Escaping Your Desk: One Woman’s Story

Jennifer Barclay made the switch from working in London to this idyllic Greek island village.Jennifer Barclay made the switch from working in London to this idyllic Greek island village. Route: Living & Working on a Greek Island

By Jennifer Barclay

Jennifer Barclay is happy to share the story of how she got loose from the chains of a desk in London and made a successful transition to working in a tiny Greek island village.

Her book Falling in Honey: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart, tells her story and provides inspiration for anyone who ever thought about running away to relocate in a warm, tropical place. Jennifer Barclay grew up in a village in the north of England.

After studying English at Oxford, she worked as an English teacher in Athens, Greece, then as a literary agent in Toronto, Canada, for several years.

Returning to Europe, she lived in Montpellier, France, working as a writer and freelance editor, then returned to England and became editorial director of a publishing company. In 2011, she moved to the tiny Greek island of Tilos, where she now works from home.

Only I can make myself happier. Now that there’s truly only me to consider, what do I want to do and where do I want to be?

My boss, knowing what I’m going through, has told me to take some time to think before he’ll accept my resignation. I still enjoy the work, but the problem is its intensity, the tendency of the years to roll around fast in a never-ending cycle. I really need to reflect on where I want to go next. More than that, I want to do something that’s purely for me.

One evening after work, I send an email to my friends on Tilos saying I’m thinking of coming back to the island, and if they hear of a cheap room available could they perhaps let me know? I go off to the gym, and when I come back two hours later to drop stuff at my office, there’s a response.

The Flat Above the Bar

Hi Jen! I just happened to be online and got your email. I don’t know if it’s what you’re looking for but the flat above our bar in Livadia is free until July. I’m attaching some photos and let me know—we can give you a good price if you’re staying for a month and can do your own cleaning…

My heart’s already beating fast as I read on… I open the attached photos and see a large terrace covered with vines, a mountain in the background, and a table where I can already picture myself working. Did it really say wireless Internet? Yes. Above their bar in Livadia, just minutes from the sea.

The following day, I explain my idea to spend a month in Greece to my boss.

“I can take two weeks’ holiday and work from there for the other two weeks. Easy! I’ll take a laptop, and there’s wireless Internet and Skype. It’ll be fine!”

He isn’t as thrilled with the idea as I am, clearly. But then he’s sympathetic to what I’ve been through in the last little while. He knows I was willing to quit; I know I have to fight for what I need and not compromise again. It isn’t a huge amount to ask, I hope; I’ve been working hard for the company for five years.

“Let me think about it,” he says.

mountainBut I am excited about my plan. I believe in it and don’t want to see it slip out of my hands. Eventually, he says yes.

Greece for the month of May: the moment I book it, I dance around the room. It’s my talisman. Whenever things look bleak, I think about my month in Greece and smile.
This might be the cleverest thing I have ever done, I think. I wake early to the noise of twittering songbirds, crows, and the odd cockerel. From my bed I can look up at the mountain. Brushing my teeth, I can watch the sun glinting on the sea. In my new home, I can glimpse sea or mountains from every room.

Heromeh. I am happy.

I decide not to worry my office by mentioning that the Internet connection in the flat is not yet up and running. Rob and Annie disconnected it over the winter while they were away, intending to restart it a few weeks ago, plenty of time before I arrived.

But the technician has not yet come. This is not really a surprise to me. In any case, it’s the perfect excuse to go and sit in the square and use the café’s wireless Internet. It’s hot and still and quiet.

At lunchtime I close my virtual office, dropping the computer off at home to charge, and eat yogurt and honey and an orange on the sunny terrace, then walk down to the sea. The white pebbles give the sea a pale topaz color, becoming darker as it gets deeper. The waves lap the shore gently. Swimming every day is part of the happiness therapy for this month. The water is still quite cold in May, but plunging into blue sea whenever I want is pure luxury, and I can dry off in the sun.

Falling in Honey RGB cropped

I could happily look at this bay for the rest of my life, this perfect semicircle of deep blue, with rugged hills curved all around.
At the end of the day, I follow the path around the bay. Exercise and fresh air and far horizons make up for sitting at a computer all day, and I can pick some herbs to add to my dinner.
I have the sea, the mountains, the sunshine. What could complete the perfection? Why, a bakery, of course. And the island bakery is just next door. The aromas waft straight up from their ovens to my terrace.

I am sitting at a shady table in the square, sipping a frappé. I can just glimpse patches of sparkling sea beyond the blue-and-white police station. It’s been the most enchanting Monday morning at the office.

Headaches and Triumphs

Each day of my work tends to bring an unforeseeable ratio of headaches and triumphs—reading, negotiating, writing, discussing—and most of it is done by email, even interaction with my own colleagues, which makes it technically possible to do a large part of my job from anywhere with a good Internet connection.

A good 20 percent of the job involves face-to-face contact—or meetings, a word that strikes dread into the heart of an office worker—but for two weeks we can get around that. I really want to make this wor Jennifer BarclayJennifer Barclay

k, partly to thank my boss for his faith in me—and partly, of course, to see if it’s possible to combine work and island life. I make my way through the messages, gleeful that most people on the receiving end have no idea where I am.

I pop in to the post office to try to pick up a Western Union transfer of funds I’m expecting. The man behind the desk completes the paperwork, asks for my passport, and tells me to come back for it in about half an hour. I’ll come back tomorrow, I say. He seems surprised at how relaxed I am about not needing my passport.But why would I want to go anywhere? After a quick salad, I go down to the beach. I’m back at the desk mid-afternoon feeling completely rejuvenated and relaxed, and I hope it shows in my work. Having been in the sea takes away all semblance of stress for the rest of the day—I deal very well with anything that comes my way, even managing long-distance to smooth over a minor tiff between colleagues back in the office, emailing suggestions to one and then the other. Working from a tiny Greek island makes me better at my job, I am sure of it.

That evening, I shut down the computer at eight and walk beyond the lights of the village. There’s a pink sunset, and I breathe in this heartbreakingly beautiful view of mountains and waves.

Here are the Tips

Here are some of Jennifer’s best tips she offers in the book if you are thinking about making your own break from your desk.Test Run Your Location: Spend two weeks to a month before committing long-term to a location. It will allow you time to work out logistics, and give your employer confidence that you can complete your work remotely.

Be Prepared to Downsize: You may have to scale back your job and accept less pay. But, your expenses are also likely to be lower and you’ll have more time to explore other streams of income.

Paradise Comes With Power Cuts: Living in an exotic location can also mean that vital connections can be spotty. Keep the laptop charged and loaded with tasks that don’t require Internet.

Stay Connected: It’s important to make time to chat –via Skype, Facebook or email – with others who understand your career. Barclay also recommends building a network of associates who also work remotely. This will help when you’re missing happy hour or coffee with colleagues.

Enjoy Your Lunch Break!: Barclay often swims in the sea on her lunch break, takes her morning coffee in the town square, and walks by the bay and picks fresh herbs for dinner when her workday is done. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

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