Tuesday, February 27, 2024
HometravelWhat's it like to be digital nomad? Tips on long-term travel in...

What's it like to be digital nomad? Tips on long-term travel in Southeast Asia and Europe from those who've done it

Say you get 14 days of leave a year. That works out to two week-long trips, three if you cram your itinerary and fly at ungodly hours. You find yourself back at work the following morning with a pounding headache. Now you need another vacation to recover from this.

Such is the silly reality of being a worker bee with a finite number of leave days – unless you’re a digital nomad, a globetrotter who works remotely. And no, this lifestyle isn’t reserved for the self-employed. With companies embracing remote work and some even introducing “work from anywhere” leave, it has become increasingly accessible.

If you, too, dream of being on the road for long enough to actually miss home, here are some pro-tips for long-term travel from bona fide digital nomads.

Related:

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IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

It’s no secret that Bali is a digital nomad hotspot. Jane Tor, like many others, left her job in the insurance industry to pursue remote work in 2018, lured to Bali by its natural beauty and affordable living costs.

“Amed is pretty rural, and my personal favourite,” she shared. Located four hours from Bali by car, Amed appeals to divers and travellers looking to experience the “fishermen lifestyle” while scrimping on rent.

“I was only paying S$350 a month for a room with a balcony, a kitchen, and cleaning services twice a week.”

Rent in Ubud is similarly affordable, and Jane recommends it for “spiritual healing.” However, prices increase significantly in Canggu, a popular area for digital nomads with no lack of co-working spaces. In Canggu, you can expect to pay around S$800 for a room or S$1,200 for a small villa.

“Stay in Canggu if you enjoy surfing, if you’re single and ready to mingle, and if you’re young. It’s a nice place to be in if you don’t have to go anywhere else because traffic in Bali sucks.”

Other locations have their charms, too. Nusa Lembongan, with its promise of a slow-paced island life, attracts surfers and divers alike. Seminyak, on the other hand, is favoured by retirees who want to be close to tourist attractions. However, regardless of the location, the best accommodation deals are seldom found on platforms like Airbnb or Agoda.

“There are plenty of Whatsapp group chats that people can find by going onto Nomeo.io and looking for local Whatsapp group chats. They can join our community telegram chat or follow us on Instagram (@goingslowsg) too,” Jane said.

Travellers can also check out Facebook groups like Asian Wander Women.

“For long-term stays, negotiate with locals instead of booking online. Local rates are much cheaper – about 20 to 30 per cent – if you’re booking for just a few weeks. The discount becomes higher – 50 per cent and above – once you book for a longer term of more than three months.”

Now, nearly every digital nomad who has been to Bali will offer the following pro-tip: Learn to ride a motorbike. Public transport is practically non-existent in Bali, and acquiring this new life skill will help you save both time and money.

“The thing about Bali is that if you can ride a bike, moving just 20 minutes away from each ‘centre’ will significantly bring your rent down already. Or if you have the budget, you can hire a chauffeur,” Jane advised.(The latter is a popular option among her friends who have relocated to Bali with their families. For S$1,000 a month, they were able to hire a chauffeur, a helper to clean their house, and a nanny to care for the little ones.)

That said, road conditions in Bali aren’t for the faint-hearted. The risks of being a novice biker shouldn’t be ignored, as Sarah Tan noted. Earlier this year, she spent two months in Bali while working as a Design Lead in the Web3 space and running an AI product design studio.

“I obtained a motorcycle license in Indonesia and relied on scooters in Bali as well as in other Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam. I took three scooter lessons in Bali, and strongly recommend practising before embarking on such an adventure,” Sarah said.

If doing so might cause you more stress, ride-sharing services like Gojek or Grab are an equally viable option for short-term travellers, she added.

Another nearby destination with a comparable cost of living is Chiang Mai. Temperatures dip as low as 14 degrees Celsius at the start of the year, providing a much-needed respite for travellers who prefer mountains to beaches. Sabrina Tan, who left her job as a Fraud Investigator in Kuala Lumpur to work remotely in Chiang Mai as a translator and travel writer, said,

“Chiang Mai was the digital nomad capital of the world back in 2017. There were a lot of co-working spaces at affordable prices and it was very expat-friendly. Connectivity was cheap as SIM cards would cost around 1,000 THB (S$38) a month for unlimited internet.”

In 2017, renting a two-bedroom landed property cost around 13,000 THB (S$492) per month. Similar to digital nomads in Bali, she got around by renting a scooter from Chloe Motorbike Rentals or a car from Facebook pages with a rating of at least 4.5 stars.

“The most difficult part about living in Thailand for a long period of time is dealing with visa extensions at Thai immigration. The rules change all the time and sometimes it can be hard to keep up. So it’s important to check in with other nomads and the official website for the latest information,” Sabrina suggested.

