The Ultimate Guide to Being a Digital Slomad (or Slow Digital Nomad)
Not long after Brent and I left Seattle at the end of 2017 to become digital nomads, we came to an important realization.
We weren’t actually digital nomads: We were digital slomads.
Unlike some digital nomads, who move to a new location every month or sooner, we take things at a much slower place. Our minimum stay is almost always a month. Our longest so far has been three months.
Here’s how we’ve done things up through October 2019:
Miami, Florida: three months
Birgu, Malta: six weeks
Matera, Italy: four weeks
Bansko, Bulgaria: three months
Koh Lanta, Thailand: three months
Hoi An, Vietnam: two months
Grimentz, Switzerland: one month
Tbilisi, Georgia: two months
This list doesn’t include two visits back to the U.S. for the holidays, or our short but frequent “sightseeing” stops between our more permanent destinations.
And twice, we’ve spent nearly two straight months on cruise ships, which we like because it allows us to sample lots of out-of-the-way destinations (to see if we want to return later), and we don’t have to change accommodations or deal with the unpleasant travel realities of, say, being squeezed into a plane.
Why do we prefer being slomads over nomads? Let’s take a look.
ADVANTAGES OF BEING A DIGITAL SLOMAD
1) You avoid burn out.
Let’s face it, travel can be exhausting. Just getting to and through the airport can make a person feel like they desperately need a vacation. So flying from place to place, month after month, is a surefire way to burn out on travel in general, and nomading in particular.
And that barely scratches the surface of what preparations are needed every time you change locations as a digital nomad. Each new destination requires a lot of research.
Which airline has the best deal for where you’re going? Would it be better to take a train or bus? What kind of visa can you get for a new country and how hard is it to get? What neighborhood should you live in and what kind of accommodations are available? What will the food be like, especially if you have some kind of dietary restriction? (In some places, it can be pretty hard to be a vegetarian.) What languages are spoken? What will your work situation be? Will you work from home or find a coworking spot?
That’s a lot of information you have to learn. And doing it once every three months is a whole lot easier than doing it every three weeks.
2) It’s more environmentally responsible.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the environmental impact of flying. And rightfully so. One transoceanic flight can put more CO2 into the air then many people produce in an entire year.
And if you’re hopping all over the globe, the impacts only multiply. Going from from New York to Bangkok, Thailand, to Bansko, Bulgaria, to Lisbon, Portugal, to London, England, to Rome, Italy, and back to Bangkok pumps a lot of greenhouse warming gases into the air. (And some digital nomads can easily do that, and more, in a single year.)
But if you’re a digital slomad, only traveling two or three times a year, your emissions go way down.
Want to make them go down even more? Stay on the same continent for a year.
Instead of going from Southeast Asia to Europe to Africa and back to Asia, stay put in Asia. Try living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Hoi An, Vietnam, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Koh, Lanta, Thailand. You’ll still get to live in some pretty cool places, with lots of variety, including both up in the mountains and down by the sea.
Then the following year, head for Europe, and move between Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, and Georgia. By staying in Europe, you could even get around by train or bus, lessening your impact even more. Plus, it won’t just be easier on the environment; it’ll be easier on your wallet.
3) You really get to know a place.
We all know that going on vacation somewhere only gives you a superficial feel for a place. If you’re only In Sydney, Australia, for a week or two, staying at a fancy hotel or a cheap hostel, each day heading off to the most famous attractions or laying around the pool, then have you really gotten an authentic feel for life in Australia?
And if you’re an English speaker living in a country like Vietnam, you’re really not going very deep, because your contact with the people who live there is limited at best.
But if you stay for three months or longer? Ah, then you really have a chance to get beneath the surface.
We stayed in Tbilisi, Georgia, for more than two months earlier this year. And by the time we left, we’d not only seen the most touristy sites, but we’d wandered around neighborhoods far from the famous Old Town, which was hardly the most authentic part of modern-day Tbilisi.
We visited more out-of-the-way neighborhoods, where actual Georgians lived. And by being there so long, we got to know actual Georgians.
