Co-working in Portugal. Photo: Borderless Retreat.

Vlad Tamas has been working remotely as a software developer for the past ten years. At one point he decided it’s too lonely, boring and non productive to work from home. First he started working with friends, going to their place or to a coffee shop. Two years ago he discovered the concept of coworking at ClujHub, in his home city, Cluj, Romania. With nothing holding him back in Cluj, in 2019 he decided to explore other cities too. After initially spending a few weeks visiting friends in London and Zurich, working from various coworking spaces, he went to a digital nomads meetup in Amsterdam. And there, everybody told him: “Well if you want to be a digital nomad, you have to go to Lisbon, that’s the nomad hub of Europe”. He decided to book one month in a co-living space in Lisbon, and that’s where his story of 6 months of coworking around the world begun …

Interviewing Vlad at ClujHub, after his 6 months co-working experience around the world. Photo: Andreea Boros

The first co-living & co-working experience: Lisbon

I hadn’t been to Portugal before and I didn’t know anyone there so I didn’t really know what to expect. I was not sure if I would be able to connect with anyone, traveling alone. But I also didn’t want to go home yet, so I went for it, all in. I booked one month at a coliving space and let me tell you, that one month in Lisbon was the time of my life. I’ve met so many interesting people. People that travel long term and work from different places around the world. I keep saying this: when you’re in this kind of community, you do not meet one single boring person. Because it’s filled with people that have taken an intentional decision to live their lives differently.

Praia de Carcavelos, Lisbon. Photo: Vlad Tamas.

It’s so inspiring when you’re surrounded by people taking active step towards designing their lives into something more than following “the script”: get a job, get married, make babies, work nine to five until retirement. Not that there’s anything wrong with that sort of life if you enjoy it, but there are so many other ways of living. It’s nice to know there are other options out there.

A community of like-minded people

In Lisbon I’ve discovered the concept of a coliving space, basically a hostel but for adults. You have your private room but you also have common areas like a kitchen and a coworking space. We also had this WhatsApp group where you would do your thing during the day and then evening comes and you want to go out for dinner, you text, everybody: “Hey, who’s up for dinner?”. And you have five or six people that are like, “Yea let’s do it.”. So you hang out with five different people. The next night maybe five other people, then in the weekend maybe go to the beach together or some other adventure. You basically have a group of friends that you can do stuff with and they’re all excited about doing this kind of stuff because they’re all in there with the same kind of mindset. They’re there to work, but also to meet like-minded people, explore and discover themselves, and discover the possibilities of a different kind of lifestyle.

I used to travel solo for a couple of weeks, always going to hostels. I’m 31 years old now. When you’re over thirty, you start feeling like the old guy in the hostel, where everyone’s 21-22. But in the coliving space, people were right around my age range, anywhere from 26 to 40. When you meet someone who is 40 years old, been traveling for the past 10 years, enjoying the heck out of it and showing no sign of stopping, that’s exciting, like “Oh, I haven’t missed the boat, I could be doing this for another 10-20 years”

For me Lisbon equals that coliving space. It’s called Outsite. Whenever I tell somebody to go to Lisbon, I tell them to go to that place. Outsite is a chain of coliving spaces started in the US, and now has a bunch of places in Europe as well. Once you go to one of their locations you get some perks, discounts if you want to stay with them in other cities. I love that place so I tell everybody: Lisbon – Outsite. You will have a good time.

From freelancers writing movie scripts for Netflix to startup founders

I work in programming, I do software for a company in the US, and I kind of expected that’s the main type of people I would encounter, because that’s an easy thing to do remotely. But you meet so many different people working in different fields. Even here, at ClujHub, less than half of the people here do software, and then you have copywriters, designers, marketeers and even a guy that plays poker for a living.

Co-working during Borderless Retreat, Portugal. Photo: Borderless Retreat

I met exactly that kind of mix in Lisbon as well. There was this one girl from South Korea, writing movie scripts for Netflix. She’s from South Korea, writing for Netflix … in Lisbon. That’s wild.

There was this one girl from Florida who was working on building her company. Something with shipping products that you can’t find online or outside of their unique regions by using travelers which happen to be in that region. It’s a pretty cool product, you should sign up for it at getstork.co.

