The idea of working remotely came about when I stumbled upon Remote Year—a startup that organizes a year of travel throughout the world for 100 people. As I scoured through the site, my mind began firing at the thought of myself—someone who, as the Brand Design Manager of Poppy Barley, spends 95% of her time on a computer—zipping around the world, working from any place I could find and being inspired by vibrant new cities. However, a full year away from the tight-knit team that makes Poppy Barley happen every day was not something I was able to rationalize (or fund!). But the seed had been sown.
Once I discovered that my S.O., Kevin, would be able to take a leave from his job and was intrigued by the prospect of finding some creative space for writing (he’s a musician), there was really nothing to lose. All I needed was an internet connection and my laptop, and all he would need was his guitar.
I broached the idea and discussed options with Poppy Barley’s founders, Kendall and Justine, to arrange a combination of work and travel for a more appropriate amount of time. Luckily for me, they are both avid travellers and incredibly supportive of our team getting out to explore the world. I began formulating a plan that would make me easily accessible to the team and still able to work on major product launches, campaigns and company activities, but ultimately a plan that would allow me to have an amazing adventure. #PoppyBarleyPassport, here we go!
A route less traveled
Kevin and I had a number of travel ideas, but landed on a road trip through the United States. Neither of us had done a major road trip before or visited much of the US, and we had this romanticized view of hitting the open road, CRV packed to the brim with our belongings and seeing where the wind blew us through this massive country. Well… the wind blew us exactly where I mapped out. 🙂
With this being a remote work adventure, I was admittedly nervous about not being able to connect with the team, expectations not being met or work suffering. My main goal was to ensure that this was a positive experience both for me AND Poppy Barley. So I mapped it all out to the day, and we stuck to it. See our route below:
There’s something very different about driving for travel rather than flying. The world seems so much more accessible—you have your own vehicle, you can go where you want, stop when you want and see what you want. You’re on your own timelines and the pace slows down; you have so much time to think and talk and BREATHE. It opens up possibilities and makes it feel like taking a major two month trip isn’t such a big deal afterall. When you’re doing something so regular (driving) with someone so familiar, it sort of takes the nerves, or fear, right out of it. It allowed us to be spontaneous and free, with ample time to explore. Can you imagine anything better? Just a hop over the border and you’re in an entirely new country. It was so easy. The customs officer was even friendly (he just took our oranges… apparently no citrus can go across)!
But to be clear. IT TAKES A LONG TIME. The drive down to our main goal city, Austin, where we spent a full four weeks, was a bit painful and numbing. Five straight days on the road, getting to a hotel in the early evening for a hot tub and dinner, and waking up to hit the road again the next morning (after our free breakfast, of course) became quite exhausting. But it all sort of blurred together and we definitely had our laughs and fun along the way. What helped our long drive down the most was listening to the podcast, Serial. I didn’t fall asleep once! (And I’m a huge car sleeper, totally relaxed by the constant lull of the car engine and the warm sun.)
Highlights of our drive to Austin include the fields upon fields of wind turbines in Montana; the adorable shop owner in Sheridan who sneakily followed us in his car because he saw us peering through his vintage music store window on our way to dinner (“I’ll be open at 9am!!”); wandering through the magnificent red rocks of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs; and spotting roadrunners as they bolted across the highways of the vast New Mexico deserts (Beep! Beep!).
Keep it weird
Austin, oh Austin. You are such a wonderful city. Described as a “blue dot in a red state,” Austin could not be more eclectic, friendly and active. We found an Airbnb “Austienda” just south of SoCo and were thrilled to discover its proximity to great shopping, restaurants, coffee shops, bars and everything you might need. Arriving in late, we wandered around the corner to the closest place for food to discover a huge open patio at Opal Divines with three women singing an acoustic set. What a welcome!
Austin is really set up quite like our hometown, Edmonton, with a beautiful river valley running right through it, separating downtown from the south side and bursting with runners, cyclists and dog-lovers. We would bike along “Lady Bird Lake”— a reservoir in downtown Austin—which was always bustling with water activities, from kayaking to paddle boarding.
