Likely, you order more stuff online than you realize. We live at someone else’s house this summer; obtaining stuff has become more of a logistics challenge because we are reluctant to order stuff to be delivered here. As above, any stuff gathering requires coordinating vehicle logistics.

All that being said, we are enjoying our summer away and will certainly summer again.

What benefits/challenges have you experienced with prolonged travel?

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