Tech Is Helping Millions of People Work from the Woods

 It used to be that camping was about getting away from it all. Sitting by a campfire on a chilly night, you could disconnect from the modern world and bask in the majesty and solace of nature. Not any more. The pandemic, Zoom, and remote work have completely changed camping. Almost a quarter of campers today are opting to bring their laptops into the wilderness so they can virtually commute to the office right from their campsite.

That’s according to a new report from The Dyrt, a camping app that helps people plan their trips and book campsites. The Dyrt’s data shows that since 2018, the number of people bringing a laptop along on their camping trip nearly tripled. As of 2021, 23.8% of campers said that they planned to use their devices (laptops, but also phones) to work from their campsite. That number was up 49% since the start of the pandemic. Because about 8.3 million people went camping in America in 2021, that means almost 2 million Americans spent some portion of last year working from the woods. It’s a trend that The Dyrt has dubbed WFC or Work from Camp.

Especially in industries like tech, remote work has opened up all kinds of possibilities for redefining our relationships with our jobs. Tech companies have experimented with three-day workweeks and other perks aimed at work-life balance and remote work. More than twenty countries have introduced digital nomad visas, hoping to lure wealthy knowledge-economy laborers to their shores with the promise of nice weather, a cost of living way lower than you’d find in tech hubs like Silicon Valley, and fast, cheap Wifi.

For many in the industry, the flexibility that virtual collaboration technologies like Zoom, Slack, and Band have created has helped with practical matters, like leaving more time for childcare or reducing commutes. Others, though, have taken a more radical approach, abandoning both the traditional office environment and the traditional bounds of working life.

According to an article from 

 at Protocol, a growing number of tech workers are joining the Vanlife movement, giving up their overpriced Bay Area apartments for a nomadic lifestyle traveling the country while working from converted vans or RVs. These committed nomads use mobile hotspots and the tech world’s new asynchronous work schedules (which were already on the rise before the pandemic, as companies became increasingly globalized and had workers in multiple timezones) to get their jobs done while camping in the middle of a National Park, or the desert.

Indeed, The Dyrt’s report adds some hard data to back up these trends. The company says that 57% of new campers in 2021 opted to camp using a van or RV. Almost three-quarters of campers took trips that included weekdays. Some may be taking vacation time to accommodate midweek trips, but it’s likely that many planned to work from their campgrounds — or their kitted-out Winnebago.

I’ve seen this play out firsthand. Midway through the pandemic, one of my close friends realized that he could do his computer engineering job from anywhere. Rather than spend his time in a crowded East Coast tech region with tough commutes and a high cost of living, he and his girlfriend headed off to Vermont. He now splits his days between working and skiing. He seems happy.

Remote working, though, can be both a blessing and a curse. The ability to Zoom into the office from anywhere allows for mid-week camping trips, and lets tech workers remain productive while they’re whizzing down I-95 in a rented Airstream. (Ideally with someone else driving.) But it can also leave workers chained to the office no matter where they go. Many people working from the woods are probably doing it to achieve a newfound sense of freedom and adventure. But some are surely doing it because they’re unable to get away from an office that — thanks to tech — can increasingly follow them anywhere they go, even into the wilderness.

Of course, most workers probably won’t take their lives on the road and Zoom into their all-hands meeting from the rim of the Grand Canyon or the top of Mount Elbert. The combination of powerful, widely-accessible remote working tools, workers who are increasingly fed up with poor working conditions, and increasingly flexible ideas about working life in knowledge-economy jobs like tech, though, will continue to fundamentally change what it means to be “in the office.”

The next time you call up a colleague or chat with them on Slack, they might be at your company’s headquarters, at their dining table — or perhaps at Yosemite, about to scale Half Dome.

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