A LOCATION INDEPENDENT PHOTOGRAPHERS WORKING GUIDE
You read a lot online about being a “digital nomad” these days, but not quite as much about being a photographer that works remotely and constantly. So, I thought I would write a few things down in a blog about this, as it has now been six months to the day since I left home and I have certainly learnt a few things on the way.
I WILL UPDATE this page regularly as I travel, and I will cover each and country that I touch upon on my travels and transform this blog into a sort of “remote working photographer” guide. I will only list places that I think are worth adding as sustainable places to work from or to get your kit repaired at etc.
You would assume that photography and travel can and should go hand in hand. But there are several challenges that I have faced so far, including locating cafes or connections or even a power supply. And most importantly, what if you break a piece of gear in a remote location or obscure city?
Well, let’s get started…
“WORK-STATIONS” BY COUNTRY
In this section we cover places that I have worked from on my travels, cafes, cool Airbnb hosts or even trendy airport spaces to work or edit from.
This guide runs alphabetically throughout.
If you have any suggestions, please email me.
Having only visited Armenia for a short time, recommendations here would go down a treat.
Visited: July 2019
Coffeestory - One of the best places in Yerevan to get a little bit of editing or emails done is at Coffeestory. The Yerevan cafe is in the heart of the city center and is a popular destination for nomadic folk. The Café serves a large variety of coffee, alcoholic beverages, and a full food menu.
Wi-Fi is good and there are plenty of plug sockets available. They also have a spacious terrace that they open (mostly in the Summer I gather). This cafe is one of the most convenient places to work from in Yerevan as it is central.
Visited: March & October 2018 & based here from April to November 2019
Be prepared for this list as it will be long. I have lived here now for a few months, using an amazing apartment as my base so my list of potential work spaces if ever extending.
Green Cape Guest House – If you can book an upstairs bedroom, do it! They come with an adjacent lounge, which is perfect to work from and has great views. The seating is a little on the low side, but the Wi-Fi is free and there are plenty of power points. I have also used the kitchen space for workshop editing sessions, so don’t let the lack of an upstairs booking put you off. It is more short term than longer term though.
Coffeetopia Batumi – This place has a European vibe, comfy and very nice coffee and plenty of power points. I would ask staff about working here though, as I did. It is a little on the expensive side for Georgia but motivating coffee!
White Stones – Technically I have never sat here for long to work, but it has power inside (not outside) and is a relatively quiet space to work in. The milkshakes are great as well! Gets my main vote in Kutaisi for a work location.
Palaty – Technically a restaurant but (top tip), if you go in and ask if they have some space upstairs and let them know you wish to work it could be ideal. Sometimes a little louder in the evenings as it has a delicious food menu and authentic cuisine. It may be better suited for daytime work than evening.
Best Western Foyer – Very close to the other two locations but again providing a nice working environment. Some power sockets available and the seating a little “low” to work from – possibly a great back up location if the previous two are full or busy.
ERTI KAVA Coffee Room – A small café with some nice seating to get down to some editing and emails. Nothing up this way seemed large enough to use as a filming or YouTube location though – so stick to outdoors or your hotel/guesthouse for that. A few plug sockets and very nice coffee – although it is a little expensive, but I can say there is a valid reason. The coffee and equipment is imported from Ukraine – see more about the traveller that opened the café in this article.
Stepantsminda (Gergeti Trinity Church)
Kazbegi Hut – A sweet little place to stay, relax and get down to some editing. Why not start with those shots you took up at Gergeti Trinity Church, some 10 minutes away. Wi-Fi good, plug sockets and work benches a plenty. A little rustic with chip board as flavour of the month but sweet either way.
Kazbek View Guesthouse – I stayed here in April 2019 and the stay was pleasant and Wi-Fi decent. A shop in the foyer is convenient to stop you “taking a break” when you get down to those important edits! The views from most rooms make a stay worthwhile. Be warned – the Wi-Fi does not reach the top rooms in the attic.
Every single Airbnb and Guesthouse that I have stayed in in Tbilisi has been brilliant for Wi-Fi, connectivity and a space to work. They are cheap as well! I have though added some remote working locations outside of my apartment walls that you may wish to try, including some hotels that myself of guests have used as well as some café locations…
Coffee LAB – What an establishment (photo above). ! Love the healthy menu, the organic cups and taster cards with the coffee. Really nice environment with power points and higher window seats to work from. I am even writing this blog for the first time from this spot! Wi-Fi I need to test quickly! A little out of the centre, but I think worth the visit – especially if you are based in Saburtalo district as I was.
