Qualitative Research from the R.O.A.D.

by Cynthia D. Harris, Founder, 8:28 Consulting, Columbus, Ohio, cynthia@the828firm.com

Traveling has always been a passion of mine, but I never considered I could work and travel at the same time until 2019. For six months—July 2019 to January 2020—I was able to take my work on the “R.O.A.D.,” while still staying close to clients, consumers, and family back home in the United States.

My yearlong journey took me from Split, Croatia, to Cape Town, South Africa, and even to Machu Picchu in Cusco, Peru. From reflecting on the mountaintops of Patagonia, Chile, to relaxing on the beaches of Valencia, Spain, what I discovered was a newfound joy in experiencing moments that would increase my empathic abilities while also filling my wanderer’s soul with joy.

I hope my insights about how I arrived at the decision to work while traveling, along with “roadmap tips,” may help you consider doing something similar when the world reopens. Here are my thoughts from being on the R.O.A.D.—Rationale, Objectives, Accountability, and Discovery.


“Very few people or organizations know ‘why’ they do what they do. And, by ‘why’ I don’t mean to make a profit… that’s a result. By ‘why’ I mean ‘what’s your purpose, your cause, your belief?’” states Simon Sinek in his book, Start with Why.

When I decided to spend time traveling, it was primarily driven by my desire to discover my “why,” both personally and professionally. After spending quite some time in corporate roles, I needed to think about the legacy I wanted to create. My rationale for traveling while working became especially focused on not just what I could get out of the experience, but also who I might become as a result of having such an out-of-the-box experience.

As I explored this newfound focus, I began to reach out to other professionals who were working and/or building businesses from the road. I met a woman who works for a nonprofit that places students with internship opportunities. I met another woman who had just started a coaching practice that she built while abroad. I even met someone from my hometown who I did not previously know; it turned out that he and his wife wrote the business plan for their co-working space while traveling abroad.

In speaking with others who had taken this leap of faith, I discovered one resounding truth—each was on their own unique journey to find their “why.” When I realized this, I thought that my rationale did not sound too outlandish; and I began to believe it was possible to both travel and work at the same time. I had found my tribe.

Roadmap Tips:

  • Get clear on your “why.” Read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why.
  • Find your tribe. Proactively reach out to people who are living the lifestyle you want to create.


Once I committed to the idea of traveling while working, I then began to set objectives for myself. I created personal goals and business objectives to serve as my guiding light while traveling. My business objectives included: ensuring client satisfaction remained high, expanding my professional community, and leveraging tools to do my work more efficiently, among others.

News flash…no one asks where in the world you are if you focus on doing your job well. Though I was clearly in other time zones, I never made a big deal out of where I was around the globe. My location never really came up in many client calls and on the rare occurrence when it did, it was an added benefit to the conversation as we exchanged travel tips and gained a closer working relationship.

Additionally, traveling with a community of people, many of whom are entrepreneurs, was absolutely the right choice for me. This community—twenty-five working professionals who I lived and worked with throughout the program—was helpful in figuring out what was realistic, what was achievable, and what was aspirational from a work-life-play perspective. We were all in it together and traded productivity tips and tricks along the way. In fact, I still keep in touch with my travel tribe and we continue to help each other.

Lastly, another objective of mine was to leverage digital tools (e.g., web conferencing, digital capture) while I traveled. I was very fortunate to work with a tech-enabled startup company while traveling, which allowed me to be part of a team while also working to grow my qualitative consulting practice.

Roadmap Tips:

  • Consider partnering with one large client and be “all in” while you take your show on the road.
  • Learn about tools that will enable you to do your job from anywhere.
  • Research digital communities to join.


When traveling to exotic places while working, it is critical to build in a system of accountability. Shout out to my “travel family” again! Traveling with a structured travel program gave me the beauty of a built-in community. When I needed to work late nights (which happened often as I maintained U.S. EST hours), I was never alone because, inevitably, someone else had late night work as well.

I was also transparent with trusted friends and colleagues about my goals so they could check in on my progress while I traveled. Yes, the pictures I posted may have looked like I was on vacation, but I was far from being in vacation mode. Actually, I found myself working quite a bit more than I typically do when in the States out of pure gratitude for the experience I was having.

Tactically speaking, Google Calendar also became my most favorite tool. I literally scheduled my day (and still do) down to the minute. While I allowed myself some flexibility and grace, having a time-blocked calendar allowed me to focus on the most important tasks each day.

Finally, I gave each task a clear start and stop time. I often set a timer to ensure deep work focus. Whether prepping for a client call, analyzing data, or thinking of a new way to approach methodology, when in focused work periods, I used the timer to help me dedicate effort toward the task at hand.

Roadmap Tips:

  • Find a community of like-minded people to support your work/life desires.
  • Become a time-blocking expert and use digital tools.
  • Set a timer for productivity sessions. (My travel family and I called these times “productivity powerhouse sessions.”)


It is important to remember that when traveling, things rarely go precisely as planned. This is why it is critical to keep an open mind while you are preparing to take your show on the road.

My journey through discovery while traveling introduced me to new tools for connecting with consumers, new ideas for getting close to them through video technology, and new ways of working with them. Instead of concerning myself with what I couldn’t do while traveling (e.g., in-person focus groups, in-home interviews), I focused on what I could do and how I could do it. This led me down a path of diving deeply into the evolving world of qualitative research.

I learned that video is acceptable to many clients and others would prefer to wait until in-person was possible. I learned that video could be used to influence internal corporate partners and agency partners alike. Finally, I learned consumers actually welcome video research as a methodology and were eager to take me into their lives.

Beyond professional discovery, of course there was my personal journey as well. I discovered that I appreciated the ability to work from anywhere but that I actually quite enjoy working with humans in person. I learned that it was OK to “turn off” on the weekends (not something I’m awesome at doing) and to simply enjoy my surroundings. I discovered the pleasure in breathing in the benefits of my hard work.

Roadmap Tips:

  • Get ready for discovery—of yourself and of new ways of doing things—and realize sometimes the discovery is not pretty.
  • Accept that, similar to research, things rarely go as planned when you are country hopping and that is OK.

When I decided to be a fully-digital qualitative researcher about this time last year, little did I know COVID-19 was coming in 2020. Now, I look back on my work and travel experiences with sincere gratitude, as it was a fortuitous experience compared to what we are now living through—while trying to translate qualitative research to online platforms.

When we are able to navigate the world after COVID-19, in addition to learning in new environments and among new tribes, it is important to take moments on your journey to pause and take stock of where you are, where you’re going, and your vision. Know that it’s OK to revise and change direction and ways of thinking, as you would types of luggage, to help you get wherever it is you’re going—physically and/or mentally. Also know that anything is possible. The “R.O.A.D.” ahead is still bright, and you can do anything you set your mind to—especially if that is traveling and working at the same time! I plan to spend more time in the United States in 2020 (thanks to COVID-19); however, I will integrate months of “working while traveling” into my future forevermore.

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