In our FIRST FULL YEAR as digital nomads, we’ve lived in 11 different cities around the world – some for a couple of weeks, others for up to a couple of months.
And OK so yeah… there are some we won’t be returning to in a hurry (absence, if anything, made the heart grow colder), but those places have probably given us some of the wackiest memories and the best opportunities to prove to ourselves that we really can have fun and hunker down anywhere.
The vast majority of our temporary hometowns have, however, been cry-because-we-miss-them-so-much wonderful.
We’ve zigzagged across timezones like pros (up yours, jeg lag), accrued air miles like MASSIVE losers (we didn’t bother, and friends are telling us we’re idiots), settled in, found supermarkets selling oatmeal, lived like locals (unless they don’t eat oatmeal), fallen in love with each new area, and moved on before we could risk under-appreciating it.
And to celebrate the fact that we DID IT, LOVED IT and CAN’T WAIT TO DISCOVER EQUALLY AWESOME PLACES NEXT YEAR, here’s a quick summary of each place (good and bad), what we thought of it, what you’ll get out of it, how much it costs, and whether you should bother.
Love at first sniff (and then bite). People, if you’re scared of street food, you’re missing out, big time.
It’s busy, it’s crazy, it’s chaotic, and it’s awesome. The place is massive, so be prepared to walk (often up and down a ton of pedestrian bridges) to reach your destination. Even if you get the train, there’ll be a fair amount of walking either side. Or you could just splash out on a cab (remember to say “Meter on please” verrry firmly and point to the meter when you get in) – it costs hardly anything to get to the other side of town.
There are plenty of super-cool wifi cafes, but PLEASE DON’T EAT LUNCH IN THEM BECAUSE THEN YOU’LL MISS OUT ON THE STREET FOOD!
Try durian once in your life. But don’t take it back to your hotel room because you’ll get in trouble: it stinks the place out and most hotels ban it.
Stay in a top-notch hotel, because for those prices (about £50 a night when the equivalent in NYC would set you back £500) you’d be silly not to.
Take a brisk walk down the “nightlife” streets if you must, get depressed by the sight of all the prostitutes, then tick it off your list and you’ll never have to go again.
You’ll smile until your face hurts – partly because you’ll be so happy, and partly because everyone in Chiang Mai smiles and you’ll feel compelled to bare your gnashers right back.
There are mopeds galore, but you probably won’t get run over: the drivers are very good-natured and smiley (like everyone else), and they’re prepared to put the brakes on when they need to.
Eat lots of food. Especially papaya salad, mango and sticky rice, mango shakes, grilled chicken, banana pancakes, khao soi, and tom yum soup. Prepare to spend, oh, £2 per person on dinner.
Stay in a serviced apartment: it’s the cheapest and most convenient option (about £200 a month – including weekly cleaning and a rooftop gym and pool).
Erm. Really don’t bother.
But if you must go, stay in a nice hotel with decent wifi and don’t leave it much.
Now’s your chance to go CRAZY for Indian food (which, in our opinion, is way better and more exciting than the Malaysian food… I have a feeling this viewpoint won’t be popular).
Be careful when you walk around: the sidewalks have massive gutters (when there are sidewalks at all), and the drivers are NOT good-natured like they are in Chiang Mai. Really: if you’re not careful, it’s entirely likely you’ll get run over.
Look at the beautiful architecture, don’t swim in the sea (it’s contaminated), visit the Penang Botanic Gardens (monkeys walk around right in front of you – it’s as amazing as it sounds).
Don’t drink coffee if you like coffee: their stuff is basically coffee-flavoured condensed milk, with a mugful of sugar chucked in to make things even more interesting and buzzy. And don’t bother asking for coffee “without milk or sugar” – they’ll say yes, and then they’ll give you coffee exactly the same way as if you hadn’t said a thing.
Stay in a hotel or hostel – there aren’t many Airbnbs available. Don’t stay for too long. Penang is definitely worth a week or so, but no more.