144 Stairs Café – This is mentioned on a few blogs, but essentially it is a nice working place with lots of stairs to enter it and plenty of cats around. Plugs and tables and great views to inspire those wanting to work remotely.
Memo Coffee – A couple of the nice window benches that I love to sit at and work from. Great coffee, affordable but potentially the worst of the three cafes mentioned with regards to internet upload speeds – crucial for updating websites etc.
Lolita – I really like the vibe here, although it can be distracting, I am sure. Lolita is also more of a restaurant. They have fans installed to keep you cool in the Summer, which is a nice idea as it is “open” and would struggle to install aircon – crucial when you are in Tbilisi in the Summer. Food is nice, a little more expensive than the other mentioned with excluded VAT. Some power points around and again decent Wi-Fi.
Impact Hub – If you are in Tbilisi to set up a business or work longer term (as I was), then paying for access monthly (or longer) to this co-working space could be idea. Potentially great for meetings as well as editing sessions – situated inside the Fabrika Hostel (another option for working), the wifi is incredibly fast but arrive early – it was very busy the day we checked it out. You can pay for daily, weekly and monthly passes – with some memberships allowing the access to exclusive meet ups etc.
Respublika Grill Bar – more of a restaurant again, but I love the idea of all the space available in one of their booths during the day, beers and burgers are great when you can fit your laptop beside them as well. Potentially a daytime venue over an evening one. Free Wifi once more when ordering but did not spot millions of plug sockets on my visits.
Art-Café Home – My last café for now, but a unique one for sure. The views are great over-looking the old town of Tbilisi, but you really need a laptop with a decent battery to work in this spot so working on lower floors might be a better option. But the Wi-Fi is super and free once again. However, it is only an early evening venue to work within as it opens usually around 5-6pm – I would choose a weekday maybe though as this spot turns into a funky place to have a delicious cocktail after dark on both a Friday & Saturday evening until 2am (great to meet friends after working though right?).
Most people would prefer to head into Kutaisi to work or to set up base, but if you want something outside of the bigger city – perhaps this town is for you.
Apartment Mirian Mepe – I used this as a base for the opening of a workshop, a large kitchen area and huge bedrooms, great Wi-Fi and connectivity. But obviously crazy if you are a solo traveller, and a budget blower – it just worked for my use and it may you if you are in a group!
Apartment Kostava – This apartment belongs to the family of a friend of mine. A great place to explore the town from, with amazing Wi-Fi, a kitchen and a quiet environment to work or unwind.
Visited: April 2019
There are plenty of cool spots to work in the Lebanese capital, if you can over-come the traffic. Here is a list of a few that I uncovered during our three week stay. The wifi connections in Beirut and Lebanon can be unreliable at times and due to a similar problem faced in South Africa connections can drop out from time to time (that is right, blame load-shedding!)
Thankfully, most decent Lebanese establishments actually have generators these days after working within these perimeters for so long. Also due to the changing environment and fast pace of the Lebanese culture I would regular check to see if any of these locations have changed in between my visits. A good website for this is sobeirut.com.
Dar Bistro & Books - A charming little coffee house, nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the, Dar has everything you need to get down to some blogging, editing or video work. A lush outdoor garden with colorful chairs and a charming bookshop where you can rifle through handpicked titles and the best cup of Turkish coffee. You may want to note that Dar’s Internet is pretty damn reliable – for these Lebanese standards.
KI Coffee House - Located in Hamra near Le Commodore Hotel, the cafe is always filled with students studying for exams and doing their projects. With good Internet, great coffee and the communal vibe of concentration, you're guaranteed to make progress on whatever tasks you have. Only downside it can be loud if the “wrong” students are in the building.
Urbanista - This is Urbanista’s second branch and one that immediately became a favorite study spot for Beirut students. With reliable Internet as well as fresh and seasonal cuisine, the cafe will help you pass your time productively - but can contain similar downsides to the above, noise.
Papercup - This is the perfect working environment for you ADHD types. Set in a quiet backstreet, this small venue offers much more tranquility than my first two offerings. Filled to the brim (literally, floor-to-ceiling) with books and magazines and decorated in a minimalistic modern style. Beware though: No wifi I repeat no wifi. Consider yourself warned.
Visited: February 2019
I did not entertain the idea of working very much whilst driving around Namibia, but there were a couple of occasions when I needed to do some work.
Element Riders Backpackers – Huge amount of working space for editing, some fairly basic double rooms but the environment is nice as a base. For uploading and downloading though we had to depart the premises and head to the café/restaurant below.
