What is a workation and why you should take one?


Fair enough, GoMaia promotes workations. So obviously, I am biased when I write about this concept. Hell yeah, of course, I am biased and an advocate for such a kind of remote work. And guess what, I want you to feel the same.

The key takeaways from this article:

  • In a remote work world, make sure that you have stable internet at your destination → Before you take off / book accommodation.
  • In order to stay productive, you got to attach clear output goals to your workation trip and you should devote working hours first, leisure time second
  • Embrace togetherness by planning joined activities and by plugging into local communities (remote workers, meetup groups, or as for my preferences karaoke enthusiasts)

Traveling while working or working while traveling?

The idea of getting work done, while on the road isn’t brand-new. Some people have been in this circus for decades now and decided to become ‘digital nomads’ by constantly being on the move for the next best remote work hotspot. I believe that workations are the soft entry versions of such extreme lifestyles. The combination of work and vacation is a way to change your usual office space, while not skipping work altogether. There is no strict definition, but for me, the work part still plays the major part, leisure time comes second.

Escaping from the Berlin winter

Three weeks ago, I came back from my first official workation. I wanted to combine the merits of traveling with dedicated working hours. Surely, I worked while being abroad before — either as part of an extended business trip or by traveling and adding some remote office days before the actual holidays would start.

However this time, we as the GoMaia team (plus a fellow founder) decided to pack our laptops and get out of our home offices and co-working spaces and work from sunny Spain instead.

Around this time of the year, Spain is a popular destination for (mostly pale) remote workers. You get a steady vitamin D source, it’s warm enough to ditch your winter jacket, and you can take your daily doses of caffeine out in the open. We set sail for Málaga, a vibrant, but yet underestimated Andalusian city of 400k inhabitants.

And boy, did I love it there. But let’s start with the downsides first.

Oh, screw the Internet!!!

Yip, remote working requires one crucial bit and that is a stable internet connection. We booked an Airbnb with a couple of desks and fast internet. But the gods of the world wide web had other plans for us. The wifi kept breaking down and uncounted attempts of plugging the router in and out and calls with the host did not solve our little nightmare.

So, we learned our first lesson here: really, really make sure that you can get online at your destination. You could let the host send you a screenshot of a recent speed test, get him to jump on a zoom call from the place you are renting, or check for places that have good ratings when it comes to the wifi.

How did we fix the situation? We went to local co-working spaces and coffee shops instead to set up our workstations. Which required research and additional costs for drinks etc. In the end, it worked out for us because we could meet interesting folks, whom we could interview for our business ideas. But that’s a plus, only we might get in such a case. Later on, we switched our accommodation to a magnificent place, which had a proper co-working area set up for all their guests.

It might surprise you, but ‘Workationing’ costs money

Indeed, when you are jumping on the workation train, you have to consider some expenses: accommodation, transportation, food, and free-time activities and all that while paying rent and overhead for your regular apartment at home. So based on your expected levels of comfort (hostel vs AirBnB apartment vs holiday resort) and your willingness to cook (eating pot noodles vs eating out every day) your weekly workationing budget could vary between a few hundred and a few thousand Euros.

Besides the cost, you also need to plan such a trip. Picking a destination, researching travel arrangements, and getting your summer clothes from the attic, will take time and effort. Unless you have a personal assistant to sort that out for you. Mmh, interesting business idea.

Staying productive

Alright, here is my confession, we approached our workation trip like a holiday at first. With the beach nearby, tasty tapas bars, and a thriving nightlife (Covid did not seem to exist), we got a little distracted. The work/travel balance was tipping over to the travel part a lot. We believed that since we are staying at the same place together, arranging focused co-working time would be a no-brainer. But simply put, it wasn’t.

We wanted to achieve our goals like we would in a regular working week. Therefore, we decided to plan our time more carefully. The lesson we took from that: When on a workcation, you have to dedicate focus time first and free-time second. You will still get to explore new places and activities, but if you want to create output as well, you need to get work done initially.

Getting out of your comfort zone

Like any change of scenery, also a workation trip, will let you swap your beloved or not beloved (home) office environment for unknown territory. You need to adapt to new surroundings and when traveling with friends or colleagues, you also have to get accustomed to other people.

And while the human being, in general, is opposing change, getting out of your comfort zone, lets your brain run extra shifts.

For me, this meant becoming more creative. We came up with several adjustments and ideas for the GoMaia business model. New approaches for marketing and PR were flowing around.

Or, instead of doing virtual customer discovery on web forums or surveys, we went out to the streets to grab first-hand impressions of workationers and remote workers. And not to mention again, the hassle we had with the internet. That was such a major eye-opener in terms of need fulfillment!

The learning curve on this team trip was very steep but very helpful. And I believe such outcomes can be repeated, whenever you are setting clear outcome goals for a workation.

Ever done a paella?

Last, but not least — let’s talk about the ‘paella Valenciana. One of my personal highlights in Málaga was a cooking class. We had great food throughout the stay. Whether at the beautiful market hall, packed tapas bars, or in one of the local ‘Chiringuitos’. But prepping a full-featured paella during this two-hour hands-on food session, was a different culinary experience.

Going through all the steps of such a flavor-rich dish, guided by a seasoned chef, made me fall in love with cooking again. And cooking together with others has such a great bonding effect, consider this for your next team event!

Incorporating several smaller activities into your schedule will really make a workstation last beyond the time abroad itself. In the end, you want to be a tourist as well and explore new things and you do not have to sacrifice your scarce holidays. By going on a hike, visiting the local winery, or by attending a local sports event you create lasting memories for yourself, but also for entire teams.

And this should be the last takeaway. Unless you want to write a novel in a deserted cabin in the woods, think about the community aspect when planning a vacation. By nature, we want to be among others and share experiences. So make sure you embrace that on a trip. Find your level for the ideal work-vacation ratio. Be touristy, if you like.

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