Welcome to Day 5, the last day of How to Be a Digital Nomad and Travel: 5 Steps to Freedom in 2020. Today we’re talking about how to choose a destination as a digital nomad and creating roots in a new location, the exciting stuff! Now that we’ve found your freelancing niche for success, have began connecting with like-minded people, and built systems and strategies for productivity & learned bookkeeping, it’s time to pick a location and design your new lifestyle around what lights you up!
I often get asked how I decide where to go when I travel, what I do upon arrival, and how I create new lives and routines in so many different places. I’m going to talk about how I research destinations to travel to and the main factors I consider when choosing a new location. I also want to discuss how to get rooted once landing, creating a new lifestyle and routine, and settling into your new home!
Planning is the most exciting part! Get out your Pinterest boards and start daydreaming, because we’re gearing up for you to book that ticket. The world is a beautiful place waiting for you to explore!
This guide will walk you through how to choose a destination as a digital nomad and create roots.
How to choose a destination as a digital nomad
What makes a destination appealing to me as a digital nomad? Affordability, safety, weather, good wifi, and accessibility. Listed by order of importance. I am always looking for places that are relatively cheap compared to American standards, and safe for solo female travelers like myself. Its awesome to have nice weather when I plan to go, reliable internet, and easy enough to get to and around once I’m there.
Researching at home – how to decide?
To be honest, many of my travel destinations come from hearing recommendations from other people I meet while traveling, or from friends. I try and pay attention to WHAT excites people and I automatically get curious about why. If I hear the same destination more than once, I take that as a sign I should probably put it on my list. Then ill research more about it later. I went to Budapest based solely off recommendations from other digital nomads and it definitely didn’t disappoint.
I usually consult Nomad List for ideas, and run with it. Choose a continent that you’d like to explore various locations in. For ease of access, considering committing to Europe or Asia, at least for 6 months to a year. There’s so much to see and yes, plenty of time! It’s a long term game, and slow travel is the best kind of travel.
Consider choosing a location based on ease of access and cost from your native airport. For example, living on the east coast of the states, Europe is a hop skip and a jump away. It’s about 6 hours to get there from Boston, and once I’m there it’s easy and cheap to get around just about anywhere in Europe. With budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet, you can pretty effortlessly get around for sometimes even 10 euros.
Let’s go through the process together and pick out your next travel destination!
Choose your next destination as a digital nomad
Hop on over to Nomad List where you can search by different criteria such as price, location, and weather. Right off the bat from the home page I see mostly places among Asia, Europe, and South America. Depending on the season, i’ll make my selection. For example, I probably won’t choose to go to Europe from December – March because packing light would be tough and I’d rather not be in a cold city. I’ll likely consider Asia and South America during this time frame instead because vitamin D makes me a better person.
Let us pretend it’s June. We look at the list and decide Europe may be the easiest option budget-wise, as I search Skyscanner and find flights are only $150 round trip. I see Lisbon, Budapest, Sofia, and Berlin as some major European cities that are close enough and seem interesting to visit. Cost-wise, Sofia and Budapest are the cheapest options. So I’ll click on each and start looking at what people are saying in the “reviews” and “chat” section.
I mull through the comments and get a jist for what other’s are saying. I’m most likely to trust another solo female’s opinion given their experience is closest to mine. Honestly, some people may like one place and may not like another despite it being a favorite of many. A lot of it comes down to your personal, subjective experience and what you make of it once there.
Once you’ve read through what people are saying, pop on over to travel facebook groups and search the location for specific destinations, airbnbs, and cafe recommendations. A couple of my favorite facebook groups are Digital Nomad Girls and Girls Love Travel. You can search posts on the left-hand side and browse recommendations from others, or ask any questions you may have yourself!
Finding long-term accommodation at a discount
When staying at a location for a month or longer, it’s important to be somewhere you’re comfortable in that’s close to the places you want to be around. I’ll always start by browsing Airbnbs to get a feel for the price to quality ratio, and seeing what reviews are left regarding location. Then I’ll run a google search about neighborhoods in ____ (insert city / place here). I usually lean towards artsy neighborhoods centrally located but slightly outside the main tourist area of town. Of course, that’s entirely personal preference.
Once decided on a neighborhood, I’ll reach out to a few different Airbnbs and introduce myself and ask for a slight long term discount if they don’t already offer a discounted monthly rate. If you’re on the cautious side, you might want to just book an Airbnb for a week or so and conduct the apartment search on the ground once you’re there. Depending on the city / place, there are often signs posted with phone numbers, apartments posted on Craigslist / Kijiji in Canada, or Facebook Marketplace worldwide. Or, sometimes cities will have specific accommodations targeted to digital nomads.
Consider asking your host to run a wifi speed test prior to booking to ensure the connectivity will be fast enough for you to work from home. Also, google maps the location and see what kind of cafes and grocery stores are nearby for ease of access. These are important factors in selecting a new location that you’ll want to consider.
Pro tip* There is a section for “laptop-friendly workspace” on Airbnb. Be sure that the apartment you are considering has this feature so you can work comfortably from home!
