Six Tips for Running a Business on the Road
Written by Kayla Clements
During the summer of 2017, I spent 60 days living out of a car on a journey of self-discovery through America’s National Parks — camping, hiking and exploring while running my design studio remotely. Having a nomadic spirit, my teenage dream had always been to take off and travel the world. Sipping cappuccinos in Paris, getting lost on the beaches in Bali, skiing in Norway, backpacking through Southeast Asia. It’s the dream, right?
My life would start off on a different course, however, after spending four years in college studying marketing and accumulating over $50,000 in debt through student loans. After graduation, I moved to New York City to build a career, landing an internship at an artist management agency. New York City has a Neverland quality to it; in what felt like the blink of an eye (but in reality had been nearly six years), I had become fully absorbed in my career. I had worked my way up in the same company, built and run a marketing department as the creative marketing director, and accomplished all the career goals I initially had set for myself. I loved the work I was doing — getting to help elevate talented artist’s careers — but my itch for travel never disappeared. I anxiously awaited trips to visit my long-distance boyfriend on the west coast, my annual girl’s trips, and even work trips that took me to new cities. I daydreamed about possible ways to travel and make a living at the same time.
In February 2017, the wanderlust calling became too strong for me to ignore. This time, I listened, and I quit my job. What happened next unfolded quite naturally. My long-term boyfriend, George, had just moved to New York, arranging a remote work situation with his California-based company. George and I stayed in New York for four months while I built my own business, a creative consulting agency and design studio that works to elevate artists through content curation and beautiful design. I took everything I loved about my old job and built a business around it so I could reach artists on both a national and a global scale. I built the brand identity, website, mood boards, social accounts and curated my portfolio. I planned a launch party in NYC’s East Village. Una Volta Studio had been born. Then, with neither George or I tied to a physical location, the timing was perfect to take off on our next adventure.
Leaving June 27, 2017 from San Diego, CA, George and I would spend the next sixty days on the road living out of his car, a 2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring. Through a series of day trips, we would explore, camp and hike through nine states and 12 of America’s national parks, all while I ran my business on the road and he worked remotely. To say the trip changed my life would be an understatement. It allowed me the opportunity to decompress from the stressful years I spent working in fashion in New York City. I was able to reconnect with what I love most about being human: getting to explore, learn and laugh in beautiful environments with people I love.
Although transformative, the reality is running a business from the road is not easy. You have to hustle hard, commit to being adaptive, give up days of hiking in search of Wi-Fi, and continue to stay connected to your clients. Here are six things I learned that made it possible:
1. Stay adaptable
Working on the road has its challenges and we met plenty of them. We did not have a van set up with a mobile office inside, only our two front seats and one lap desk. Initially, we planned to use our phones as mobile hotspots, so we could work while driving between destinations. This plan immediately failed us. George’s cell network was strongest on the coast but near obsolete in the middle of the country. My network, Verizon, was much better and I had service for the majority of the trip, but only in spurts and almost never within the parks. In order to make our trip possible and instead of giving up, we found alternative solutions (below) that allowed us to maintain our new (#vanlife) lifestyle.
2. Make use of public libraries for Wi-Fi
While we were in Moab, Utah, I needed an hour or two to wrap up a client project and send it off. I was searching all of my phone applications & maps for nearest Wi-Fi when I stumbled upon the Moab Public Library. It was already nearing 5 p.m., but they were open until 8 p.m. The Wi-Fi was strong (and free), they had restrooms, water fountains and the clean, quiet facilities provided plenty of space (including outlets) for me to work. Ding, ding, ding! From that point on, in every town where we needed to work, we found the nearest public library and made it our mobile office. The services at the libraries varied, but some had private study rooms where we could shut ourselves in for hours at a time to knock out some work.
3. Make use of hotels for conference calls (and showers!)
Libraries maintain a quiet atmosphere for consideration of other patrons and unless libraries had private rooms, we had to take conference calls elsewhere. Along with the need for showers, we did plan three hotel stops along the way for conference calls or to meet pressing deadlines.
4. “Commute” to work
Since I was running my own business and my boyfriend was working remotely, our hours were flexible. We preferred, if possible, to work in the early mornings and then hike in the afternoons, so we “commuted” from our campsite to the nearest town with a library and worked for a few hours. Once back in the parks, we hit the trail. These were actually some of my favorite days, because I was able to be productive and then my immediate reward was a beautiful hike and/or sunset back at camp.
Our longest “commute” was when we camped at Lewis Lake Campground in Yellowstone National Park. We drove south out of the park and all the way through Grand Teton National Park to get to Jackson, Wyo. (which had my favorite library of the entire trip!). The way the land of Grand Teton is cut is remarkable, because there are acres of wild plains and then the majestic mountains stick straight out above them. It was about a two-hour commute, but on the outskirts of Grand Teton, we were rewarded with quite a view. A herd of hundreds of wild bison crossed the plains within our view. We grabbed our binoculars and watched them walking around and rolling through the grass. It was a beautiful way to start the day and gave us an extra boost of energy to put into our work.
5. Manage your time
I was always surprised at just how much work I was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. When you only have a few hours a day to work, you don’t spend time browsing the internet aimlessly, scrolling through social media or catching up on office gossip. I could fit a full eight-hour workday into two, three or four strong hours.
6. Schedule content in advance
To stay connected to my clients and network, I scheduled emails, Instagram posts, and newsletters in advance. Sometimes, I would be hiking a mountain or cooking dinner at camp, far from service, when the content was sent out. Scheduling in advance gave me that flexibility and no one was any the wiser. I used apps like Boomerang (for Gmail), Schedugram (for Instagram), Mailchimp (for email newsletters) and Hootsuite (for Twitter/Facebook) to schedule for both my business and for my clients.
Once the trip came to an end, I yearned to keep my rediscovered nomadic spirit alive. I promptly gave up my Brooklyn apartment, while my boyfriend returned to the West Coast for work. I spent the next four months living out of friend’s and family’s homes, while I continued to run my business remotely.
But the trail is where all of our most memorable experiences happened and where I most connected to myself. Every step provided me an opportunity of growth and reflection, not only physically but mentally. When thinking of the trip, I’m reminded of a sketch I saw at a campground host station in Glacier National Park of two hikers at the top of a mountain with this simple phrase: “Perspective. Get some.”
This is my story. I hope it inspires you to create yours.
[Editor’s note: This story is adapted from an article that originally appeared on Medium. After returning home, Kayla wrote a coffee table book about her travels, called “Daytripper: 60 Days on the Road Exploring America’s National Parks.” Kayla’s beautiful book is available as an eBook and in print (printed locally in the United States on recycled paper) is available now at daytripperthebook.com. A portion of every book sale goes back to supporting the conservation of America’s national parks.]
Kayla Clements is Creative Director & Founder of Una Volta Studio, a creative agency that specializes in elevating artists through image curation and beautiful design. She is the author of Daytripper: 60 Days on the Road Exploring America's National Parks - a woman written, thoughtfully-designed coffee table book inspired by 60 days of #vanlife.