After four months of working from home, Jack Boswell was dreaming of distant shores and wondering, "If I was a thousand miles away, would my boss even know the difference?" For better or worse, he is putting that question to the test.

Like many people fortunate enough to still have their job, I found my kitchen table converted into a cluttered conference room. I had been interested in flexible working but my employer is less cutting edge, more cutting the figure of an octogenarian trying to use the self-checkout. I shouldn’t be facetious. I love the place and there are good people whose lives have been capsized by the economic waterfall over which we’ve plummeted.

Laptop with view .jpg
Jack's view over the 

Nevertheless, the ten second commute was a welcome change. I was able to structure my days in more fulfilling ways, which did wonders for my mental health. I could fit in mini walks, calls with my grandma or a sourdough-kneading session. (Yes, I’m one of those people). But the itch to travel remained. For months, I questioned how best to to see the world when borders reopened, if I’d even want to. Having road-tripped around the US, I began to think perhaps driving was the safest way of traveling in Europe if I was to avoid packed trains and planes.

A man stands facing away from the camera looking into citrus groves with rolling hillsides in the distance
Jack in the citrus groves of Andalucía © Jack Boswell

My girlfriend needed no convincing, and we booked a small outbuilding on an isolated citrus farm in the Andalucían hills of southern Spain. Whilst she was brave enough to run it past her boss, I kept it to myself. We’d been told to work from home but the saying goes, "home is where the heart is" and my heart was in Andalucía. We’ve all heard of the "digital nomad" but I wanted to test how compatible that lifestyle is with more traditional 9 to 5s. I wanted to become a secret nomad.

There would be obstacles to overcome. The greatest was team drinks, which takes place by video each week. Several colleagues had commented on the decor in my flat, but I wasn’t sweating it. I had a plan.

A red Fiat 500 convertible car on a dusty road in the sunshine, with a painting sticking out through the roof
Jack's plan for team drinks was in the back for the Fiat © Jack Boswell

As we set off in my tiny Fiat 500, I grappled with feelings of guilt at traveling too soon. Was it irresponsible to go abroad and risk spreading the virus? We reminded ourselves that, over the 550 mile drive to our first stop in Angoulême in southwestern France, we would come face-to-face with fewer people than on a single supermarket outing in Camden Town. Arriving at the Eurotunnel, we joined a line of cars snaking back-and-forth like a steel python. Clearly we weren’t the only ones swapping a crammed flight for the comforting bubble of our car.

Our first day "on the job", I was overcome by nervous excitement. New life was breathed into mundane tasks like sifting through emails when juxtaposed with the medieval city outside our windows. I counted down the minutes to my morning catch up. Whilst the ringing tone of a phone would give away I was in Europe, internet calling sounds the same across the globe. I really like my boss and didn’t want to deceive her, so I committed to a policy of "partial honesty". When asked about my weekend, I gave truthful answers like, "I went for a long drive", leaving out the minor detail it had taken ten hours and involved crossing borders.

A white man with brown hair sits by a river smiling at the camera
Jack by the Charente river in France © Jack Boswell

On evening walks, we passed through Place du Palet, where locals sat outside cafes sipping rosé nonchalantly. Having spent months scrubbing our groceries after each shop, the thought of sitting in a restaurant felt reckless. Much as we would have loved to join them, the purpose of the trip was to travel whilst staying away from the potential dangers of the re-opening world.

We left Angoulême, cheered on by sunflower meadows and crossed into Spain, winding through the verdant contours of the Pyrenees. The mountains began to taper off as we moved south and deep greens gave way to the hazier shades of a more arid landscape. After spending a night in the hills north of Madrid – carefully disinfecting our hotel room – we rose early and hotfooted it south to Andalucía.

Casarabonela: a town of white building nestled in a valley among green hillsides
Casarabonela became home for to the secret digital nomad © Jack Boswell

Olive groves greeted us, stretching into the distance as if they were a patterned cloth draped gently over the hillsides. Arriving in the small town of Casarabonela, we met our hosts and followed them up a dusty track to their farm, nestled high outside the town. This would be home for the next six weeks.

Though the reality of work soon returned, there were enough changes to my routine that the novelty didn’t wear off. In the mornings, we wandered through citrus groves, picking beautifully misshapen oranges and lemons – no supermarket perfection here. During the day, I worked outside despite the 95ºF (35ºC) heat. If I felt a seed of stress beginning to put down roots, I took a breath and gazed out at the white fincas dotting the landscape. The intrusive sound of cicadas meant phone calls had to happen inside – judging from the unrelenting level of their mating chirps, I could only assume I was staying on a particularly sex-starved hillside.

A man sits at a desk with a laptop. Behind him is a stunning view of olive groves. A painting by artist Georgia O'Keeffe is propped against the wall
Jack needed to replicate the backdrops of home for his team calls © Jack Boswell

There was only one thing which could bring my new life crashing down around me: team drinks. Alongside the luggage stuffed in the car was a large print of Georgia O’Keefe’s Ritz Tower, Night which I’d bought from her retrospective at the Tate Modern. It had hung on my living room wall throughout lockdown and was the most distinctive part of my background on video calls. I planned to place it behind me to smooth the transition and stave off suspicion from colleagues. Though I felt guilty at the concerted attempt to conceal my whereabouts, I couldn’t resist introducing a little farce. My colleagues are all good-natured and I hoped they would see the humor in it when I finally came clean. Not wanting to put a nail in the wall, I propped the painting on a large pot. As 5pm approached, I checked the weather in London and pulled a grey jumper over my pastel-pink t-shirt. It was hot in Andalucía but I needed to fit in with the English climate. My colleagues seemed none the wiser, until I shuffled to re-adjust myself and knocked the pot by mistake, sending the painting tumbling out of view. I fumbled for an excuse. Whether they believed me remains to be seen.

A white sheet hangs on a wall with a painting by Georgia O'Keeffe (a skyscraper at night) propped up against it
A sheet and a painting were key to creating the illusion of home © Jack Boswell

It’s been a month since we left England. There’s been no impact on the quality of my work and it feels like the right time to come clean. I’ll be the first to admit this experiment isn’t open to everybody. It’s hard not to feel guilty when I think of a close friend who spent months treating patients in hospital, covered in PPE. I’m lucky I could work remotely, didn’t have commitments tying me to home and found someone to sublet my flat for a month.

Soon, I will speak to my boss and face the music. But can the organization really conjure a compelling reason why I should return to my desk, lit by fluorescent lighting panels, after I’ve worked under a canopy of blue sky with no discernible difference? Who knows, maybe my boss had a similar plan herself and I’ll bump into her walking along the dusty track. Either way, I hope this emergency health measure becomes a permanent way of life for many of us. Wish me luck.

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