South Congress is a main strip running the north to the south, packed with countless vintage, high-end and odd-ball knick-knack shops, along with cafés, food trucks and, of course, PATIOS. I would have to say that Austin might be the Queen when it comes to patios. They all have vintage, twinkly lights and could not be more inviting. We found ourselves sitting on a busy patio absorbing the heat and sipping on a cold beer more often than I’d like to admit.
My first (or maybe third) order of business in getting to Austin, however, was to find a coworking space. In hindsight, I wish I had been more organized with a space to walk into right when we arrived, as I spent the first week and a half trying to get settled in a spot. It’s so hard to tell what will be the right “fit” from a few photos online. Working out of coffee shops and our Airbnb to start was fine, but the difficult thing was being able to have video calls in privacy—all the background noise in coffee shops doesn’t make for very productive team meetings.
After feeling awkward in a University library (I clearly didn’t belong, as a tutor questioned “are you a student?!”…urgh) and driving Kevin a bit crazy as I sat in our Airbnb working all day, I finally discovered the perfect space in East Austin called Urban Co-Lab — “A shared work community for urban innovators.” It was bright, they were friendly, they had coffee and a conference room that I could take calls in. Yay!
I worked for four weeks, Monday through Friday, just like I would in Edmonton. We launched two major collections—The Stardust Collection and The Desert Collection — and The Perfect Handbag in Brown. The difference was, every time 5pm hit, Kevin and I would be out exploring.
Our Austin after-hours experience involved diving into the insane crowds and blaring music of SXSW, though we eventually discovered, after some discussion with in-the-know locals, that you can find tons of free music and a not-so crazy scene at the unofficial “West of the Fest” down 6th. We found ourselves lounging and soaking up the sun at Barton Springs, a 3-acre natural swimming pool in Zilker Park. We frequented a coffee/beer/patio hangout called Radio Coffee & Beer, which provided a convenient transition from afternoon work to happy hour and would have outdoor movies on Wednesday nights (we saw “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” on a perfect warm evening).
The Bat-watching Sunset Cruise was truly a sight to behold as we watched 1.5 million bats fly out for their nightly feeding. (Did you know that bats can only drop into flight?!). Our best meal—perhaps of the entire trip—was at Geraldine’s, which offers a “bat’s eye-view” above Lady Bird Lake, live music, cocktails and small plates—every bite can be described as the best thing I have ever tasted (Kevin’s words, actually). From Geraldine’s you can stroll over to Rainey Street, which is a long row of old restored houses that have been transformed into lounges, patios, cocktail bars and live music venues, all decked with twinkly lights and teeming with Austinites. SO cool.
On the road again
Trips to Dallas, Fort Worth and the unexpectedly beautiful San Antonio (the river walk is stunning!) filled our weekends. And before long, our time in our little hacienda in Austin came to a close. The next month, we would SERIOUSLY be on a road trip. April saw more vacation time than the first month, as we would literally be off the map—living out of suitcases and squishing in work time where and whenever I could. I was able to stick to my schedule laid out with Justine and Kendall the majority of the time, but there were some unavoidable shifts that led to random late nights in hotel rooms or tethering on the road to make things happen. All worth it in the name of adventure!
My full-time job began to squish into more part-time hours, which had its stresses and worries, but I became incredibly good at switching on and off. Work time involved smoke smoldering off my laptop keys as my fingers worked faster than they’ve ever worked. My job also became very production-oriented as the team needed things from me ASAP when I was online and would have to have meetings and make decisions without me (sad face!) as my personal life took the front-seat—a very weird feeling!
All I can say is that the Poppy Barley is an amazing team of do-ers and improvisors. I am SO lucky to have had these wonderful people support me in my adventure, embracing the extra pressures on their own work that I know it caused, and being so flexible to just get what needs to get done, done, and still be those happy faces I saw weekly on Google Hangout. I will be forever indebted to their kindness and positivity!
