This post has been turned into a 91-page quick read. Be sure to read it in time for your next vacation to find where in the world is best for you. It’s titled For Travelers (and Digital Nomads) Not Tourists: A guide on how to connect with a destination for a more fulfilling travel experience.
Isn’t it interesting how two similar people can go the same destination, live in the same area, at the same time and have wildly different impressions of the destination? It’s because of the individual, not the destination. It has to do with the individual’s values, who they are as a person and if it fits with the destinations societal, cultural, geographic, etc. markers.
This is important and matters whenever you talk about people’s experiences while traveling. For example, if you heard about a tourist in Bali who had to bribe police to get out of a helmet ticket, you would likely think one of two things:
- He should’ve been wearing a helmet.
- What a disgusting policing practice.
You are going to think one of those two things based on your internal values. And this article is about understanding your internal values. If you’re speaking to someone who thinks (2) when you think (1), this person may have a bad taste in their mouth about the bribe which reflects negatively on their entire experience in Bali while this would never happen to you because you would wear your helmet. If that doesn’t make total sense, post a comment so I can clarify.
Below I detail out how I choose where to live, what activities to do when I’m there, and how I meet locals and travelers. I hope you’ll use it as a starting point and for ideas during your travels.
It’s a constant work in progress.
What I Value in my Destination
The following list is in order of importance:
- Attractive women (let’s be honest, everything is better with attractive women within eyesight)
- Warm + dry climate
- Low air pollution (AQI <75)
- Friendly locals
- Lots of parks and outdoor space
- Walkability (convenient to use walking for most errands or safe to bike/scoot)
- Bars close no later than 2am
- Many cafe’s
- Either minimal traffic or efficient public transit and/or Uber scooter availability
- Many gyms
- Has a beach
- Salsa community
- Pickup basketball games plentiful
- Society is not religious (50%+ say religion is not important)
- Many day trips from the city
- Minimal prostitution
- Many events on websites like Facebook or Meetup (ie active communities)
- Cleanliness (ie no trash on the streets/the locals have to care about this)
All of this has to be compared to the Cost Of Living in the destination. For example, most major cities on the coast of America fit all the criteria, but the cost of living is so much higher than in major cities outside the US. It’s not important how much you make: if you have spent X or 50% of X for the same quality of life, you’d be a dummy to spend X.
Where I Like to Live within a City
- In a populous/convenient neighborhood or within a 10-minute walk from the “main” street
- Near the nightlife as I’m more willing to travel long distances during the daytime.
- Near (in order of preference):
- Shopping Center
- Library/co-working space/internet cafe
- Grocery store
*Search ‘grocery’, ‘supermarket’, or ‘warehouse club’ to find on google maps
**Search for ‘gym’, ‘health club’, ‘sports club’, and ‘fitness club’ on google
Activities I Enjoy
- Explore the cafe scene (you’d be surprised how many hidden and secret cafe’s exist in all cities)
- Explore popular neighborhoods
- Go to Zoos and amusement parks
- Go to beaches and parks
- Discover the nightlife
- Walk around shopping centers and markets
- Find local festivals and fairs (on Facebook, change your current city and click on events section)
- Go to the gym, hike, dance salsa, and play basketball
Note: Don’t search for a generic phrase like ‘travel guide Las Palmas’. Instead, figure out why you are going to this city to narrow your search. For example, if you are going for the improv scene, you’d search for ‘improv Mumbai’ or if you want the best jazz locations, search ‘jazz club Las Palmas’ or even ‘hidden activities Almaty’ is better than generic city tourist itineraries.
Common Touristy Activities
- Scuba diva
- Bike tour
- Hop-on/Hop-off bus tour
- Airbnb Experiences or Adventures
- Pub crawl
- Local food tour
How to Decide on your next Destination
There are 35,000 cities on Earth. The average human lives for 28,000 days. This guide is meant to narrow your choice down to a handful of selections.
- Is a city known for a skill you want to acquire (for example, learning Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala or stand-up comedy in New York)?
- Is the climate in your preferred range of dryness and warmth?
- Is the cost of living affordable?
- Does the city have geographical features that you value (nearby mountains or a beach)?
- Is it a digital nomad hub or full of expats?
- Is there an upcoming conference/seminar/workshop you are interested in attending?
How to Find Accommodations
- If staying in a hostel***, ensure there’s in-room wifi/lockers.
- Find out how many beds are in the hostel because the more beds, the more party vibe and dirty
- Of course, Airbnb
- Search ‘[city] housing’ on Facebook
- Search ‘long-term hostels [city]’ on google
- Ask the language schools where they recommend (People who attend language schools stay for a few months like a digital nomad)
***Hostelz.com is a comparison site (search ‘solo travel’ or ‘traveling alone’ in reviews)
How to Find Activities, Meet People, + Learn about the Destination
- Meet friends and lovers at your local gym
- Do a google search for ‘hidden/unique [destination] (guide)’ and avoid the big websites with static and super touristy recommendations. Instead, go to page two and three onward and click on the small travel blogger websites. This way you’ll pick up the super obvious destinations plus many more unique activities.