A personal coach working on building his online brand. A guy that has his own podcast show.

A girl from the Netherlands who organizes these insane 14 day trips for nomads that need to work on the road. She calls it co-travelling, I love the idea, definitely going to sign up for one next year. The website is thenomadescape.com.

Moving down the coast of Portugal

I had my first ever surfing lesson in Lisbon and realized: “Hey, this is fun!”. So for the next couple of months I just traveled down the coast of Portugal stopping in different surf towns and exploring my new found passion. I’ve stayed in coliving spaces and shared houses, meeting wonderful people along the way, many of them doing the same thing I was: finding balance between work and adventure.

Ericeira, Portugal. Photo: Vlad Tamas.

I was stoked when I found this platform called coworksurf.com which aggregates accommodations that are in a surf area and have a coworking space. One of these places was The Pipe Dream in Peniche where I’m definitely going back next year. Paul, the owner of the house, is the nicest person you will ever meet.

Work wasn’t really affected by all this. Mainly because I was hanging around people that were also working during the day. That’s the power of a coworking space in my opinion. You don’t feel like goofing off or being swept away by distractions when everyone around you is focused on work. 

“Don’t complain. work on building your best life.”, has been a recurring theme in the mindset of people I have met

It’s been a roller coaster though. You meet a bunch of cool people in one place, and when it’s time to leave it’s like breaking up with your best friends. Every single time. I keep saying this, you do not meet one boring person when you do this kind of work-focused, long-term travel. People that do this have taken an intentional approach to shaping their lives into something amazing.

So I kept moving down the coast of Portugal, until I reached the southernmost point, which is a tiny surf town called Sagres. I spent two weeks in Sagres. It was late October by this point, it was getting cold in Europe and I was now determined to keep “following the sun”. 

Bali, the hot spot of the digital nomad community

I remembered that a lot of people who’ve told me about Lisbon, saying that is the main hub for digital nomads in Europe, were also saying: “That’s Europe, but if you want to go to the main digital nomad hub world-wide, that’s Bali. You want to go to Bali.”. That seemed far fetched, far away. I’d never been to Asia before, let alone to fly there by myself. But at this point, I was feeling invincible, I felt like I could do anything: “I’ve been trekking Portugal by myself for the past three months. Sure, I’ll do Bali!”. I bought a plane ticket and was set to fly to Singapore in 3 days!

Tropical Nomad Canggu. Photo: Tropical Nomad Canggu.

I had zero expectations for Singapore, it was a layover on my way to Bali, but I decided to hang around for one week anyway. I met some lovely people at one event and we ended up going on a day trip together, visiting a nearby island, playing a citywide game of Clued Upp, where you solve a murder mystery by finding clues around town.

I cannot possibly go into all the cool stuff that goes on in the span of just one week in Singapore. I still focused on work during the week though. All adventures were strictly a weekend indulgence. And I think it’s very important, in order for travel to be sustainable long term, you need to have rules for yourself. You need to be aware that work comes first, because that’s the fuel making all of this possible.

After Singapore I went to Bali for one month, the hot spot of the digital nomad community.

I stayed in a town called Canggu, a tropical paradise with beach, surf, delicious food, fresh coconuts and so on, but with a strong emphasis on work and being productive. 

It looks like a village, there’s barely any sidewalks, you drive your scooter through the rice fields. It’s nice, but you just don’t expect this to be a hub of developing businesses and entrepreneurial success. However, after you hang around in the coworking spaces for a couple of weeks, whatever you’re working on, you end up feeling inadequate. You feel like you need to be doing more because everybody’s doing so much more than you are. Everybody’s working on two or three side projects, or building a very ambitious business.

“You feel like you need to be doing more because everybody’s doing so much more than you are. Everybody’s working on two or three side projects, or building a very ambitious business.”

Because I felt like I was not doing enough professionally I signed up to give a talk in front of a couple dozen people, on a subject I had little knowledge about. I was pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, and it felt great. That is the effect of being immersed in this kind of community has on you. If you surround yourself with people that value personal and professional growth, you inevitably end up wanting to better yourself. People there eat healthy, go to the gym, do yoga, practice mindfulness and you end up getting into the same kind of healthy practices without even trying.

