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March 22, 2022

Dear Digital Nomads: How you’re Hurting Small Businesses (& 5 Ways to Help Instead).

small businesses

I live in a little town called Lagos, nestled on the beautiful south coast of Portugal.

During the many years I’ve been here, I’ve seen many changes, big and small.

When my vegan sister first visited me here, she practically had to live on tomatoes, but these days, you can be a gluten-free vegan who doesn’t touch white carbs and still gain a few kilos. Don’t worry though; you will quickly lose it once you start surfing, mountain biking, or dancing around our beautiful coastline.

The population has become deliciously eclectic as more foreigners have moved in, and the town is gently thriving on a peaceful yet vibrant energy.

In recent years, we have had a steady influx of you guys too…digital nomads. How wonderful it is to do your job whilst traveling to beautiful places around the world.

You are so lucky, and I am happy for you.

In another lifetime, I would have liked to be you…wandering the earth with my laptop and notebook, using that freedom to see more of the world.

You bring new light and energy into our town.

As with everything though—and everyone—there is a darker side.

You generally make a large amount of money in comparison to the cost of living in the communities you choose to live in, and you can afford to pay a much higher rent than those of us on local salaries. Landlords have caught on, and rent is now sky-high, meaning locals are struggling to maintain a comfortable standard of living.

This is not your fault. It’s simply how it is.

There are some things that you can do for us though.

It came to my attention recently that some of you have been getting upset with small café owners who try to save their tables for people who are buying lunch.

You don’t understand why you can’t use that table to work on your laptop for a couple of hours whilst drinking a nice cup of coffee.

Why should you pay for a coworking space when you can sit in a pretty café with ambient music and coffee “on tap”?

What you didn’t know is that the other day, someone sat at that table with a laptop for three hours, and bought one cup of coffee.

The café was busy and had to turn away a family of four who wanted to have lunch. Now, imagine that happens every day, on multiple tables.

It does, and it happens everywhere.

That’s why a lot of cafés now have a special counter where you can sit with your laptop, while they keep their tables free. That’s why some cafés are simply laptop-free.

The majority of these places are independently run, and many of them are supporting young families. They don’t just support the owners, they support the staff too.

These are businesses that were almost swept away by the pandemic, shut down for months on end, and then heavily restricted when they were allowed to open.

These are businesses that held on with everything they had, did everything to keep afloat, and now need to start making some money back.

Sadly, some of these cafés have come under fire from some of you guys, in the form of bad reviews, pushing their ratings down. Indignant at being told you cannot use your laptop at the table—or at all—those reviews rub salt into the still exposed wounds of the small businesses that the pandemic has left behind.

It is really important that this be brought into the light, so that we can work together to change it.

If you are reading this and you are a digital nomad, ask yourself: how do you contribute to the local community?

Here are some ideas:

1. Shop at the farmers’ market and the corner shops instead of the bigger supermarkets. Buy locally made honey, fig cakes, and homegrown veggies.

2. Drink or eat out in one of our many cafés and restaurants, whether you can use your laptop there or not, and please, consider leaving a tip. The salary for the service industry is one of the lowest. I know a mother who feeds herself and her children from her tips as her whole salary goes toward rent and bills.

3. If you enjoy outdoor activities, join a tour with a local guide. Sunrise SUP tours are amazing. Tip them too.

4. Try using a coworking space if you don’t want to work from where you are staying. That is helping someone’s business too.

5. If you are happy, write good reviews for all the above! If you aren’t, consider that someone might be having a bad day.

Light is the only thing that can eliminate darkness.

“One’s options in this world are as vast as the horizon, which is technically a circle and thus infinitely broad. Yet we must choose each step we take with utmost caution, for the footprints we leave behind are as important as the path we will follow. They’re part of the same journey—our story.” ~ Lori R. Lopez, Dance of the Chupacabras.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please leave your thoughts and comments below.

~

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