In 2015, I left my corporate job to travel solo while working as a freelancer, and try out this digital nomad thing that everyone’s talking about.
Let me start by saying that it was not my first time doing something like this. In 2012, I took a short break from university to travel solo around Europe for 3 months. (Actually, that’s how I ended up moving to Barcelona, but that’s another story). I’ve also done plenty of short solo trips in the past.
Plus I left my home country when I was 19 and moved to the Netherlands on my own to study there. So travelling alone and/or for extended periods of time is nothing new to me.
Back to my digital nomad experience. So on my last day of work, I literally walked out of the office and headed to the airport…
I started out in Bermuda. Not the typical place for digital nomads, considering it’s among the top most expensive countries in the world! (I’m not saying digital nomads are cheap here, it just makes sense that if you can go anywhere in the world, you wouldn’t go to the most expensive country).
However, I have friends in Bermuda that I wanted to visit, and a place to stay. I spent two incredible months there. Bermuda is probably my favourite place in the world, and for good reasons. The pink sand and the azure water is just the beginning…
I explored caves, jumped in a cenote-like blue hole, went kayaking and found small uninhabited islands, swam in bioluminescent water at night, saw glow worms, and went snorkeling every day. This list can go on.
Getting stuff done here was hard though. I was constantly tempted by the beach (which I could see from the house where I was staying) and the amazing weather. Given that I had just escaped my office job, I was in a vacation mood and couldn’t stop myself from going out and having fun every day.
I still managed to get 3-4 hours of work every morning. Most of that work were small tasks from clients on retainer, or me reaching out to new potential clients for my web design business. At the time I didn’t have any big client projects and I was taking it easy.
Moving on – in the end of September I flew back to Barcelona, and then continued to my home country, Bulgaria. Such a difference! It was autumn, and it was cold but beautiful. Here I could relax and actually get a lot of things done. Some bigger client projects started rolling in as well – a few blogs and websites.
I spent a month here, working 4 to 6 hours a day. As I thought, I could get a lot more done in 4 hours at home, than 8 hours at the office.
As a creative, I prefer to focus on one task and spend a few hours straight until I finish it. However, in the office I was interrupted every hour by a meeting, a call, or something else I had to attend. This was destroying my focus and my productivity, and I couldn’t finish my work in the 8 hours I had each day.
Aside from work, I did a lot of hiking. I was staying in my parents’ house in the mountain above Sofia, and I love everything to do with mountains. It was great being home with my family – as an expat and traveler, I usually see them only a few weeks of the year. This year I got to spend two full month in total at home!
At the end of October, I got on a plane with a one way ticket to Bangkok.
I stayed less than a week in Bangkok, and didn’t really enjoy it. The street food was great, and the warm weather was nice – but other than that I found it too dirty and chaotic. I know, I know – perhaps I didn’t spend enough there, or didn’t see the good spots. I’m willing to go back and give it another try!
Then I moved on to Chiang Mai, a digital nomad hotspot, and stayed for a couple of weeks.
I liked the city. I didn’t fall in love with it, as a lot of people claim they do – but I definitely enjoyed it. I was staying in a traditional house south of the city. I was the only person in that house, which was sometimes creepy but most of the time very relaxing.
I was getting decent amounts of work done here – mostly in the mornings and evenings. It was my first time in Asia, so I felt compelled to go out and explore during daytime! I got the most important stuff done in the mornings, so I could send it off to my clients. In the evenings, I finished off less-important stuff, or worked on my own projects. I was still putting in 4-5 hours of work every day.
Chiang Mai has an Old Town that’s surrounded by a moat and full of temples. I loved that. I visited about 10 temples during my stay, and got to talk to the monks. I loved the food – and yes it’s as cheap as everyone says!
I also visited some waterfalls – I was able to slide down one of them, like a natural water slide. That’s actually one of my best memories from Asia. I stayed until it was dark, and had to go back to town on the back of a scooter, with someone I just met randomly, and who was driving a scooter for the first time. Love the random stuff that happens when I travel alone 🙂
And yes I did get to meet a lot of other digital nomads while I was in Chiang Mai. I made some great friends that I would meet again, later on this trip.
When I was done in CM, I took a 16-hour train journey back to Bangkok. Before I got on the train, I was a bit scared of this trip – but it was actually really nice! I got to see lots of Thai countryside – hills, jungles, small villages.
My next stops were Ho Chi Mihn City in Vietnam, and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I spent about a week and each – and I feel like it wasn’t enough time to experience it properly, so I’m not going to go into detail. But I did fall in love with Vietnamese coffee and Malaysian food! Definitely going back one day for more adventures.
It was already December when I got on a flight to Bali, Indonesia! I was really looking forward to this destination, and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, I ended up staying 3 months 🙂
As I expected, I found an amazing community of digital nomads in Bali. I joined Dojo – a coworking space (that has a pool, like everything in Bali). This place was like home for the three months I was there. I made amazing friends and learned SO MUCH from them.
Work was way better in the coworking environment – I think this was my most productive time during the whole trip. The atmosphere was semi-office, semi-house-full-of-friends-having-fun. I could work late into the night (as it was open 24/7) or come early in the morning, as soon as I woke up. When I got tired of working, I could go for a quick dip in the pool – or walk to the beach to watch the sunset!
Since I stayed in Bali for months, I had enough time to get work done AND go on adventures. The best thing I did was rent a scooter and drive all over the island.
I had never been on a scooter before, so when I learned to drive, it was AMAZING. I drove all over the island. I found secret waterfalls, visited tiny villages, discovered random temples and rice fields. Some of my best memories on Bali include me and my scooter, on an open road for hours.
And of course, I learned to surf. Well, kinda. But I can stand up on the board and catch waves on my own, which is pretty decent.
I can go on and on about my time in Bali, but I think this needs a post on its own. So let’s wrap this up.
In the end of February 2017, I flew back to Barcelona.
Did I like being a digital nomad? Yes (obviously)
Would I do it again? Definitely – and soon.
Would I do it full time? No.
I love travelling, but Barcelona is my home. It’s the perfect city for me, and I would not give up my life here for anything.
That being said – I still can’t stay in one place for too long. I need travel to stay sane.
So ideally, I would spent 6 months of the year travelling and 6 in Barcelona.
Can I really get work done while I travel? Yes, even better than in an office.
I am a creative, and routine drains the life out of me. New and different experiences energize me, and fuel my work. So naturally, my productivity tends to drop in the office, when I’m confined to the same desk and same working hours every day.
On the contrary, being able to choose my hours – and being able to work from a different place every day – increases my productivity and I get a lot more done.