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A light-hearted look at coffee culture. 

The sun has risen over the mountain community of Pai. The smell of incense wafts in from the temple next door. I relax into awake… 

It is 08:00 on a beautiful Sunday morning. The clocks went back in the UK last night, putting another hour between me and those left braving the winter back home. From what I hear, the winter is starting to tighten its icy grip. I spend a moment pondering this bizarre British compunction for bi-annual time travel. I think about the Bread & Roses pub, and how my favourite people were most likely celebrating that extra hour of drinking time. They would love it here. I think about the struggle I had with the idea of leaving the bubble in which I lived, to experience, and write about the Digital Nomad phenomenon. 

Most of all, I think about coffee.

I think about coffee for several reasons. First and foremost, it is 8:00 am. The first coffee of the day is a ritualistic process for any self-respecting freelancer. It is the nectar of the gods. The aromatic elixir that fires up the system. For me, the process of making the first coffee of the morning is part of an hour-long waking up routine. It is one of the reasons I have an addiction. As any therapist will tell you, addiction is as much tied up in ritual, as it is chemical dependence. I mean, I am OK! I can give up any time I want. I can drink Earl Gray…although not with milk, I am not an animal. 

The second reason I think about coffee is that it is coffee that got me where I am today. That sounds like I own a plantation somewhere. I don’t. I am all for organic, fair-trade coffee. No one needs another middle-aged, white man, sticking their nose in where it is unwanted. (Why do I suddenly feel all self-conscious about this blog)?

Let me clarify my statement. Re-evaluating my relationship with coffee, and coffee shop culture in general, got me to Pai. Let me explain…

The economics of a severe coffee habit

As I have already noted; any self-respecting freelancer or creative will build a relationship with coffee. How else will plays get written, poetry edited, short deadline articles are smashed out, and screenplays continue to be never finished? My favourite Family Guy clip is “Using laptops in Starbucks”. If you are unfamiliar with the coffee shop culture, you can watch the clip here. 

Before we go any further, you won’t find me in Starbucks, or any other corporate chain for that matter. (That last statement is entirely untrue, but it suits the tone of this narrative. If pushed, I would drink stolen coffee from illegally imported rhino horns in a known tax haven if there was no other choice).

We deserve coffee.

As freelancers, it is part of the culture. If you are not a freelancer, you damn well deserve that latte on the commute, after the school run or following another shift at whatever capitalist prison you have found yourself. I mean, is it too much to ask? – I realise I have transported myself back to the angst-ridden stress monster that left the UK on this mission to discover a new way of living. I apologise, I don’t know why I am so fired up! (Takes another sip of the large latte in front of him) 

Where was I? – Oh yes, Pai.

Pai is absolutely beautiful. Everything you could wish for in a Thai experience. I love it. It is calm and peaceful for the most part. (Weatherspooner’s aside). So how did changing my perspective on coffee help me get here?

It is a simple case of economics. Coffee had become such a part of my routine, that it started to dictate the pattern of my day. On a serious note for a moment; freelancing can be a very lonely business. This is especially the case when you work from home. Without the benefit of the social interaction a ‘normal’ job offers, a freelancer can quickly find themselves in an isolated bubble.

The antidote to that problem is the coffee shop. As well as being the acceptable front of many a weed growing empire, coffee shops, and trendy café’s provide a valuable social service to the freelancer. They are often a social hub for creatives. It is not uncommon for your local coffee shop to offer evening entertainment. Coffee shops also give access to the other vital resources a freelancer needs; good Wi-Fi, avocados and bruschetta. As such, we digital nomads can start spending a lot of time in them.

Herein lies the key to my travels. A severe coffee shop habit can get expensive!

A typical day at the coffee shop

Arrive around midday 

Order a large latte, Avocado on toast, with garnish. £10.00

Spend an hour or so dithering with Social media and emails.  (You never get any emails, it just feels more like work than obsessing over Instagram likes does).