And then they told us other places to go in Tbilisi — places that were frequented by locals instead of tourists. We learned which restaurants were tourist traps. and which served authentic Georgian cuisine. (And these restaurants were usually cheaper as well.) We were in Tbilisi so long, we actually discovered some restaurants our Georgian friends hadn’t tried.
By the time we left Tbilisi, we had a much better feel for the rhythm of the place and a deeper understanding of the culture than your average tourist.
“Come on,” you might say. “Did you really have a deeper understanding?”
Actually, we can make a very strong case that we did.
For example, before arriving in Georgia, we’d heard what a homophobic country it is. Just before we arrived, Tbilisi’s first ever Pride had to be canceled because of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s blatant homophobia and the government’s inability to stand up against the church to protect LGBTQ citizens.
So obviously, Georgia must be a hellhole for queer people, right?
Not so fast. Not only did we get to know some LGBTQ activists, we got to know a half-dozen gay and bisexual Georgian men. And they painted a much more complicated picture. Sure, gay life in Tbilisi wasn’t like in San Francisco. But on the whole, these men were much happier and felt much less oppressed than we would’ve expected.
That isn’t something we would’ve learned just breezing in and out of town.
Is learning information crucial to enjoying a place? Not at all. But we don’t travel just to check off a list of countries to visit or attractions to see. We’re digital nomads because we really like to know different places and people.
4) You’ll be less lonely.
One of the things we worried about when we left Seattle, and our friends and family, was that we would be lonely. After all, moving from place-to-place isn’t a great way to establish long-lasting friendships, right?
It turns out that isn’t necessarily true. Yes, if you’re only staying three or four weeks in one spot, it is hard to make lasting connections. But if you’re staying two to three months, that gives you a lot more opportunity to get know both fellow digital nomads and locals.
Even better, once you establish those friendships, it’s actually very easy to stay in touch thanks to social media. And much to our surprise, we’ve discovered how easy it is to meet up with friends you make in one place in a completely different part of the world.
In fact, so far in 2019, we’ve spent quality time with friends in Thailand, Vietnam, Switzerland, and Tbilisi. Honestly, we’ve spent more quality time with our fellow digital nomads than we did with many of our friends back in Seattle.
WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD CONSIDER
Like anything else, travel is largely dependent on personal tastes. So when thinking about how to be a digital nomad, you should consider whether you like rural or urban places. Do you like it hot, cold, or temperate? While English is widely spoken around the world, it isn’t spoken everywhere to the same degree? How comfortable will you be in a country where you don’t speak the language? How willing are you to spend time learning a little of a new language?
For Brent and myself, we like alternating between more rural locations and larger urban ones. That’s one of the great things about exploring a region rather than racing around the globe. In Europe, we alternated between big cities like Tbilisi, middle-sized towns like Matera, Italy, and very small villages like Grimentz, Switzerland.
Now that we’ve convinced you to be a digital nomad, you might be wondering how to go about doing it. Here are some of the things we use to determine our next destination. (Here’s an article getting insurance as a digital nomad, something else you need to consider.)
(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. (Exception: Us! And other quality travel bloggers. Some aspirational influencers on Instagram aside, we really do try to tell 100% of the truth.)
(3) How is the Wi-Fi? We 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.
(4) What’s the digital nomad community like? Some places, like Bansko, Bulgaria, 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? We’ll just say it: We 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. We are travelers, working all the while; we’re definitely not tourists ourselves. No judgment, but Ko Pha Ngan is not a place that we 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 one of our novels in our apartment or at the local co-working facility.
(10) What’s the time zone? This isn’t an issue for us 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.
One really helpful website is Nomad List, which scores hundreds and hundreds of cities on how digital nomad friendly they are.
There’s one other thing that plays a crucial role in being a slomad. That’s how long you can stay in each place.
GETTING A VISA
One of the most important parts of being a slomad is figuring out how long you can stay in one place. Countries have rules that differ wildly. Some are like Georgia, where most visitors can show up and get a one-year visa no questions asked, no paperwork to fill out, and at no cost.
