Workation Woman

This is an update to a post I wrote a few weeks ago about Maria Surma Manka, who has figured out how to combine work with travel. The St Cloud Times published an article by Stephanie Dickrell on September 30, 2018 that will give you a better idea of what Ms Manka has been doing.


Sunday, September 30, 2018

Area woman champions ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle

North Prairie resident dubs herself as the ‘Workation Woman’

Stephanie Dickrell


NORTH PRAIRIE — Four weeks in Barcelona. Six weeks in New Zealand. Six weeks in London.

All in just a few years.

That lifestyle feels unattainable for many: too much money, too few days off, too many commitments.

But North Prairie resident Maria Surma Manka has made it her reality.

She’s dubbed herself the “Workation Woman,” as in a “working vacation.” The list above are the workations she’s taken wit h her husband, Joram Manka, and two children, August, 7, and Baron, 9.

She recently published “Next-Level Digital Nomad: A guide to traveling and working from anywhere (even with kids and a day job),” to help others take the plunge.

“The stereotype of a digital nomad is someone young, unattached, with no kids, no mortgage, no car payments,” Surma Manka said.

But she thinks families can make it work. Her sons were ages 2 and 4 when they took their first workation to Barcelona.

“It’s … exposing (the kids) to new things and teaching (them they) can do it,” Surma Manka said.

Surma Manka was first inspired by “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich,” by Timothy Ferriss. In it, he explains how to take mini-retirements, Surma Manka explained.

While that didn’t seem feasible for her young family, it sparked an idea. She and her husband already spent some time working remotely from home. Why not work remotely from another country?

“When else do you get the chance to change everything about your life?” Surma Manka asked. “Where you wake up in the morning, where you shop, the movies you watch, the newspapers you read, the restaurants you visit, how you get to and from work … every aspect of your life changes. If you find that exciting like I do, then I think you should do it.”


Maria Surma Manka and her family have gone to London, New Zealand and Spain for workactions, working vacations. They are shown here in 2016 in front of the Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland. (Photo: Maria Surma Manka)

Maria Surma Manka talks about details involved in living and working abroad for several months at a time during an interview Wednesday, Sept. 26, at her home near Bowlus. (Photo: Dave Schwarz,

People do that every day, moving across the country or world for jobs and relationships. The beauty of the workation is it’s temporary.

“It’s for six weeks. And that’s the best part. If everything falls apart and you hate it, you’re back home within weeks,” Surma Manka said. “It’s a low-risk way to kind of really change up your life.”

No longer a tourist

In North Prairie, the family lives in a very secluded, rural area. So they seek out uber-urban places to workation.

“Our priority is to flip our lifestyle, but also to make sure our kids are safe and the work gets done. … Any other little thing doesn’t really matter,” Surma Manka said.

The workation allowed the family to explore new places as something more than a fly-by tourist.

“Some of the best things we’ve done are things that were not on any of our lists,” Surma Manka said.

While they were in London, it happened to be the Queen’s birthday.

“We found out that they do this big huge thing in Hyde Park, where they have 40 horses that race across the field with cannons,” Surma Manka said.

The family also has a routine when traveling.

“Whenever we land in a new city, the first thing we do is find the nearest playground,” Surma Manka said. “That’s just kind of how we settle in.”

They push their kids to try new thing s and explore, but not too much. Food is always a challenge.

“We have left restaurants where we sat down and were like, our kids will not eat anything. … They’re somewhat adventurous for their age. But we’re also not going to just make life more complicated,” Surma Manka said.

The grocery store is another place to explore and experiment.

“We’ll have a cabinet full of treats that we find at the grocery story and we go and try different sweets every day,” Surma Manka said.

Regular childcare provides opportunities for parents and kids. A nanny means mom and dad can go to a coworking location or a traditional office, where they can meet other people and explore.

For the kids, they also develop a relationship with someone new. For instance, in New Zealand, the family had a nanny who would take the boys to the zoo, to museums and other places.

