Where to Live When You Can Live Anywhere

This 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 travel

One 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:

💰 It does not save me money

I 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 criteria

In 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 cold

I 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 expensive

Some 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.

🌋 Earthquakes

I 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.

🚨 Criminality

I 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, places

We 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 requirements

Finally, 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: And some that require compromises: As you can see, this is very far from the idea of being able to live anywhere in the world! But at least we've got the ☀️ weather, the ✨ change, and the 🐦 freedom.

Of course results vary vastly if you have different critieria or passports. If you can afford more expensive cities and can handle the cold, a whole world of possibilities opens up with 🇨🇦 Canada, the 🇺🇸 United States, 🇷🇺 Russia, 🇦🇺 Australia, 🇳🇿 New Zealand, or 🇪🇺 Northern Europe for instance.

But whatever your situation is, I would say that proceeding by elimination is a great way to include all possibilities by default and not forget countries. 🇰🇿 Kazakhstan or 🇦🇿 Azerbaijan for instance, are not destinations that most people would think about if they make a list of countries they could live in.

There is a second part to this article, which is how I plan My Yearly Digital Nomad Travel Rotation in more details. You can also take a look at the map of all my travels.

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