10 Realities of Working From a Tropical Island

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 09/19/11 •  7 min read

10 Realities of Working From a Tropical IslandYou know the dream.

The one every lifestyle entrepreneur seems to have, where you’re sitting by the pool with your laptop, and the cute little umbrella drink.

Sounds great in theory? But does it really live up to expectations?

I feel like the beach vacation or the beach trip is oftentimes better in theory than in practice.

People forget about sand. Sand gets everywhere and it definitely doesn’t like your laptop.

If you’re in Asia you can also bet on being hassled be any number of other people trying to sell you everything from laser pointers to croaking frogs.

I’ve been in Bali for a little over a week now, and have experienced first hand the pros and cons of laptop travel and work.

There’s very much an allure to working from exotic destinations, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give an objective and truthful account of what it’s like to work from a tropical island.

So here are 10 of the biggest realizations I’ve had since I started running my business from Indonesia.

1) Internet sucks – even the “good internet”

This a reality of pretty much every tropical island – and it’s definitely true for Bali and similar SE Asia destinations. You will spend a good majority of your time searching out good wifi, cursing dropped service, and rejoicing anytime you’re able to stream a YouTube video.

At our place in Bali we essentially have the best internet on the island – and even that drops to under 1mbps download during the middle of the day. Prepare yourself for this beforehand, otherwise you’re in for some serious headaches.

2) Time zones are way more of a pain than you think

Aside from missing all of the college football games I wanted to see this week, trying to schedule meetings and phone calls with family and friends can be really difficult from Asia.

Getting your calendar organized and not forgetting about that 10pm meeting after a couple beers can definitely take some getting used to – but hey, it’s a global economy, better start preparing for more of this!

3) There are distractions everywhere

Let’s use this article as an example. As I started writing it, I realized that I really did want to live that dream today.

potato head beach club bali

A nice place to work, right?

So we headed down to Potato Head Beach Club to “work”. I really had every intention of working. Seriously. No really, I swear! Well 4 hours later I’m back at the house and am no closer to finishing this post than I was before.  Although I did get some fantastic video shot – so I guess you could consider it work…right?

4) Seemingly simple things aren’t always so simple

Let’s say you want to get your laundry done – unless you know someone who can recommend a place or you stumble upon a sign, you could spend 2 hours of your day just finding a way to get your towel washed. Speaking of a towel, I spent an hour just trying to find a place to buy one for a reasonable price when I got here.

Things that would take 10 minutes back home, can take quite a bit longer. Not to mention traffic on islands can be even worse than the 405 during rush hour. #Balitrafficsucks.

5) Food can be an adjustment 

There is some fantastic Indonesian food in Bali. There’s also so not some fantastic food. Regardless, getting used to the local cuisine can be a big adjustment both for your taste buds and your stomach.

If you aren’t used to the food abroad, be prepared for to take a week to get used to it. Also be aware that sometimes it’s the western food that can cause the most problems.

Infrastructure issues on many islands, lead to power outages, which can lead to food that has been thawed and refrozen multiple times. I learned just how dangerous pizza can be first hand in Thailand last year.

6) Hangovers are killer 

Straight up, it’s easier to party on an island – and pretty much easier in Asia in general.

Life is different here.

If I were back in Portland and wanted to stay out until 4am every morning people would think I was either a) an alcoholic, b) crazy, c) both.

Here it’s just a way of life.

Everyone is on their own schedule, and there are always opportunities to party. This isn’t to say that I go out every night, but the option is there. If you aren’t disciplined, or don’t have much self control, think long and hard before heading to an island to work. Your liver and wallet will both thank you.

7) Everyone else is on vacation

This is a big one.

When you’re working from a tropical island, regardless of where it is, you can bet that anyone who isn’t a local is on vacation. This leads to more distractions and more hangovers.

Most of these travelers also don’t understand the idea of working from anywhere. We met a couple people on vacation from Melbourne today, and they just could not comprehend the idea of working from anywhere.

No matter how clear I made it – they just didn’t understand. This isn’t as uncommon as you might think.

8) Good working environments can be tough to come by

To get a nice desk in a quiet space with everything you need in an office, probably isn’t going to happen. You’ll need to learn to work with your laptop actually in your lap, how to deal with screeching motorbikes while at the local cafe, and how to stop looking at the beach every two seconds.

This leads us right back to the idea that distractions are everywhere. Make sure you have a detailed to do list and a pair of head phones.

9) Extra layer of difficulties with finances 

Back home I’d simply throw everything on my Visa card. It was super easy to pay, and I only had to worry about the bill once a month. Out here, it takes a bit more planning than that.

Not only do most places not accept credit cards, but you have to get cash. If you have a Charles Schwab checking account, you don’t need to worry about any atm fees.  My card showed up a day too late, so unfortunately I do have to worry about fees. Along with that, many places don’t like big bills, so you have to have a constant supply of smaller bills.

All of this to say, there’s simply more effort required when it comes to money – and it’s easy to let that distract you from the primary goal of making more of it.

10) It’s freaking awesome 

Yes, all of the above annoyances are very true.

But if you’re able to make this work, there are few things that compare to having the freedom to work from anywhere. Every day I’ve been here I can’t help but think, life doesn’t suck.

It’s made all of the hard work worth it, and has motivated me to work that much harder to ensure this is a lifestyle that I don’t have to abandon anytime soon.

Have you ever worked from a tropical island? What’d you think? How did you deal with the constant flow of distractions?

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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