Updated: Jan 25, 2020
Roars are rolling in from the tropical trees overhead—an unnerving noise the first time I learned of the looming howler monkeys in the depths of this dark, dusty jungle my first night. Somehow, that was a month ago, and I’ve since learned to love the way they and the iguanas that rashly clack across the roof add layers to my lurid dreams here. My imagination runs as wild as the burgeoning bromeliads—perhaps a product of the otherwise earsplitting silence of this paradoxically peaceful place.
Some nights, I imagine life in a surfer sanctuary teeming with wildlife, where the sun dyes the sky pinks and oranges before dipping into the cerulean ocean to sleep itself. And then I wake up with the sunrise, to the smells of Costa Rican coffee brewing in the kitchen, and I realize my reality is just that.
Bikini clad, I’m sweltering under the sun that swathes this surf camp like a weighted blanket. Beads of sweat slinking through the red ringlets stuck to my neck paint streaks down my freckled skin, peppered in dust. That’s just pura vida—the pure life—a raw and revelatory experience of self love, all natural in the most natural environment. That’s the type of beautiful I feel here, far more concerned with building relationships and churning out the level of work that induces pride. That and, of course, exploiting the accessibility of adventure around every palm.
I’ve already taken a midday break for a poolside banana smoothie. But I’ll catch the sunset surf soon for a refreshing respite from the office: Mal Pais Surf Camp, where I’ve been co-living for the last month with WiFi Tribe, a community of more than 300 nonconformist adventure aficionados, all of whom work remotely.
WiFi Tribe makes me feel sane.
There are 25 of us here in Santa Teresa, a spellbinding beach town that lines the lush, dense jungles of the Puntarenas Province, just under a hundred miles west of the country’s capital, San José. A palpable energy pervades the place—full of familiar faces who form a community of café baristas, boutique owners, surf instructors and yoga gurus. As for us—we’re writers, photographers, marketers, developers, travel agents and even a professional poker player. Though we come from all over the world and work across a wealth of industries, there’s one commonality among us all: We’ve forgone the archetypical life that transcends all of our cultures in lieu of freedom. Each of us has curated an autonomous lifestyle—one devoid of the confines of an office and that negates society’s preconceived notion of what exactly it means to “adult.”
After a year of an unparalleled solo journey writing around the world, I was ready for an adventure of another nature. I’ll never stop solo traveling; it’s inexplicably intoxicating. But while there’s nothing quite like venturing to unfamiliar corners of the globe with only the most rudimentary handle on local life and merely yourself on whom to rely, there’s also something to be said about traveling with likeminded misfits. The promise of reliable internet and a network of traveling professionals (including incredibly empowering women!) who get the grind—the kinds of people who’ll chase waterfalls with you on a weekday, but only after they’ve filed for deadlines—was awfully alluring after many months of ill-equipped hostels among strangers with whom I had to explain that this is not my vacation but, rather, my life. My travel experiences haven’t always been so conducive to working, and I’ve recently decided that if I want to sustain this lifestyle, I need to slow down and set up for the career ahead of me.
Costa Rica seemed like an enticing spot to stay awhile.
If I’d asked me a year ago if I’d find myself working (albeit surfing) in a hippie haven in Costa Rica, I’d have only hoped so. If I’d asked me if I’d be doing so with an organized group, I’d never have anticipated so. Alas, here I am at the end of my first month with WiFi Tribe, anxiously anticipating my next few.
An audacious advocate for solo travel, here’s how traveling with WiFi Tribe has opened my mind.
What I Learned Traveling with WiFi Tribe
1. I Quite Enjoy Living Around the World, Perhaps More so Than Traveling Around the World
Like the gentle drip of draining water from your ears, or the satisfyingly successful tug of too-tightly-tucked bed sheets or the chill of slathering sunburnt skin with Aloe Vera gel, there’s little more fulfilling than leaving my toothbrush by the bathroom sink, setting shampoo in the shower and unpacking my backpack (even if it all ends up on the floor anyway). Settling in is something I seldom do. And since living out of a backpack for one year, it’s the little things that make a place so far from home feel so akin to, well, home.
