The term “hush trip” is the latest jargon to appear in the remote working sector. Similar to a “workation” or “bleisure”, a hush trip is when you travel when working and specifically choose not to disclose this information to your employer.
How exactly might this look? Perhaps you want to go to the Caribbean this summer. You decide that rather than spend vacation days, you’ll keep working your full hours and just enjoy the beaches on the weekends. You work fully remotely and so don’t feel the need to inform your employer. If a colleague sees the pool in the background on a Zoom call, you’ll happily tell them where you are. What was initially a two-week trip becomes a two-month trip because you enjoy yourself so much.
Maybe you want to spend a month working from Europe, but your company doesn’t allow this within its remote working policy. You go anyway and actively hide this information from your employer. It could be that your company has mandatory office days once every two weeks, and you use sick leave and holidays to get around this.
It could be that one of your parents, who lives in another state, falls ill and you decide to stay with them for a while. You don’t tell your employer since it is just over the border, it won’t affect your work, and you don’t know how long you will stay there. You have now been working interstate for about six months.
These are all different examples of what a hush trip could look like. What does this mean for the future of remote working and the digital nomad movement?
Hush Trips and Tourism
At the end of 2022, several industry experts predicted that hush trips will be a big trend in 2023. More than 50% of people surveyed who took a trip in 2022 said they would consider taking a hush trip in 2023.
Becky Pokora, a credit card and travel rewards advisor at Forbes, suggested that the trend isn’t more popular now because of the costs.
“If you’re paying $200 a night to stay somewhere and you still have to spend all day working, you might not be willing to front that king of money. But I do think we’re going to start to see some of those prices come down.”
She suspects that the travel industry will pick up on and take advantage of this trend, with discounts for long-term accommodations emerging, plus extra services for remote workers such as high-speed Wi-Fi packages and rooms with dedicated workstations.
This is good news for digital nomads, who will also benefit from these offers.
Hush Trips and Employer-Employee Relations
Jim Detert, a professor at the University of Virginia’s public policy and business schools, suggests that hush trips could be a symptom of employees being more aware of self-care and actively seeking a better work-life balance.
This can only be a good thing for productivity. One German employee who takes an extended hush trip to the Canary Islands every winter reports that escaping the winter freeze has greatly increased his productivity and that the recent promotion to a leadership role can be directly linked with his improved performance thanks to his hush trips.
But the fact that employees can’t or choose not to reveal their decision to travel to an employer may reveal a misalignment between company policies and employee needs. The need to maintain secrecy can take a significant mental toll on employees and erode trust between a company and its team.
Detert suggests that companies need to be aware of these trends and put policies in place to accommodate for hush trips. This not only builds trust but can protect the company from some of the significant tax and legal issues they can face as the result of remote workers.
Going back to our first hush trip example, the employee did not tell their company that they were traveling because they didn’t think it was required or important because they work fully remotely. Perhaps her manager also doesn’t have a problem with them traveling without notification as long as the work get’s done. But, in certain circumstances, even this benign trip can cause major legal headaches for the company.
Tax and Legal Issues Associated with Hush Trips
Why should you have to tell your employer where you are working from when you work fully remotely? There are several reasons.
First, your employer is responsible for employee health and safety while they are working, even when they are working remotely. This is why your employer should be providing budget for equipment like an ergonomic chair for your home office and, at minimum, provide a self-completion guide for health and safety measures for your home office.
But their biggest problem is not you getting a sore back from sitting on a beach towel rather than a correctly aligned workstation when working. If you get caught up in a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or even something more benign, they could be legally responsible for you. And they might not even know where you are!
Plus, if you are in a country where you can’t work (as is the case on most tourist visas), your remote work could be counted as working illegally. Both you and your company could be become legally liable.
Data security can also become a major headache for companies if employees access company data via public Wi-Fi. Many companies will set up VPNs to enable employees to access company data securely. Remote workers may already have these set up for home use, but if they use the same system from abroad, this could trigger unusual activity warnings.
Another issue is that some companies have pay policies that are specifically linked to the cost of living and market factors where you are, so if you move state, it could affect your pay. For example, some companies may pay $225,000 for a role based in San Francisco and only $150,000 for the same role based in Oklahoma due to the cost of living. Depending on your company, if they discover that you have been working in Oklahoma for the last three months, this could have a huge impact on your pay.
Fortunately, more and more companies with remote workers are changing their location-based approach to pay. But employees should check whether their company is one of them and the fine print in their contract about location.
Most of the other major headaches only kick in when a person stays in a location for up to 183 days, and therefore becomes a tax resident. This won’t tend to affect employees that take a month-long hush trip, but could affect remote workers who don’t provide their employment with their accurate location.
This 183-day rule applies in most countries around the world and also in different states within the US, each of which has its own taxation laws. This affects the tax that you as an individual are liable to pay, and company tax withholding and social security liabilities.
Moreover, in some rare cases, a remote worker can constitute a fixed place of business for the company, which comes with its own tax implications. In some countries, just a home office can be enough to land a company in muddy waters. Individuals can also become classified as a “dependent agent” for the company if they act on behalf of the company in the host country and can sign contracts in the enterprise’s name.
Bringing Hush Trips into the Open
We have provided a pretty long list of very good reasons why hush trips are a bad idea! But that doesn’t mean that traveling while working is a bad idea. It can be great for personal well-being, productivity, and creativity when not accompanied by the issues of maintaining secrecy and unexpected financial consequences.
The fact that hush trips are on the rise is a clear sign that companies need to have better policies in place for allowing employees to travel while working. If you want to know more about which companies are doing it right, how they are doing it, and where there is considerable room for improvement, read our article on How to Create the Perfect Remote Work Policy.
But, if there are so many risks associated with traveling while working, how do digital nomads manage to travel long-term while working? There are many different breeds of digital nomads. There are entrepreneurs, freelancers, contract workers, and full time-employees. The main difference is that digital nomads on full-time contracts work with their company to mitigate risks.
But there is also no denying that tax liability and visas that allow work are some of the biggest headaches for digital nomads. Read our guide to Internation Taxes for Digital Nomads here and our tools for finding the best digital nomad visas here.