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Has remote work changed the travel landscape forever?

Remote workers are changing how they travel, with increasing flexibility in the workplace allowing them to work on the road and extend the length of their trips.

July 28, 2022
By Sam Kemmis, NerdWallet
28 July 2022

While some workers return to the office this year, many others continue to work remotely indefinitely. This seismic shift has changed where people live and work and, increasingly, how they travel.

In the first quarter of 2022, nearly 25 per cent of job postings at the 50,000 largest companies in the US and Canada were for permanently remote positions, according to the job listing service Ladders. That's up from a mere 4 per cent before the pandemic.

"It has enabled us to extend trips, leave early and work different hours," says Kirsten Reckman, a credit risk manager based in Tampa, Florida, who works remotely. "My boss is very accommodating as long as the work gets done."

Remote work is allowing employees to spend more time combining their jobs and travel. (Anastasia Nelen/Unsplash)

Reckmen's experience reflects a larger trend. One in five travellers this summer plan to work on the road, according to international professional services network Deloitte. Of these so-called "laptop luggers", four in five plan to extend the length of their trips because of schedule flexibility.

The rise of ‘bleisure’ travel

Remote work has blurred the line between business and personal travel. Rather than leaving home rarely for vacation, remote workers can travel at any time. This has the potential to upend longstanding travel trends.

"Many travellers who have the opportunity are choosing to combine remote working with trips for a change of scene as well as maximizing PTO," or paid time off, explains Mark Crossey, traveller expert at travel search engine and agency Skyscanner.

"’Workations’ allow people with flexible home and work lives to become 'half tourists' for a period of time."

This kind of freedom appeals to Lisa Wickstrom, a mortgage underwriter based in Arizona who now works from around the world with only a suitcase.

"I got three weeks of vacation before," says Wickstrom, "but I never feel like I have to take vacation time because ... I'm always on vacation."

Workers are mixing pleasure and business with greater opportunities to travel, as employers continue to offer a more flexible workplace. (Anton Shuvalov/Unsplash)

For the travel industry, these nomads offer enormous opportunities. Remote workers can spend far more time - and money - at far-flung destinations. Yet "bleisure" travellers don't fit the typical tourist mould.

"You can't just go freely everywhere," explains Derek Midkiff, a patent attorney who left San Diego during the pandemic and never looked back. "You're living somewhere but also working. Someone asks me, 'Did you do this and this,' and I have to say, 'No, I'm working, it's not the same as when you're on vacation.'"

Travel days are changing

Before the pandemic, it was expensive to fly on the weekends and cheaper during the week. That could all be shifting with remote work.

According to data from travel booking app Hopper, the cost of domestic flights on Sundays and Mondays has risen 5.90 per cent and 2.97 per cent, respectively, in 2022 compared to 2019, while the cost of flying on Friday and Saturday has dropped by 3.04 per cent and 1.60 per cent. It's now cheaper to fly on a Saturday than a Monday, on average.

Furthermore, remote workers can take longer trips during busy holidays, flattening the "peak" of peak travel dates.

"Since 2020, we've observed a small but noticeable shift toward Thursday departures for Memorial Day weekend itineraries," says Craig Ewer, spokesperson for Google Flights, "which suggests that location flexibility is indeed having an impact on traveller behaviours."

An industry adapts

Many workers fled large cities during the pandemic, filling suburbs and rural areas. But remote work has changed the calculus more drastically for some, freeing up budgets to allow more travel.

"I save over $US2000 a month after taxes by living in Florida," says Reckman. "We're travelling a lot more because of that."

Lower cost of living and tax incentives means more freedom for some remote workers. And some companies are seeing a potential windfall.

While executives continue to hem and haw over return-to-office plans, remote workers are happily sending emails from afar.

Airbnb reports that the number of long-term stays (over 28 days) doubled in the first quarter of 2022 compared to 2019. The company has even introduced an "I'm Flexible" search functionality for travellers who don't need to get back to an office on a specific date.

"I've found Airbnb to be cheaper, and have better rules," says Midkiff, explaining why he chooses vacation rentals over hotels. "And I like to stay a month to get the discount."

Remote work is here

No longer constrained by vacation days and getting back from a trip by Monday, remote workers have shifted the travel landscape, maybe for good. While executives continue to hem and haw over return-to-office plans, remote workers are happily sending emails from afar.

"I think about the office politics, the baby showers, all that," says Wickstrom with a shudder. "I can't even imagine doing all that again."

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