How Do We Pick Our Next "Digital Nomad" Destination?

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Reader question! A follower asked: As digital nomads, how do you guys decide where to go to next?

Our answer has evolved a bit since we first set out on our travels last year. We’d originally planned to alternate big cities, like London and Rome, with cheaper, out-of-the-way locations. But mostly we wanted to go to places that sounded interesting.

Now we ask ourselves a series of questions:

(1) Does it sound interesting? Is it a place we’d like to go? This is still the most important issue.

(2) What do our digital nomad friends think? If you’re discussing future destinations with a group of digital nomads, chances are 100% that someone has already been there, so they can tell us their impressions. Better still, we can ask follow-up questions, like, “Is it a party town? How’s the wi-fi? What’s the best co-living facility?” Not surprisingly, we’ve discovered you can’t really trust anything you read online, especially reviews, since they’re almost all gamed by now.

(3) How is the wi-fi? Michael and I aren’t as tethered to the internet as a lot of digital nomads (because we don’t need to check in with anyone daily), but a lot of nomads are. Meanwhile, what’s the overall state of the place we’re considering? Can we live in relative comfort? Some cities and countries have notoriously bad or unreliable infrastructure — not just unreliable wi-fi, but undrinkable tap water, bad public transportation, and regressive attitudes about LGBT folks. Personal safety is a must, and bad crime is a deal-breaker, but we at least consider these other issues too.

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(4) What’s the digital nomad community like? Some places, like Bansko, Bulgaria (where we are now), have incredibly vibrant nomad communities, where it’s very easy to meet interesting new people. I’ve always considered myself an introvert, but digital nomads tend to be so great that I have found myself being far more social than any time in my life since college.

(5) Where are our friends going? We truly didn’t expect to find ourselves meeting so many great people, and making so many new friendships. But the downside of always meeting new people is constantly having to say goodbye, as you or they move onto another destination. Fortunately, social media lets you stay in contact, and we’re already making plans to meet up with people with whom we have become especially close. “We’ll be in Bali next year in June! Who’s in?”

(6) How much does it cost? Perhaps the most surprising thing about being a digital nomad is how incredibly cheap it can be. For example, total living expenses in Chiang Mai in Thailand, which is probably the most active digital nomad community in the world, can be less than $700/month. We’ll travel to more expensive places, of course, but cost is something we consider.

(7) What’s the weather like? I’ll just say it: Michael and I never want to experience winter again, at least not for more than a couple of weeks at Christmas. It’s eternal summer for us! Preferably on a beach somewhere. That said, we also consider things like whether it’s the rainy season (not necessarily a deal-breaker), and if it’s high or low season for tourists. Southern Europe in August? No thanks.

(8) Is it a party town? Speaking of tourists, Thailand’s Ko Pha Ngan is home to the monthly Full Moon Party — and 30,000 tourists. Michael and I are travelers, working all the while; we’re definitely not tourists ourselves. No judgment, but Ko Pha Ngan is not a place that Michael and I would ever set up shop, though we might visit for a few days.

(9) Is it a big city? This might be the biggest change in our traveling approach: originally, we planned on alternating big cities with small, cheaper locations. But we’ve discovered that big cities aren’t necessarily the best places to live as digital nomads: they’re crowded, noisy, and expensive. As with Ko Pha Ngan, it’s not that we never visit these places — we absolutely do. But now the plan is to visit them for a few weeks in between other, longer stays in cheaper, more peaceful locations. When we’re in these cities, we’ll be taking advantage of their attractions full-time. It makes no sense to pay the big city premium just to spend all day holed up writing a novel in our apartment or at the local co-working facility.

(10) What’s the time zone? This isn’t an issue for Michael and me at all, but a lot of digital nomads need to be in constant or regular contact with workplaces in America or Europe. Frankly, Asia sucks for this, so a lot of digital nomads go to South America to make this aspect of their lives work.

Incidentally, we’ve met A LOT of digital nomads who have a go-where-the-wind-blows attitude. They tend to go some new place every month, with some folks repeating a vague “circuit” of places they know and like, and others determined to never repeat themselves. This hasn’t been our strategy so far, mostly because we like the experience of really getting to know a place (in, say, two to three months, the length of most tourist visas) before finally moving on. But even Michael and I have found ourselves being a lot more flexible than we expected, changing our plans as the above variables change too.

What is next for Brent and Michael? In 2019, it looks like we’re been in Thailand (with friends) for the months of January and February, then off to Australia and New Zealand for March through May. We might spend the summer in Bali. And at some point, we want to hit Japan.

And after that? Who knows! A bit of unpredictability is part of the beauty of this life we’ve chosen.