When I was in a job, I dreamt of being able to travel and work anywhere.
I loathed being stuck in a bland, beige office every day (particularly when it meant commuting for an hour in a peak-time sardine-packed tube train jammed under the armpits of coked-up City boys in suits… but that’s another story).
The point is: as soon as I ditched my job to work for myself I vowed never to step foot in a cubicle again. And indeed I haven’t. The big question was… where do you work when you don’t have an office to go to?
Today, give me a laptop and an internet connection, and the world is my office: combine that location independence with a love of travel, and the result is an intimate acquaintance with the beaches, shared work spaces and cafe scene of cities from Siem Reap to San Diego.
Here are my top 10 favourite free range ‘office spaces’ around the world for the past two years:
1. AUSTRALIA: BONDI BOOKSHOP/CAFE
This is Gertrude and Alice, a Bondi Beach cafe… in the centre of a beautiful rambling secondhand bookshop. The tables are scattered throughout the store and you sit anywhere in the company of your favourite book (and great Campos coffee). Perfect inspiration for a spot of book-writing as well – which is lucky as that’s why I was there!
Sydney is mecca for digital nomads seeing cafe space for their laptops. I’m yet to find a dud cafe in this town and of course everyone is super-friendly.
Tip: My favourite Sydney free ranging spaces tend to be east (from Bondi to Coogee) as you get to dip in the ocean on breaks but if you’re aren’t a beach person, check out Newtown and Surrey Hills as well.
2. BALI: VILLA NEAR UBUD
My ‘office’ in Bali: at a villa in the ricefields, home for a month. Ducks were the main neighbours (along with a slightly irate French couple who started shouting one evening when we thought it would be a nice idea to run a live teleclass from the balcony. Due to time differences this started at midnight. Turns out sound travels over ricefields. Oops. Pardon, Monsieur). Other than that, a smooth ride. Amazing wifi internet connection too.
Bali is perfect for location independent working. It it beautiful, warm, friendly and also great value for money. You can get a whole Bali-style villa for the price of a room rental in most Western cities (though if you want air conditioning you will pay a lot more).
Tip: Ubud is increasingly popular with free rangers…. and, it seems with the rest of the world. Not quite the serene village many imagine, think clogged traffic and noisy horns! It is still worth visiting but stay on the outskirts if serenity is what you are after.
We stayed in Penestanan, a little village a 15 minute walk (or 5 minute moped ride) from the centre of Ubud, but another world in itself. Penestanan is a local, ricefields based community. There are no streets (park your bike near the main restaurant along with the locals and walk home on the little paths).
Occasionally I would decamp to Yellow Flower Cafe, an organic cafe on the edge of a hill 5 minutes walk from the villa (left at the roosters). Happy for you to sit there with a cocoa date smoothie and free-range in Bali style… next to travellers on the search for enlightenment, fresh from Yoga class next door.
3. ITALY: TUSCAN VILLA
This was the view while sitting with my laptop – the view stretches across to San Giminiano (in the distance). This 13th century villa in the Tuscan hilltop town of Certaldo was home for a month. It had great wifi internet, and to clear your head, the opportunity for lots of long walks through the vineyards at the doorstep. I came here to start writing my book, and am very glad I stayed.
Tip: Italy is a great place for location independent types – easy to travel around, lots of beautiful accommodation, but just make sure your place has internet as it is surprisingly hard to find the public places and cafes.
4. AUSTRALIA: SURF CLUB IN NEWCASTLE, NSW
This is Merewether Surf Club, in Newcastle, Australia: a three storey space with cafe, cocktail lounge and event space, conveniently located exactly next to my favourite ocean baths. And, as luck has it, friendly to free range humans with laptops.
Tip: if you’ve never heard of Newcastle, a few hours north of Sydney, you’re missing out. Best beaches in the world, chilled out and a thriving community of social media connected humans. Stay near the beaches and check out Darby Street for some of my favourite cafes, such as Frankie’s Place, as seen in this photo)
5. LAOS: HAMMOCK ON THE NAM-OU
In a hammock, laptop at the ready. This was taken outside my little hut in a village in northern Laos. To get there, go to Luang Prabang, take a 6 hour long boat ride, an overnight stop, and another few hour’s boat trip. In other words, somewhat isolated.
