Working on the Beach as a Digital Nomad is Not as Good as it Sounds

It’s the biggest cliché of the digital nomad lifestyle – the image of a laptop on a towel or sun-lounger on a beautiful tropical beach somewhere. These glossy images, which look almost like they come from holiday brochures, are plastered all over digital nomad lifestyle blogs. They glamorise the lifestyle and they make it seem like the digital nomad lifestyle consists of nothing but lying in the sunshine, sipping fruit smoothies and occasionally Tweeting a photo of your suntanned legs.

Don’t get me wrong, being able to switch up your working location is one of the perks of the digital nomad lifestyle. I love the fact that I can work in coffee shops, hammocks, beach chairs and trains all over the world. I adore the flexibility that allowed me to spend the last week in Edinburgh enjoying the Fringe Festival – just because I wanted to.

The Algarve region of Portugal is a perfect destination for a beach holiday
Would these sun loungers in the Algarve region of Portugal make the ideal office?

However, have you ever actually tried to work on your laptop on a beach?  It’s actually a pain in the neck.

I’ve tried it a few times while I was in Southeast Asia, trying to kill two birds with one stone and work on my tan while writing articles for clients. Working on the beach might be the “dream” that 9-5ers envision when they think of the digital nomad lifestyle, but in reality it’s not so great.

First of all, when was the last time you saw a beach with Wifi access? Secondly, the glare from the sunshine causes everything on your laptop screen to become invisible, so you have to hide under a beach umbrella or squint until your eyes ache. Sand gets in the crevices of your keyboard and the heat causes your poor computer to overheat. Yes, although a beach office sounds glamorous, it’s actually not the best place to work.

However, the sand, heat and lack of Wifi is not the biggest reason why I grew to dislike working on the beach. The major reason is that it puts you in a position where you are not quite working, yet not quite relaxing and therefore not enjoying any of the benefits of either.

Put it this way:

I discovered that thanks to all of the distractions, I usually am about half as productive when I work on the beach.

Let’s say that on a given day, I have three hours worth of work to complete. This means that I could spend six hours sitting on the beach, squinting my eyes at the laptop, feeling anti-social and getting annoyed that I can’t run and frolic with the others in the sand.

Or, I could spend three hours knuckling down with my headphones on in a cafe or in the hotel room, really concentrating on my work. Then I would be able to spend the next three hours actually enjoying the beach, going for a swim and talking to Lee.

Trust me, the second option is a lot better.

Work's done... now it's time to play! Nha Trang, Vietnam
Work’s done… now it’s time to play! Nha Trang, Vietnam

Being a digital nomad doesn’t mean that your work is easier or more fun. The work is still work and you still need to do it, or you won’t make any money. The digital nomad lifestyle might appear to others like you are on holiday in Bangkok, Bali, Bermuda or Budapest all the time, but the truth is that you haven’t won the lottery – you still need to work for a living.

Emailing clients, writing articles, updating the blog – my job is the same wherever in the world I am sitting. However, the difference is that when I finish, I can spend the rest of my day exploring ancient temples, eating spicy street food, marvelling at medieval churches, going hiking in the wilderness and meeting new friends. While most people will only get two weeks of holiday on the beach in a year, I can spend as long as I want there while continuing to earn money and build my career.

This is why I resist the temptation to try to work and play at the same time – ultimately doing neither.  Instead, I set myself up in the best and most productive working environment I can find and do my best to tune out distractions so that I can get stuff done.

I actually find working while in transit can be very productive - because there's no distractions and not much else to do. Here I am working on a train in Vietnam.
I actually find working while in transit can be very productive – because there’s no distractions and not much else to do. Here I am working on a train in Vietnam.

It means that I have to put my headphones in and politely discourage conversation with friendly and interesting travellers while in a hostel environment, or hide away in a hotel room when the sun is shining. However, as soon as hit send on my last email of the day I am free to enjoy every minute of the beautiful destination I am in.

Have you ever tried to work on the beach? Where are you most productive? Let us know your digital nomad lifestyle tips in the comments. 

Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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  1. It just makes more sense to do the second option. Sure take all the pictures you want and post them but make sure you do the work and get out and play. Half and half seems to be a waste of time. Though I must admit I am just working hard to get to the point where I can work from anywhere and just jet set all over with the family. Cheers to you living the digital nomad life hope you are having a blast.

  2. Hi Kelly,
    The pictures of the beach are very good. It will be very calm to work on a place near to the beach. My dream job like the picture with the laptop above, would be close to reality one day. I wish I had the finances to reach the state you are in. Let me know of any earning opportunities.

  3. Many people think that working on the beach or close is one of the best lifestyles. This is not totally true at all , Miss many of the best things to do by working is something very sad. But in the end, working on the beach we have the best weather, the best sunsets and sunrises in the world

  4. Ahhhhh yes, the tranquil palm fronds with the ‘couples’ chairs foreshadowing the ocean. Quite the picture but one that I could never wrap my head around either. Yes, I wanted to live near the ocean but to actually work there? No. It was what I did afterward that enticed me. I related to your article on so many levels. My wife and I are off to Belize next year and we will still have the Wi-Fi that we’ll need to do our jobs, working on the beach isn’t high on the list.
    Great article.

  5. Exactly why stay seated a single position, pressured to face a new increasing cost associated with living along with bizarre on an hourly basis needs at a bodily spot when you’re able to become touring the earth, living remotely within spots such as Shanghai or Cairo, do away with shoulder blades having dangerous management whilst you enjoy your own sense associated with voyage being a spot independent explorer?

  6. They do have wifi on the beach in Thailand. Also 3g and now 4g widely available and very cheap. So internet connection on the beach is not much of a problem. At least not in Thailand.

    I am also a digital nomad but only for part of the year. My problem is that I find the quality of my online work goes down when I am abroad. So I can only do it for a short time because after awhile things start to get neglected and not done or not done properly.

    So I only travel for 1 to 2 months at a time.

  7. I totally agree, it is possible to be MUCH more productive when you set aside 2-3 hours of focussed work each day (and focused means no Facebook/Twitter/Skype) to clear out your core tasks and then using the rest of the time for admin or rest 🙂

    In summary, awesome post!

  8. I was searching for work from beach options and found your article. I thought that this will be a good idea of enjoying the ocean, drinks, and work together. But after reading this, I am giving a second thought to this plan. Thanks for saving my money.

  9. This is incredible ! Thanks for sharing this with us

    I literally have been trying myself to do that kind of work, but then i realized the inconveniences are just too much and i would rather work, get it done asap, and visit all kinds of touristic places across the world

    The good thing i have seen is the ability to work in as much as proximity as possible to a beach area for example. Where i could be working from a cafe next to the pool and then from there go to the beach when i finish!

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