Note: this is the first in a series of 4 articles about making money off-grid with an online business – and location-independent entrepreneurship. The links to the other posts are at the bottom of this one!
How I Started: Working From Home As A Personal Assistant (Pa)
Although I studied communications and sociology, I ended up working as a personal/virtual assistant for a living. I really loved doing that; it was tailor-made for me! The occasional boring and mind-numbing stuff didn’t outweigh the great parts – when I got to talk and listen to all kinds of people, follow (and often participate in) interesting projects, plan things and make overviews, book beautiful trips. When I was booking a flight to some tropical country, I almost felt like I was going there myself. And best of all, as my own boss, I got to decide whether I could take a long lunch (if I finished everything urgent first, nobody would miss me) or take a few days’ vacation (if the work can wait, why not?). Most clients and coworkers I had through the years have been wonderful and a pleasure to work with.
At first, I was working from Amsterdam. I’d also work when travelling (visiting my parents in Belgium, a friend in France, or just taking care of business in Spain), but most of the time I would push non-urgent stuff forward until I was home again. So when we decided to move to Spain, it felt logical just to take my job with me… most of it was done through the internet anyway.
Working From Spain…the First Few Weeks
Moving to Spain was a big thing – although most of my job was online and could be done from anywhere, it still required me to have reliable internet and to get in touch with clients at times.
The first week working from Spain was kind of hellish – we had no internet at home, so I had to find an internet cafe every time I wanted to work for half a day or so, and I somehow used up all my mobile data (accidentally) by the 3rd day… after that, I really paid full price for all the extra internet I was using. This was before there was a flat rate for mobile phone usage in Europe. Of course my (wifi) printer wasn’t working, and the work just kept building up. I reached a low when we finally got wifi at our Spanish house, and I wasn’t even able to use Skype (my #1 client communication channel back then) because the internet was very, very slow.
I considered going back to Amsterdam for a week or so at that moment, just to catch up with work.
But then suddenly it all picked up. It turned out that internet in the village was extremely slow on Sunday nights (maybe because most locals spend that time indoors behind their computers) but using Skype on other days was not a problem. I started to enjoy working from the tiny house we were renting. I would wake up earlier and happier than I used to in the city (difficult not to, with the view from our bedroom). I’d have breakfast, go for a walk with the dogs and even do a few things around the house before people in Amsterdam had the chance to wake up and get behind their computers.
My First Winter Working Remotely From Matarranya
Most of the time, I would work in the morning (usually 4-5 hours non-stop). After lunch, I’d do some household chores, and on sunny days I would go to our finca (farmland) in the afternoon. Just me and my laptop, sitting in the field. Working offline most of the time, and getting or making the odd phone call. As soon as I got a bit chilly (and the dogs had finished their fun), I would head back to the house to send out or upload the work I’d done at the finca.
I had expected it to be more stressful because I had more to do here than I did in Amsterdam, but it turned out I liked working from here so much more than I liked to work from our apartment in the city – even though I loved that apartment. The work didn’t change, but I was just more relaxed and happier…surprisingly.
I would still go back to Amsterdam to meet with clients and take care of business every 5-6 weeks or so. There was often stuff I couldn’t do remotely. And of course, it was a chance to see my friends and family, and visit the projects I had been working on (like the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and Amsterdam Light Festival). But then, after a few weeks there, I was just as glad to come back to beautiful Matarranya and our ever-evolving project in Lledò. And of course, come back to working with the sun on my back.
Moving Off The Grid
In the spring of 2015, we made a bold move. Tired of living away from our finca, we decided to rebuild an old stable that was already there, and go live in it until our “real” house was ready. We installed electricity, running water, a solar shower and a composting toilet… but no internet.
Work was going better than ever. I was getting tons of smaller projects, on top of an almost full-time job with a retreat location who had just opened a glamping site for the summer. This meant I was spending nearly every morning either working in a cafe in a nearby village (I alternated cafes almost daily for a change of scenery), or sometimes working at my friend Mellissa’s place. Working together gave us an “office” kind of feeling… which was nice for a change!
However, all of this meant that I was neglecting my garden big time. Also, life on the finca would go on without me – we’d have volunteers camping around to help with building, harvesting and all kinds of projects – while I was hiding in a dark (but cool!) cafe, making money. I started resenting the work (however fun it actually was), and realised it was either the full time job, or the simple life.
I chose the simple life – and I took a break from working full-time behind my computer.
- Read all about how it went after this in the update from June 2017 – From Personal Assistant to Online Business.
- Read the other article I wrote about why working online is fabulous when you live off the grid