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Sorry, Bali: Seven Underrated Hubs For Digital Nomads

According to these digital nomads, the typical circuit of tropical paradises can get stifling after a while.

“Phew.” I breathed a sigh of relief as I boarded my plane. After a three-week stomach infection, a painful monkey bite, 95% humidity, and a faulty internet connection, I wasn’t sad to leave Bali. Many tout the beautiful Indonesian island as a paradise–so many lately that I found it was no longer the right working environment for me.

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Read any digital nomad forum, and you’ll immediately confront a flurry of postings about Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Ubud, Bali, where beer costs just a few dollars and Wi-Fi is easily had. And (guilty as charged), just last year I included both cities in my own roundup for Fast Company of 10 affordable international locales where you can live and work for yourself.

But some places that are popular among digital nomads are packed with tourists during large chunks of the year, making it harder to buckle down and get things done. Plus, if you’re really committed to traveling while you work, you may not want to stick to the beaten trail alone. So after you hit up Chiang Mai and Bali, get ready to fall in love with these hot spots, too.

1. Seoul

Right now, I’m in Seoul, typing this post at a 24-hour coffee shop. Now I know what you’re thinking, and I am fully aware that Seoul is a major international city that you are fully aware of. But the usual digital nomad hit list tends to feature tropical beach towns where getting away from legions of office workers in business suits is part of the plan–and that’s often a mistake.

Look down any main street in Seoul, and you’ll find a smattering of cafés that make the South Korean capital a great place to put your head down and get to work. Coming from New York City, I was pleasantly surprised to find that rent in Seoul is half of what I was paying in the Big Apple–and for nearly double the space.

“As a fan of fast Wi-Fi and tasty Asian food, I think Seoul is a great option for digital nomads, especially with its 24-hour cafes, world-renowned internet speeds, and amazing food on every corner,” says Sharon Tsueng of Digital Nomad Quest.

Lots of people prefer tropical climates for the winter, but I actually found that Bali’s hot weather only made me sleepy, and my productivity went down. Great rent prices, minimal winter humidity, and great coffee are only three of the many reasons why I fell in love with Seoul. Korea has been an ideal stopping point for me, with its friendly startup community, delicious $5-$6 lunches, and a wide range of events across the city on any day of the week.

2. Kuching, Malaysia

If a warm climate similar to Chiang Mai’s is calling your name, you might want to put Kuching, Malaysia, on your list. This hot spot is an up-and-coming nomadic gem with picturesque views, excellent food, friendly locals, and inexpensive accommodation.

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“Kuching is being called the next Chiang Mai,” says James Hunt, a digital nomad living in Malaysia. “It’s a laid-back, green city on Borneo, filled with cool culture, coffee shops, and street art, [and] surrounded by amazing wildlife scenery and activities. Its coworking space, iCube, is cheap.”

For digital nomads wanting to spend time in Malaysia, you can get a 90-day tourist visa on arrival and set up shop for a few months.

3. Semaphore, South Australia

If you’re looking to go Down Under but still want to budget and prefer a slower pace than what you’ll find in Melbourne or Sydney, Semaphore might be your cup of tea. “Semaphore is a wonderful beach suburb of Adelaide, with quiet beaches, lots of art, and nice cafés,” says digital nomad Sonia Jaeger. She recommends Folklore Café, which is situated right on the Port Adelaide River.

“Adelaide has great coffee [and] food, plenty of space, and dolphins passing by every day!” Jaeger adds. There are also plenty of well-appointed coworking spaces if you need more than just a table under a palapa to stay focused.

4. Belgrade, Serbia

While many European capitals will take enormous bites out of your wallet, Belgrade isn’t one of them. “Belgrade is one of the underrated capital cities in Europe, which makes it less expensive but buzzing with events, art, and nightlife,” says Alex Abu-Samra, cofounder of Laptop Friendly, a platform that connects remote workers to work-amenable cafés.

With beautiful architecture, affordable rent prices that clock in at around 55% cheaper than Seoul’s, great food, and hundreds of coffee shops (where the average espresso costs $1.33), Belgrade has definitely made my travel list for this year.

5. Buenos Aires

During my time in Buenos Aires, I was happy to find cheap accommodation, a vibrant startup scene, and some of the best food and wine around.

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“Buenos Aires is simply amazing,” says Kate Smith, founder of The Remote Nomad. “If it were a person, it would be that cool, popular, confident friend. It’s full of unique restaurants and places to work from . . . With so many coworking spaces as well, it makes it really easy to connect with the startup scene and local community.”

Plus, Smith adds, “the city comes alive at night, meaning you’ll always find something to do, even until the early hours of the morning.”

6. Berlin

“Berlin is a relatively affordable spot for Europe,” points out Jessica Ford, a digital nomad who’s currently living there. “There is a gorgeous, bohemian, artistic, entrepreneurial vibe, and it is a melting pot of people from across the world trying new things.”

Berlin isn’t exactly an out-of-the-way destination, but Ford says it’s uniquely well-suited to freelancers and solopreneurs. The city’s culture “supports niche brands, and people are more likely to support a small, local business,” she says. As a result, “it’s a great place for a nomad to find new clients” and is still a really enjoyable place to live and work.

7. Mexico City

Many are heading to Mexico City for similar reasons, says Nima Sheikholeslami, founder of a health and wellness site called PositiveMed. “There are a lot of misconceptions about Mexico City and Mexico in general,” namely that it’s dangerous. Sheikholeslami hasn’t found that to be the case. Instead, she says, “You have access to reliable and affordable internet, and in many public places, you have access to free Wi-Fi. There’s a growing number of coworking spaces in the city, such as Impact Hub and WeWork,” she says.

Sheikholeslami also loves the city’s cultural vibe. “Mexico City is an interesting combination of traditional and contemporary culture, food, art, and architecture. You can find some amazing street artworks when walking through the city–and yet nobody talks about this hidden gem.”

As digital nomadism becomes more popular, once remote destinations are getting busier. That isn’t always a bad thing, but it can lead you to seek out even more out-of-the-way places, when the better approach might be to reconsider cities you already know about. It wasn’t long ago that many big metropolises just catered to locals and the corporate classes, but now lots of urban hubs around the world are drawing independent workers, too–including those who like to keep on the move.

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So pencil these into your calendar for 2017, grab your passport and laptop, and get to work!

Correction: A previous version of this article contained mistaken information about the sources of iCube’s funding.

About the author

Arianna O'Dell is the founder of Airlink Marketing, a digital agency that helps hotels, restaurants, and travel destinations attract and retain clientele.

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