Diaz Coffee Shop &Restaurant – Superb staff, food and affordable place to work. Not the most comfortable work benches. But the Wi-Fi is the best we found in Luderitz and the coffee kept me going. Had a generator as well and a few power outlets – but best to ask the staff if you want to plug in!
Visited: January & March 2019
I must point out that we were in the country during a serious load shedding stage, stage 4. This meant power going down 4 times a day for 3 hours a time at set intervals. Obviously, this is frustrating as a remote worker.
So, if you are heading to South Africa a top tip is to check the electricity company’s website for updates and a timetable (usually within a few hours of this) for updates and information.
Addo Elephant National Park
Kudu Ridge Game Lodge – We only stayed in this one place here in the park, but the internet was free, and the speeds were great. The staff were accommodating, and we had a power supply available in the bar and restaurant area. I recommend working in the day though and finishing earlier to avoid the late arriving Contiki busses that arrive three times a week packed full of tourists (volume increases).
Generally, the internet speeds are great in the city the only thing to watch out for is that pesky load shedding. There are a couple of cafes to avoid I think, not because of speeds but the prices of their wifi. Most (not all) hotels, BNB’s and Airbnb’s we encountered were ace for both speed and reliability though. Here are some of my observations to date, starting with our recommended accommodation:
Clint’s Apartment near Century City – Amazing speed, great location to work with a breakfast bar that I converted into a laptop workstation. Clint is also a great host – who when we arrived bent over backwards to install the promised Wi-Fi connection, which then turned out to be the best we had received since leaving the UK. Only a studio pad and maybe a little far out of the CBD for some but it was perfect to get my head down and work as long and it would be for others as long as you are single or in a couple is it is a studio.
Breakaway Cafe – Fastest upload speeds I found in Cape Town, Central and ace coffee and milkshakes, with free wifi. Plugs available and quiet on my three visits. Parking is street parking and not free, although there is not really a need to drive we just had a car at the time.
Truth Coffee – This place makes the list, just. A great place to hang out if you’re into your hipster environments with plenty of power options and sockets. Plenty of other remote workers here as well. BUT, it is expensive for both coffee and Wi-Fi, yes Wi-Fi is not free.
I read a lot about other cafes and bars being great options for remote working. But as I uncovered Breakaway Café and had the small apartment, it worked out to keep using those.
Sol Y Sombra – what a place to work if you are staying outside of Cape Town. A gorgeous coastline, a beautifully finished apartment with workspaces, a lush kitchen and a cute little garden to work in as well. Shame we only found this on our last night in South Africa.
The Gift – another beautifully constructed one-bedroom studio, this time situated out the back of a couple’s home. Great wifi and lots of working stations also amazing breakfast.
SeaGulls Pub & Grill – The reviews on food here are mixed, but we are talking connection and power! This place had both, even a generator when that power went off for another three hour session. Our food was also great.
Dolphin Circle B&B – This place was nice; we went back for a second visit after our initial 3 nights. I got to work in the quiet living spaces in the main hotel section. The owner was English and very helpful, even recommending me a hairdresser to get my barnet trimmed! Plenty of power outlets, a nice kitchen to cook your own food and also the hotel has that all-important generator.
Visited: March 2019
We found the wi-fi to be really poor across Turkey, but maybe this was down to a bad week - we are returning in November on our route out of Georgia - so I will update this further then. But generally we found you had to pay for wifi, and extras before settling down to work and that also the wifi to be poor signal strength, especially in the East.
Oscar Pansiyon Hotel - This very cheap Boutique Hotel presents comfortable accommodation, an outdoor pool and very good Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel. The staff are very welcoming. The breakfast and dinner is excellent and the hotel is very well located, near to shops, restaurants, parks, the tram and several beaches. We worked here for a whole day un-desturbed, I highly recommend it. Also worth upgrading to the superior rooms, they are much larger and usually are only a few dollars more.
Mevlana Palace Hotel - I didn’t expect much, because it was quite cheap hotel. But when we arrived we were surprised. Rooms are spacious and clean with plenty of laptop work spaces. The staff were very friendly and helpful. It is good value for the price with a good wi-fi connection, and situated close to the center.
Wi-Fi & 4G
A quick summary on the best speeds over a fixed and mobile connection - essential to any travelling photographer or remote worker.
Most Impressive speeds and reliability to date – Georgia
Cheapest to date – Georgia, it is usually free in most places including “Tbilisi loves you” a free hotspot in the city centre.
Least Impressive – Turkey so far, we found that it says Wi-Fi everywhere but you either must pay to upgrade to a better connection or the speeds are so slow you cannot work with it. It is expensive in Namibia as well, but once you have paid for it the Wi-fi usually works great – but this should be dismissed as a normal location, as it is a desert!