- Search ‘Digital nomad(s) [city]’ on Facebook****
- Search ‘Americans in [city]’ on Facebook****
- Search ‘Expats in [city]’ on Facebook****
- Search ‘Friends in [city]’ on Facebook
- Work from co-working space, cafe’s, and libraries to meet locals (they usually have weekly events)
- Go to the local Yoga or meditation studio
- Go to MeetUp.com, change your location and find events starting here: meetup.com/topics/expat/ and meetup.com/topics/digital-nomads/
- For smaller cities, you can go to the homepage and select ‘All meetups’ to view all
- Go to Atlas Obscura to find more unique activities
- Check out the largest network of expats at internations.org
- Go to Couchsurfing to find events: couchsurfing.com/events
- Change your current city on Facebook and discover local events: facebook.com/events/discovery/
- Search google maps for ‘travel agency’, ‘tour agency’, and ‘tourist info center’ to find activities/day trips
- Go to Pinterest and search for [city] to find activities and to learn about the city (sometimes there are neighborhood guides here)
- Find out who you’ll soon cross paths with via NomadList: nomadlist.com/people
- Find local Slack channels here: nomadlist.com/chat/all_channels
- Find events hosted by NomadList: facebook.com/pg/nomadlist/events/
- Check for people in your area on conomads.com
- Going to a hotel lobby/bar is an option to spontaneously meet other travelers
- Search local hostel websites for organized activities
- Search for local holidays, festivals, concerts, events, etc.
- Search for the city on Instagram or Twitter (including relevant hashtags..ie #CaliCo for Cali, Colombia)
- Search Yelp Events (Only in the US and large international cities): yelp.com/events
- Look for events on Nomad Soulmates Facebook group: facebook.com/groups/nomadsoulmates/events/
- Search for local groups on Facebook (less useful if you do not know the local language)
- Find hostels with pools and go hang out there for the day.
****I find an easy way to meet people is to ask for a unique, local recommendation or someone to help you navigate the grocery store (if you don’t know the local language)
Where to Work
- Coworking spaces (check www.coworker.com)
What to do During your First Week
The goal is to get acclimated quickly. That way you can start living like a local and even teach the locals about their own city.
- (do this before arrival) Create an Anki deck to learn some useful words and phrases
- (do this before arrival) Download local google map and local google translate language over wi-fi connection so you can use it when offline
- Change Internations and Facebook to your current city
- Go to a tourist information center
- Find the closest and best: gym, grocery store, supplement store, laundromat
- Find the following locations for work: cafe, co-working space, and library
- Sign up for the free walking tour
- Hop-on/Hop-off bus tour for an overview of neighborhoods
- Tours with locals:ShowAround or WithLocals
- Detour walking tour app
- Sofar for secret music performances
- Meals with locals: EatWith or MealSharing or EatAway
Other Useful bits of Knowledge
- A barbershop appointment makes for a cheap language tutor or city guide. You can pick up some colloquial phrases here.
- Find out 2–3 things a country/city is known for and immerse yourself to get in touch with the local culture and meet locals. (See my travel destinations)
- Go to tourist destination bars to meet people (ie Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca)
- For a more authentic experience, go to the 2nd or 3rd most popular city. This works best in first world countries due to modern conveniences and availability of English.
- Use BlaBlaCar to carpool between nearby cities for cheap and meet locals.
- Those countries with harder visa requirements, though initially a hassle and more expensive in time and money to enter, just means it’s less touristy of a place, thus more authentic and affordable.
- Although the super touristy areas (Old Town of Tallinn) are inauthentic, you can easily meet traveler’s there, especially solo travelers during the day as most people there are tourists.
- Going to a city during the warmest/driest months are also going to be its most touristy months (ie more expensive flights, hotels, crowded restaurants, bars, etc.). Going during offseason will be the reverse, but some attractions may not be open (ie pool parties during winter/rainy season).
- If Selina exists in the city you’re at, it’s a good place to work from and meet people. They also throw regular events.
- If public drinking is allowed, this means that more people will be drinking under the night sky than under a nightclub roof. This increases the occurrences of meeting people.
- If near water, look for events on boats (boat party or happy hours)
- Signing up for a grocery store card is an easy way to save money, but only if you’ll be there for longer than a month
3-Hour Quick Daytime Activities:
Many times you will wake up and not have plans, nor want to make plans. The following list are easy-to-do things on any day of the week without any advanced planning:
- Go to a cafe, coworking spot, library, Selina
- Go to tourist information center ‘travel agency’, ‘tour agency’, and ‘tourist info center’ to find activities/day trips
- Explore a popular neighborhood (just go to the main street and start walking)
- Common activities: hop-on/off bus, zoo, theme parks, beach, parks, walking tour
- Go to shopping centers or markets
- Go to a bookstore
- Check out college areas (usually, you’ll find events or cool hangout spots)
- Play basketball (or find any other hobby of yours)
- Check Facebook Events
- Yoga or meditation class
- Couchsurfing Hangouts
- Going to a hotel lobby is an option to spontaneously meet other travelers
- Hang out at a popular hostel’s pool (or at a regular pool)
Are you location-independent or a digital nomad traveling the world like me? Tell me in the suggestions where you’re at right now. Let’s connect! Or, share a tip. While in Kiev, Ukraine, I just learned of the awesome BlaBlaCar app. #sharemore