How to Work Less and Travel More

Dr. Na's Airstream parked at a campsite with snow capped mountains in the distance.

I’ve been building my career as a leadership and organization effectiveness specialist in Fortune 100 companies for 20 years. Three years ago, I walked away from a job with a high salary, benefits, 401K matching and paid vacation to launch my own business. Within two years of establishing my consulting practice, I found myself with more client work than I had anticipated during a pandemic. As a leadership development and organization effectiveness consultant, I help leaders, teams and individuals enhance overall performance by applying organizational psychology principles. You could say that I am a “work doctor,” identifying the root cause of pain and figuring out how to best address the issue.

I also love to travel. I’ve taken multiple cross-country road trips and explored a total of 28 states in my travel trailer. But because 2020 was such an overwhelming year from a professional standpoint, I didn’t get to travel as much as I would’ve liked.

As a full-time professional and part-time “Airstreamer,” I have to be intentional about how I blend work and travel. Finding that sweet spot is key to finding my sense of well-being. So as I ease into year three of being an entrepreneur, I’m applying the same approach I use with my clients to identify ways to travel more and work less. I hope these tips can help you find the perfect balance of ambition and relaxation as well.   

Start by identifying the root cause of your problem. There can be a hundred reasons why it seems more important to work rather than taking a trip. Client projects, home responsibilities, general worries, and even guilt can stop you from prioritizing your sense of adventure. When I’m feeling hesitant, I ask myself some questions to help zero in on what’s stopping me: What am I worried will happen? Why do I feel like I can’t take the time off? What’s the worst thing that will happen if I temporarily disconnect from work?

Often, I realize that I’m putting too much pressure on myself to keep working. After all, working more doesn’t necessarily translate to increased productivity. Taking time to reset, relax and unwind is scientifically proven to help us work smarter and better manage our mental health. For instance, did you know that workers who take more than 10 vacation days a year are nearly twice as likely to receive a raise or bonus in a three-year period than those who take fewer than 10 vacation days a year? Let that sink in.

Prioritize and schedule your travel. One way to make traveling a natural part of your life is to pencil it into your calendar well in advance. Work responsibilities can take over your life, whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur. Work has a nasty habit of expanding to fill the amount of time you give it. So if you have vacation time or paid time off, resist the urge to “rollover” those hours to next year. You’ve earned those hours, they’re part of your compensation package. Would you work an extra two weeks a year for free at your job? Then why are you giving away the time off you’re entitled to?

There is no benefit to not taking time off. Time is a finite resource and it ticks away faster than ever before. It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day, especially if you’re working from home, as so many of us are these days. But life is meant to be enjoyed, and there’s nothing more enjoyable than exploring a new corner of the world with someone you love. So block out important personal activities on your calendar before scheduling anything else. If you start with work commitments first, they’ll find a way to take up every spare moment.

Start planning early. This goes hand in hand with scheduling your time off well in advance––start planning as early as possible. For one thing, focusing on the benefits of your future travel is a great way to help lower any anxiety you may have about taking time off. Once you get into the swing of it, planning all the natural wonders, interesting restaurants, outdoor activities or off-the-wall attractions you want to experience can help you feel even more determined to take that time off. And researchers have found that anticipating a pleasant vacation can be almost as enjoyable as the vacation itself.

When I’m planning out a route, I use the Good Sam’s Trip Planner, Campendium and the AllStays app. These tools have been invaluable, not just for planning purposes, but also to spark inspiration and help me get excited for my next trip. 

Cultivate your traveler’s mindset. It’s easy to slip into the monotony of a routine. Planning trips with an RV and being mentally prepared to leap into the unknown require a positive mindset. Sure, it’s easy to worry about things that could go wrong. Our brains can produce an unlimited supply of “what ifs.” On the road, unexpected situations will always come up. But whenever there are mishaps, you learn from your mistakes and they teach you how to be a better traveler. After all, every problem has a solution and very few things are unfixable, so don’t let the fear of the unknown slow you down.

Unplug from work. No, seriously. Once you’re on the road, disconnect from work fully. Try not to get pulled back into your world of work until your vacation is over and you’re back at your desk. It’s tempting to think work can’t function without you, but checking “in” when you’re supposed to be “out” sets a dangerous precedent. For one thing, it can send the message that people can call you anytime, even when you’re out for an important reason. For another, if you supervise or manage other employees, it sends the message that they’re expected to be on call at all times, too. And lastly, once you’ve delegated your work to someone else while you’re on vacation, interjecting can cause more confusion, distrust and drama than it’s worth. So trust your team and disable your phone and email alerts while you’re out if you can.

Do plug into what brings you joy. I associate my travel trailer with resting, relaxing and exploring. I’ve trained myself to think of my Airstream as a mental and physical escape. Just stepping into the Airstream brings forth a rush of memories from my travels, transporting me to another time and place. So, go ahead and immerse yourself in your life when you’re on vacation. Plan lots of extra time to do whatever it is you love––whether it’s something active, like skiing or mountain biking, or just kicking back in a hammock and letting your mind wander. Cook your favorite meals at your campsite. Spend an hour watching clouds float by, or helping your kids identify new insects. Slow way down, or chase a thrill a minute. It’s up to you. But I promise whatever brings you joy will help you feel more refreshed and content when it’s time to go back to your daily life.

Now, it’s up to you to take that first action. Maybe you need to get into the right mindset, or you need to request time off from work; just take that first step. Pull out an old school paper map or one of the many RV trip planning tools available, and put a flag on it.

The journey is in your hands. And it begins today.

Dr. Yon Na travels in an Airstream International travel trailer.