Then there are countries like the United Kingdom that keep their rules very vague and have an unpleasant reputation for grilling you about how long you’re going to stay and how you’re going to pay for your visit. If they don’t like your answer, they can just turn you around and send you packing.
Here are some of your best options and why we like them. (Please note, this list does not cover every single country in each region, only the ones we think make sense for being a digital nomad. Also note, we are not lawyers and this is not legal advice. Always check with each country, as rules and regulations are constantly changing. ) .
We’re starting with European countries because the bane of almost every non-EU-citizen digital nomad who spends time in Europe is the frustrating, inconvenient, and confusing Schengen Zone, which limits most non-EU citizens to just 90 days out of every 180 days in a rolling period. Ninety days isn’t a lot of time when it’s divided up between the 26 European countries in the Schengen Zone.
We’ve written an entire guide about why we think Georgia makes such an awesome choice for being a digital nomad. And at the very top of the list is the fact Georgia gives almost everyone a one year visa on arrival. For no cost and with no paperwork. Talk about an easy way to be digital nomad! Even better, if you leave the country for even a single day, the visa resets when you return!
This is another good choice for digital nomads, though be warned, Albania is not as advanced int terms of services and reliable wireless as most other countries. That being said, if you come from one of these countries in green, you get a three month visa, no questions asked. Even better, if you’re an American, you can stay a year, just like in Georgia.
Bulgaria makes a great option for being a slomad because it offers nomads a three-month visa on arrival, also for no cost, and no paperwork. It’s also a quick, inexpensive flight to Sofia from most European cities. Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to extend the visa beyond three months at this time. But that’s okay, because after three months, you’ll probably be ready for a change of pace. (If you’re wondering why we liked Bulgaria so much, check out what we thought!)
Germany offers something called a “freelance” visa that will let you stay in the country indefinitely. But be warned, it’s a long, complicated process that doesn’t guarantee success. This post will walk you through everything you need to know. Otherwise, you’re limited to the ninety days in the EU thanks to the Schengen Zone.
Most Western nationalities can enter Ukraine without a visa for a stay up to 90 days out of a 180 day period.
Estonia currently offers and e-visa, but for the moment, it’s strictly for tax and business licensing purposes. Rumor has it that by the end of 2019, Estonia will announce some changes that might be of benefit to digital nomads. Other countries like Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy offer a variety of visas based on being a student or retiree, but these go beyond the scope of being a digital slomad.
Asia offers a wide variety of countries to choose from. And if you con’t mind the heat and humidity, Southeast Asia is especially perfect digital slomad territory. The countries are all relatively close together, so no huge jumps across oceans, and most let you stay for up to three months with varying degrees of ease.
Ah, Thailand, the birth place of digital nomadism and home to Chiang Mai, the de facto headquarters for the digital nomad movement.
For being the center of the digital nomad movement, Thailand actually has a somewhat complicated visa situation for most foreigners. Almost everyone who arrives in Thailand qualifies for a thirty day visa-on-arrival. You can then extend that another thirty days with a visit to a local immigration office where you’ll pay a small fee and fill out a form. But that still only gives you two months.
If you’d like to stay three months, you either have to do a border run to get a new visa (costing you time, money, and running the risk that Thai immigration officials might decide you’re abusing the system). Or you can get a two month visa ahead of time by visiting a Thai embassy or consulate before you arrive. That not only lets you skip the usual lengthy visa-on-arrival line, but you can extend your two month visa for another month with a quick visit to an immigration office. (To read more about life in Thailand, check out our review of Koh Lanta, where we lived for three months.)
Vietnam is perfect for slomads because for Americans (and I think most other western nationalities), the government does technically offer visa on arrival. But you need to show up with your acceptance letter, which you have to apply for online ahead of time. Kind of confusing. We opted for the three month single-entry, but there are other options, which you can read about here. One note of caution, whichever visa you choose, you have to pay for it on arrival with U.S. dollars.
Almost every one gets a one-month visa on arrival, and can then extend it for up to six months. You can read how here.
Enter on a one-month stay, then you can extend it two more times for a perfect 90 day digital slomad visit.
A nice, clean ninety day visa-on-arrival.