Hit “Navigation” on Google Maps before you walk ANYWHERE – figure out how far away that “coffee shop down the street” really is. Berlin is massive.
Stay in an Airbnb apartment or – even better – use local sites like Immobilien Scout to get short-term rentals at much cheaper prices. If you’re planning to use any short-term letting service though, you might want to think about visiting soon: Berlin is drafting legislation to ban short self-catering rentals. At the moment, you can probably rent an apartment for about £1,000 a month on Airbnb and £600 a month on local sites.
Be overwhelmed by the recent history: visit Mauerpark, go to the Berlin Wall Memorial, definitely walk around the DDR Museum, and check out the Jewish Museum (if you’ve got a day to spare, lots of patience and good walking shoes – it’s big).
Work from one of the many fabulous wifi coffee shops. And be surrounded by people of every possible nationality doing exactly the same (always on a Mac… PCs don’t seem to exist in Berlin).
Prepare to be unimpressed with the food (except the burgers at The Bird, which are the best ever), but pleasantly surprised by how people with such a blunt, brutal language can be so friendly, smiling and helpful.
Don’t worry if your German sucks: they all know English and will speak it to you the second they figure out you’re a foreigner.
We just don’t get it. Digital nomads have started to go bonkers for the place, but we’re not sold in the slightest.
Their alphabet is Cyrillic, so make sure you’ve memorised what “chicken”, “water”, “coffee” and the name of your tram/train stop look like. We normally rely on Google Translate when in destinations with little English signage, but we were at a loss here.
Some of the food is great, but in order to eat it you’ll need to man up, enter a restaurant with no English menus, point and hope. (If you want English menus, you’ve essentially got a choice of a few tourist-heavy, Hooters-style establishments in the centre of town.)
The people we encountered seemed moody and unfriendly – apart from on the trams, where everyone suddenly comes to life. Dedicate some time to sitting on trams if you can. (Actually it’s inevitable you will: you’ll end up going in completely the wrong direction for an hour because the shapes you thought represented your stop are actually a slightly different set of shapes representing a totally different destination.) Back to people on the trams… they’re delightful: they chat to each other, pat the heads of young children, stroke the pregnant tummies of women they’ve just met… it’s really lovely.
Don’t expect to encounter a wifi cafe where the wifi actually works.
If you’ve got your camera out and men start acting a bit shifty around you, it’s because they’re in the mafia.
The city centre is very pretty, but we’ve seen better. Sorry.
Take the bus tour. It’s awesome.
Stay in the Pest side of the city for the majority of restaurants, cafes, cultural and entertainment attractions. Buda has lots of beauty going for it, but it also has very steep hills.
Rent an Airbnb apartment for about £1,000 per month.
Go to the Szechenyi Medicinal Bath, exhale and reeeelax. (You’ll need to ignore the other tourists to do this, but it’s totally possible.)
For the best food, eat in the Jewish Quarter. Or get a kebab – they’re seriously good. For the best drinks, go to one of the city’s ruin pubs. They’re a bit touristy now, but they’re super-fun and crazy cheap. For the CHEAPEST drinks, go to the Cherry Bar. A glass of wine costs 30p. It’s a bit fizzy and the red wine is served cold for some reason, but we think it’s probably fiiine. Also, the bar’s TV alternates between Hungarian Come Dine With Me and a hilariously awful karaoke show. Ask us for directions if you want to try out the Cherry Bar.
Check out the dogs. They’re always dressed up, and they always come in pairs.
Lots of stag parties come to Budapest. It’s fine though: the stags stick to very “staggy” bars, and the rest of the city will be yours.
There are heaps of cute, beautiful, reliable and super-cosy wifi cafes around.
“Underrated” is the term we use most often for Madrid. It’s beautiful, it’s compact, it’s cheap, and it’s friendly.
Eat “menu del dia” every day and you’ll get three delicious courses, wine and bread for about 10 euros. Or get a calamari bocadillo for about 2 euros.