“They did stuff that we never got to do,” Surma Manka said. “They’d be like, ‘Mom, we went to the museum today. We want to take you and Dad.’ So they could be our tour guides too.”

Those first workation in Barcelona was success and spurred Surma Manka and the family to go again.

“We learned we could do it … we wanted to do it again,” Surma Manka said. “But it was important to take it slow, especially with kids, and not go with a bunch of preconceived ideas or plans about what we were going to do and how we were going to do it.”

The workations always have the potential to change your life, she said. When she returned from Spain, she kept one habit she and her husband developed. Don’t go to work before 9 a.m.

“How do I think about my day a little bit differently, and not be quite so ‘go go go American’ all the time?” Surma Manka said. “What if when I got back, I didn’t schedule anything before 9 o’clock?”

It’s helped.

“Just that simple act when we got back made my life so much easier, because I felt like I had a little more breathing space in the morning,” Surma Manka said. “And nothing suffered. The work still all got done.”

A major commitment

Surma Manka says a workation can be a more economical and effective way to travel. But it does take a lot of money up front.

Maria Surma Manka looks through photog albums from her travels as a digital nomad with her family during an interview Wednesday, Sept. 26, at her home near Bowlus. DAVE SCHWARZ, DSCHWARZ@STCLOUDTIMES.COM


For her family, it took a year of being disciplined with spending.

“You’re really watching everything you spend. Do we really need it or do you just want it?” Surma Manka said. They seriously evaluate any purchase over $20.

It meant sacrificing other vacations or other luxuries.

“We rarely took trips in between. We didn’t even do long weekends up north, because we were really just saving everything for those big trips,” Surma Manka said.

One family Surma Manka met did without Christmas presents, so they could go.

” You have to put things off, like house repairs,” Surma Manka said.

Lodging, childcare and air fare are usually the biggest expenses. But there are ways reduce those costs.

Credit cards which earn airline miles can help. Older children might not need as much child care. It’s different for every family.

Surma Manka said workation doesn’t have to be something only people with higher incomes can do.

“I think this idea can work, pretty much whatever your financial situation or geographical limits are,” Surma Manka said.

It doesn’t have to be for six weeks in New Zealand or Spain, she said. Consider working from a cabin up north for a week or two, or from your company’s office or factory in another city. Maybe you have a r elative somewhere you can visit.

“I think if you think about your network and you just think about what makes sense for you, it can be as big or little of a financial commitment as you want,” Surma Manka said.

The family had friends in Spain, which they relied on during their first workation. The friends helped negotiate

the language barrier and find child care. “It was an easy way for us to experiment,” Surma Manka said.

No more excuses: You can do it, too

Surma Manka said people always tell her they wish they could do what she does.

“A lot of people just don’t know where to start,” Surma Manka said. “That’s why I started the website. That’s why I decided to write the book … to start sparking some ideas.”

How do you get ready? Plan. A lot.

Surma Manka spent 15 months on and off planning the first workation to Spain. “I think this (book) will at least help save people a couple weeks of work … to at least give people a jump start,” Surma Manka said.

The book has worksheets on choosing where to go, comparing expenses, finding housing, work places and child care, when you should be planni ng what and even a packing list. For a copy or more info, visit

She even gives advice on how to ask employers and schools support. When the family traveled to London, their oldest son was in first grade.

“Everybody at Royalton … understood that education happens all the time, not just in the classroom,” she said.

The family isn’t currently planning their next workation. But they do have ideas: everything from Tokyo and Brisbane, Australia, to Scandinavia and somewhere in North America.

“We’re really open to … what makes sense for our family at the time,” she said. Regardless of her now experienced planning skills, she still gets nervous.

“For about a week before, I can’t sleep,” she said. “But I t hink just how adaptable kids and the family can be as long as you take it slow … and you set priorities.”

Maria Surma Manka and her family have gone to London, New Zealand and Spain for workations, or working vacations. They are pictured here in 2016 in front of Big Ben in London. MARIA SURMA MANKA


About kcbernick

I love to travel.
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