The New Digital Nomad's Guide to Picking a First Destination

Posted by   Annette on    August 20, 2013

32565984135_b23bc82c7d_b.jpgPicking a destination to start out on your digitally nomadic lifestyle ain't as easy as it looks, but it's of vital importance.

Statistically speaking, if this first one doesn't "take," you're going to run right home. Avoid that by choosing wisely and avoiding the seat-of-pantsness that leads to an uncomfortable few months followed by a swift retreat to the status quo.

(Note: a little seat-of-pantsness is an utter necessity. You just have to know the seat-of-pants no-fly zones.)

1. Don't throw darts at a map. 

(…Unless you really want to. The result will probably be a good story, honestly, even if your first LIP experience totally sucks.)

2. Decide what you truly can't live without.

Lots of new LIPs flock to cheap places that are popular for expats -- for instance, Thailand, or Panama, or the Phillippines -- thinking that they'll be satisfied with the trade of passion for novelty.

They rarely are.

What makes the lifestyle sustainable is taking your whole self into consideration. Your passions are an integral part of what drives you forward. Respect that.

I can't insist enough that you must be honest with yourself about this or you're going to be unhappy. For instance: I'm an airsports athlete. I can't live anywhere that doesn't have opportunities to BASE jump, paraglide and/or skydive. If I chose a place without those activities nearby, I would not thrive. I also need comfortable, shaded space for yoga, a pleasant, well-stocked kitchen and effective climate control.

If you need a well-equipped gym to feel like a good human--or a running trail--or a walkable wine bar--or a dog park--then don't shove that need aside and tell yourself it's a nice-to-have. There are resources to make sure you have what you need. Examples: If you're a climber, there are climbing gyms all over Buenos Aires. If you're a trail runner who's bound and determined to live in downtown Johannesburg, hook up with a local outdoor group so you don't have to mission outside the city alone.

3. Look at how your money will work.

To do this, you're going to have to understand how the exchange rate is going to affect you once you're earning in dollars and spending in local currency. It's a huge topic. However: here's a great, short article on the Huffington Post that gives the basic information in a very digestible format.

NomadList has a great comparison tool. For comparison, you can also check out the one on Expatistan.

4. Find a home that aligns financially but is comfortable.

Don't go as cheap as possible and figure you'll just toughen up and deal with the lack of in-room WiFi; the absent air conditioner; the dingy-ass kitchen. You won't. You'll resent the hell out of it. You may need to invest more in a richer experience, but you will get more work done if you're comfortable, and that will pay off.

There are work-arounds. If you have a home to swap, here's a great primer for doing so on Smartertravel. If you don't, here are some great websites to use to look for a place. If you can't find a home that works for your finances, choose a different LIP destination. You can revisit the "harder" destination once you have a few more miles on your digital-nomad odometer.

5. Start talking about it.

Once you've picked a place, start telling everyone where you're going. You'll pick up loads of great information from all directions -- you'll start to magnetize it. Take notes.


photo credit: _Suminch_ AmsterLand via photopin (license)