The past year of my life has been spent making my foray into being a digital nomad in conjunction with adjusting to life on a remote island in the Philippines. During that timespan I’ve lived and worked in six different set ups. Working remotely on an island has taught me, through a serious lack of productivity, exactly what I need in a workspace. I’ve also learned how many minor conveniences I used to take for granted.
This list probably bears middling to small resemblance to what other nomad’s lists may look like. A lifestyle blogger on the same island as me chooses her workspaces based on pool access. Read, ponder, but ultimately you’ll have to take off and figure out what works for you.
In no particular order:
The international symbol for “please don’t talk to me,” headphones have the dual benefit of preventing and blocking out distractions. Whether it’s well-intentioned people in a hostel asking me what I’m working on, or my lovely fiancé inquiring whether I’m hungry, an interruption in my work flow can mean entire paragraphs lost from my head forever. Anyone who has tried noise cancelling headphones knows their power. Slip them on and everything, save you and your laptop, ceases to exist.
Chronic back pain in my 20s is on my “colossal unfair events in my life” list (tongue-in-cheek, I’ve been incredibly privileged.) Cooly sitting at a bar for hours, scribbling notes in a moleskin and sipping on a midday manhattan? Not likely when 30 minutes on a bar stool means I’m uncomfortable enough to lose focus. Desks and desk chairs aren’t much better. Forget working from home, I work from my bed. Pillows and the art of lounging result in uninterrupted hours of productivity. Giant cushy sofas and hammocks are equally acceptable.
I would reconsider spending the amount of time that I have in the Philippines based on internet connectivity issues. Working remotely puts you completely at the mercy of your internet connection. An online English teaching job with students that I loved and pay in sweet, sweet American dollars was lost because of unreliable internet. Trying to take a course on Team Treehouse became a bitter battle against slow streaming or videos failing to load completely. Purchasing my own router instead of relying on internet at resorts or pocket wifi helped mitigate this problem slightly.
Water (bodies of, not drinking)
There’s probably a psychological study to explain this phenomenon — the two places I’ve been able to consistently work well are right next to a body of water. The second floor lounge area at Viento del Mar is beachfront and provides a 180 degree view of the Philippine Sea. As I write this post, I’ve been happily researching and typing for hours without a break listening to the river flow alongside the little bungalow we’re currently residing in*.
Access to Tech Repair
What’s a digital nomad without her laptop? A poverty stricken nomad, that’s what. Laptop failure is an unlikely problem, but knowing the closest place to get your laptop repaired, or to purchase a replacement, is imperative. Working remotely means the possibility of incurring travel costs in the event of emergency. Your emergency savings should be large enough to cover the cost of travel to the repair location as well as the cost of the repair. The absolute last thing you want is to return home sooner than expected with no foreseeable source of income.
At one point during my most recent minor relocation I realized that at least three hours of my day was being eaten up (hehe) by the process of getting food. Walking to the market, cooking, dishes… it all adds up. Ordering food at a restaurant isn’t much faster. The modern miracles of refrigerators and tupperware keep 1+ hour interruptions from happening. A refrigerator seems like a given in the western world, but that’s not always the case in rural Asia. Nearby casual eateries with grab and go food, locally called carinderia, are the other thing I rely on to keep my stomach full and schedule on track.
There absolutely needs to be an electrical socket close to the seating area. Again, not something you would necessarily think about in advance if you’re used to buildings in North America or Europe. Working remotely on an island has taught me to be more aware of how I interact with my environment, so that I can make informed choices such as checking for plug-ins before renting a place. Twiddling your thumbs while your laptop charges in some inconvenient location across the room is not efficient time management.
I’m excited for my upcoming year abroad. It will be my third away from home, but my second relying on my laptop and wits to survive. I finally feel like I’ve figured things out a little bit. I feel comfortable in the work groove I’ve been in lately. My income is a hodgepodge of blog posts, short nature related news articles, business operations content for a resort and the odd upwork.com contract.Whether I continue working remotely from Siargao is TBD. There are so many places to go! What do you need in a workspace? How long have you been on the road? Tell me all about it in the comments.
*The past few weeks we’ve lived in Lanuza instead of Siargao Island