Since we have the ability to work remotely, from anywhere in the world, travel has an interesting effect on our productivity. Instead of becoming less productive when we’re away from home, we delve into our work enthusiastically as an escape from the Unknown. At home, we spend most of our time trying to entertain ourselves by stirring things up to make the boring-ness more interesting but overseas, we try to normalize our lives through daily, prolonged and sometimes excessive bouts of work.
Work is like a break from the looming, ever-present Unknown when we’re stationed in a foreign country. Every little thing that I take for granted at home in the United States can be slightly or radically modified when we travel. For example, I don’t realize how much I appreciate it when men treat me (a woman) like an equal until I go to a place where women are second-class citizens (and by default, I become one of them). I fail to truly appreciate things like regular and predictable trash pick-up days, and rubbish-free sidewalks until I have to walk down the streets up to my ankles in garbage. Hours of daylight, food choices, neighborhood safety levels, transportation options, appropriate dress, and just about anything you can imagine is up for grabs when we’re away from home. I try to read and plan ahead, but there are always things I miss; things we become privy to only after we enter a particular country. The Unknowns can drive a person mad within a very short period of time, which is perhaps why traditional “vacations” never last longer than 2 weeks.
But don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the challenge of catching a taxi and trying to explain where to go using the wrong words or words that are clumsy or mispronounced in a foreign language I barely know. There’s really no other way to learn a foreign language, in fact, than to do such things and it makes simple, everyday activities like taxi rides into mini-adventures. For the first few weeks while we’re in Tunisia, I’ll congratulate myself for the amazing accomplishment of making it safely to destinations like Carthage…and the grocery store. And while we’re careening through the streets in a taxi cab without seat belts, I’ll look forward to being “home” (at the vacation rental in Tunis) working on predictable projects that I normally regard as “boring”. As I’m fiddling around with the Tunisian “washing machine”, trying to get it to do something that resembles what washing machines do at home, I’ll realize with varying levels of clarity, just how luxurious my standard U.S. laundry room is. The satisfaction of linguistic accomplishment and the interest I have in first-hand experiences at being a second-class citizen or an individual who is racially profiled is balanced precariously against the desire for familiarity and routine. Working helps me keep this balance going longer than I could if every day was about the Unknown.
John Talks About His Remote Work (video)