J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Working Abroad Experiment Wrap-up, Part I — What We Did Right and What We Did Wrong

A young friend from the Iguana Verde Center.

Today is the last day of our Costa Rica “workation“; right now we’re at The Hemingway Inn in San Jose (CR) and we fly back to San Francisco tomorrow.  Six weeks flew by — at least that’s how it feels now (at times, time crawled at a snail’s pace).  Six weeks was certainly long enough to feel like we were truly living, and working, somewhere else.

Was the Trip a “Success”?

Kia and I had pretty similar goals going into this trip, and our two-year-old daughter was along for the ride.  Here is the short list of what Kia and I hoped to get out of the experience:

  • Perform a test … does “workationing” (a longer stay in another country, working remotely at least part of the time) work for us?
  • Be out less money than we would on a regular vacation.
  • Change things up; experience living in a new place; break out of our Oakland routines.
  • Have a good time, enjoy the foreign country we’re visiting.
  • Be creatively inspired; do creative work.
  • Do paid consulting work; meet client expectations; don’t fall behind on obligations/work responsibilities.
  • Meet new people and make new friends.
  • Avoid the boredom and aimlessness both of us have often experienced on longer vacations (no matter how beautiful the location).

Our daughter didn’t have “goals” for the trip, but it was important to us that she enjoy the experience as well, and grow from it.

File under "what we did right"

The short answer to the “success” question is yes, absolutely.  We performed the experiment, we got work done, we met new people and made new friends, we had some incredibly fun times, we totally broke out of our regular routines, we experienced creative inspiration, we avoided boredom, and we didn’t break the bank.  That said, there were some difficult elements, as follows:

  • We only had sporadic childcare, and this made working difficult.  It was rare that either of us got a clean three or four hour block of uninterrupted time, the kind that enables a person to get into a groove and experience deep concentration.  We had to work in fits and starts, and hour here and an hour there.  Having two of our daughter’s grandparents around for part of the trip was a huge help, as was Sylvia, a new friend who also did some babysitting.  Still, there wasn’t enough time to work.
  • The Puerto Viejo area is home to multitudinous hordes of insects that want to eat you for supper, including mosquitoes, sand fleas, and biting flies.  Some people get used to this, or cease to care, or stop having reactions to the bites.  Some people, but not us.  We suffered.  Mosquito nets helped somewhat, but I had a terrible reaction to neurotoxic DEET spray, and I actually preferred the insect bites to the sharply fragrant stench of citronella.  I would have tried Avon Skin-So-Soft in a second if I could have found some.
  • Internet speed and reliability has a long way to go in the Puerto Viejo area.  I realize this is true for many parts of the United States as well, but the slowness and drop-outs were frustrating when we were trying to deliver projects, check email, download files, etc.  It wouldn’t have been an issue if we were just on vacation, but it made workationing difficult.  I no longer buy into the false “first-world/third-world” dichotomy (see Hans Rosling’s TED talk for more on that), but there is progress to be made in Costa Rican internet service.
  • Tesla Rose, our two-year-old daughter, was bored and frustrated at times, and sometimes acted out.  When she had enough to do, and had friends and grandparents to play with, she did really well, but at other times she complained about missing her Oakland friends, threw more than one glass on the ground, and often exclaimed “I’m getting bited!”

Tesla Rose and the Dellinger girls doing their best to get us kicked out of Casa de Carol (great food -- recommended)

These difficult elements were easily outweighed, at least in my view, by the positive highlights of the trip, including:

  • Going to the beach two, three, or even four times a day to play in the waves, kick the soccer ball around, build sand castles, and admire the tropical Caribbean view.
  • Being in close proximity to Costa Rican flora and fauna; hearing and seeing howler monkeys, sloths, agouti, iguanas, giant blue morphos, etc.
  • Seeing old friends and meeting new friends, including a fellow workationing family, The Dellingers, from Virginia.  Tesla Rose got along great with their daughters Eli and Annika, and we had some excellent times at the beach, eating out, and seeing the local sights.
  • Good food!  Restaurant food was always at least decent, and several times exceptional (and this is coming from two Oakland food snobs).  Basic food quality is great too — for example, regular eggs from the local market in our area rivaled super expensive organic eggs from free-range pastured chickens in California.
  • Seeing Tesla Rose get braver, stronger, wordier, etc. — she grew up a lot during the trip.  Kia has done a full post on this.

What We Did Right, What We Did Wrong

Will we do it again?  Will we take another workation?  Yes, absolutely.  And there are some things we’ve learned from our first foray into this area.

What We Did Right

  • We chose a place where we knew somebody (Eric Haller) who was already living there.
  • We chose a place where rent and other prices were reasonable (or at least cheaper than U.S. prices), and we went during low season.
  • We chose places to live with internet.
  • We chose an area that’s easy and enjoyable to navigate via walking and biking.
  • We chose an incredibly beautiful location.
  • We chose a place where Kia speaks the language, and where Tesla Rose and I could get by with our Spanglish.
  • We maintained a generally positive attitude, even in the face of difficulty.
  • We were outgoing and met new people (Kia and Tesla Rose were especially good at this)
  • We heeded local advice regarding area to watch out for (in terms of crime) and managed to avoid trouble.
  • When we found that the original house we rented wasn’t ideal, we moved.
  • We rented out our place in Oakland to someone we knew, which both eased our minds about our house, and also relieved some financial pressure.

The excellent little preschool in the jungle we would have loved to send Tesla Rose to (unfortunately, they were full up)

What We Did Wrong

  • We ignored the advice of our local friend, and rented a jungle house separated from the main road by a long, hilly, rocky, often muddy trail.
  • We rented a place, sight-unseen, for the entire six weeks; we should have rented a place for just the first week and gained more local knowledge before committing.
  • We chose a place with lots of biting bugs, and didn’t have a good strategy for how to avoid getting eaten alive.
  • We didn’t choose a low-crime area (even though this decision turned out not to have consequences, the constant tales of gangs of machete-wielding youths kept us a little on edge).
  • We didn’t plan, or find, an independent activity for Tesla Rose.  Going to the local preschool, even part-time, would have been fun for her and would have made working easier for us.
  • We didn’t arrange enough childcare for the “crunch periods” (Kia had a couple of intense deadlines for her motion-graphics work).
  • We came in needing faster and more reliable internet service than was currently available in our area.
  • We didn’t choose places with enough desk space.
  • We packed much too heavily, bringing warm clothes we didn’t need, and a car seat we only used once.
  • We didn’t bring enough of certain clothing items.  Some things we planned to get when we arrived in Puerto Viejo, but discovered those items were either unavailable or very expensive.

Overall, the experience was positive, with some glitches.  Some of the glitches were major, but most were avoidable.

I think we’ll enjoy our home in Oakland more than ever for awhile.  I could see trying another workation sometime this winter, or maybe we’ll go somewhere cold next summer.  We have friends and/or family in Switzerland, France, Norway, The Netherlands, and Argentina.  We’re also curious about Iceland, Denmark, Chile, Peru, Japan, and New Zealand.  A number of U.S. and Canadian cities are on the short list too.

If you have recently gone on a working vacation, or are planning one, I’d love to hear about it — please comment below.


The Singularity Already Happened – Part II


30-Day Luck Experiment — RESULTS


  1. eric haller

    i already miss you guys, it was awesome having you around. the six weeks really *did* fly by.

  2. M.Amaral

    Thanks for chronicling this experiment! It’s been helpful in helping me prepare for working remotely from the Bahamas.

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