It’s no secret that the pandemic has dealt women what the New York Times describes as “a one-two-three punch”. Not only were women adversely affected by job loss in sectors such as hospitality as a result of Covid-19, they also bore the brunt of care-giving responsibilities as relatives fell ill and children stayed at home.
If gender equality has taken a hit, however, a silver lining is starting to emerge. With flexible working now a standard rather than a luxury, and digital nomadism on the rise worldwide, women – in particular – are carving out new ways of working.
For some, this involves actively seeking out better work conditions as part of a movement dubbed “The Great Resignation”. Still others are looking for inspiration abroad, using the rise in remote employment as an opportunity to either return home to their native countries or start a new life somewhere fresh. This includes places where work-life balance is arguably more valued than in the UK.
Below, Flash Pack speaks to seven women who live and work abroad, in cities with strikingly different approaches to free time and relaxation. From sacred lunch breaks in São Paulo, Brazil to beach swims in Bilbao, Spain, discover how work-life routines take shape around the world – here’s to a life less grinding.
“The French cherish their personal time, and make time for hobbies and family”
Katie Holloway is a freelance marketing specialist and co-founder at Cocoon Communications. She and her partner live in the southern city of Toulouse, France.
The work-life balance in Toulouse is very different. Whereas in the UK we might grab a quick sandwich from Greggs, I’ve seen many working professionals in restaurants over lunchtime which can be up to two hours long. Coffee on the go is also something that is incredibly rare. You really don’t see people walking around with takeaway coffee cups. Coffee is a time to sit, relax, and chat with a colleague or read the paper; not to be rushed.
The French are also very serious about their personal time. In Toulouse especially, people are very active and during the weekend the roads are filled with cars and cyclists heading into the Pyrenees or to the coast. Sundays are typically a day for family.
I love running and find this is such a great activity for when I need to clear my head, organise my thoughts, or find a solution to something. I often come up with my best ideas when I’m outside running (it helps that the mountains and sea are both nearby, too).
I can’t bear the thought of having worked all day long at my desk
I’m sure a lot of my health now is due to the flexibility of working from home. We cook at least two meals a day and are able to eat lovely fresh food, whereas if I was working 9-5 in an office I’m sure I would be buying fast food and takeaway meals. We are really lucky to live in a gorgeous house with a big decking area and a pool, too, so when the sun is out, this is a nice place to spend time away from my desk for half an hour.
I can’t bear the thought of working all day long at my desk, so each day I try and do one thing for myself. It might be taking my dog for a long walk, going for a run, eating lunch out, or going for a coffee with a friend.
I think the French attitude has definitely rubbed off on me. I love how they cherish their personal time and make time for hobbies and family. They take their work seriously but are very good at honouring their boundaries.
“Lunch time is sacred in Brazil”
Renata Miranda is a PR, content specialist and journalist based in São Paulo, Brazil. Brazilians in general are more informal and relaxed but São Paulo – the so-called “New York of the south” – has a reputation for being a workaholic centre.
My situation is a bit out of the ordinary – since most of my clients are in the UK, sometimes my workday can start at 5am (Brazil time) so I can get on with meetings in London time. But in general, I’m quite flexible with starting and ending my work day. I get to make my own hours, so sometimes I’ll start at 9am, but then will take a longer break after lunch to do something fun and work later in the evening to make up for it.
Lunch time is sacred here – it’s very rare for someone to skip it or even eat at their desk (something that I found very odd while living and working in London). This is a time for people to relax and turn off a bit from work responsibilities.
I try to squeeze in a swim at the pool whenever I can at some point during the day, too. I’m lucky because the flat building I live in has an indoor pool, so it’s very convenient. When I’m working at the office, people usually take a quick break around 3pm to drink coffee and eat snacks. It’s a nice time of the day to chat about stuff that’s not work-related and have some downtime with co-workers.
Flexibility is crucial. I think that when we work at times that are more convenient for us, we tend to be more productive. Also, I think we should aim to have work adapt to our lives and not the other way around – but this is something I’m still working on to improve in my own life!
“My wellbeing and stress levels are much lower when I'm in Uganda”
Pearl M. Kasirye is a PR consultant and co-founder of the PR agency Pearl Lemon. After first working for the agency in Switzerland, she moved back to her home country of Uganda and now lives in the capital, Kampala.
