The highs and lows of working remotely in Portugal

As many of you may know, I spent the months of March and April in my homeland Portugal. I planned to work remotely. “Working remotely” sounds pompous, doesn’t it? Portugal is not that far from the Netherlands after all. But despite being on familiar ground, I haven’t lived there in ten years, which is partly why I get the holiday feels every time I’m back. Remote (and sunny) enough thus. I’ve been talking about being location independent for what seems like forever, dreaming of merging work and fun. At the beginning of 2022, it felt like there was no more time to waste. I needed tangible progress in my life and, suddenly, that took form in a workaway with freelancer friends in the South of Europe.

I ended up in the Algarve with my friend Jan at the beginning of March (for those who follow me on Instagram, the #stillnotacouple guy.) After that, we went all the way up to explore Lisbon and continue our co-working venture. Jan and I spent most of March together. In April I set up base in the Portuguese capital and the plan was to work together with a few other freelancer friends who were visiting. The premise was: Can you work in the same space as me? Come join me in Lisbon! All in all, I hosted five friends from Amsterdam (not at the same time.) These two months were rich in experiences and learning. And mess, evidently. I did indeed work, spent time with family, bonded with old and new friends, watched some pretty epic concerts, got myself my first tattoo, and explored the new Lisbon. It felt like a lot happened and it also felt like a long time. 

The Algarve lent itself to a real workaway

Working at Levels – Carvoeiro, where you can get your fix of specialty coffee in the Lagoa area

The Algarve weeks were the most prolific in terms of work. Turns out, I do pretty well when isolated from the stimulus of the big city. Jan and I stayed in the area of Porches, very close to a bar, a chapel, two beaches, and some pretty epic cliffs. Everything we needed really. The closest town was Armação de Pera, a very unremarkable resort area that we avoided for the most part. Portugal is very car-centric, especially outside of cities so I drove us all the way there in my mom’s Renault. The car gave us access to comfortable grocery hauls and day trips to Aljezur, Lagos, Carvoeiro, and Benagil. 

Jan and I were used to co-working with each other here and there. However, we knew that spending so much time together would be a true compatibility test. In the Algarve, we typically had focused work sprints at home in the mornings and relax a bit more in the afternoons. Sometimes we would head over to a cafe after lunch. Sometimes we would take the rest of the day off. Jan was mostly producing a podcast and editing videos while I was writing and hosting a morning journaling workshop + morning yoga sessions. We were also filming our adventures in nature (yes, vlogs are coming up.) Our environment lent itself to productivity and well as inspiring relaxation (walks in nature, dives into the sea, magnificent views over the ocean.) We arranged a home office in the living room with a dining table doubling as a desk, and we also managed to find a couple of cafes in the vicinity where we could do a bit of work or upload heavier files. So yeah, we found ways to work around our often slow internet (which involved buying extra data.) In terms of dynamics, we managed to communicate our needs clearly so that we wouldn’t be in each other’s way: we negotiated the use of space, together time and alone time, and how to go about common projects and excursions quite well. Finally, I can highly recommend going on a workaway with a videographer / photographer (re: high-quality footage!) I now call Jan my creative partner, or at least that’s what I wrote recently on a pitch, which made me feel smug.

And then things got complicated

Hanging out on the roof at my mom’s place

After the Algarve, Jan and I went to my mom’s place for a few days where, of course, we had other people to consider when going about our day (and a bit less space.) The Lisbon accommodation I (thought) I had secured for the end of March fell through so I ended up staying at my mom’s longer than I had anticipated while Jan chose to book an Airbnb in Almada, right next to Lisbon, for his last week in the capital (prices for last-minute accommodation in the center were prohibitive.) Two lessons right there: verbal agreements with Portuguese friends can be volatile AND working from your former familial home is a no-go. 

