• Dennis Dabney, 57, supercommutes from Texas to Arizona nearly every week.
  • He said it was the best thing he could've done for career advancement.
  • But it can take a financial toll, and it can be difficult to be away from family.

Dennis Dabney, 57, is no stranger to travel.

After serving in the Air Force for 26 years, Dabney started working for his current employer in 2016 in Virginia. As a military family, his wife and two children were used to moving, so when his company asked him three years later to relocate to Fort Worth, Texas, that's what they did.

Then 2022 rolled around, and Dabney was offered a promotion within his company to be a program director — in Phoenix. Dabney was excited about the opportunity, and he viewed it as the perfect chance to advance his career and boost his income.

His wife and two teenage kids, however, had set down roots in Fort Worth and didn't want to move again, and the same applied to his 88-year-old mother, who lived with his family.

So Dabney made the decision with his family to purchase an apartment in Phoenix, live there during the workweek, and commute back to Fort Worth on the weekends.

"I couldn't do this without the support of my family and my wife. And that has been crucial to decisions that I've made over the years about where to go and where to work," Dabney told Business Insider.

"You have to continue to have open communication with your family unit because things change, attitudes change, and you just have to figure out when things are getting out of hand or when things are going smoothly," he said.

Every other Friday, Dabney gets the day off from work, and that's typically when he chooses to book a 2 ½-hour flight back home using a budget airline such as Spirit or Frontier. His family also sometimes visits him while he's in Phoenix. While he said his company helped him with relocating costs, he estimated the supercommute was costing him roughly an extra $20,000 each year.

Supercommuting has grown increasingly popular over the past few years, with more Americans taking advantage of hybrid work environments to opt for longer commutes to work to boost their earnings. The American Community Survey data from the US Census Bureau found that, as of 2021, 3.1 million Americans fell into the supercommute category, or a journey to work that takes 90 minutes or longer.

Dabney loves his job, and while it can be difficult to be separated from his family, he's grateful they allowed him to pursue this opportunity. But he recognizes it's not a possibility for everyone.

"It's just my mindset, my background, and how to leverage all of that and learn how to create the quality of life that I want," Dabney said. "And it's just been a growing and development phase for me in figuring out what I want and what the art of the possible is."

'The whole experience has been very gratifying'

This wasn't Dabney's first experience with a supercommute. Prior to his new role in Phoenix, he was driving five hours to Louisiana every week for a different position in his company, and he made sure to come home every weekend to see his family and support his kids at their various sports tournaments.

"It was a nonstarter ripping my kids out of high school to go to Louisiana and then eventually Phoenix," Dabney said. "We moved quite a bit, but after we got to Texas, I got a clear signal from my family that they didn't want to move anymore."

If his kids were younger, Dabney said, being a supercommuter wouldn't have been possible for him. Doing so at this stage in his life allowed him to become an executive, earn more money to support his family, and find a job that gave him a sense of purpose — helping him feel confident in his decision to work more than a thousand miles away from home.

"The whole experience has been very gratifying," he said. "Having the experience to live in another part of the country that I probably wouldn't have lived in before has also been good."

Of course, the long commute has cons. Dabney said the airfare and second home were expensive, and he recommended that those considering a supercommute be transparent with their company about negotiating a compensation package that could help cover some of those costs.

He also said that, given his military background, he was used to traveling, but those who might not do so as frequently should consider whether they can manage hours each week in a car or on a plane.

As BI previously reported, data from the Stanford economists Nick Bloom and Alex Finan showed commutes of at least 75 miles increased 32% after the height of the pandemic, with hybrid work expanding living options.

It's a signal that more people may start considering the lifestyle Dabney has taken on — and while he said he had "no regrets," he cautioned that those taking on a long commute should have full clarity on its implications.

"I think the way the company looks at it, you are making a choice not to relocate your family to wherever the job site is, and you are deciding on your own to do the supercommuting away from your family," Dabney said. "It took me a while to realize that they don't really owe you anything else."

Are you, or were you, a supercommuter? Are you considering a supercommute? Share your story with this reporter at [email protected].

Correction: July 9, 2024 — This story was updated to clarify that the American Community Survey data from the US Census Bureau on supercommuting was from the year 2021.

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