Wander around, and then wander around some more. Do lots of oohing and aahing at the beautiful architecture that absolutely no one seems to talk about.
Get hammered on 2-euro wine at the local “cafeterias” and bars, and soak it all up with the shit tons of free tapas they’ll give you with every drink.
Work from a surprising number of wifi cafes. If you want an Americano, the guidebooks will tell you to order an espresso with extra water. Don’t do this. If you do this, they’ll just say, “Americano?” And then you’ll feel a bit silly.
Stay in an Airbnb apartment in the centre of town – you can get a halfway decent one for about £800 a month, and an awesome one for £1,000-£1,200.
THE SEA! We hadn’t realised how claustrophobic cities can feel until we got here.
Walk around the Gothic Quarter – it’s as beautiful and interesting as everyone says it is. Spend as little time in Las Ramblas as possible: it’s no longer beautiful, and it’s full of shit shops, overpriced restaurants, and lurkers ready to pick your pocket.
Take the bus tours to learn the history and see some incredible buildings and mountain views.
Spend time in Gaudi’s Park Güell – the most interesting park we’ve seen in maybe forever. Go for walks along the beach and watch all the surfers try to catch a wave without falling off/bashing into other surfers (their success rate isn’t high).
Drink wine that’s as cheap as in Madrid – but don’t expect to soak it up nearly so much with free food: they’re far stingier with their tapas. Eat lots of seafood when you go out for meals.
Struggle to find wifi cafes that are open when they say they are. Instead, work from home or a coworking space (of which there are a few), and use cafes for book-reading/people-watching/talking.
Stay in an Airbnb apartment (we stayed in the Gothic Quarter – the best location if you ask us – for £850 for the month).
Surprisingly fantastic – as long as you abide by the following rules: 1) Listen verrry carefully when people talk, and still don’t expect to fully understand what they’re saying; 2) DON’T assume that Kensington, Liverpool, is anything like Kensington, London – and steer clear at all costs; 3) Smile and be friendly like you would in a small village – Scouse people are nothing like Londoners.
The docks are extremely – surprisingly – pretty, and you must go to the RopeWalks area for an East-Village-esque atmosphere and plenty of awesome coffee shops.
The pedestrianised shopping area is lovely (as far as shopping areas go), and all meals and drinks are noticeably cheaper than in the south of the UK.
You won’t find many Airbnbs in the area, so I’d suggest a cheap hotel (NOT, PLEASE NOT the Liner Hotel – trust me on this; Travelodge is pretty good though) or a serviced apartment.
Disclaimer: this is where we’re from, so we have a bit of a love/hatehatehate relationship with it.
Stay in a rubbish Airbnb and spend the rest of your trip feeling depressed about how much you spent on it. (There’s a chance you’ll get lucky and find somewhere fantastic though.)
Eat burgers (we’re surprisingly good at them) – especially in Hache and Honest Burger. We’ve heard Meat Liquor is also incredible. Drink coffee at one of the many new coffee establishments in Soho. We’re not sure of the wifi situation in any of them though.
Don’t go to Oxford Street unless you like ugly buildings and fist-fights over a bunch of Primark hoodies. Go to Primrose Hill for peace, breathing space, idyll, and children named Hugo and Marigold. Then head to Camden for the world’s best kebabs: Marathon Kebabs, near Chalk Farm station.
Be teetotal for the duration of your trip: a glass of wine is never worth what you’ll pay for it. Get an Oyster card and use the public transport. Only get a cab if you’re hammered (which you shouldn’t be – you’re teetotal, remember?) and you’ve won the lottery.
Do a tour of Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. Cliched, but worth it.
Walk across Waterloo Bridge, look both left and right, and see just how beautiful this city really can be when you stop focusing on the bad stuff.
What do you think?
What key, got-to-know info have I missed out?
Do you agree with my summaries?
Do you know anyone in the mafia? (If so, please don’t show them this post.)
Let me know everything in the comments!