In 2023 I worked remotely from Rome for two weeks. It was a wonderful experience of local life in Italy’s capital, peppered with smaller and larger joys and challenges. In today’s post, I’ll deepdive into my two-week work experience abroad, what worked well and what maybe didn’t. I’ll point out the the pros and cons of workation and summarize handy tips for a successful workation abroad. Hopefully, these lines will help other workationers make the best out of their temorary life living and working in another country.
What is a workation?
Let’s start from the beginning and define what the term “workation” theoretically means.
In my case, workation refers more specifically to working remotely within the European Union. Usually but not necessarily, workationers at my organization add annual leave days to their working days. My employer currently allows a maximum workation duration of seven weeks abroad. This first time, I decided not to add free days to my two weeks of workation. However, I’ll definitely consider additional holidays directly before or after my next workation abroad.
Cons of workation
Limited time and capacity to explore
Let’s not see workation through rose-tinted glasses. I’ll be honest, my workation was not exactly hassle-free. I had an extremely busy working schedule, which included the usual high christmas workload. In addition, I was tasked with digitally onboarding a new colleague. Last but not least, I didn’t take any annual leaves before or after my workation days in Italy. That’s also why time passed by very quickly without exploring Rome and its surroundings much. However, not travelling around much was totally fine for me because I didn’t come to visit Rome as a tourist. Instead, I came as a workationer to actually live in Rome. In fact, I already knew the region quite a bit and knew people from earlier trips (for example, you can read about my day trip to Tovoli here, or about my exploration of Lago di Bracciano here).
Extra hassle while sick
Potential health risks are definitely worth considering, especially if you’re completely new to a place and maybe don’t speak the local language. While preparing your stay, consider the overall infrastructructure and availablity of health services.
In my case, allergies started rising in Rome. In combination with the high workload, my eczemas exploded and after a couple of days, I had to see a doctor. Luckily, my Roman neighborhood was a little city in itself, with everything I needed available on foot, including doctors. In addition, I speak French fluently. The medical staff was happy to communicate in French and avoid English – very easy! Moreover, all health expenses were covered by my insurance, just like they would have been at home. Accordingly, I had a very good experience getting medical care in Rome.
Double living costs
Workationers who move somewhere new may need to add accomodation, telecommunication and other costs to their monthly fixed expenses back at home. If you leave for a longer period of time and your home allows it, you may consider renting out your home temporarily. In my case, costs didn’t increase because I stayed at my partner’s home.
Pros of workation
Where else could I have better experienced slow tourism than in the country of la Bella Vita? But can you live la Bella Vita while on workation in Italy? Absolutely yes, I think you can. But living like a local also shows you the downsides of a country. For example, Rome is an absolutely wonderful city, but it honestly got some serious trouble as well. As an example, waste disposal costs almost ten times more compared to Germany, but containers in the streets seemed abandoned at times.
I believe that workation can actually improve your work-life-balance if you approach the opportunity in the right way. For me, the change of scenery was a very welcome and helpful step to releave some stress during one of the busiest seasons of the year. I personally love travelling, but am limited as a full-time employee to move internationally. Thus, my workation was the perfect opportunity to combine travelling with working remotely. I was able to live my passion while still following my usual daily habits.
International networking oportunities
Especially if you work from co-working spaces, you’ll get to know the parallel universe of workationers and digital nomads. Honestly, they may open up your mind on quite some topics!
Overall, I honestly adored my workation in Rome thanks to my adopted family and network there. They turned my grey-nuanced workation into a still very lovely experience of the Italian Bella Vita. I met some other workationers and expats during my stay in Rome. Melania and Stefano from Worldapalooza for example live in Rome, but regularly travel and work in other regions or abroad (see their workation tips here).
Tips for a successful workation abroad: how to make the most of it
Set up your working space
In my view, there are three options:
- Your accomodation supplies a good enough internet connection
- You bring your own internet connection via a portable wifi box or mobile data.
- You choose a co-working space.
Personally, I also needed to make sure that I was reachable by phone. Within the EU, I can use EU roaming and don’t pay any additional fees for incoming and outgoing calls. However, if roaming doesn’t apply in your workation country, you may need to look for a local sim card or internet-based phone providers.
Be prepared for emergencies
I don’t mean to be ready for apolcalypse. Instead, you should know who to contact and where to go in case something happens, for example:
- you get sick, cannot continue working and need medical assistance: Make sure you know who to inform at work, if your health or travel insurance covers medical assistance and where the closest pharmacy, general doctors and hospitals are.
- you loose internet connection and cannot continue working online: Again, who should be informed at work? Is there a nearby cafe with wifi or a co-working space where you can connect again?
- you loose your credit card: As blog readers know, I’m still a fan of cash and always carry at least sufficient cash to pay the basics. But big cities like Rome or Barcelona are famous for pickpockets. How can you quickly inform your bank to block a lost credit card? Who can send you money for the coming days?
Structure your day and go offline
Personally, I believe that a working schedule and routine is key. Just like during homeoffice days at home, they help you stay mentally and physically healthy, separate work and personal life. Especially on workation, you need a clear separation in order to also enjoy your surroundings.
Even if my workation in Italy was a great step towards a better work-life-balance, I worked as much as back home because my workload and tasks didn’t change. Consequently, when I really focused on working for specified time frames, I took time off more consciously afterwards. I took longer and more conscious breaks outside, which made my working days more enjoyable.
Finally, going offline is key for your mental health. However, especially when you make the effort to temporarily move your homeoffice somehwere new, you wanna make the most of your free time there. In the end, you don’t travel and spend money somewhere else if you don’t even have time to explore and live the local life.
Add free days to your workation
Depending on the length of your workation and your weekly working hours, it’s easy to end up disappointed or exhausted due to the limited free time between working and exploring. Imagine a normal working week at home. How many activities do you actually do during your free time? I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that most people probably don’t discover much after a normal working day. Why should that be different somewhere else? How are you planning to properly discover your new surrounding without stressing yourself out?
In the end, it’s everybody’s personal choice. We all live our lives differently. But I strongly recommend you combine your workation with at least a couple of free days. At last, you won’t be disappointed about the limited time available to actually enjoy your new temporary base.
My personal conclusion on workation: a development in the right direction
To my mind, covid has proven that working and collaborating remotely is not only possible. The technological developments most organizations have made these last years undoubtedly foster collaboration. Team members, service providers and customers don’t necessarily need to sit in the same room anymore to get things done. Most naturally, workation has arisen as a common concept in our modern (self-)employed world.
Personally, I don’t like the term “workation” though. In my view, the term “workation” emphacizes way too much the vacation part of working remotely.
Of course, employers make a great effort and offer to their employees. It requires policies and procedures to build a secure environment for remote work. Nonetheless, most legal and social systems (at least in the EU) already provide a common framework. If there is trust between employers, employees, service providers and customers, anyone should quite naturally be able to choose their location and mode of collaboration.
In a nutshell, I warmly recommend workation to all wanderlusting folks! I simply like to urge you to thoroughly evaluate beforehand how much time and money you actually need for fully enjoying your workation time.