Variety is the spice of life, so of course, most people don't love waking up in the same city and heading to the same office and having lunch at the same place with the same colleagues year after year. Thankfully, with a bit of business savvy and an internet connection, a new career path has opened up for entrepreneurs with a severe case of wanderlust: becoming a digital nomad.
Holding a meeting from a cafe in Vietnam? Making money writing from your apartment in Berlin? Being your own boss? Building a company while traveling across entire continents? Anything is possible once you've turned technology from a tether to one specific place to a ticket to freedom from any physical office space. Digital nomads work in everything from blogging to web design to consulting and research, all while traveling the world and living for a fraction of the cost of what they would spend in their home city.
After three years of setting up a side business as a blogger, travel planner, career coach, and freelance writer (hey, it takes a lot of hats to make ends meet), I was finally able to resign from a full-time job in September 2015 and begin traveling as a digital nomad. Since then, I've been exploring Southeast Asia and India and I'm scoping out the best places to live cheaply in Europe and Africa, as well.
If you're intrigued by the idea of pursuing a location-independent lifestyle far away from the 9 to 5 grind, the first step is deciding where to go. When the world can be your workplace, where would you choose -- and why?
How Did We Choose These Digital Nomad Destinations?
While you can theoretically go anywhere on Earth if you’ve set up your business to come with you, there are several criteria to consider when thinking about where to make your “home” as a digital nomad. These are the ones I used to evaluate each place that made this list, but you can use this framework to evaluate other destinations for their compatibility with your nomadic lifestyle.
Cost of living
Ideally, you probably want to spend less than $50 a day including your housing, food, and transportation in a given country. The best part of being a digital nomad is being able to stay in one place for longer, so you spend less than the typical backpacker. All the locations in this evaluation allow a comfortable level of living for less than $1,500 a month (and much less if you’re really thrifty).
Speed and availability of internet
I once went to Italy thinking it would be a charming place to live and work for awhile, only to discover that it was next to impossible to get a stable internet connection. If internet is essential for your work as a nomad, think about purchasing a separate USB dongle with global internet connectivity. Otherwise, the locations chosen all offer plentiful cafes and offerings for connecting to the world wide web.
Proximity to other digital nomads and/or inspiring community
Especially if your work is creative, it really helps to have other entrepreneurs or artists around for inspiration. It also promotes serendipitous opportunities for collaboration and learning new skills from other nomads. Regular meetups, social events, and knowledge sharing are on the calendar in most of the locations below.
Proximity to other countries for easy and cheap regional travel
You may be living and working in one place, but everyone needs an escape. Having other exciting destinations at your fingertips is an important draw when thinking about a home away from home.
Inspiring surroundings and good weather
It has to be beautiful, obviously. If you hail from upstate New York or the Midwest, you’re going to especially love life in a green, sunny, and naturally breathtaking location. I swear I’m more inspired when I’m surrounded by beauty and sunshine (and I work faster because I want to get back out there and explore!).
As a digital nomad, you’re probably going to be traveling with expensive equipment (laptop, camera, smartphone), so it’s important to live in a place where walking or driving from your apartment or hotel and cafes or co-working spaces is worry-free.
It can be tricky putting down roots, even temporary ones, in another country. Most digital nomads travel on tourist visas (but please check with the embassy of the country you plan on visiting for official regulations) since they are earning foreign currency from foreign clients and not working in a local company.
Nevertheless, coming in and out of countries repeatedly on a tourist visa can get complicated. These destinations below make it pretty straightforward for up to a reasonable amount of time (6-12 months -- after that you should look into getting a residency).
6 Global Destinations to Live as a Digital Nomad
Known as the mother ship of digital nomads, Bali has exploded into a paradise for location-independent entrepreneurs in recent years.
A yoga and organic food craze has descended on Ubud, so nomads stay extra healthy on our target $50/day budget.
Tourist visas are easy and cheap to come by, the weather is gorgeous, activities abound (surfing, volcano-climbing, motorbiking, diving, just to name a few), and well-developed co-working spaces like Hub in Ubud provide both an active community and a strong internet connection.
Not to mention, a yoga and organic food craze has descended on Ubud, so nomads stay extra healthy on our target $50/day budget.