4G Speeds (with a local sim card) – South Africa, Georgia, Armenia & Lebanon are on par until you are rural – when again for me, Georgia wins especially when you consider the price that you are paying.
It is hard to believe that in my home county of Norfolk (UK) you get no decent 4G but facing Mount Ushba a 5000+ meter beast of a mountain in rural Georgia you have a perfect 4G connection!
CAMERA & KIT REPAIRS
Things do go wrong, especially if you have some aging kit like I do. But where to go if something does go wrong? Where can you buy spare batteries? Memory Cards? Obviously, I have not used repairs stores or camera shops in every city – so if you have some here it would be great to add them to my list, and they can be anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, we are miles away from Amazon delivering to Georgia. But you can get things you need urgently by ordering through Amazon to the USA and then getting a service like USA2GEORGIA to deliver. It is just not the cheapest way and anything over 300Gel is likely to land you with a bill for import duties – resident or not.
Igor is the man at Zoom Service in Tbilisi – One of the things I like about Georgia is that it is still at the stage where one man fixes the cars in a suburb, one-man fixes windows in the north of the city and in this case, one man fixes the camera equipment country-wide! Insane but beautiful at the same time, right?
I have added the link to the location on Google Maps. It is not listed! But if you doubt this, he attempted to repair my 17mm TS Canon Lens – specialist indeed, but unfortunately it was a write-off.
Camera and tech gear in South Africa can be expensive due to the market not buying. Most mobile phones are “LITE” versions and cameras are some way behind, sometimes as much as three generations. However, you can pick up most things just expect to pay a little more for it.
Camera Land – I only went here for a memory card but seemed to stock most things that one could or should need, including newer cameras and accessories. You might be able to order in as well if you are here awhile.
Katz Camera Warehouse / The Tech Lab – I used this store to purchase a new microphone, that I subsequently lost in Lebanon! What a Clown! I did get two new batteries for my Canon M50 as well though – not the cheapest shop in the world but it helps.
Hardware, Gear & Laptop
A huge challenge for me is gear, what to carry. Backing up, hard drives to carry and even extension leads etc. It all weighs a lot, but it is my lively hood so of course it takes priority over in some instances, my clothing or say my shoes.
Ideally, if I could afford it I would have a lighter and more powerful laptop, in a perfect world I would get the Razor blade 15 Advanced Model but when your laptop is working and processing photography fine, it is tough to spend the money despite the weight.
I use the a few things though on my travels to make my life much easier as a travelling photographer:
· Tenba Shootout 32L Rucksack – This is large, but protects my gear and importantly has a laptop sleeve in the rear large enough for a 17 inch laptop. As a photographer I prefer larger screens.
· Transend 1TB Rugged Drive – This USB 3.0 Military-Grade, shock resistant portable hard drive is my main admin drive. I actually carry two of these, one for admin and one for videography.
· Seagate 4TB Fast HDD – I must keep this one protected as it is not knock resistant. But a 4TB drive that holds all of my architecture raw files, I needed a fast and large capacity drive and I was not going to replace this one I had at home as it runs very well.
· Adata 5TB Back-up Drive – I use this one rugged and splash proof drive as my one main back up drive. This drive backs up all the others.
· VGUARD Worldwide Travel Adapter – This has 4 USB Ports and is Travel Adapter with 4 international plugs built in. I use this everywhere – just do yourself a favour, tape over the blue light – it is bright if you are going to use beside your bed!
· 3 Bank Extension lead – I use this with a standard travel adapter or with the VGuard adaptor above. This has more USB sockets (as you can never have enough) and I then have a workstation ready to go! All I need now is to plug in my laptop below.
· Lenovo Idealpad Y510p – I have maxed this out with a new Samsung evo SSD literally just two months ago, it made it lightning quick at editing my huge raw files. Two years ago, I upgraded the RAM as well, it is now maxed at 16GB. I have had it for 5 years this August, but I should get another two out of it at a push – my test now is video, which is a problem with the new Premier Pro updates as they are not a fan of my graphics card now! The power lead is large, so I am going to upgrade the power lead very soon to a new, slimmer version and get a new battery – fingers crossed it sees me through.
*The above are affiliate links.
I will endeavor to update as I keep moving around the world, with my next movement due in November as we return to the United Kingdom for two weeks before then heading to Thailand and South East Asia for four months. Check back for more soon!
Thank you for reading, James.
LAST UPDATED – 29th July 2019