Most countries get a one-month visa on arrival, but the Philippines currently also offers a long-term visa that will let you stay up to 16 months if you qualify.
Most nationalities can enter Sri Lanka for up to six months without a visa, but you do need to apply ahead of time for an Electronic Travel Authorization. The cost ranges from $20 to $50 USD depending on the type of ETA you apply for.
You can get a visa-on-arrival for approximately $35 USD, then extend it twice more.
Most everyone gets a thirty-day visa upon arrival, but travelers from western countries can get a ninety-day visa ahead of time.
Visitors get a visa-on-arrival that can be extended a single time for thirty days. You will be asked to show proof of ongoing travel, so be prepared.
Getting your visa ahead of time might save you a bit of hassle, but once you have your visa, you can stay for up to ninety days.
India currently offers a wide variety of visas that are relatively easy to get for most nationalities, but cost considerably more than most other countries. An e-tourist visa will set you back $80 USD but is good for up to five years. A ten year visa will cost you $160 USD.
The People’s Republic of China is not exactly tourist friendly. To stay for more than a few days, you either have to visit or mail your passport into an embassy or consulate to get your visa. Once you have your visa, it’s good for ninety days, and can’t be extended in most instances.
Yes, yes, Turkey is often considered a European country. But only 5% of Turkey’s landmass lies in Europe and most Turks don’t consider themselves European. As for the visa situation, you need an e-visa ahead of time. It costs $20 USD and is good for 90 days out of a 180 day period.
On the surface, Australia and New Zealand aren’t ideal for most digital slomads, partly because they are so far from every other country. Which makes it hard to hard to avoid flying long stretches, especially since both allow visitors to only stay for 90 days at a time. (British citizens get six months in NZ, and there is conflicting information saying that if you can prove you are a genuine tourist, New Zealand will let you stay for nine months.)
But it’s still possible to be a digital slomad in this part of the world. This is because Australia requires you only exit the country for a 24 hour period before you can get another visa for ninety days. So a digital slomad could alternate between these two destinations for a year, staying in one spot in each country for up to three months. No, it’s not as convenient as moving around Eastern Europe, but at least it’s an option.
North America is also a good candidate for being a digital slomad. Between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., nomads can move around with relative ease, especially since Mexico and Canada allow visitors to stay for six months.
Most visitors to Canada do need to apply for an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) before arrival (excluding U.S. citizens). It only takes a few moments and costs $7 CAD. Once you’ve entered Canada, you can stay for up to six months.
Visitors from most Western countries can enter Mexico without a visa and stay for up to 180 days.
Most Western nations can enter the U.S. visa free, however, they must have an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) before flying to the U.S. If entering by land from Mexico or Canada, the ESTA is not required. Most visitors can remain in the U.S. for ninety days.
Central America also offers quite a few options to be a digital slomad within a small area through which travelers can move with relative ease. Costa Rica has numerous coliving and coworking situations, and there are also options in Guatemala and Nicaragua.
Most Westerners can enter Costa Rica visa free and stay for ninety days. Any longer than that, and you’ll need a tourist visa that’ll cost you tourist visa for $160 USD.
For stays less than ninety days, no visa is required, but you will be asked to show an ongoing ticket. And visitors entering by land through Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala don’t need to deal with immigration for ninety days.
Most nationalities can enter Panama without a visa and stay for up to six months.
Visa not required for stays less than ninety days. If you want to stay longer, you must exit the country and reenter, getting a new visa. Visitors entering from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua won’t be required to go through immigration.
Visitors can enter Belize without a visa for up to thirty days. For longer stays, you need a tourist visa, which costs $25 USD per month for the first 6 months. All visitors must pay an exit fee of $55.50 USD, which is usually included in airfare for American travelers
Most nationalities can enter Nicaragua can enter without a visa for stays up to ninety days. But be prepared to pay a departure tax of $32 USD when leaving.
Most Westerners can enter Argentina for up to ninety days without a visa. But visitors from the U.S., Canada, and Australia must pay a “reciprocity” fee, which is equal to whatever those countries charge Argentinians to get a visa. The fee must be paid in advance online and you will be required to show proof of payment upon entering. To extend your visa, you must visit the immigration office in Buenos Aires.