Nestled in the temperate hills of northern Thailand about a one hour flight from Bangkok, Chiang Mai has quickly grown to become one of the most renowned digital nomad scenes in the world. An incredibly low cost of living, delicious cuisine, friendly locals, ubiquitous cafes with strong wifi, and easy access to the rest of Southeast Asia make this a nomad heaven.
An incredibly low cost of living, delicious cuisine, friendly locals, ubiquitous cafes with strong wifi, and easy access to the rest of Southeast Asia make this a nomad heaven.
The local digital nomad community is also very active in organizing meet-ups and co-working spaces are available for around $2/day in the city center. While in Chiang Mai, I could live comfortably on $15/day, including a basic hostel, motorbike rental, and (to-die-for!) street eats.
If you're looking for value for money and breathtaking surroundings, South Africa is the place to be. Cape Town is spectacular (I was skeptical due to all the hype around this little city, but it truly blew my expectations out of the water) and South Africa is the seat of so much important history, culture, and influence in on the continent. You live well, eat well, and have all of Africa on your doorstep.
Although not renowned as a digital nomad hub the way Chiang Mai or Ubud are, it fulfills all of the criteria, with a few caveats:
- A 90-day tourist visa is generally available upon arrival and renewable once with a multi-day visa run to another country, but generally after 6 months foreigners have to apply for residency.
- It's arguably not as safe as the other destinations on the list.
That said, the violent crime popularized by the local South African and international media is largely concentrated in specific neighborhoods under particular (drug- or alcohol-induced) circumstances between parties that already know one another. I lived in South Africa for 6 months and felt perfectly safe with common sense precautions and so do tens of thousands of expats and temporary residents.
Not to mention you'll never be bored in Cape Town. When you're not working, you can go rock climbing, kite-surfing, sailing paragliding, shark diving, surfing, mountain biking, wine-tasting, and whale-watching. Just imagine going for your morning run at the base of Table Mountain.
If you're looking for an affordable base in Europe, look no further than Berlin. The musicians, entrepreneurs, artists, academics, and writers who populate its trendy streets and historical sights make it an inherently inspiring place for creative types.
If you're looking for an affordable base in Europe, look no further than Berlin.
It's also easy and affordable to find short-term apartment rentals and many of the best activities in the city are free: simply hop on a bike or amble through the city center! Just don't get too distracted by the raging nightlife and cheap, world-class beers.
Goa has long been a hippy paradise, but it also provides an excellent base for exploring India and working at the same time (if you're able to find time away from the beaches, parties, and all that delicious food).
With one of the world's fastest growing economies and richest cultures in one place, being a digital nomad in India is a sound choice.
India is one of the cheapest countries in the world to live on with foreign currency and also has a vibrant entrepreneurial and, increasingly prominent, digital nomad scene. With one of the world's fastest growing economies and richest cultures in one place, being a digital nomad in India is a sound choice.
Perhaps I'm biased towards countries with outstanding local cuisine, but Mexico is an overlooked digital nomad haven-to-be. The weather is divine, the city itself is gorgeous, and it boasts a lively arts and culture scene.
Perhaps I'm biased towards countries with outstanding local cuisine, but Mexico is an overlooked digital nomad haven-to-be.
Especially if you've studied Spanish or are looking to learn, Oaxaca offers good language schools and plenty of opportunities to practice. Short-term rentals are plentiful and absurdly cheap, and it's also a great place to explore the surrounding state of Oaxaca, the coast, and the rest of Mexico.
Resources for digital nomads
Whether you're thinking about or already embarking on an unconventional lifestyle, you're far from alone. Explore a few of the sites below for inspiration and support.
- Real life examples: See how 7 digital nomads are making their way in this article on The Next Web.
- Google Matrix: The best way to find flights when you have an open-ended itinerary. Search for flights between continents or countries without specifying an exact departure date or airport.
- UpWork: Find freelancing jobs online.
- General Assembly: Take courses that give you a leg up in the digital workplace.
- Find a Nomad: Search for fellow digital nomads across the globe.
- Still in school? Consider studying digital media abroad.
Are you a digital nomad? What are your favorite spots?Photo Credit: Berlin and Unsplash.