I’d been living in Lugano for about four years before I decided to move back home to Uganda because I missed the cultural aspect of living in Africa and I needed to reconnect with my family. Thankfully, my job wasn’t affected by my location, so it was an easy decision to make.
A typical work day here starts at about 9 or 10am. Working remotely means that I can shift my schedule around with ease so that I can have evenings free by working extra early on some days. If I want to go on a road trip and work somewhere by the River Nile, I can do so without it conflicting with my work or my schedule. I also go to the gym regularly: some days I go between 1-3pm and other days, I go at 4-6pm.
My team can work 5 hours a day and still be very productive
Ugandans tend to eat and work at the same time, haha! And I find myself doing the same thing most days. Lunch breaks are not as deeply respected here. But I think flexibility is important for employee retention, as well as employee wellbeing.
The world is changing and company policies should evolve as well. At Pearl Lemon PR, I manage employees in the United States and England, and they work in different time zones and set their own hours. I don’t worry about whether they can get their work done because I understand the benefits of flexibility and the importance of letting employees work at their chosen times. They can work 5-6 hours a day and still be very productive.
My wellbeing and stress levels are much lower when I’m in Uganda. I really love living here, and being surrounded by family and friends. If my job required me to move to London and give all this up, it would be a much more stressful work experience.
“During the Spanish summer, most people finish work at 3pm”
Aiala Icaza González is search partnership director at the agency Reflect Digital, and lives in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao, in the country’s Basque region.
I usually get woken up by my cat at around 7am, and start working at 8am. I end the day at around 6.15pm so I can hit the gym, which is a sacred routine for me. In the summer, I change the gym for outdoor walks and more time socialising/ enjoying the long hours.
Lunch times are sacred to me: I always ensure I have my full lunch break away from the computer, usually on the sofa watching a show/ reading a book. I cook something easy and healthy (hot in the winter, cold in the summer). I also try to sneak in a quick 10-15 mins nap when I feel tired or stressed. In the afternoon, I always have a gym class or similar lined up no later than 7pm, to ensure I don’t get absorbed by the computer and get to leave on time.
During the summer, the heat in Spain can be unbearable, so our working hours are much shorter. People usually work until 2-3pm with no breaks, but then they can spend the rest of the day cooling down at the beach or swimming pools. To be honest, this is the best way to enjoy the long summer days!
I think flexibility is key for a healthy lifestyle, as well as being able to spend more time with your loved ones. For me it has been a game-changer, as before I had to live in different cities/countries for work. By contrast, now I get to live just a few minutes’ walking distance from my family. I can use my holidays to actually travel rather than returning home.
I can take little breaks whenever I need to, too. Sometimes it takes something quite simple like a hot shower, or playing with my cat, to reduce my stress levels. Or I’m a big fan of a power nap (no longer than 15 minutes) to help me get energised for the rest of the day.
“In Portugal, I work near open space, sea and sand”
Holly Stephens is founder and CEO of video and audio editing platform Subly. During the pandemic, she moved to Portugal in search of a calmer pace of life.
I moved to Portugal in October 2020, and I’m now based in the Algarve where there’s a surfer vibe and a more relaxed atmosphere. This suits me as I’m often working during the day and need somewhere to go on a walk with open space, sea and sand – to clear my mind and relax.
I try to go for a 20-minute walk twice each day: often my boyfriend and I will begin the day with a stroll along the beach in Praia da Luz. I used to fall into working on weekends, but now I try to find more balance. I try to go for a hike or a coastal walk with my friends. My recent favourite is Praia da Luz to Burgau, and visiting Love Burgau restaurant, which does the best sourdough pizzas and brunches.
Since moving to Portugal, I have less of a need to be ‘everywhere’
I’ve taken up surfing and have lessons on a weekend for two hours, and will often head to one of the beaches. Castelejo is my favourite, followed by Zavial, and Porto do Mos.
In London, I was commuting long-hours and it was all ‘go’ throughout the week. Now that I have my own business, I try to make sure that both myself and my team have a good balance, even though we work odd hours across multiple time zones.
Since moving to Portugal, I have less of a need to be ‘everywhere’, or attend events I am not interested in – I can completely focus, and only do what will ‘move the needle’ for my business. I also have a more balanced social life where I’m experiencing new activities, too.
“In Barbados, I’ve learnt to take my time and enjoy the journey”
Bajans have the work-life balance nailed. Every day at 5pm a group of men would meet on the beach to play paddle ball. It felt like that was their time to switch off from the day and just relax. And every morning, I’d see a group of older women wearing brightly coloured shower caps do their aqua aerobics in the sea.
