2016 was a huge year in the story of my life; it’s the year I sold almost everything I owned and left my home in Melbourne, Australia to start travelling the world while working remotely. It’s been a bumpy road at times but on the whole it’s been a positive, and even life-changing experience; my personality and outlook on life have developed in ways I previously never though possible.
I was fortunate enough to visit 18 cities in 11 countries in 2016; I had intended to write a little about each as I went but that didn’t end up happening. Instead, here are my thoughts on (and a few recommendations for) the cities I particularly enjoyed my time in during my most recent trip around the sun.
Budapest was a huge surprise to me; it’s somewhere that I would never have considered visiting, but on the back of recommendations from a couple of friends I booked accommodation for a six-week stay there in October-November and loved the place so much that I came back for another six weeks after a brief stint in Zagreb.
The city is well setup for working remotely with a number of co-working spaces, an abundance of great cafes, and a low cost of living. I spent most of my time working from Coffice which is a cafe/co-working space that’s a little bit different in that you don’t need to pay a fee to work there, rather it’s implied that you’ll order a coffee or two or some lunch while you’re there. It’s a cool space and was obviously popular with local students and remote workers alike as it was pretty tough to find a seat after about 1pm most days.
In terms of paid co-working spaces, I worked at Kaptar for a couple of weeks and that too was a great spot. Community is a big focus for Kaptar, with a weekly group lunch and a bunch of after-work activities to help you get to know the people you’re working alongside everyday. Other options include Impact Hub, Mosaik and The Hub; I didn’t check any of these out myself but I heard great things about Impact Hub and Mosaik in particular.
After committing to a membership at a co-working space for the first time (Kaptar), I’m not sure that co-working is necessarily for me; I like the variety of working from a bunch of different places each week and signing up for a membership made me feel somewhat obligated to work there each day so I felt like I was getting value for money. When I’m back in Budapest though I’ll definitely experiment with working at Kaptar again.
Blog posts on Chiang Mai are a dime a dozen so I won’t go on and on here but Chiang Mai was my first long-term destination after leaving Melbourne in January and it gave me the soft landing I was looking for when getting to grips with working remotely. After spending a total of three months there over three visits in 2016 it actually started to feel like home (so much so that I’m back in CM right now).
Being back in Chiang Mai it’s apparent how much the place has changed since I first visited 12 months ago. The city (the Nimman area at least) is markedly busier with what seems like loads more tourists than a year ago, and I’ve also found finding a short-term apartment rental significantly more difficult than in the past. Having said that, the things that make Chiang Mai great like the thriving community, the excellent coffee & food and the blazing internet speeds are all still here, so I’m looking forward to my next couple of months in CM.
I had a blast in New York and I can’t wait to get back. It felt a little surreal to finally be experiencing a place that I’d seen so much of on TV and in movies as a kid but the reality exceeded my expectations. From the beers, to the burgers, to the good times shared with my Airbnb hosts (a couple of 20-something guys in Bushwick) it was the highlight of my 2016.
New York is also where I first tried Croissant, a cool product for finding co-working spaces. A Croissant membership gives you access to any of the 30-odd spaces affiliated with Croissant throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn or New Jersey. The flexibility is awesome; I picked up the 40 hour membership (99USD) and spent my days working in Midtown, Soho, Bushwick and Union Square and this variety meant I explored a new part of the city each day before and after work. You can hold a seat at a space for up to an hour to ensure you don’t trek into Manhattan (for example) to find your preferred space is full up, and some spaces allow you to unlock their doors electronically via the Croissant app which is pretty cool.
I went into my time in New York without a list of things I felt I had to do and I reckon that made for a better experience. Ordinarily I’d probably try to hit all of the big-ticket items for tourists (like the Statue of Liberty, the September 11 Memorial etc) but I skipped that this time in favour of just going with the flow, and it worked for me; I could spend a Sunday afternoon drinking craft beers in the sun at a bar in Williamsburg while catching up on podcasts without feeling like I wasn’t making the most of my limited time in a new city. It’s an approach I’ll be trying more often.
Singapore is somewhere I’ve visited regularly over the last few years and I reckon it’s a close second to New York as my favourite of all of the cities I’ve visited. It’s pricey, but my visits are usually brief and I use them as an opportunity to treat myself a little by staying somewhere a little bit flash and not worrying about my budget for a few days (not that I worry about my budget much in general, but that’s a problem I need to solve).
I typically stay in the Clarke Quay area as this is pretty central and has an abundance of great restaurants, bars and cafes nearby. My most recent stay (just a couple of weeks back) was at the Park Regis and I can recommend staying there; the service was great.
For coffee, Common Man Coffee Roasters and Ronin are worth checking out. If you’re a guy and in need of a haircut, you’ve got to check out Hounds of the Baskervilles.
Visiting Tokyo was a spur of the moment decision and it’s one I’m glad I made; it is an awesome if not slightly overwhelming place. I had just under a month here in a great little Airbnb apartment in Shibuya and I only barely scratched the surface of Tokyo in that time; I will definitely be back.
I mostly worked from Ants Office, a co-working space in Shinjuku that offers a daily rate (1000yen/day). The space was fairly basic but had everything I needed to be productive, and is in a really convenient location. In terms of cafes, Fuglen was far and away my favourite.
One of my big regrets of this last year is that I really didn’t make the most of my time in Tokyo. There are a bunch more things I would have liked to experience but I think the issues I had with the language barrier in my previous destination (Seoul) probably dinged my confidence a bit when it came to attempting to speak Japanese.
I’m reluctant to dismiss the time I spent in any of the cities I visited, as making the effort to visit somewhere new is always a worthwhile experience, even if you don’t love the place (right?). Nevertheless, it seems these days that no list of places/people/things you like is complete without including a couple you don’t like so here goes:
Seoul is a city that I found it difficult to feel completely comfortable in, but I think that in part is down to choosing to stay in the “wrong” part of the city; I spent a few nights in Gangnam which was great, and the remainder of my stay in Dongdaemun which didn’t seem to have all that much going on. Not speaking Korean, I found the language barrier to be a bigger issue here than in any other city I’ve visited; being a city of 10 million people I expected English to be fairly prevalent but it certainly wasn’t.
Perhaps it was that I didn’t fully throw myself into my time in Seoul but I was pretty happy for my time there to be over and to be moving onto Tokyo where surprisingly, not speaking the local language was much less of an issue.
Zagreb was another city that didn’t really gel with me. I’d been living in Budapest for a few weeks and in order to conserve some of my 90 days in the Schengen Area I decided to check out Zagreb for a couple of weeks. Perhaps it was due to the weather/time of year (November) but there just didn’t seem to be all that much going on. The city was an order of magnitude smaller than Budapest and perhaps accordingly had very few cafes that I found suitable to work from. As a result, I spent most of my days working from my Airbnb apartment which was less than ideal.
The ambience, and quality of the coffee and service stood out in three cafes: 42 Coffee Co., Express Bar, and Cogito Coffee. Power outlets were thin on the ground in all of these however, so my usual M.O. would be to work from home for a couple of hours in the morning and then relocate to one of the aforementioned cafes until early-afternoon before heading back home to finish off my workday.