Vlad giving a talk on index investing at Tropical Nomad Canggu.

I have a friend in Bali, he’s actually from Romania but he moved there a couple years ago. He started a weekly event at a coworking space in Bali, a hackathon. Every Thursday at Tropical Nomad Coworking Space there’s a bunch of people that show up, and the idea is that you set that day aside, where you don’t do any client work, but instead you work on a personal project or growing your side business. You work on your thing and talk to the rest of the group about challenges they may be facing and where they’re at with their project. I attended the hackathon a couple of times even though I am not currently working on any side projects, but again, I was feeling like maybe I should have a side project. Because everybody does! I’ve played around with a few ideas that never caught on, but it was a good exercise. It’s so interesting to be in that kind of environment. And you wouldn’t expect it happening in a village on an island in Indonesia. That’s where people are getting that kind of impulse.

Hackagu, hackathon in Bali, at Tropical Nomad Canggu. Photo: Cso Horvath.

Those were weekdays in Bali. Because weekdays and weekends are totally different. During the week you work, you hustle. I mean, it’s still pretty sweet. You work in flip flops on bean bags and you get food delivered to you and the food costs $2 and it’s delicious. That’s if you eat like a local. You can still end up spending upwards of $10 for one meal if you go for the westernized version. And then on the weekends, we would go on trips around the island, visiting temples, the monkey sanctuary, go to the beach, attend a full moon party, but that’s a story for another time.

After Bali I went to Chiang Mai, a city in the north of Thailand. This place is also said to be one of the main hubs for meeting fellow remote working people. Maybe the second most popular one in the world after Bali. I booked two weeks in a coliving space in Chiang Mai. The coliving space was not that great. I didn’t interact with anybody there, people were not as open as elsewhere.

Punspace, Chiang Mai

It felt like in Chiang Mai people were not staying there for one or two months and eager to make friends, they’re staying there for a few years. So everybody I met in Chiang Mai already had their group of friends and weren’t necessarily looking to make new ones. It’s a different kind of scene, but I did end up hanging out with a couple of people at the coworking space.

Punspace, Chiang Mai. Photo: Vlad Tamas.

I was working out of Punspace and I loved it. I was doing Instagram Stories every other day about this space because it has a huge outdoor area, lots of green with hammocks and beanbags. Almost feels like you could never get any real work done in a place like this because the vibe is too chill. But once you get your headphones in you zone the world out and you just do it.

When you work remotely, even if you work from a coworking space in your hometown, or from Paradise, you need the same kind of level of discipline. The distractions are always there. You can use them to your advantage, as rewards for after you do work. You can’t just get there and slack off like you’re on holiday. This needs to be sustainable, so work always comes first.

Why would you live any other way?

I am back in Cluj for a while, visiting friends and family but I’m going to keep traveling for the next year or two at least. The past 6 months have been mind blowing and there’s no reason why the next few years should be anything less than that.

Everybody’s in a different stage in their life. Maybe you already work remotely and thinking about doing this sort of thing but you have a lot of questions in your head. A lot of “what if”’s. What if it’s too expensive. Or what if I get there and I have some health issues far away from home. What if I don’t connect with anyone and I just feel lonely and miserable. I had plenty of what if’s holding me back. But if you’re in a position where you can work from anywhere, you should definitely try and be a little bit crazy.

Take the plunge and travel somewhere for one month by yourself. It doesn’t take long until it kind of dawns on you: “This is way easier than I thought. And it’s way less expensive than I thought.”. And you meet loads of cool, friendly people. It’s amazing. It’s like, why have I have I not been doing this all along.

If you don’t have a job you can do remotely, there are ways to find one. There are online courses teaching you skills you can use to build a location independent business. There are so many ways you can be a digital nomad, if you decide it’s a goal worth pursuing. 

Wherever you are, definitely give it some serious though. Because you will love it. It’s easy and it’s cheap, especially in Asia. You can live like a king in a tropical paradise. Why would you live any other way?

Want to know where Vlad is heading next? Follow him on Instagram.

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