To stay in Thailand legally without the need to leave the country every month, the Malaysian digital nomad signed up for a 6-month Thai language course, which turned out to be a rewarding endeavor in the grand scheme of things.

“Currently, the most affordable destinations (to work in) are definitely still in Southeast Asia. Personally, I would stay in Chiang Mai, Taipei, and Hanoi for the quality of life that I’ll get per dollar spent.”

Vietnam, as Sabrina astutely pointed out, seems to be an underrated hotspot for digital nomads. Sharlyn Seet, a student and content creator, suggests cities like Ho Chi Minh and Da Nang and recommends living close to the city centre.

“The cost of living there is pretty low. On average, you can spend anywhere from S$8 to S$50 a night in Vietnam. For just S$20, you can snag yourself a decent apartment with essentials like a washer, dryer, and stove,” she said.

“Data is not only affordable but lightning-fast. I’d recommend going with Viettel for your network. It’s pretty widespread, even in some of the more remote spots up in the mountains.”

The best way to get around, to no one’s surprise by now, is by bike.

“Renting a bike is super cheap, and gas won’t break the bank either. Public transportation within the cities can be a bit sparse, but for city-to-city travel, you’ve got sleeper buses and trains. You can book these in advance through a website called Baolau.com.”

TIPS FOR LONG-TERM TRAVEL

When embarking on a long trip, doing your due diligence will ensure that you keep your risks low and spirits high. Whether you’ve set your sights near or far, these tips from our digital nomads will come in handy.

Budgeting

Book airfares and hotels together on platforms to unlock membership statuses for substantial discounts.Plan well in advance to take advantage of weekly and monthly discounts, monitor flight and hotel prices, and receive notifications when they drop.Optimise all your spending by using the right credit cards for different types of spending (online vs. offline, dining vs. travel bookings).

Packing

Buy toiletries locally if they cost less in your city of choice to travel light. Opt for a waterproof suitcase with expandable storage.Track your bags by sewing AirTags into them in case of loss.Pack only a week’s worth of clothing and re-wear outfits until laundry day.

Accommodation

Book your long-term accommodation only after you arrive in the city.Inspect the property in person before paying the landlord to avoid scams.Run an internet speed test or check with neighbours before committing.Consider properties with amenities that will help you save costs, such as a kitchenette for preparing meals instead of eating out.Check the weather when booking accommodation in Europe, as rain and snow may affect Airbnbs in the basement.

Safety

Stick to neighbourhoods with hostels if it’s your first time in the city.Notify the ministry of your travel dates.Share your location when using a ride-hailing app.Avoid disclosing that you are travelling solo, Collapse Expand

IN EUROPE

It’s a no-brainer that experiencing almost any other Southeast Asian city would cost less than, as some would joke, breathing in Singapore. But if you’re interested in going long-term and long-haul, consider Eastern Europe. On that note, Jane’s recommendation is music to the ears of all Game Of Thrones fans: Croatia.

“If you wanna stay in Europe for more than 90 days, consider applying for the Croatian DN visa. Croatia is a great place to live in. Zagreb is popular among expats but my favourite city was Zadar – it’s a great hubspot for digital nomads,” she said, reminding readers to avoid the tourist season between June to September as prices “get crazy expensive”.

Sabrina, who has travelled across the continent, considers other Eastern European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and Romania to be “the most affordable.” This region also has the stamp of approval from Marilyn and JS, the couple behind the travel Instagram account @shrugmyshoulder. While waiting for their BTO flat to be completed in 2025, they decided to hit the road instead of renting an apartment in Singapore.

“For long-term travel in Europe, cost is an important factor. We tend to stay in countries that are relatively affordable, such as Southern and Eastern European countries like Spain, Portugal, and Greece,” said JS, who works remotely as a software engineer. 

To keep costs low, the couple relies on airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet for international travel, search engines like Trainline and Omio to find the best inter-city connections, and Flixbus for inter-city bus rides.

Unlike Southeast Asia, most cities in Europe have an affordable and efficient public transportation network in place, whether you’re in the east or west.

“Public transport in Europe, especially France, is amazing. Buses and metros are easy to take,” said Sabrina, adding that travellers can’t go wrong with getting the local equivalent of our EZ-Link card.

“Transportation in London is, by far, the most expensive and even though we can pay with our credit/debit card, I would suggest downloading the app and linking it to your Oyster card so that you can track your spending and ask for a refund if you’re overcharged.”

Another cost to prepare for in Europe is a SIM card with unlimited data (Sabrina suggests getting an eSIM through Airalo for the best deals), which you’ll be thankful for if you’re heading to suburban towns where connectivity may not be as stable.

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