I’ll stay awhile in a country, typically, but I don’t tend to stay in one city—let alone a quiet, remote beach town consisting of one road—for so long. While I was worried I’d feel “stuck” committing to one place for a whole month before ever having been there, I’m sat here on week four wondering where the time went. Rather than focusing on what’s next, I’ve lived this month unreservedly in the moment, building beautiful friendships and diving deeper.
2. I Can Do This Whole Nomad Life for the Long Haul
Among the most fulfilling facets of group travel is getting to know others more intimately and, ultimately, learning from one another. WiFi Tribe bolsters these kinds of bonds and cultivates a culture in which teaching and learning are integral.
Between the “skill shares”—when WiFi Tribe members demonstrate lessons on everything from building businesses to boxing—and the endless career conversations surrounding intent and purpose and goals and fears and more, I’ve become a more ambitious freelancer and a more confident “digital nomad.” The energy that emanates from a camp full of motivated, proactive professionals is contagious.
I spent nights at the surf camp talking and observing SEO best practices, photography editing software, digital advertisement programs and more. We answered each others’ questions, lent each other specialized help, networked with each other and encouraged each other to pursue our passion projects—editing memoirs, coding travel blogs, shooting social media photography and videography.
Listening to members of the Tribe, especially other women my age, share their own inspiring stories of how they become location independent was in and of itself a lesson, as well. I’ve spent the last year convincing other travelers (and, admittedly, sometimes myself) that my lifestyle is a sustainable one—that I work remotely and can do so for as long as I’m willing to work at it. In traveling with WiFi Tribe, I’ve been constantly reminded that, if they could pull off this whole “digital nomad” thing, I can keep it going, too—and I’m not so crazy (or at least not the only crazy one who exists) for trying.
3. Experiencing New Things with Others Is a Different but Equally Gratifying Kind of Gratification
I feel strongly that women, who can, should travel solo. It’s a humbling, character-building, life-altering experience that has thrown me so far from my comfort zone that, at times, I didn’t know which way was up. I’ve danced dances I’d never seen, indulged in foods I’d never eaten, practiced religious customs foreign to me and partook in so much I might not have if I’d had company beside me. And that’s because I believe our responses to cultures and our curiosity surrounding their customs are so often tempered by the company we keep. In my experience, when with familiar faces, I travel more often as a bystander; when solo, I’m far more inclined to immerse myself in my surroundings.
That said, traveling with a group of likeminded people often seeking similar experiences has actually pushed me a lot, even further at times. I spent my days working from the surf camp or local cafes and surfing sunsets, horseback riding along the beach, ATVing through the jungles, climbing waterfalls in Montezuma and trekking through Manuel Antonio National Park to find sleepy sloths.
While I certainly would have had at least some of these experiences on my own, they’d have looked a lot different. Sure, I’d have talked myself into trying surfing for the first time; but perhaps I wouldn’t have surfed quite as often—or laughed quite as much wiping out while doing it. Both solo travel and group travel are electrifying, albeit in different ways.
Photo via @danloeppky
How to Sign up for WiFi Tribe
WiFi Tribe touts itself as a “subscription to a new way of living.” But it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. That’s why you’re tasked with a three-part application process to ensure that the Tribe is your vibe: a written application, a Skype interview and a personality test.
If you’re accepted into the program, you can sign yourself up for a “live-around-the-world-membership.” You choose how many “chapters” (months) in which you want to enroll—one, two, three to five, or six or more.
Each new “chapter” takes places in three or four different countries—and you can join wherever you want and whenever you want. Some members stay with the Tribe for several consecutive chapters, while others pick and choose chapters across the year. This means that you’ll find familiar faces and meet new people each time.
There’s a one-time join fee of $300, and you only pay the monthly fee (which varies based on your choice of a shared or private room and the number of chapters for which you sign up) when you’re traveling with the Tribe. You’re essentially paying for your accommodation, reliable internet (and backups) and a network of professionals with whom to cowork, as well as discounted coworking spaces (in addition to the work-conducive common areas of each accommodation) and other emerging partners. WiFi Tribe does not cover the costs of transportation because, after all, this life we all choose is defined by flexibility—we’re traveling from all across the globe on our own accords.