Where do digital nomads work?

Let’s start this one by dispelling a common myth: very very few digital nomads ever work on the beach. Beyond the fact that laptops don’t like sand or sea water, beaches aren’t exactly the most secure places, and it can be hard to get comfortable in a hammock or a beach chair… If you see someone sharing a picture of a computer on a beach, it’s probably for a photo op.

Most digital nomads get their work done in one of a few places:

  • A co-working space (furnished office space that’s rentable by the day, week, or month)
  • A coffee shop or cafe (usually with free wifi, and obviously easy access to good coffee)
  • Wherever they’re staying

Each of these has their pros and cons:

  • Co-working spaces are a natural place to connect with other entrepreneurs and small business owners, but can be expensive and not always ideal for some types of work.
  • Coffee shops can be cheaper to stay in and easier to find, but wifi might be spotty or insecure.
  • Wherever you’re staying is easy to reach and no extra cost, but it can be hard to separate work time and play time

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Where should I be a digital nomad?

This is a personal decision that will be unique to each person, and it’s based on a lot of different elements:

  • A place that is easy or cheap to reach
  • What sort of weather or climate you prefer
  • How foreign or familiar you want a place to feel
  • Whether you prefer an urban capital or a smaller city
  • What sort of activities you want to do there
  • Physical considerations (e.g. I hate walking up hills!)

This process can feel overwhelming at first — the world is a big place, after all, and there are plenty of places to check out. Two of the book’s worksheets go into much more detail, asking specific questions and inviting your specific responses.

Worth noting: a lot of places digital nomads initially go to are urban centers / cities. As you gain more experience and comfort with the lifestyle, you’ll discover how easy it is to make a life for yourself anywhere you go. Going rural can add a degree of difficulty to going nomad, however — a higher language barrier, more difficulty finding the things you need or want, slower or less reliable internet — so I’d strongly recommend your first stop be a city of some size.

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Where do digital nomads go?

Anywhere they want! Some places are better than others, naturally, and a number of cities around the world have developed a reputation for being digital nomad friendly with an active digital nomad community. With that said, let your own interests win out over ‘popular’ places or places where lots of digital nomads have gone before.

The more you find yourself hanging around digital nomads, of course, the less time or energy you may have for meeting locals, so look for a balance.

  • Austin, Texas — this Texas city has become a hub for digital nomad, and is described as a “cooler, more affordable LA”. It’s also considered supportive of remote work and has lots of outdoor activities.
  • Bali, Indonesia — while sometimes dismissed as a cliché, the Balinese culture combines nicely with a reasonable cost of living. The internet is supposedly everywhere (though it’s not always fast or reliable), as are the co-working spaces (we’ll get to these later). Watch out for the traffic, don’t bother trying to drive, and stay hydrated in the heat.
  • Bangkok, Thailand — an excellent introduction to urban southeast Asian life. Since it’s big, there’s plenty of co-working spaces, international food, and networking to be had. Cheap massages, too. More than a few nomads have complained about it being hot and dirty… but that’s Bangkok for you. Step inside a mall or a 7/11 for a blast of air-conditioning, but watch for scams.
  • Barcelona, Spain — even as the city is dealing with an over-tourism problem, Barcelona remains a beautiful urban hub to welcome you to the European Schengen Zone. Expect moderate weather and cheap wine but, being part of Western Europe, it’s not the cheapest place to live.
  • Bucharest, Romania — it’s outside the Schengen Zone, it’s about as cheap as Europe gets, and it has some very fast internet. It’s also still a little rough around the edges. You can’t judge the Communist-era buildings by their exteriors, though — peek inside and you’ll find plenty of modern touches. As you’ll find elsewhere in Eastern Europe, many people under the age of 35 speak English well.
  • Budapest, Hungary — Budapest is “a buzzing hub for expats / digital nomads”, according to Cristina Puscas, and a hub of history and architecture as well. It’s part of the Schengen Zone, but currently uses the forint (not the euro). Plenty of co-working spaces around.
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand — the largest city in northern Thailand is arguably the epicenter of the digital nomad lifestyle. It’s cheap, has plenty of places to work from, and offers a nice mix of modern and history. Protip: rent a scooter to get around town instead of worrying about where the songthaews will take you (always wear a helmet, naturally!).
  • Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam — while crowded, chaotic, and full of traffic, the internet is fast, the coffee is great, and the street food “fantastic” according to Ivana Greslikova. “Da Nang is becoming a new digital nomad hub, too,” she added. It’s one of the cheapest places to live in the world, and visas for 6 or 12 months are fairly easy to get. Hanoi and Hue are worth a look as well.
  • Lisbon, Portugal — while its location in the Schengen Zone may limit your stay to three months, it’s considered one of the more affordable parts of Western Europe. The internet is fast, and its location near the coast makes it ideal if you’re into water sports.
  • Madrid, Spain — with over three million residents, it’s behind only Berlin as one of the biggest cities in the European Union. A nice blend of modern and historic sights and culture offering plenty of sun.
  • Medellin, Colombia — the city formerly known as the murder capital and Pablo Escobar’s headquarters is now one of the best introductions to South America you can find. Cheap, excellent food and beautiful weather make a powerful duo for anyone that might be on the fence. Knowing Spanish is helpful, but you can get by on English only. Protip: head to the Poblado neighborhood to party or eat well, but look towards the Miraflores area to get some of the local flavor.
  • Toronto, Canada — the cultural capital is one of the most diverse cities in North America. The climate and higher cost of living might make this a less desirable choice for some, but it’s a fun city with lots of opportunities to connect with locals. Consider Scarborough and Mississauga as two other cities connected to the Greater Toronto Area, or GTA, via public transportation.
  • Vienna, Austria — a solid European city with tons of culture. A great hub for getting around Western Europe, and part of the Schengen Zone (so remember 90 days in out of every 180).

The book goes into further details about some places in ‘consider carefully’ category, and a few places in the ‘don’t go there’ category.

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This is just getting good.

Hey, I’m Chris. That’s my book to the right, Becoming a Digital Nomad. It’s a step-by-step guide that helps you test and transition into the digital nomad lifestyle. It comes with access to 12 worksheets and access to a Facebook group to connect with other digital nomads.