Rick Hurst Web Developer in Bristol, UK


Category: mobile working

Introducing Freerange Freelance!

Those of you who have followed a link to campervanthings.com might be confused to see a different domain name and site title “Freerange Freelance”. Let me explain!

The first version of this blog was called “Rick on the Road”, which started as a travel blog years ago, when my wife and I started looking at the idea of spending the summer touring france, with our (then) young kid while I carried on working as a freelance web developer, attempting to keep an old plastic macbook with a two-hour max battery life charged from an inadequate portable solar panel, and attempting to keep in touch with clients and upload code over sketchy campsite wifi.

After that trip, the blog lost momentum until we bought a camper van and I enthusiastically relaunched it as “camper van things”, and wrote almost exclusively about camper van things.

It then lost momentum again, particularly after we sold the camper. This year having bought another van I thought I would give it a refresh and start writing again, and in doing so, I decided that the name of the blog didn’t really reflect what this blog is about.

So what is this blog about then?

I’ve worked (mostly) as a freelance web developer for over ten years now and the goal has always been flexible working. I’m lucky enough to have built a career that revolves around the internet and remote-working tools, and so most of the time I only need a charged laptop and a decent internet connection (wifi or 3G/4G)  to do my job. Moreover, I prefer flexible work hours, and not having to commute to an office “day job”. All of those aspirations can be difficult to achieve sometimes, which I will talk about on this blog.

But you’re still going on about camper vans?

Yep! As far as i’m concerned, a camper van makes the perfect mobile office, and is the best way to combine travel, adventure and freelance work. Plus I just love camper vans, so they will still feature prominently, particularly the one we own.

Freerange Freelance

Naming a blog is almost as difficult as naming a band. My wife is also freelance (TV/Video production/Copywriting) and we threw around a few ideas before coming up with this, then impulsively reserving the domain name and instagram handle. Twitter username character limit wasn’t long enough, so I left that one as @campervanthings for now. I think Freerange Freelance better covers the scope of this blog and any associated social media accounts.

Web development stuff

I’ll refrain from talking too much about web development on this blog, as I have another blog for that – if you’re interested in code, take a look at rickhurst.co.uk.

You can take a man out of a camper van but…

Rocky T25/T3/Vanagon

It’s sad I know, but while visiting the warehouse where Rocky is laid up for a while, I got nostalgic for my second home, and spent a while sat inside, working on my laptop, listening to some music, and had some lunch!

I also removed the bike rack, bumpers, grilles etc. ready to attack the bodywork with an angle grinder (flap disc only – nothing too drastic!)

Surviving a rainy campervan trip

rainy day in the campervan

I’m sat writing this in deepest Norfolk, using the passenger swivel seat as my office chair, while on the other side of the curtain (seperating the cab of the van from the back), my wife and kid watch a film on a laptop. Outside it’s persistent drizzle mixed with howling wind. Our bright orange sun canopy lays miserablly on the grass outside the van alongside the wet bag of charcoal and soggy camping chairs. Despite setting it up in “ridge tent” mode to cope with rain, the wind unravelled the granny-knots I used to attach the guy ropes and by morning it was hanging pathetically from the van.

We also made the mistake on this trip of not bringing any kind of tent/ standalone awning, so later on when we go for a drive, we have no choice other than to either take the soggy stuff with us in the van, or leave it on site to get soggier.

We don’t like the idea of a proper driveaway awning hitched right up to the van, we like to be able to sit in the doorway of the van and look out at the view rather than into a tent. We usually bring a Quechua seconds base pop-up shelter, which gets used as a kind of shed, and in this case even a small pop-up tent would be handy, but i’ve heard good things about the Coleman event shelter, and i’m now wondering if this could be the solution for a standalone rainproof canopy. I’ve heard good things about them and they are apparently very sturdy and hopefully won’t collapse in bad weather.

So we haven’t got it right with the canopy/awning/gazebo this time, but the things we have got right:-

  • We have electric hook-up on this site, so the electric fan heater is keeping us toasty. An oil filled radiator would be a less noisy solution. Without the hookup we could fall back on the propex heater. The fan heater can also be used to demist the front window before we go for a drive.
  • We have a full gas bottle, and the kettle is being used to it’s full potential.
  • Loads of films and tv-series on the laptop, there is no wifi and zero mobile reception here, so we couldn’t rely on streaming services or being able to download anything new.
  • As i’m doing a bit of work on this holiday, I made sure I had all I needed on my laptop to do the work without an internet connection – no point relying on cloud-based services. As rainy days are ideal times for fitting in a bit of work, we brought along a second laptop, so that work time for me can also be film-time for my family.
  • Board games! For when the films have run out.

Before we got Rocky, we did a lot of camping in tents, and I have to say after a couple of days of rain like this, we’d probably pack the soggy tents into the car and call it a day, but in a campervan, especially a warm leak-free campervan with a supply of food, tea and entertainment, we can still have an enjoyable trip.

VW T25 Mobile Office

office with a view - my VW T25 mobile office!

