Note: this post has been updated for 2015, with a brand new recommendation (see number 10) and more. Here’s the fresh inside view of the outside world:
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?
Here are my top 10 favourite free range ‘office spaces’ around the world for the past five 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 first went there!
Tip: My favourite Sydney free ranging spaces tend to be east (from Bondi to Coogee) as you get to dip in the ocean in between work, but if you’re aren’t a beach person, check out Surrey Hills and Newtown as well.
2. BALI: 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). See my video tour of Ubud here!
UPDATE: When I first wrote this post, Ubud wasn’t quite as popular with digital nomads as it is now. It is still worth visiting and is a great place to start as it’s so VERY well set up with a thriving high speed internet co-working space too which means you’ll meet other free rangers on the way… but stay on the outskirts if serenity is what you are after.
A good bet is Penestanan, a little village a 15 minute walk (or 5 minute moped ride) from the centre of Ubud, but another world in itself. Penestanan was a local, ricefields based community which is now popular with travellers and expats – no cars in sight, you get around through wandering through the pathways through the ricefields. Make sure you visit Yellow Flower Cafe, an open fronted cafe among the trees; they are 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, overlooking the pond), Gallery cafe near Bethnal Green station, or a range of places around London Fields or Shoreditch (UPDATE: the new Ace Hotel’s lobby cafe opened in 2015 and is a top tip – laptop working is encouraged!)
More centrally, get off at Angel 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 CENTRESouthbank 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 and dedicated wifi – that’s where the above photo was taken.
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 (reliable and safe).
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).
10. COSTA RICA: Santa Teresa
Plane, bus, boat, tiny bumpy bus ride through some jungl-ey roads? All worth it to reach Santa Teresa. This might be my favourite place over the last 12 months – and every expat I met there clearly felt the same way as I heard the same story over and over “I came for a few weeks, and never left”.
Santa Teresa has one (dusty) street, one surf-heaven ocean and several tiny locally run hangouts with fresh smoothies, fresh coconuts and lovely simple food. It’s simple, beautiful and after a few days you’re smitten.
It’s not huge with digital nomads at the moment, probably because it’s slightly harder to get to (but worth it!) and also because the internet is not as high speed as other places – however, I ran a 2 week online event (involving daily Skype calls) and with the support of the brilliant BNB owners it went off without a hitch, so I would confidently work from there again.
Where I stayed: Griss Surfhouse (run by Italian friends who ditched their jobs to come and run this amazing – thriving! – space) and as a treat at the end, Canaima Chillhouse (say hi to Juan-Carlos who has done an amazing job creating this place). I was only passing through so was there for around 3 weeks in total but if you want to go for longer, you may want to rent a villa – there are plenty around the hills!
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