Digital nomads are a unique bunch. No longer bound by the constraints of physical space in order to work, we are the hyper-mobile children of the digital age. Many of us have carefully — and often painstakingly — created a lifestyle that allows us to choose where we spend our days, as long as we have good internet access. This mobility has its obvious perks: One week we can answer our emails while sipping coconut water in the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and the next we’ll be taking that Zoom call in a cute coffee shop overlooking the Plaça Virreina in Barcelona.
For many, this sort of lifestyle sounds like a dream; and indeed, there’s a good reason why some of us have worked so hard to create a life that allows us to work remotely. However, there are also significant downsides and difficulties that would be irresponsible to ignore, both in the global and the personal levels.
The global-level challenges are self-evident and mostly refer to the undeniable social and ecological impact that travel and tourism can have. Flights translate to carbon footprints, and getting the most out of our dollars, pounds, euros or yens by spending them in developing countries is a double-edged sword, stimulating local economies while also driving prices up, encouraging gentrification and potentially damaging the social fabric of the local communities. Taking Covid-19-times into account, this can also present a unique challenge, depending on your circumstances and limitations.
On the individual level, digital nomads often struggle with loneliness and burnout. While meeting new people can be exhilarating, the rapid rates of hellos and goodbyes can have a toll on our emotional health and leave us somewhat reticent to invest time and energy in transient relationships with people we might not ever see again. If we happen to be on the more introverted pole of the spectrum, forget it. If we are craving deeper connections and the comfort of being around people who have known us for a long time, being on the road for too long can leave us feeling lonely and burnt out.
The following list of places I have worked and lived as a digital nomad myself takes into account some of the factors we have touched on here. Cultural opportunities can be a great way to drive those deeper connections and mitigate burnout. Here’s what these three places had to offer me as a creative and remote worker.
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
The Nicoya Peninsula in the pacific coast of Costa Rica is one of the “Blue Zones” of planet Earth. A Blue Zone is classified as an area where residents enjoy extraordinarily long, healthy lives, often completing over a hundred spins around the sun. Costa Rica is not the cheapest country for a digital nomad, but in my experience, it more than makes up for it with safety, quality and comfort. One of the most sustainable and biodiverse countries in the world, on top of magnificent weather all year round and some of the friendliest locals I’ve met, I promise you, you will find it hard to leave.
Being able to balance emails and calendar invites from my laptop, while enjoying an Acai bowl and catching a stunning sunset at day’s end were two of my favorite parts about this incredible location.
For a more urban vibe, I’ve found that Barcelona is the city that has it all. Nestled between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, I was always less than 20 minutes away from a beach or a hiking trail. With mild weather and a relatively accessible cost of living, young professionals from all over the world converge in one of the cultural capitals of Europe, with rich architectural, culinary and esoteric traditions, ensuring you won’t find a dull moment.
Based on my experience, I would recommend digital nomads look to the hip neighborhoods of Gracia, Sants, Sant Antoni or Poblenou and avoid the more touristy dystopias of the Gothic Quarter and the Barceloneta, which in my opinion are living examples of the need to travel mindfully and sustainably. Even if you’re not that much into sports, don’t miss the chance to watch a football match at Camp Nou.
Barcelona is a melting pot of culture and a revolving door for travelers and digital nomads. It’s an incredible setting for people watching, writing a book or crafting your next screenplay.
Puerto Vallarta and Bahia de Banderas, Mexico.
With so many great places to spend time in Mexico, it is really quite difficult to choose just one. Digital nomads have many options depending on the landscape and weather you prefer. You could have a great time in the chilly, ethnically diverse and subversive mountain vibe of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, the ultra-hipster urban chaos of the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods in Mexico City, or even the quaint and relaxed cobblestone streets of Oaxaca, Merida or Guanajuato.
In my experience, Puerto Vallarta is one of the best food towns in Mexico, and also the primary destination for the LGBTQ+ community. With plenty of coworking spaces and cute coffee shops to work from, you can literally work from a different place every day. With towns like Sayulita, San Pancho or Bucerias close by, the Sierra Madre and its quaint little towns of El Tuito and San Sebastian less than 90 minutes away and ultra-modern Guadalajara a 4-hour drive away, you really cannot go wrong here.
Out of all the locations, this is the most budget-friendly as you get the most bang for your buck. It’s a fantastic place to visit (especially for younger nomads).
Something to keep in mind is to keep an open mind: Nothing is ever permanent unless you’d like it to be, so try on different experiences for size. By being open to the possibilities, you can find your way as a digital nomad before you know it.