Workation France: Squeezing In

This summer, I’m conducting a work/play experiment in the Alps. I’ve moved my home office from Colorado to Chamonix, a lovely but sometimes insanely touristy town at the foot of Mont Blanc. This post is the first in a series about temporarily living and working in a premiere trekking and climbing destination–and another country.

Settling in to our apartment in Chamonix has brought on flashbacks of moving into our college dorm rooms. We don’t have enough closet space. Our “desk” is a multi-purpose surface: dinner table, dump for change and keys, home to two laptops and a French press every morning. The climbing gear is stashed under the bed. The backpacks are shoved into a corner of the living room. And there’s nowhere to put the luggage once we finish emptying it, because our ski locker in the basement is literally only wide enough for skis.

At least this time I know I’ll like my roommate.

But one glance out the window of our top-floor apartment at the peaks just a walk away makes the squeeze inside irrelevant. And sure, we can’t quite manage to unpack in a week’s time, but we’ve already done the three things we came here to do: climb, hike and work.

Downtown, looking toward Mont Blanc, on a quiet Monday

Downtown Chamonix, looking toward Mont Blanc, on a quiet Monday

The work part has been the toughest, so far. It’s better now that the jet lag has worn off, but working in the evenings so we can be available to people back home (and hike and climb during the day) requires a mental switch. My brain is accustomed to working in the mornings and being lazy at night. No more.

Climbing was the easiest of our three objectives, for this week. The local crag at Les Gaillands is on the edge of a little lakeside park, and it’s just a 15 or 20 minute walk down the road from our apartment. Once there, turn away from the rock and you have an unobstructed jaw-dropper of Mont Blanc, the Chamonix Aiguilles, and the Bossons and Taconnaz glaciers spilling down from the heights.

The crag is covered in well-bolted moderate routes, and even on a gorgeous Saturday when it was swarming with people, we had no trouble getting on climbs. Before we left Colorado, a friend–who loaned us a stack of Chamonix guide books, thanks Michelle!–said to make sure we learn to know when someone is about to butt in on your route in other languages. That might be true on some of the popular alpine routes we’re scoping out for the near future, but at Les Gaillands, people were friendly in many languages.

View up the Mer de Glace from Montenvers

View up the Mer de Glace from Montenvers

Between climbing days, we hiked from town. Our first hike was somewhat unnatural by Chamonix standards, because we hiked up to Montenvers, and most folks arrive at this destination overlooking the Mer de Glace by the cog train from Chamonix. If you happen to hike the old mule trail between Montenvers and Cham, it’s probably only downhill, after ascending via the train. Accessibility to the high trails by train or cable car is one of the benefits of trekking around here–rather than spending hours hiking up the steep trails out of town to treeline, you arrive there in 10 or 20 minutes (and 20 or so Euros poorer).

The biggest advantage of hiking from town? Getting fit for longer days high up in the Alps. More of that to come.

Long Haul

Traveling for a few weeks is pretty easy. Working away from home for a few months requires a little more planning (and apparently a little more anxiety, eesh!).

On Saturday, we’ll move our home office to Chamonix Mont-Blanc, France, for the next few months. The eight-hour shift east will be more than a change of time zone that requires us to work in the evenings rather than the mornings. I suspect it will be a shift in our perception of freelancing that will make the word “telecommute” take on a more global meaning.

But enough of the high-falutin’ ideological stuff. If you don’t take care of some mundane details before you leave home, you won’t be working from another country–you’ll be wasting time making expensive phone calls or shopping for an extra power converter.

Mail: The post office will only hold your mail for a month. If you don’t have family or friends around who can pick up and sort your mail, Earth Class Mail might be your best bet for collecting your mail and sending you anything you need. Otherwise, leave behind pre-stamped, pre-addressed flat-rate envelopes for your mail jockey so it’s easy for him/her to send you anything.

Phones: This isn’t news, but I have to reiterate that Skype is the thing that really makes it possible to work from anywhere. We’re going to buy a U.S. number through Skype so anyone can call us–in fact, they won’t even know they’re calling Skype, or calling us in France. Unless I get that crazy echo through my headset.

Your car: Your car can sit at the airport for two weeks. But it can’t sit there, or anywhere, for months on end. Someone has to take it for a spin once in a while, so hand over your keys to a friend who doesn’t text while driving.

Power adapters: We usually travel with one adapter for a computer, one for everything else. Since we’ll both be working, though, we’ve picked up an extra so we don’t have to fight over a single adapter.

Prescriptions: Take care of these at least a week before you leave. It might take your pharmacist a few days to extend refills from your doctor or wrestle with your insurance company for a vacation supply of your medication.

Gardening: We’ve done everything we can think of to make our home lives as low maintenance as possible. We don’t have kids, pets or even plants. We don’t have grass or a yard. We have a 30-by-15 foot rectangle of a few bushes and a lot of rock. And we still have to weed the rocks every few weeks. If you don’t figure out a plan for your yard, or in our case, “yard,” your neighbors or HOA or both will hate you when you return.

Smugness: Obviously it’s best not to be smug at all, but if you’re a little smug, keep it to yourself before you leave. Your friends at home won’t appreciate statements like, “Sucker! You’ll be working in your dismal cube next week while I’ll be working on the beach/in a European cafe/from a sailboat.” Plus, you don’t want that smug karma to bite you in the ass–you could find yourself working from an eight-Euro-an hour cyber cafe with medievally-slow Internet on a keyboard you can’t comprehend.

Haiku writers

Copywriter Ken Grindall found me here and discovered that like him, I am a big fan of haiku. Yay interwebz connections, right? But this new connection served as a reminder that I haven’t haikued in some time. So here’s one to all of you writers like us who occasionally take a break from your usual writing style to bust out new words, strange punctuation, or a total lack of grammatical consideration via haiku:

paid by the word or

for the word, just want to use

‘kerfuffle’ somewhere