For the foodie and coffee connoisseur
If you’re anything like me, you love food, and top quality coffee. Coffee shops are my favorite places to get work done from, and yes, I research the best cafes and scout out local roasteries before landing in a place. This does have a bearing on where I choose to live, of course.
By browsing facebook groups and comments, asking questions, and googling “wifi cafe in ____” I gather a handful of places that seem to be my vibe, with reliable internet and space to work. I save these places in my google maps and label them accordingly. I have locations saved in every destination on my maps, so when I find myself standing in the middle of a new city I can start to make associations via the checkpoints I’ve made, and have a place to sit and plan my next activities that day.
Here’s a screenshot of my map in Krakow, Poland. I saved many vegetarian restaurants, brunch spots, cafes, and interesting attractions that I wanted to visit while I was there. You can start to get a feel for which neighborhoods you might enjoy this way.
Landing and acclimating to your new environment
Little bits of familiarity goes a long way. I always dedicate the first few days to getting settled and unpacking, scoping out my new neighborhood by walking around, getting groceries, and saving spots into my map I see that I want to revisit.
It’s important to give yourself time to sleep off the jet lag and transition into a new routine. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed, ungrounded, emotional, and freak out a bit internally. This happens pretty much every time I move (which is often) and I’ve learned to accept this grieving process as part of the journey and to let myself feel all a wild range of emotions.
Get the necessities out of the way. Buy a local sim card, maybe a travel adaptor, some fresh fruit and filtered water, and then give yourself some time and permission to feel anything you might need to.
Getting settled and making connections
All of the feelings will hopefully transform into excitement by day 3 or so. It always has for me! The biggest thing that has helped me feel welcomed into a new city or place is making connections. Whether it be with the barista at the cafe downstairs from me, the bartender, the woman at the frutería, or a new friend, these little acquaintances go a long way in a foreign place. A smiling familiar face is always welcomed in an otherwise unfamiliar place.
There’s one activity I highly recommend doing as soon as possible as an instant ice breaker to meet people from all over who are also looking to make friends…
Free walking tours!
These are THE BEST and all over Europe and other cities worldwide. I can’t tell you how many damn walking tours I have been on. Probably 20. Yes, these are so wonderful for so many reasons. You get an informed guide that will take you around the city, tell you about it’s history, and answer any questions you may have.
And, there are likely other people there traveling solo or with a small group. Pretty much every walking tour I’ve been on, I’ve finished it off with a handful of new friends and ended up spending the rest of the day, sometimes multiple, with them and sharing a meal or two. Highly recommend.
The best free walking tour company in Europe is Sandeman’s, I’ve had countless great experiences with their guides. Also check out TripAdvisor and search “free walking tours” in your location, most popular tourist destinations usually have one.
Did I say it’s typically free in most places? Just tip generously at the end — so worth it!
Hostels / Facebook Groups / Couchsurfing
Go to hostel happy hours and events just to mingle. Many of them will host events nightly. For example, in Playa Del Carmen at the co-working space and hostel Selina I went to a margarita making event because I mean, why not, and met some awesome ladies that night. The next night was valentine’s day where I went to a self-love workshop by Kelsey Low (she’s amazing!) and instantly connected with so many other females.
Be sure to browse localized Facebook groups, oftentimes digital nomad hotspots will have their own group on Facebook with different events posted weekly.
Couchsurfing has a “hangouts” section where you can go online and see who else is trying to hang out. I’ve met an array of interesting people this way who I’m still friends with to this day in countless cities and ended up hanging out with them multiple times throughout my trip.
Creating a new, familiar routine
You’ve now landed, made a few friends, and are ready to start living your new lifestyle. The key to success is to repeat habits that lead you towards your goal. We talked about creating a schedule for success yesterday, and now it’s time to implement them. Choose your workdays and times, balance it with perhaps trying a new yoga studio or gym, and exploring/socializing and you’re golden!
It can be helpful to do things in a new country that you would do at home, to create bits of comfort and structure. My favorite travel accessory is a portable bluetooth speaker, it really helps enhance my environment to play my favorite songs on a good quality speaker.
As for me, I love scouting out green spaces in a city to retreat to. I try and start my day in a park or walking a trail to align myself for my workday ahead. Think about what makes you feel your best and try and incorporate that into your day-to-day.
Structure really helps! Plan which days and times the market is open and plan your grocery days. Or perhaps there’s a bakery down the street you fall in love with. Maybe sign up for an Airbnb experience and learn about regional wines. Reach out to others, ask questions, smile, and you’ll find yourself in your flow in no time.
Be sure to browse blog posts for hidden gems and save them in your maps. In Berlin, there happened to be an old piano warehouse featuring classical pianists next to where I was living. I never would have found this out if I didn’t search around a bit.
Congratulations, you made it through 5 days of How to Be a Digital Nomad and Travel: 5 Steps to Freedom in 2020.
You’ve found your freelancing niche for success and connected with like-minded people. You’ve learned to build systems and strategies for productivity, and today you have learned how to choose a destination as a digital nomad and create roots once you’ve landed.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about what helped you most, and your favorite digital nomad destinations below!