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Kaila from Digital Nomad Writing Club - Phangan transitioning from backpacker to luxury

13 Jul 2020

First coming to Koh Phangan back in 2007 and completely falling in love with it, Kaila Dalgleish promised herself that she would live here one day.

With a strong background in journalism and writing, travel writing was also a natural path for her to take.

Archipelago Communications was created seven years ago, pretty much when she first moved to the island. Working as a freelance writer at the time, Kaila was getting a lot of work requests, and not wanting to turn anything down and so she hired and trained her own writers to handle a large amount of work.

“When I got an office with two bedrooms attached in Thong Sala, I started an internship program.

It went so well and the interns seem to grow so much as writers that I ended up turning it into a full-fledged operation over on Samui”.

Kaila rented and renovated a seven-bedroom house specifically designed for writers and hosted a work exchange program for writers here for a few years.

“The concept was cool but not without its problems. The seven-bedroom house came with its own host of drama, perhaps unsurprisingly. So back in December 2019, I ended my contract with the house and moved the program online, as the Digital Nomad Writing Club”.

Since then, Kaila and her team have been working hard to beef out their online offerings, in the form of a self-paced virtual writing course, weekly writing workshops, one-on-one mentoring and coaching, real-world work experience for real-world clients, a community of like-minded writers who share advice, tips, and tools for digital nomad writers, and share successes and challenges.

Kaila has stayed on Koh Phangan during the COVID Lockdown and feels privileged to be here.

Kaila and her Son Hudson
Kaila and her Son Hudson

“There was only ever one case that I heard of, and it was gone just about as quickly as it was reported. The rules weren't very stringent whatsoever compared to other parts of the world, including my husband's home in the UK, where it was incredibly strict”.

As many digital nomads in the travel industry have found themselves lacking work or not being able to move, luckily for Kaila and also her husband moving out of tourism-based businesses, she can happily say the situation has not so much affected her work.

“We were fortunate enough to both get out of those businesses before COVID-19 hit, which made a stressful situation far less stressful for us”.

We asked Kaila how she thinks the industry will be affected in future?

“A lot of people are saying that this is the end of the full moon party and Phangan is going to move upmarket now. It's definitely true that the wealthy Thais who usually live abroad and have been forced to come back because of this pandemic have been investing in the island and constructing luxury hotels, villas, restaurants, and the like”.

And it's not just Thais, Kaila has even got her hands on a luxury villa project that she is helping out with on her land. And that's because she truly believes that the island is and should be moving upmarket.

“So while I would say that while the pandemic has certainly sped up that transition, I wouldn't say it was the cause of it. Phangan has been transitioning from backpacker to luxury for at least half a decade now”.

When it comes to the digital nomad industry, Kaila thinks that this pandemic is only going to exponentially increase the number of digital nomads out there.

“University enrollments are hugely down in the US and I would guess also all over the world. I think it's because people are starting to wake up and realise that they don't have to pay $100,000 for their education that they can actually obtain for less than $1000 on a skill-sharing or e-learning platform, or heck, even for free on YouTube.

I only wish that I had access to those kinds of resources before I wasted all that money on university!".

There's definitely a big uprise in demand for eco-tourism and we have been discussing this with others in the industry, however from Kaila’s opinion here on Koh Phangan she sees that it's pretty difficult to implement, for a few reasons.

“First, our recycling programs are pretty dubious even when they do exist. And while there is an upsurge of eco-education amongst the younger Thai generations, getting these concepts through to the older generations have proved extremely difficult. And what this means is that it can be challenging to incorporate local authentic Thai businesses into any form of eco-tourism setups here”.

But difficult doesn't mean impossible and Kaila remains confident that the eco-warriors on this island if we continue to push, in cooperation with countrywide ecotourism efforts, will eventually be able to make a difference on Koh Phangan.

Kaila is Mother to her beautiful baby son Hudson who was born last year. The whole family lives on Koh Phangan and now more and more families join them, choosing a more location independent work-life.

Kaila, her Husband and Son
Kaila, her Husband and Son

Always making everything she does look easy, Kaila feels very fortunate so much of her time to be able to do this. She spends the mornings with her Son then rolls up to her desk at the home office and works until noon.

“I take a break for lunch and spend the entire hour with my son, then it's back to work from 1 till 5, and then 5 till 7 with my son. I guess anywhere else, the time that I can now devote to my son would be massively eaten into by, for example, commuting times”.

In other ways, of course, she admits that it's hard, as you do not have the same ‘work bubble’ when working at home.

“It's all too easy for people around you to ask you to take five minutes to help with this, another 10 minutes for that... And it's not only that those tiny breaks add up (because realistically, we should all be taking more breaks than we do), it's that those breaks are not self-imposed breaks, and often completely disrupt my focus”.

So what seems like an innocent five minutes can often actually rob Kaila of a good 30 minutes of productivity during her workday. Which, considering her time restraints as a writer and business owner, and her inability to ever work overtime now she is a Mother, can have a significant impact on her day.

Setting up systems and routines have made a huge difference in Kaila’s life since she and her husband got back from having Hudson in Scotland. She knows that she couldn't live without these new-formed routines.

“Use the plethora of apps on the market to your advantage. You cannot possibly remember everything just in your own brain”.

For other families working remotely, she recommends setting yourself a weekly schedule, and taking advantage of time blocking, in which you set a certain amount of time for each task you have to do.

“Work your family time into your schedule, no matter how rigid that makes you feel. When you've scheduled it in, it can't get pushed to the side”.

Mama and Son enjoying a yoga session
Mama and Son enjoying a yoga session

For a workaholic like Kaila, she keeps her weekends sacred for family and suggests that if you absolutely have to work on the weekend, make sure it's for no more than one or two hours.

And finally yet very important when it comes to working,

“Don't forget to schedule and give yourself some ‘you’ time. Between work and the kids and your husband and your friends, it might seem impossible. And honestly, sometimes it is. But it's so necessary. Even if it's just a one-hour massage a week, that adds up to almost a half-day all to yourself over the course of a month. And that's a lot better than nothing”.

After all of this is over and we are free to travel again, Kaila is heading straight to Mexico to take Baby Hudson to meet her Mom, who's still not met him yet.

“As soon as we can get there, that is!”

Family Christmas in Paradise
Family Christmas in Paradise