Where to Live When You Can Live AnywhereThis article is a summary of my thought process to find my favorite places to live, based on all the research and experimentation I've done in the past 3 years as a digital nomad (someone traveling while working remotely).
✈️ Identify why you want to travelOne of the most important things I've learned by meeting tons of other travelers is that people travel for very different reasons. And digital nomads are no different. Some do it for adventure, others for culture, weather, meeting people, dating, saving money, nature, etc. Surprisingly, it took me quite some time to really identify why I was even doing this in the first place. In my case, the core reasons I'm traveling are:
- ☀️ Weather: Gray-sky, rainy, cold weather makes me depressed, warm blue-sky weather makes me happy. And if I see palm trees my dumb brain gets even happier. My lower limit for temperature is 20°C (68°F), which is the threshold between t-shirt / shorts / flip-flops, and hoodie / pants / shoes.
- ✨ Change: It is essential for me to keep my life exciting and constantly changing. It gives me a feeling that time goes "slow" when I look back 6 months earlier and have hundreds of memories from 10 different countries. The exact opposite of the awful "Wow, we've been living here for 2 years already?!".
- 🐦 Freedom: The endorphins rush I get from looking at a map, seeing some random city name I don't know like Maribor in Slovenia, Googling it for 5 minutes, and deciding "Fuck it, I'm going to Maribor next week!" is fantastic. Strolling in its streets a week later is surreal and I often laugh out loud telling myself or other nomads "What the hell, this is such an awesome life".
💰 It does not save me moneyI wish I could tell you that living in cheap countries saves me money, but the truth is that for me it doesn't. I like to live in small but comfortable Airbnbs, in the very center of cities, to be able to walk everywhere. Flights and train tickets are costly too. So overall, my cost of living when traveling all year is about the same as being sedentary in an expensive city like 🇫🇷 Paris. It costs me something like 2300€ per month, everything included. The cost of living dramatically drops if you can rent an apartment for a few sedentary months rather than only living in Airbnbs. That's what I do in 🇹🇭 Chiang Mai (Thailand) for about 4 months per year.
❌ Define your eliminatory criteriaIn my opinion, the simplest way to find where to live is to start by eliminating the places you cannot or don't want to live in. There are about 200 countries in the world, so let's reduce that number to something more manageable by establishing some eliminatory criteria. These vary greatly from person to person. For example I do not care about nature, scenery, or adventure. My girlfriend and I are city people, and are happy as long as we can work on our projects in a nice city, and chill in a park. And we do not mind being surrounded by tourists. These 2 factors can make a huge difference between our criteria and someone else's, don't they? My main criteria are weather, cost of living, safety from both natural disasters and criminality, easy visa requirements, and walkability.
❄️ Too coldI eliminate places that don't have at least one full hot month. If for a given month I have to sometimes wear a jacket, pants, a scarf and shoes, then it's out. I don't want my happiness to be based on luck. This eliminates 🇨🇦 Canada, most of 🇷🇺 Russia, and 🇪🇺 Northern Europe – sorry guys!
Note: The whole world will absolutely hate me by the end of this article.The average number of 🌧️ rainy days per month is a secondary criterion for me. I can handle some rain, it is not eliminatory, as long as it's warm. 12 days of warm rain per month or less is fine. I tend to eliminate places with 15+ days of rain though.
🤑 Too expensiveSome countries are simply not suitable at all if you only live in short-term accomodations. Anything above 50€ per night is too much for me. I occasionally stay in such countries to visit temporarily, but not for "living" there. Map from Numbeo. This eliminates the 🇺🇸 United States, 🇦🇺 Australia, 🇳🇿 New Zealand, 🇯🇵 Japan, most of 🇪🇺Western Europe (like 🇫🇷 France, 🇩🇪 Germany, 🇮🇹 Italy), 🇸🇬 Singapore, 🇭🇰 Hong Kong, 🇮🇱 Israel, 🇶🇦 Qatar, the 🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates, and a few other rich states.
🌋 EarthquakesI do not want to live in a place where my apartment can collapse randomly on my face and kill me. And I am fine with people calling me paranoid. I am not a geologist, but it seems like the GEM Seismic Hazard model is the most up-to-date world map of earthquake risks. I eliminate all "orange" areas of the map. This eliminates the west coast of both 🌎 North and South America, the Caucasus (🇬🇪 Georgia, 🇦🇿 Azerbaijan, 🇦🇲 Armenia), 🇹🇷 Turkey, 🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan, 🇹🇯 Tajikistan, the 🇵🇭 Philippines, 🇹🇼 Taiwan, and 🇮🇩 Indonesia (even though I love living in Bali 😭). I am also concerned about 🌊 tsunamis. I avoid living at sea-level in areas that have tsunami risks. I am okay with living on a coast as long as my apartment is at a high-enough floor. This eliminates a lot of 🏝️ islands.
🚨 CriminalityI am not a fan of fearing for my life or my girlfriend's. So let's get rid of places with a crime index superior to 50 on Numbeo, contested territories, and places that are unsafe or uncomfortable for women (places with a lot of people staring for instance). This eliminates most of the 🕌 Middle-East, the 🇮🇳 Indian subcontinent, most of 🦁 Africa (I keep an eye on 🇲🇦 Morocco, 🇹🇳 Tunisia, 🇷🇼 Rwanda, 🇿🇦 South Africa, and 🇪🇹 Ethiopia as potentially safe destinations in the future), most of South America (🇦🇷 Buenos Aires and 🇺🇾 Montevideo seem okay), some countries of Central America (which is already eliminated by earthquakes anyway), 🇲🇲 Myanmar.
🚶 Unwalkable, congested, polluted, placesWe need to be able to get around by walking or with public transit without much hassle, which eliminates cities that are too spread out and don't have a clear center with a high density of easily-reachable local businesses. This eliminates a whole bunch of big congested cities such as 🇲🇾 Kuala Lumpur, 🇻🇳 Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, or 🇹🇭 Bangkok, and cities that are built for cars and not pedestrians such as 🇰🇿 Astana in Kazakhstan or 🇴🇲 Muscat in Oman.
👮 Annoying visa requirementsFinally, let's eliminate countries that require applying for "regular" visas in an embassy for me (French) or my girlfriend (Thai), since dealing with visas can be very complicated, particularly if you are not in your home country. We'll keep Europe in the race, since it is quite a good deal with 3 months with a Schengen visa. Here are Wikipedia maps of visa requirements for French and Thai citizens: It eliminates most notably 🇨🇳 China, 🇷🇺 Russia, and 🇲🇳 Mongolia. Most of the countries we cannot both go to have already been eliminated by other criteria.
Well damn, is there even anything left?!Thankfully, there are a few places left for us that tick all the boxes:
- 🇹🇭 Thailand
- 🇪🇺 Central and Eastern Europe (with a 3-month regular visa for her)
- 🇺🇦 Ukraine (with a 1-month eVisa for her)
- 🇰🇷 South Korea (3-month visa-free entries for both of us)
- 🇻🇳 Vietnam (3 months with eVisas for both of us)
- 🇪🇺 Balkan countries that are not part of Schengen, and for which she might be able to get a regular visa, such as 🇧🇬 Bulgaria or 🇷🇴 Romania
- 🇷🇺 Sochi in Russia - If I make a regular visa in France
- 🇱🇦 Laos - With a compromise on safety
- 🇰🇭 Cambodia - With a compromise on safety
- 🇹🇷 Turkey - With a compromise on earthquakes
- 🇬🇪 Georgia - With a compromise on earthquakes