After years of working from tents and the passenger seat of a VW Beetle, I finally have a luxury mobile office! Before you get excited wondering what technical wizardry i’ve added to Rocky, so far all i’ve needed is my laptop and the table. The picture above is a bit of a “lie” – the spot is in a car park just across the road from one of my clients. I had a decent wifi signal so could do work on the office network without needing a VPN. Although I have a couple of solutions – a mains inverter and a DC-DC transformer – for keeping my macbook air charged from a 12 volt socket, I hadn’t got either with me, and had somehow managed to start with only a 50% charge. When it got too low after a couple of hours, I scurried back into the office and plugged back into the mains.

While it lasted I had an office with a beautiful view over Blagdon lake, a coffee pot on the stove, decent sound system (i’ve wired in a couple of old hi-fi speakers under the back seat as an experiment) and comfy seat to work from in my new T25 mobile office. Predictably, i’m now researching solar panels, leisure batteries (Rocky already has one, but a second one would be good) and other tech such as wifi antennae and 3G signal boosters to kit Rocky out for some more off-grid mobile working adventures.

Later the same day, I got to use Rocky as a mobile office again – with an hour and a half “downtime” to use while my kid was at gymnastics, I sat and got some work done in the sunny car park. It turned out to be very productive, stopping only to fit the new Fiamma bike rack that arrived yesterday, and a well-deserved cup of tea or two of course…

Gone with the Wynns

screengrab of gone with the wynns

Nikki and Jason Wynn sold it all, packed up their 2 cats, bought an RV, and hit the road!

Another inspirational travel blog by a young couple who are now full-time RVers. Although their first campervan was a humble T25/T3/Vanagon, these days they are travelling in something much bigger!

I enjoy reading about how they are turning the lifestyle into a business, and make some income on the road by producing videos, doing reviews etc. – food for thought!

They have produced some great videos – if you are looking for some ideas where to go on an RV roadtrip in the U.S., go and check out Gone with the Wynns

Anywhere Working Bristol

Rick Hurst talking about working on the road

Last night I gave a short talk at the Anywhere working Bristol event at The Birdcage. I spoke about my experiences of working on the road throughout our summer 2010 trip touring France in the beetle, while keeping my freelance business running from a tent, cafe’s and bars using a laptop, smartphone and various other gadgets. This was before we bought the campervan – hoping to do more of the same later this year in Rocky, but with the luxury of having my own “mobile office”, including such luxuries as leisure battery and fridge amongst other things.

There were also several other interesting talks, covering experiences and the culture of flexible working.

Worliday? I think I need a holiday

attempting another worliday in my favourite field

I read this article by Lucy Kellaway on the BBC news site – she invented the term “worliday” for a working holiday and is very enthusiastic about the idea, advocating it as the way forward. If you’ve read any of my previous articles about my experiences working throughout the summer last year on a six week road trip in france, you may have picked up that there are both good and bad points – I’ve written about the importance of “work/ loaf balance” here.

This summer we didn’t make it to france, but a couple of weeks ago I was working from borrowed dining room tables, cafe’s and the platform of a skateboard ramp in Ireland, and i’m writing this blog post from a field in Devon. So i’m still trying to make the nomadic working thing work, but this year I think fatigue is starting to creep in – the Ireland holiday was very social, staying with friends and house-sitting, but missing so much of what was going on around me bought home to me just how much of the actual holiday bit of a working holiday, is compromised by being obliged to work.

When I arrived at my favourite devon “secret campsite” this morning, my phone messages revealed that I had somehow missed not one but two client meetings in Bristol – my feelings of spontaneity were soon replaced by guilt. Then my wife and kid headed off to the beach, while I have ended up chain drinking tea in a camping chair, sending grovelling emails and grumpily punching keys on my laptop as I deal with technical issues that have cropped up on various websites.

One of the points that Lucy makes is that by working on holiday, you can justify going on holiday more often – I agree with this to an extent, but currently it feels more like I need longer and more holidays, so that I can scrape together enough actual holiday time. I think the long holiday worked last year because the time I spent not working equated to about the length of a normal holiday.

I start to relax a bit more as I get a bit of work done, but I know that when it’s time to down tools I will find it hard to switch off again, and tomorrow if anything delays me getting started with my work, anxiety will set in again – what I really need right now is a holiday!

(The pop-up tent in the photo above is a Quechua Base Seconds)

Combined messenger and pannier bag

Knog Franks Dog

I had been looking around for a messenger bag that can also be used as a pannier bag, as I tend to use a backpack when cycling with my laptop as I find a messenger bag moves around to much and I don’t like the unevenness of the weight distribution, but then would prefer a messenger bag when i’m back on foot.

I was surprised at the lack of available options on the market but eventually found this on from an Australian company called Knog. . This one (bought from chain reaction cycles) is suitable for up to 15″ laptops and has a showerproof canvas outer. There is a clever pull out silver reflective rain cover in a pocket at the back, if you get caught in heavy rain. There is also a waterproof version, but I wanted something that was primarily a comfy messenger bag, that also happens to work as a pannier, rather than a pannier bag that I can carry round.

As for the pannier attachment – it fits to a socket on the back of the bag, there are also attachments available (but bought seperately) to convert it to a backpack or handlebar mount, both of which I could see as being useful.

I’ve yet to use it in anger, but will update this blog post if I find any problems.