For a certain kind of worker — unencumbered by children or lost income, with steady jobs that were doable from anywhere — the pandemic was a moment to grab destiny and bend employment to their favor.
This tiny cohort gathered their MacBooks, passports and N95 masks and became digital nomads. They Instagrammed their workdays from empty beach resorts in Bali and took Zoom meetings from tricked-out camper vans. They made balcony offices at cheap Airbnbs in Tulum, Mexico and booked state park campsites with Wi-Fi.
And occasionally they were deflated.
David Malka, an entrepreneur in Los Angeles, had heard from friends who were living their best work-abroad lives. In June, he created a plan: He and his girlfriend would work from Amsterdam, with a quick stop at a discounted resort in Mexico along the way.
The first snag happened almost immediately. In Cabo San Lucas, Mr. Malka and his girlfriend realized that the European Union wasn’t about to reopen its borders to American travelers, as they had hoped. Returning to the United States wasn’t an option: Mr. Malka’s girlfriend was from the United Kingdom, and her visa wouldn’t allow it.
The two decided to stay in Mexico a bit longer. At first it was glamorous, Mr. Malka said. Working by laptop — he manages a portfolio of vacation rental properties — they had the resort to themselves. But by the second week, their situation began to feel like “Groundhog Day.” The city and the beach were closed, so the couple never left the resort. Meanwhile, the travel shutdown was hammering his business.
“All we could do is sit by the pool or go to the gym,” Mr. Malka said. The repetition, boredom and isolation all wore on them.
Eventually, the couple took a 28-hour, two-layover trip to Amsterdam, where Mr. Malka was indeed turned away at customs. They retreated to London, where they promptly broke up.
Katie Smith-Adair and her husband run PlaceInvaders, an event company in Los Alamos, Calif. When the pandemic halted business, they packed up their Volvo with a tent and an outdoor shower for a monthlong camping road trip around the West. All the while, she worked 40 hours a week trying to set up PlaceInvaders for virtual events.
The first lesson learned? Never trust campground Wi-Fi. The second? Expect judgment from campground workers for needing the Wi-Fi.
“They make you feel bad because you’re not unplugging and getting into nature,” Ms. Smith-Adair said. “This is my job. I want to unplug, but I also have to get on that Zoom call real quick.”
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