As I write this article, I’m sitting in the passenger seat of
our family’s minivan. We’re driving back home from more than a
week of camping in various sites in Colorado and my wife is taking
a turn driving while I write the first draft of this article and
edit another one.
In a lot of ways, I’m a “digital nomad.” I can essentially
do my work anywhere that I can take my laptop and something that
provides an internet connection. I can usually work at home, but I
don’t have to; I can work pretty much anywhere I go, and we could
easily move to a new location if we need to.
Sometimes, though, working at home isn’t the perfect solution.
For a variety of reasons, I have to work out and about.
One of the easiest options for work is a coffee shop. Most
coffee shops have wi-fi and, unless they’re incredibly busy, they
don’t care in the least if you camp out at a table, plug in your
laptop, and get some work done. They obviously want you to buy
something if you take advantage of this, but a $5 coffee every few
hours usually does the trick.
Coffee shops are cheaper work environments than a shared office
space, plus you get a coffee to sip while you’re working. It’s
actually a pretty reasonable solution for most digital nomads.
The thing is, I’m often out and about and I extremely rarely
work in a coffee shop. I do enjoy drinking coffee while I write,
however, but the idea of paying $5 or $10 just to have a table
every time I want to or need to work outside of the home feels a
bit excessive to me.
So, what exactly do I do?
Preparing to Work
Like most people who might regularly work in a coffee shop, I
have a “go bag” that I refer to as my portable office. It’s
just a backpack that contains everything I might need to work –
my laptop, a variety of charging cables, a notebook, a bunch of
pens, a few toiletry items, an empty water bottle, a few snacks,
and so on. The goal is to have an item in my bag for the vast
majority of needs I might have if I’m working outside the house
so that I’m not distracted or interrupted.
One of the big reasons people often work in a coffee shop is,
well, the easy availability of coffee. Of course, the problem is
that coffee can be expensive. I solve this by preparing a large
bottle of coffee before I go out and about to work. I usually
prepare cold brew coffee.
At home, the procedure is simple. I prepare 32 ounces of cold
brew coffee the day before by putting about a third of a cup of
ground coffee into a filter and putting that filter into a quart of
cold water. I sit it in the fridge overnight, then remove the
filter and grounds and put that coffee into a water bottle with
perhaps a splash of milk in it.
If I’m at a hotel, I do more or less the same thing. I take a
coffee filter, put a third of a cup of coffee in it, then tie it
closed with a rubber band or a piece of string, making a little tea
bag. I then put it in a wide-mouth quart water bottle and sit it in
the fridge or in an ice bath. Then, in the morning, I just remove
the filter and coffee grounds.
I usually try to start a new batch in the morning so that it’s
ready for the next morning – a 24 hour brew – but if I have to
do it in the evening, it’s usually still just fine. If I’m at a
hotel, I usually have two water bottles so I can have one going in
the fridge at the hotel while I’m out and about with the other
This solves my coffee dilemma quite well. Obviously, if you
prefer hot coffee or various other methods, there are good ways of
doing it. My wife enjoyed hot French press coffee in a national
park with no electricity available, so you can have good coffee
under almost any conditions with surprisingly little effort.
Don’t let a cup of coffee be your excuse to spend $10 just to
have a table to work at, especially if you’re doing it
A quick note on distraction: I find coffee shops fairly
distracting and other places (like a library or a church basement)
to be much better places to work. Still, distraction can be a major
issue in any public place or business where you work.
I tend to solve this by putting on noise cancelling headphones
and listening to some form of ambient music or white noise,
something without human voices (which consistently distract
Where to Work
I have a wide variety of places where I work when I’m out and
about. None of these places have any direct cost associated with
A park shelter house Many city parks these days
have wi-fi available and they virtually always have a strong cell
phone signal. A shelter house is usually fairly quiet, keeps the
weather at bay, and allows the sounds of nature to provide a
perfect complement to your work. I have a shelter house that I
often work at near my home simply for a change in environment. The
only drawback here is that there is rarely a place to plug in your
A church Many churches will happily allow
digital nomads to use their common areas for work if you simply
ask. Again, they’re often pretty quiet environments; you’ll
usually hear the sounds of a church secretary or a pastor in
another room and someone might wander through occasionally. My
favorite part? I’ll often hear really pleasant live music when
I’m there, as pianists and organists, both church and secular,
often practice there, as do occasional vocalists and choirs.
A library This is probably my favorite choice.
I’ve worked at libraries in many towns across the country during
various travels and I’ve almost always been happy with the
experience. Libraries offer free wi-fi, tons and tons of research
materials at your disposal, a quiet environment in which to work,
and you can often check out study rooms if you need to spread out a
lot of materials. Surprisingly often, I’ll find that the library
has some program of interest going on and I’ll stop in to listen;
it’s because of this feature that I’ve met several US
Representatives and Senators and a bunch of different authors and
artists, just by pure serendipity.
A university or college campus Using a
university campus as a digital nomad offers many of the same
strengths as the library, but the exact situation tends to vary a
lot more. For starters, many of the areas where it is most
convenient to work tend to be loaded with students and often quite
noisy, which can be good for some but I like a quieter environment.
Many universities offer open wi-fi for guests, though some do
A city gym More than once, I’ve found that
the lobby area of a city gymnasium is a good place to get work done
for a few hours. There are often a few tables and chairs and solid
wi-fi available in such settings, and the only distraction is
people walking through the room on occasion. Plus, there’s almost
always a place to plug in.
If you’re a digital nomad – someone whose work
responsibilities enable you to work wherever you want and submit
your work electronically – then there are a lot of options
available to you in terms of where exactly you might work.
Obviously, staying at home is pretty much the cheapest choice, but
sometimes people need a change of environment in order to be
productive or sometimes people need to work when they’re away
from home. Co-work and shared office space locations can be
In those situations, a coffee shop can be a tempting choice, but
that’s also subtly expensive. If you camp out at a table,
there’s an expectation of buying a coffee and often buying
refills in order to keep your table, and that cost can add up
With a bit of forethought, a smart digital nomad can find a lot
of free alternatives to the coffee shop with inexpensive coffee on
hand to boot.
Source: FS – All-News2-Economy
When That Coffee Also Gives You Space to Work