So, Cristina and I landed in Costa Rica and continued working, almost as normal. Except, it seems, I just traded my office for a coffee bar, the company laptop for my own, the grey Lund winter for the sunny tropics, clicking and typing away with the gentle sounds of waves behind me. It’s the life of the digital nomad, you think. And, you’re right. In a way it is, but not like that.
I do understand the appeal of the digital nomad. The pictures of pretty boys and girls with a cappuccino or fruit juice in a hip coffee bar, sitting with a smile behind their laptop? Awesome! However … just you try it. First of all, it is work that needs to be done. Most of the time, I don’t smile at all when working. No, I am very concentrated on what I do and that is not when I smile. Only after hours or days of work, there will be the occasional satisfied smile of having programmed something neat that works.
Secondly, even a coffee bar, to me is an exceptionally, but truly unproductive place. Why? It is noisy as hell. Abandon all hope of getting anything done, yea who enters a Wayne’s, Starbucks or Espresso House. They are not made for working, but for selling coffee. So, it starts with the noise of the espresso machine, because everybody wants fresh steaming milk in their cappuccino. Then they talk, laugh and cry while consuming their sound cloud of a beverage. Then there is the background music. It’s meant to go in the background, but it has this amazing capacity to go centre stage in my head and yank me out of my concentration. Perhaps it is me. I just do like quiet surroundings when I work.
Thirdly, it is a wait and see how comfy the chairs and tables are. A bar stool with a plank in front of a window? After an hour, my back needs a massage. Lounge chairs are not office chairs for a reason either. Next, working on an on-line database, I do need to be on-line. Not just, the “occasionally check your email” type of online. I need the “at least 10 Megabits per second download and 1 MBps upload, but preferably three times that” kind of on-line. The “glitch free uninterrupted connection for hours type of on-line”. Okay, they may have that. In some parts of the world.
Last in this rant : the amount of junk one needs to bring. Laptops are nice, and some are great, but even my Apple M1 won’t do 8 hours straight on one battery. Perhaps it did once, when it came straight out of the box. But after a year, it needs a power cable at some point during the work day. Also, one needs to bring an extension cord, because the next free power plug may be just out of range. Add a mouse, a tablet as an extra screen, a calendar, pen, notebook, headphones for your zoom meetings, and you will have a bag full of stuff.
I promised that the junk was the last part of the rant. Sorry, but there is one more, which my Dutch genes compel me to add. One is supposed to consume things in bars. Things that cost money. And even just one plain coffee don’t come cheap. I read somewhere that you’re supposed to order one consumption per hour. Add lunch and you could almost rent an office space: quiet, with good internet, an office chair and office table. Coffee may be included as well.
It still is too expensive for my budget. So, I am just sitting at home, making sure when Cristina and I are choosing a place in Airbnb, that it at least has a dining table with two chairs, quiet surroundings and a coffee machine. The dining table with chairs are ergonomically far from perfect, but a pillow helps. Such a place gets more quiet than a bar, but there is always a humming fridge, someone nearby who wants to play music, and noisy cars, trucks or motorcycles around the corner.
Of course, in the end it will never be a perfect working environment. But the point of this post is that the digital nomad image is just that. An idealized image. It does not fit the reality as I experience it. That, of course, does not mean that I regret coming here.