Utilise free water jugs until you can’t stand it any more-Order coffee £03.00

Start checking UpworkMeistertask (for regular clients) – Order tea £02.50

15:00-take a stock

Your brew is cold, because, let’s face it, tea sucks.

You have not written anything that will pay. Your rent is due. Order large coffee £03.20

Write the article that you were avoiding, realising that you love this particular gig and are having fun writing it after all. (What is that about?)

17:30 You need a change of scenery so relocate to the pub

The coffee they sell is not up to scratch, so you order one Guinness (Or as I call it, alcoholic coffee) £05.00

Meet your mate for a cheeky Pad Thai and one lager. £16.00

Daily totals:

Money spent – (Assuming you don’t get ‘on it’ with said friend) £39.70

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Let’s assume that this happens three times a week, (on the basis that it totally did). That means that in a standard week the coffee shop culture is costing- GULP- £120.00!

Even on the days that you stay at home working harder, and consuming food and beverages more frugally, there are financial implications. Because this rambling is leading to an astounding revelation, (stay tuned), I am going to note the costs of my staying home here for you too:

Cost of food (per week) for home consumption: £39.00 

Rent (Per week)  £81.00

Here is the money shot. Thanks for sticking around.

Every week, my lifestyle in the UK was costing me, on average

Coffee shop + Associated costs £120.00

Rent £ 81.00

Food £ 39.00

Entertainment £ 25.00

Taxis/Bus £ 22.00

Total £287.00

Quarterly expenditure £3731.00

OK, let’s deal with a couple of things. Firstly; No, Guinness and Pad Thai are NOT entertainment, they are sustenance. Second of all, I have not factored in a lot of other living expenses that are indeterminable. The odd Amazon session. Netflix, Spotify, and of course, the occasional night on the town. I want to make a like for like comparison between working at home, and working while travelling abroad.

Thirdly, I want to take a step back from the acerbic comedic tone for a second, because this is the serious bit.

£287.00 a week is a lot of money!

One of the most significant question marks hanging over this Digital Nomad experiment was, could I afford it? I have virtually no savings. My business is doing really well, but I am not particularly flush. Companies cost money to run, and I regularly pay four other freelancers to write for Joined Up Think. So how was the idea of living the Digital Nomad life around Asia for a few months realised?

Take a look at my new daily expenditure:

Air-conditioned room, with en suite 300 baht = £7.50

Three coffee’s 150 baht = £3.75

Gin and tonic 100 baht = £2.50

Breakfast 80 baht = £2.00

Lunch 100 baht = £2.50

Dinner 120 baht = £3.00

Moped 150 baht = £3.75 (This is an average, as varies)

Total daily lifestyle cost £25.00

Weekly (7 days) £175.00

Quarterly £2275.00

Amount left over for internal flights and fun times £1456.00. In other words, £500 a month.

I can tell you now, I don’t use a moped every day, and I have not had a gin and tonic every day either. In fact, my new lifestyle has promoted healthier eating and a drop in alcohol consumption. I guess whether that would be the same for you would depend on factors I have no data for.

So you see, I am considerably better off on this trip. My income has not changed, as all of my work is done online. Admittedly, this first foray into Digital Nomad life, is an experiment, but should I want to, this could be adopted as a full-time life plan.

In conclusion

The reality is that I have not had to change my routine too much. The coffee shops in Thailand are as good as in the UK. In many cases better, as the food is far more varied. I am performing poetry next week at a coffee house in Chiang Mai. Last night I sat and watched two incredible blues bands in a boutique coffee bar in Pai. 

Most important of all, I am getting more work done! There is something about working on the move, which promotes efficiency. You can read a little more about that here.

I feel better now I have started my ramblings under this category. It is another job off my shrinking list. I will add more regularly now. Please feel free to send your ramblings in too!

Right! I have some paying work to do, so, go check some prices of flights to Asia… Can you afford not too?

Sean Holland is Creative Director at Joined Up Think. He is a playwright and performs spoken word under the pseudonym Alexander Rhodes 

Please don’t take anything he says seriously, it only encourages him.