Working while traveling is both challenging and enriching. Having freelance projects and this blog gave me more focus and purpose on my RTW trip, while also helping support the costs of that travel. I frequently booked accommodations that would allow me to work from my home away from home. I also stayed in a fair number of hostel dorms, and sometimes you get tired of catching side eye for being that chick who always seems to be on her laptop. What’s a digital nomad to do? Enter the WiFi cafe. As the number of remote workers in the world grows, so too does the number of places willing to let you buy a latte and settle in for the morning. In my Creative Professional’s Guides, I often highlight the best cafes to work from in destinations from London to Ljubljana. But there’s more to finding quality work cafes than a single online recommendation. Think about these criteria when assessing the work-friendliness of cafes in your destination.
It’s not much of a WiFi cafe if the connection is weak or non-existent. A strong Internet connection is easily the most important thing to digital nomads. Businesses often eagerly advertise if they have a public WiFi hotspot, as they know it will draw in customers. The friendliest work cafes will have the password displayed somewhere, such as on the menu or on the wall. At many other institutions, you have to request the password from the staff. If you’re settled in a city for a longer period of time and become a regular at a cafe, you might find that the password changes regularly. Having to ask for the password is rarely a dealbreaker, but if it’s openly displayed, that’s likely to be a place less worried about my opening up my laptop and staying for a long time. If you’re in a less developed destination with notoriously spotty WiFi, you may want to test the connection before committing to spending your day there. There are many internet speed tests available online, where you can find the exact upload and download speeds of your connection.
Not having Internet access severely limits the work you can do, but not having power cuts you off entirely. If I didn’t leave the hostel with my laptop fully charged, or if I know I have a full day’s of work to get done and don’t want to risk losing power, I need to have easy access to an outlet at my workspace for the day. The best work cafes will have lots of power outlets so several customers can charge their devices as needed. Fewer outlets means more competition for that space and a greater likelihood that I won’t have enough juice to get through the entire day. If you have a computer with long battery life or an external battery for your laptop, outlet access will be less important to you.
Decent coffee is par for the course at most quality work cafes. What sets a cafe above the rest in my book is a good food menu. Because I try to alternate work days with fun days when I travel, on work days, I like to settle in one place for the entire day, and that means staying through lunch. If a cafe only serves drinks and pastries, I’ll need to leave in a few hours to get a real meal. It’s much better to be able to order lunch onsite and continue working. Having reasonable prices and a wide selection of substantial fare are big perks, but even a small food menu will do.
Some people need complete quiet to get in the zone while they’re working. Others like to have some ambient noise. Others still might not care a whit how loud it gets. Things that contribute to work cafes’ noise level include traffic, music, appliances, and other patrons. If you like quieter work spaces, look for cafes tucked away on side streets so you can avoid lots of passing traffic. You might also prefer smaller properties – fewer people means less chatter drifting over from other tables. You might also consider avoiding highly recommended cafes. Cafes that are very popular, whether with locals or your fellow travelers, will have more customer traffic. That means more chatter and more noise from the bar as the staff prepares food and drinks for a steady flow of customers. Finally, if you’re swinging by a cafe to assess its work-friendliness, it’s worth scanning the crowd to see what other people frequent the joint. If you see lots of large groups socializing over brunch, or hard-working parents struggling with strollers, that might be a sign to move on. Likewise, if you prefer having background noise, you may not want to settle in someplace filled with other solo diners glued to their screens.
Smaller work cafes might help cut down on background noise, but if they’re also popular, you could find your workspace of choice isn’t available when you need it. Small spaces are also more likely to want higher turnover to make more money, and as a result could not be as interested in having you set up shop for an entire day. If you’re going to stay in a cafe for a long period of time, you want to make sure you’re not taking a table away from another paying customer. That means finding places with ample seating and possibly slower customer traffic.
All that coffee has to go somewhere, right? Bathroom access is generally a must in any restaurant or cafe, but it’s especially important in work cafes since you stay there for a longer period of time. I have definitely been in cafes where bathrooms were not clearly marked or easy to find. Despite this being a minor inconvenience, when I have several cafes to choose from, yeah…I’ll give minor inconveniences a pass and find other workspaces. You may also find clean, well-stocked bathrooms are a priority for you.
How I Pick Work Cafes
For me personally, if a cafe has strong WiFi, lots of seating near outlets, a good food selection, easy access to clean bathrooms, and a moderate amount of ambient noise, I’ll become a regular. I often use blog posts to find recommendations for work cafes when I’m in a new place. I also have the app Workfrom installed on my phone – the listings and reviews there frequently give more detailed information than a blog post mention, and sometimes even include the WiFi password. I also frequently just walk around the city center when I arrive in a destination and keep my eyes peeled for places I see folks on laptops. If others are working there, that means I probably can too.
Where have you found the best work cafes? Tell me in the comments!
Want more specific cafe recommendations for one of the most popular digital nomad destinations? Read my full guide to Chiang Mai.