Given it is an island, the pace of life is a lot slower in Barbados and I think that’s why it’s easier to have a strong work-life balance. The UK is so fast-paced that it’s easy to forget about having a balance, and the importance of sitting back and relaxing.
Being less than a 10 minute walk from the beach, when it was lunchtime in the UK (which was usually around 9.30am in Barbados) I would go for a morning swim in the sea. This was key to my routine as it helped me to start my day. After a swim, I would go to the local Roti shop and for around £2.50 I would get a roti packed with pumpkin, chickpeas, potato and lots of tamarind and hot pepper sauce.
You’ll always see groups of friends no matter what age hanging out together in Barbados. They have a word for both party and chilling called ‘limin’ and that is the essence of Bajan culture, whether it’s limin’ with friends or ‘going to a lime’.
The limin’ culture also rubbed off on me. Dotted along the island are very small rum shacks, this is a bar where locals go to drink and socialise. You’d see older men playing dominoes and cracking jokes with everyone in the bar. There was a rum shack on the way back from the supermarket to our Airbnb so, after a grocery run, my friend and I would stop by there and have a drink as we watched the sunset.
Before going to Barbados, I can admit I didn’t have a lot of patience when it came to waiting for things, whether it was for a piece of work I needed to review by a specific deadline, or simply waiting in a line. Patience comes with the territory in Barbados. When you live on a small island you soon realise time really is a virtue.
In London you focus on getting from A to Z; we’re constantly on a mission to do something. The same could be in Barbados, but people aren’t in as much rush. They know they need to be somewhere but they’ll do it in their own sweet time. I’ve learnt to take my time and enjoy the journey.
Living abroad was always something I’ve wanted to do and spending seven months in Barbados has taught me that if you want to do something, then you need to take the plunge and just do it. The experience has exceeded my expectations and I learnt a lot about myself, gained confidence and made amazing friends for life.
I just so happened to meet my boyfriend there, too. I was in a completely different headspace when I met him and I think that if I was the London version of myself in Barbados, I probably wouldn’t have been so open to seeing him. I was really happy with my life at the time, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I met someone who matches me so well, at a time when I felt so content and a true, authentic version of myself.
“I’m learning to embrace the outdoors far more in Munich”
Julie Leonard is a life coach and founder of Julie Leonard Coaching. In 2014, she moved from Scotland to Munich, where she now lives with her partner and six-year-old son.
I feel that there is much more emphasis on a work-life balance here in Bavaria: it’s definitely a slower, quieter pace of life. People, generally, clock off at 5pm or 6pm and go home to their families.
Sundays are very different here, too. Back in the UK, Sunday for me was food shopping, DIY, or catching up and getting ready for the coming week. Here, no DIY stores or shopping malls are open on Sundays and Germans typically leave the city to spend the day at the lakes or the mountains with friends or family. In the good weather, the family-friendly beer gardens are full of people relaxing and socialising.
As a life coach, I work for myself and can set my own hours. I usually have client coaching calls in the morning and after lunch, I will work on content creation. I also host a weekly Happiness Club with women from all around the world. I love that my job gives me such flexibility and freedom.
In Munich, it’s normal and respected to take a full hour’s lunch break and go out for lunch (usually at 11.45am!) And also to take coffee breaks and go to the beer gardens after work with colleagues. Besides friendships, work colleagues are an important part of people’s lives, and time is invested in that via these social moments in the day. Many of my friends here are also self-employed which means we can meet during the day for coffee, lunch or co-working.
It’s normal and respected to take a full hour’s lunch break
I feel far less stressed and more in control of my life here in Germany. When I was in Scotland, I was highly stressed at work. I was always taking on more and more, with office politics and uncertain funding for the charity I worked at adding extra stress. By Friday I was often exhausted and spent the whole weekend recovering.
The setup of Munich with its incredible infrastructure and amenities makes travelling around the city enjoyable and easy. I use more public transport, I walk more and I even cycle now as there are bike lanes everywhere.
The majority of Bavarians cycle everywhere, in all weathers. It’s the norm to own a bike, not a car. It is such a green city too, meaning I can be in nature in a matter of minutes. We are so close to many stunning lakes, and to the mountains. I’m learning to embrace the outdoors side of life here – hiking, walking, skiing and cycling – far more than I did back home.
Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.
Main image: Holly Stephens / Subly