From Austin, we headed for Phoenix for a few days where we relaxed in the heat by the pool and took a hot air balloon ride over the Sonoran desert. Driving north to the Grand Canyon we camped under the stars at Mather Campground and spent the day strolling along the South Rim of the canyon. No picture will EVER capture the magnitude and jaw-dropping brilliance of the Grand Canyon. I felt as though I were on a treadmill and a backdrop was scrolling beside me. It went on FOREVER and was so impressive. From there, we went for three days to Vegas where my sisters and friend joined us for some pool-side fun and nightlife! We also saw Jerry Seinfeld do standup—if you’re looking for an hour and a half of crescent-moon-filled laughter, try to see him! Vegas was flashy and expensive, but when you’re with some of your favourite people in the world floating around the pool (and shark tank!) laughing, you really can’t complain.
LA, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle — up the west coast we went for an unforgettable journey. If I was to tell someone what kind of road trip to take after doing this, I would say fly into LA and rent a car to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco and on to the Oregon coast. You’ll hit so many beautiful spots winding up the coast, higher and higher with the bright blue ocean as far as the eye can see. Massive cliffs and jagged rocks with crashing waves below, as you watch old convertibles zip down the often nerve-racking roads without a care in the world. The views of Big Sur, the silence of the Red Woods, the sand beneath your toes. People write novels about this stuff. It’s art.
To save you the play-by-play of our journey back to Canada, here are my most memorable activities and favourite spots by city:
LA / Calabasas
– Santa Monica Pier (obvs!)
– LACMA (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
– Zinqué—Wine and tapas on Melrose!
– Corner Bakery Cafe in The Commons of Calabasas—great breakfast and remote work spot; this is supposedly a good celeb-sighting spot, though we never saw any.
Pacific Coast Highway
– Big Sur — Nepenthe, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, The Henry Miller Memorial Library
– Pacific Grove, Monterey and Carmel — lovely seaside towns to bike around; check out Cannery Row
– Fort Bragg—Glass beach; Cafe Del Mar great organic restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
– Gold Beach—small resort town with fabulous beaches, delicious meal at Spinner’s Seafood & Chophouse
– Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse—cute little village by the sea
– The Redwoods—we went to Humboldt Red Wood State Park and strolled through the Avenue of the Giants.
– Drive thru-tree
– The Trident—cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito for lunch
– California Sunset Cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge
– Fisherman’s Wharf —take the tram from Union Square
– Top of the Mark for a cocktail and 360 views of the city
– The Saloon—one of SF’s oldest Blues bars and DEFINITELY a dive, but such a great dance-party. Go at midnight… with friends.
– Poppy—this rivals my previous comment about Geraldine’s being the best food on our trip
– Chihuly Glass Garden
– Capitol Cider for Open Jam & Games—we played UNO and saw an amazing Brazilian jazz band
– This Airbnb—homemade granola, chickens in the garden and a bottle of wine?! Great hosts.
Home again, home again
13,000 kilometers, 10 states and a lifetime of memories later, Kevin and I drove back into Edmonton in one piece. Coming back to work on Monday morning felt a bit unusual, but I was excited to return after feeling quite disconnected from everyone and my PB life in the last few weeks. It was refreshing—refreshing to go of course, but just as refreshing to come back.
I missed working closely with the team and have realized how important our face-to-face interactions are, but I’m also so thankful to be able to have taken such an unbelievable trip and still be able to work through it all. If this trip has taught me anything, it’s that most of the time my work/life balance is off kilter and I let my job take over my thoughts when I should be occupying my mind with LIFE. Your thoughts need a break from work too! To be able to completely take your mind out of work, and look at the world in a new way—a grab the bull-by-the-horns, get-out and explore kind of way—is something that seems to fade as you get into your regular routine and day-to-day comforts.
So, my goal post-amazing-remote-work-experience is to not let that excitement and vitality fade. To use my evenings and weekends and the flexibility of a career that allows me to work from anywhere wisely—while still giving all I can to build the Poppy Barley brand, and the company.