Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Working in the web industry, I began getting fed up of trailing all the way to an office to work. When I moved to web agency Say Hello, I vowed to make the most of “remote working”.

Historically speaking, working in an office has been held to be the most efficient place to carry out administrative and technical work. But the world has been changing over the past decade to allow many office workers to abandon the office desk and work from a range of places which may not come immediately to mind.

My working environment isn’t based around a physical office, but on a computer running a local web server and an IDE in which to write code. I need a relatively good internet connection, although that is usually only necessary so that I can look up information. Thanks to Say Hello paying for an unlimited mobile phone contract, which includes high-speed 5G internet access when it’s available, I can plug my phone in to my laptop and use the mobile phone network instead of patchy or terminally-slow wifi. This level of portability has allowed me to work in shared co-working spaces, at airports whilst waiting for a flight, and when visiting family. A larger portion of a website I built for a local paragliding school was developed in a converted church in Cockermouth, before I decamped to Scotland and spent a week or so in a guest bedroom at my in-laws’ house completing the project.

But I digress.

When I began travelling to visit clients in Zürich in 2019, I found out that I could work well on the efficient Swiss trains, mainly thanks to a good pair of noise-cancelling set of headphones which keep the world at bay. After the first couple of trips, I realised that my focus was a lot more acute when working on the train: by closing myself off through the use of my headphones, and knowing that I only have a fixed period in which to work—before the train arrives at its destination—I get on with things instead of becoming distracted by social media or the view out of the window.

Finding this out gave me the idea to get one of the reduced-price all-day train tickets and spend the day working on the train: travelling to one of the far reaches of the country without taking a day off. Once there, I’d enjoy the chance to have lunch in a town which I rarely see outside holiday trips, then spend the afternoon working my way home again. The arrival of COVID in 2020 put back my plans somewhat, but I decided to revive my plans last month. After suggesting the idea to a friend from the WordPress community, we booked our tickets and headed for the southern lakeside town of Ascona.

After a slightly disrupted journey to Bern, I spent the next three hours or so working as I’d intended; meeting Michi when changing trains at Zürich’s main station and then heading for Locarno with another change in Bellinzona. Travelling to canton Ticino is always reminiscent of holidays in Italy, with the first train announcements coming in Italian after leaving Zürich and then a more mediterranean feeling after racing at 194 km/h through the Gotthard Base Tunnel beneath the mountains of Uri and Graubünden, which divide northern and southern Europe.

Thanks to delays on the first part of my journey, we decided to abandon our plans to head all the way to Ascona, as that would’ve added a bus journey to each direction of our long journey. We arrived in Locarno and headed for a pizzeria near the lake instead, enjoying the warm sun which has been lacking north of the mountains and hobbling through a conversation with the waitress in our holiday-maker Italian. The homeward journey was less eventful than the outward trip and I decided to make full-use of the day ticket, returning again via Zürich (a four-hour trip) instead of taking the shorter, more direct route (3h25) via Domodossola, so that I could get plenty more work done as I headed north.

The trip was great fun and also productive, so I definitely hope to repeat the experience later in the year. The longest national route that I can find from Spiez is to Lugano (again in canton Ticino), so that might be my next destination. The longer each leg of the journey is, the better it is for working and both Michi and I found that working like this makes time fly. A four-hour journey in each direction might sound like a long time on a train, but the focus of using the time for a day’s work didn’t prove any more taxing than a full day in the office.

Grotty weather near Olten
Change of train at Zurich’s “HB” (Hauptbahnhof) main station
“Office” for the first part of the journey, between home and Zürich
Zürich main station
First-class SBB carriage between Zurich and Bern
First-class SBB carriage between Zurich and Bern
Michi in the train
Working at 194 km/h in the Gotthard Base Tunnel
Passing Lago Maggiore at Locarno
Passing Lago Maggiore at Locarno

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