Coffee Shop Disasters and How to Survive Them

DSC_1606Part of the appeal of the freelance life is imagining yourself working happily from a beautiful coffee shop in Paris while you sip a cappuccino and nibble on a croissant on the sunny sidewalk patio of a tree-lined street bustling with interesting people. This does not happen. More often than not you’ll find yourself in a dirty coffee shop with slow wifi, no outlets, and an incredibly annoying New Yorker talking loudly on their phone.

I seek out coffee shops and do extensive research whenever I travel. Finding that one magical coffee shop from which you can work from for a morning or afternoon is HARD. Almost impossible. Why? Well, here are just some of the unforeseen issues and distractions I’ve had to overcome when trying to work from a coffee shop:

  • no food
  • 1 hour parking
  • flies
  • too cold
  • too hot
  • loud, terrible music
  • incredibly slow wifi that disconnects
  • wifi that’s free for only 2 hours
  • no wifi (to encourage CONVERSATION)
  • loud talkers
  • crying babies
  • gossiping mothers
  • crazy people who talk to themselves
  • overpriced drinks
  • no open tables
  • dirty tables
  • extremely uncomfortable chairs
  • assholes on their cellphones
  • extremely loud espresso machines
  • a friendly old man who wants to talk your face off
  • no bathroom (I’m not kidding)

Basically, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can work from a coffee shop for two to three hours and no longer. I also have to bring a back up plan. For example, my iPad so that if my laptop dies because I couldn’t find a plug at least I can respond to some email. Or a Kindle, so if the wifi is terrible I can read a book on writing and still feel like I accomplished some work today. Or a snack so that when I’m starving, I can eat something besides my arm.

If you live in surburbia — and I know there are some exceptions, at least I hope — you likely don’t have a local coffee shop except the green mermaid or [insert another national chain here]. It’s pretty safe to say that these places are totally uninspiring. Oh, but your Starbucks has an outdoor patio? Does it overlook the gas station or the grocery store parking lot? Exactly.

This is why I praise the home office. If you’re serious about being a freelancer of any kind or a solopreneur you need an inspiring home office with reliable wifi, a comfortable traditional desk with an ergonomic chair or a standing desk with an anti-fatigue mat, and good lighting. Coworking spaces are an incredible option, but they can be expensive and unless you live in a big city, it’s unlikely you even have this option.

I feel so lucky to have a home office and live in a city that is bursting with local coffee shops in unique spaces with great drinks, free wifi, and outlets. I frequent these kinds of coffee shops occasionally for a change of scenery and to get some exercise. (It’s impossible to reach 10,000 steps per day when you work from home. Thanks for the kick in the ass, FitBit Flex.) But let me reiterate that I’ve done extensive research via Yelp, Google, and in-person visits regarding which coffee shops are worth my time. Here is my extremely short list of shops I’ll work from in Chicago:

  • Filter Cafe on Milwaukee
  • Alliance Bakery on Division
  • Buzz Killer Espresso on Damen
  • Heritage Bicycles General Store on N. Lincoln

That’s it. Trust me, I’ve tried a lot of them all over the city. There are a couple more that *might* eventually make it onto my list like Big Shoulders on Chicago and Lovely: A Bake Shop on Milwaukee, but right now the list of tried-and-true coffee shops is firm at these four. I’m hoping to grow my list eventually, but that means many more mornings spent with uncomfortable chairs, slow wifi, bad music… you get the picture. For now, you can find me at my home office.

P.S. Speaking of pictures, I took that above photo in Salzburg, Austria not Paris.



Add “Alaska” to Your Bucket List

I went to Alaska and came back with a Ziplock of smoked salmon, a bag of Juneau coffee beans, and a ton of Instagram photos. (View them all here.) Alaska was like the Pacific Northwest on crack. If a constant trifecta of snow-capped mountains, lush green forests, and icy blue waters are your definition of beauty, escape the lower 48 immediately and head north. We saw whales, porpoises, sea lions, and moose. We biked, we hiked, we camped, we fished, and we lived to tell the tale.

Actually, it’s not much of a tale to tell. Because Alaska is just so damn beautiful that all we said the entire time is “Omigoditsobeautiful.” I felt like that Double Rainbow guy. I could not stop gaping at the scenery and talking about how gorgeous it was and then turning around and repeating the whole process all over again. Mountains + ocean + trees just made me lose it, probably because I live in the midwest where there are no mountains or ocean and it’s a good day in Chicago if I see a tree. In Juneau, you’re surrounded by it on all sides. Photos will never do this state justice. Just go. Go! It’s expensive (like a trip to Europe expensive) but it’s so worth it.

Alaska 1

View from John Muir cabin in Juneau.

Alaska 2

Just a pit stop on the Seward Highway between Anchorage and Seward.


Views from the Seward Highway.


Pulled over at a rest stop along the Seward Highway. This was the view.


“Flightseeing” is popular in Alaska. Now you know why.


A trail in Girdwood, Alaska.


View on the way up to John Muir cabin in Juneau.

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View of the marina in Seward.