No power during daylight hours. One main (dirt) with chickens, two shops (shacks by the street selling sweets) and no cars. Perfect conditions for getting work done without getting distracted by Facebook.
Tip: if you are looking to work more conventionally in Laos (ie: connected to the rest of the world!), Luang Prabang is the best option. I became a regular, pootling across on my bike to several excellent French style cafes in this sleepy, world heritage protected, French-colonial town.
6. UK: LONDON CAFES (and co-working spaces)
I love working out of cafes for the quiet buzz of having other people around… but still having the privacy to focus.
You can find spots all over London but as a general rule the East is a treasure trove of free range workspots – for example the Pavillion in Victoria Park (where much of the 21 Day course was written), Gallery cafe near Bethnal Green station, or a range of places around Brick Lane (including Brick Lane Coffee House or Allpress).
More centrally, get off at Angel or Highbury and Islington and head up Upper Street for pretty much endless options (Euphorium Bakery is one of my stalwarts).
All of these (except Pavilion) have good free wifi.
Tip: I tend to choose cafes over official co-working spaces just because I get better work done in this environment. However if you prefer a more formal arrangement check out the beautifully designed The Hub in Kings Cross (London), or the equivalent shared work space in your city.
A shared working space will allow you to use hot-desking space (and other facilities) for a monthly fee. Cheaper than an office and a great way to meet other free rangers too.
7. UK: LONDON SOUTHBANK CENTRE
Photo via Southbank Centre
The Southbank Centre has to be the best Free Range workspaces in London, and one of the best in the world. Great views (as above).
It is a large space that you can just walk in and use. Free Wifi for everyone. Hundreds of spread out desk spaces that you can use all day just by showing up. Plus, the occasional musical event strikes up in the performance space just after lunch.
Great for informal meetings in central London as well as a day tapping away on your next free range project.
Tip: become a member for a low annual fee. While you can use everywhere else for free, becoming a member gets you access to the Southbank Centre members lounge upstairs, with a nicer seating area, the best views – that’s where the above photo was taken – and better wifi connection.
After work tip: Skylon bar on the middle floor is one of my favourite bar spaces in central London and also serves the best espresso martinis in the world (though that’s another blog post).
8. USA: SAN FRANCISCO
This is Dolores Park in San Francisco where I was a regular on weekdays with my laptop. I stayed in the Mission/Castro district – of which this park is the social hub in summer – and felt at home immediately. The area is full of free range humans! Every cafe is filled with people on laptops and you can get the best chocolate gelato outside of Italy (right at the end of that park).
The SF list of cafes and shared spaces ideal for free range working is too long to begin. Simply grab your laptop, head for Dolores park and work out from there.
Tip: I travelled around California – and much of the rest of the world – using AirBnb. This is an essential in the free range toolkit: a website where people rent out their apartments, or individual rooms to travellers (super reliable and safe).
If you prefer privacy get a place to yourself but I find that starting out by renting just a room lets you meet incredible locals you would otherwise never come across. For San Francisco, I met the lovely Christina through AirBnb.com, and her place, two streets up from this park, was so perfect I stayed there twice on one trip.
9. ON THE COUCH
Sometimes the best office is quite simply at home. At your kitchen table, or on your own sofa. Occasionally other ‘team members’ drop by.
This little guy was my Vice President Of Shredding Newspapers (the ‘with bare teeth’ division). This here is a team meeting.
10. THAILAND: TBA
New possibilities are always exciting. This space is saved for a new destination I’m visiting from this week…. and I’m predicting it’s a winner!
In the centre of a Thai island, it’s a little hideaway I’m going to work out of for a month. Watch this space for updates and see if the prediction holds and it stays in the top 10!
Have you got a favourite workspace? Or ideas for your dream workspace? Share in the comments below!