Most Westerners can enter Bolivia visa free for ninety days with one glaring exception: Citizens of the U.S. Americans are required pay a $135 fee, submit a visa application form, a copy of your passport, and a copy of your yellow fever vaccination certificate. In addition, you’ll need proof of ongoing tickets exiting Bolivia, proof you have enough funds to support yourself, and a hotel reservation.
Just like Argentina, Brazil treats visitors the way their home country treats Brazilians. For most of the world, that means visitors don’t need a visa for up to ninety days. But if you’re American, Canadian, or Australian, you need a visa to enter and probably pay a fee. Americans must pay $160 USD for a tourist visa (good for up to ten years), while Canadians will pay about half that, along with processing and handling fees.
Most Westerners can enter Chile up to ninety days without a visa but look out for the reciprocity fees you’ll have pay upon arrival. Americans will have to pay $160 USD, Australians about half that.
Colombia has become quite a digital nomad destination in recent years. And not only do they not charge any reciprocity fees, almost everyone gets a ninety-day visa that is relatively easy to extend online.
This is one country that wants to keep things simple. Anyone can enter the country without a visa for up to ninety days. You apply for a one-time extension by filling out some paperwork and paying the appropriate fee.
If you’re coming from the EU, Paraguay will issue you a free visa for up to 90 days. However, if you're from the U.S., Canada, Australia, or New Zealand, you have to apply for a visa when you arrive, but only if you’re flying into Asunción. Otherwise, you need to apply online and pay a fee ranging from $100 and $160, depending on what country you’re from. This visa let’s you stay in Paraguay for up to 90 days.
Most nationalities receive a visa good for 183 days upon arrival. This can easily be extended by crossing the border and returning the next day with a visa good for another 183 days.
For almost all visitors, Uruguay issues a ninety day visa upon arrival.
Given current circumstances in Venezuela, it’s hard to imagine anyone traveling there. But if you are, then almost everyone gets a ninety day visa upon arrival.
While there are many reasons to visit the African continent, it doesn’t currently lend itself to being a great place for digital slomads. Infrastructure, including Wi-Fi, isn’t what digital nomads need it to be in most places. Frankly, there just aren’t many places that lend themselves to being digital nomad hubs.
Most visitors will be granted a ninety day visa upon arrival.
Visitors from most Western countries are required to either get a visa online before arrival, or upon arrival. Visas cost $51 USD and are good for up to ninety days. If you’re also visiting Uganda and Rwanda, you can get the East Africa tourist visa for US$100, valid for 90 days.
Ninety day visas granted to most nationalities upon arrival.
Visa on arrival for most nationalities. Cost is $25 USD and is good for ninety days.
Algeria is an unusual mix of who gets a visa waiver and who doesn’t. Travelers from Italy, Spain, and Switzerland don’t need visas, but Americans, German, and French do. You’ll need to consult the official Algerian website to determine if you need a visa. And keep in mind, Algeria is one of those countries that require you to bring you passport in so they can issue your visa before entering the country.
Most nationalities do not need visas for visits up to ninety days.
The Middle East is another region that isn’t particularly well-suited to being a digital slomad for a number of reasons. However, there are some exceptions.
Most travelers don’t need a visa for stays up to ninety days, though you will have to pay a $30 exit tax upon departure. Visas can be extended for up to six months by visiting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and filling out the necessary paperwork.
A one month visa, renewable to 3 months, will be issued to most visitors upon arrival. .
Most nationalities receive visas on arrival that are good for thirty days and costing $30 USD. Longer stay visas can obtained by applying ahead of time. Visas can be extended for up to six months by registering at a police station.
Keep in mind that every country may have slightly different requirements in how long your current passport is valid for. It’s usually somewhere between three and six months. Also, visa policies are constantly being updated and you should absolutely verify all information yourself before actually traveling to each country.
We love being digital slomads — it’s the perfect option for us. You might enjoy it too. If so, we hope we run into you somewhere out in the big wide world. But be patient! We go slow, so it might some time for us to connect.