Not only did I underestimate the time I’d spend catering to my mom and grandad’s requests while staying over, but I also didn’t think of the lack of venues where a freelancer could do some work in my provincial hometown. Really, that place still has that same weird stagnant vibe that so much made me want to leave as soon as I could. I don’t share this observation lightheartedly because I want to be the kind of person who has love and appreciation for the place where she grew up. After all, it’s not ALL bad (the beach is nearby) and I do have friends there. But I’m not above the town’s spiritlessness: it’s an environment where I won’t thrive despite my best efforts. A week there is already a stretch. By the end of March, just halfway through the journey, I started to feel pretty tired.

Lisbon was a case study to learn from

Morning Pages Circle via Zoom & my apartment in Lisbon

April came and I was thrilled to finally settle in Lisbon. I stayed in the Graça area, the neighborhood where I lived right before moving to Amsterdam, which instantly made me feel at home. The apartment I secured via friends was large and bright but, as soon as I arrived, I started dealing with an array of issues, stuff that could have been avoided with a bit of preparation on the landlord’s part. Things like having to set up the internet myself and it being slower than expected, the boiler breaking, missing appliances, trips up and down to go get them, arranging a handyman to come over, and so on. I had counted on hassles but I pretty much underestimated how those can impact my workflow. Ah, I remember thinking, this is why people in my situation prefer more professional arrangements as opposed to relying on their network for accommodation and workspace. I learned by experience.

On top of working, I had five different friends from Amsterdam come over to visit and co-work with me during April. I was so excited to experience a workaway in Lisbon with every single one of them. Back in Amsterdam, we had envisioned our work sprints in a space with a spectacular view of the city hills. I had fantasized about showing them around afterward, taking them to my favorite spots, – a pastel de nata here, a ginginha there – cheerfully introducing them to old friends AND creating content on the whole experience. Wasn’t that the dream! In hindsight, I don’t know how I thought I’d have the energy for everything. It was all doable had I been on holiday the whole time. In actuality, I had to wake up at 6 to host workshops at 7 (8 am in Amsterdam,) cook, go get fresh linen + towels for the friends about to arrive, and do some more work. I had wanted everything but then could not be fully present in any. As I got increasingly tired I started to cancel plans and be less available for quality time with the people I so wanted to enjoy time with. Nearing the end of the trip, I was exhausted and rolling life on minimum effort.

Was it worth it?

Working in the living room + lovely Lisbon views

Oh, very. It was the very first time that I intentionally organized to work remotely, and just having gone for it and having kept it all together amounted to a rich experience. Being able to reconnect to my homeland is huge for me. Facilitating two editions of the Morning Pages Circle + Yoga Moves via Zoom was immensely rewarding. Getting pink hair and my finger tattoos had been in the realm of dreams since I’m a teen. Not to mention how wonderful it was to bond with loved ones. There was a garland of setbacks to learn from, and I hope you can learn from this little story too. I had to start somewhere and, apparently, I mostly learn by experience. I’m over-optimistic when making plans. I tend to take on more than I can handle, and I idealize things, which works to my detriment sometimes.

Bottom line: if I intend to work effectively I need to secure the proper place to ensure that that happens. I will probably need to invest a little more next time and start organizing way earlier so I can ensure a good price-quality of accommodation and workspace. I went to Portugal with the illusion that life would be cheaper during those months too, which yes, I guess it was, but at the cost of my focus and time. Finally, I’m on the fence about working in cities. Lisbon was a bit too much distraction, Next time I would like to try Porto where I know fewer people. There’s also something to be said about turning outwards for novelty. Sometimes we believe that working remotely will be a solution to our problems with motivation when, really, recommitting to the work and taking intentional action is all there is (regardless of the physical place we find ourselves in.)

P.S. Don’t mess with parking in Lisbon. EMEL, the municipal parking company is ruthless. Let’s just say that I arrived in Amsterdam 300 euros poorer. And that is all I will say about it.

Jan wrote about this experience in detail! Read his account here.

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