For many of us, it seems as though 2020 has put our careers and our aspirations on hold. We all had such lofty ambitions at the start of the year. We were going to see so many places, meet so many new people and climb to such great heights on the career ladder that our lives would be virtually unrecognisable by the time we got to January 2021. Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who has yet to come into contact with the terrible COVID-19 virus, there’s a good chance that it’s still had a pretty profound impact on your life, work and career this year. Many of us have lost money and clients. Those of us who are freelancers or run our own business may have had to get by with significantly less income this year. And if you haven’t been self-employed for long enough there’s a good chance that you’ve fallen through the cracks in terms of government support. Like me, who works as a PAYE freelancer in TV and didn’t qualify for any government support. Some of you will have lost your jobs or had to be placed on furlough.
You’ve also likely spent much more time at home this year than you would have liked. Whilst travel restrictions are easing slightly, the idea of going for a holiday abroad may seem untenable and frightening for many, much less living overseas. However, if you’re yearning for a lifestyle that offers more freedom, autonomy and adventure; where 2020 is just a distant memory and all that matters is the contents of your travel backpack, the life of a digital nomad may be for you. You could even just take some time out from work and go volunteering abroad, if your job isn’t a portable one. Why not consider a work exchange programme?
What is a digital nomad?
A digital nomad is essentially someone who works while travelling. Usually, digital nomads are freelancers. But if you have an employer who doesn’t particularly care where you get your work done as long as it gets done, you may be able to live as a digital nomad. Digital nomads live overseas, funding their travels as they go. If they find a location they fall in love with, they can stay as long as they like (or as long as their visa permits) before moving on. It’s a wonderful way to make a living… but it’s not without its caveats.
Digital nomads’ productivity and quality of life are intrinsically linked to their location. Let’s face it, you won’t have a good time working or exploring if you’re too hot, fighting off mosquitoes or worried that someone is going to dash over and steal your laptop as you type. Likewise, you’ll need to earn in excess of your spending. So if you’re in a very expensive location, you may find that you are spending money faster than you can earn it. You also need to make sure you have the correct health insurance for a digital nomad lifestyle as hospital trips could be costly if you don’t. Another important consideration, since some of the below destinations have very different and often strict cultures to ours, is that if you are LGBTQ+, it’s important to research in advance the places where you can be completely yourself and non encounter any negativity. The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association have some great guides, for example their Gay Thailand travel guide for Chiang Mai below.
With that all in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best cities and cheapest countries in the world in which to be a digital nomad.Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur offers pretty much everything you could want as a digital nomad. A friendly populace, safe streets and an incredible cost of living versus quality of living ratio. As you can see, you could get a spacious and well appointed place in Desa Parkcity for rent for a fraction of what you’d spend for a similar property in the UK. Or if you want to spoil yourself with a hotel stay, check out the best hotels in Kuala Lumpur. Also, because food is so inexpensive (but so, so good) you can dine like royalty and still not worry about how you’ll be able to afford next month’s accommodation. What’s more, the locals are friendly, welcoming and accommodating, and the city and surrounding areas offer a wealth of stunning architecture and jaw-dropping scenery.Barcelona
When you’re working from your laptop and your office is wherever you choose to plug in, you need all the inspiration you can get. Barcelona is easily one of the most inspiring, beautiful, vibrant and lively cities in Europe. With some of the most inspirational architecture, sumptuous food and a quintessentially vibrant atmosphere, it’s the perfect place to get your creative juices flowing. It’s hard to look at something as incredibly ornate as the Basilica or as bold as Gaudi’s many gifts to the city and not be inspired.
Start your day with a trip to the Parc Guell for the best view in the city, and after a few hours’ graft in a chic cafe, treat yourself to a leisurely brunch somewhere like Cecconi’s. While it may not be the best fit for the very frugal, it’s hard to imagine a more inspiring city in-which to live and work.Chiang Mai
While everyone visiting Thailand should spend at least a couple of days in Bangkok, the sheer bustle and breakneck pace of the city might not always be conducive to a good day’s work for everyone. If you’re looking for somewhere a little more laid back where you can work and play at a more leisurely pace, Chiang Mai is the place for you. Remember to get a Thailand work visa if you are planning to earn whilst you’re there.
In fact, it’s a very popular destination among digital nomads from all over thew world. As such, there are no shortage of trendy cafes where you can plug in and grind down while enjoying some good coffee and even better food. Want to save money, or just don’t like the idea of working in cafes every day? There are a plethora of affordable coworking spaces that you can share with other digital nomads and local freelancers. The cost of living, staying and dining in Chiang Mai is very reasonable, and it’s a very safe, friendly and welcoming location that you likely won’t want to leave, unless it’s to make the epic journey from Chiang Mai to Pai by scooter! Plus, the beaches in Thailand are incredible!Canggu
Finally, if you want to live and work in style on a limited budget, you can do it in Canggu! Although the prices have crept up somewhat in recent years (due to the influx of digital nomads and other hip westerners from the UK, Australia and New Zealand), it’s still a gorgeous and uber-cool place to work. You’ll find ample co-working spaces, more craft coffee than you can ever hope to drink and a wealth of tasty organic vegan treats in the many cafes. Plus, you’ll get to end your working day with leisurely walks down sunlit beaches… and it really doesn’t get much better than that!
You can see more of what i’m loving, and what i’m doing, over on my Instagram.