Amy Molloy is a journalist, author and ‘digital nomad’ who mixes nature escapes with work at every opportunity, follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
As I floated in a kayak, waving my phone above my head trying to get reception, it crossed my mind that some people would call me crazy – going on a canyoning trip the same weekend that I was meant to be interviewing (over the phone) the most famous model in Australia. But, as a freelance journalist I realised last year that if I waited for my work schedule to clear before I made plans, I would never leave the house, let alone complete my Bucket List.
That’s why I became a Digital Nomad (definition: an individual who leverages technology to perform their work duties and conduct their lifestyle in a nomadic manner). It’s also why I’m an expert at remote places and natural spaces where you can still check emails, hold conferences calls and generally keep your bosses happy.
I know the title of this article might annoy adventure purists who believe escapism is about disconnecting and digitally detoxing. I agree on some level; in an ideal world I would travel with nothing but a Spot Tracker in case of emergencies. But I am also a realist with a mortgage to pay and bosses in three different countries, which means one of them is always awake. I pretty much always have to be on call, so I’ve discovered ways to get around it.
In 2015, I spent four months backpacking across South America with my fiancé, Kurt whilst still working full time (thanks to an iPad, a Bluetooth keyboard and some very understanding bosses). I explain the hows and whys in my new book, Diary of Digital Nomad; How to Run Away with your Responsibilities. The gist is you don’t have to quit your day job to find freedom and adventure.
Being a digital nomad doesn’t have to mean travelling the world – it could be as simple as working remotely on a Friday so you can go on a camping trip or hit a hiking trail. The fact is there are only 52 weekends in a year (or 53 on a leap year), which means there are only so many micro-adventures you can squeeze into your ‘official’ free time. But, if you can work remotely the world becomes your office. The secret is finding locations that feel a million miles anywhere – but still allow you to connect when you need to.
My ideal destination is somewhere with no phone reception in 98% of the surrounding area, but one secret spot, hill crest or local café where I can check-in ever so often. It’s not easy to find these Digital Nomad Meccas, but I’m happy to share the places I’ve discovered (so far). All you have to do is convince your boss to let you Out of Office…
# 1 Lady Carrington Drive, Royal National Park
In the Royal National Park get used to seeing ‘No service’ at the top of your iPhone. But, there is a signal sanctuary amongst the trees – Audley Dance Hall Café at the end of Lady Carrington Drive fire trail. In fact, I’m typing from there at this very moment, after starting the day with a 9km hike along the track (which also a great route for mountain bikers, especially beginners as it’s wide). The Dance Hall Cafe, miraculously, has free public Wi-Fi. You do have to order something, but that isn’t a hardship after a hunger-inducing hike.
# 2 Bitangabee campground, Ben Boyd National Park
I’ve written about the magic of this spot before, as it’s where I learnt to love spear fishing. The campsite and surrounding area is a broadband black hole but the campsite’s manager and local legend, Evan told me a secret. There is a spot approximately one kilometre up the track from the campground which locals call the ‘phone booth’ because if you pull up by the side of the road you can get reception. This is my idea of digital nomad mecca because I can feel disconnected most of the time, and then check-in once a day to see if there’s anything urgent. It always pays to listen to locals.
# 3 The Basin CampGround, Kur-ring-gai Chase National Park
Kurt and I usually prefer less-is-more camping (a hammock and a hole in the ground) but sometimes as a digital nomad you have to embrace mod cons. At the Basin Campground the facilities are fancy by our standards (hot showers, bathrooms with mirrors and soda machines) but it also has perfect phone reception, pretty much everywhere. Another plus side is there’s no road access to the campsite. Visitors have to park down a track, then either hike or cycle down or the best option is to kayak across from Sandy Point Road Ramp. The paddle takes about an hour (just put your laptop in a dry bag!)
# 4 Myall Lakes National Parks
There are a number of campsites along Myall Lake, and to be honest I don’t know the name of the one we stayed in (sorry). It doesn’t really matter as it didn’t have phone reception anyway. But, when we were hiking the vast sand dunes suddenly Kurt got a text message – to say his Dominoes Pizza was ready to be collected. This was interesting, firstly because we hadn’t ordered a pizza but also because I realised I could get 3G signal from the top of the higher sand dunes. Sometimes, because a digital nomad is more about luck than planning. Hold you phone in the air like you just don’t care, and see what happens.
# 5 Kiama Coastal Walk
I recently discovered that Kiama has free public Wi-Fi in the main part of town (and unlike the supposed public Wi-Fi in Bondi this network actually works). Start the day with a scenic hike along Kiama Coastal Walk, go surfing at ‘Bone Yard’ then sit in the park and check your emails before heading to the organic farmers market (every Wednesday from 4pm). Alternatively, for a tougher trek, head to Hoddles Track on Saddleback Mountain, which is only a short drive away (top tip: try it at sunrise with head torches).