During a workshop we gave on the topic of traveling with connection and creating more mini-adventures in our lives at Alive in Berlin a few questions came up. Here are a few resources that attempt to answer those questions. Or provide a jumping off point for you to find the answers yourself.
For more details on logistics, planning, insurance, gear and more, check out our World Travel Resources Page. If you are looking for our most popular personal growth, food, destination and practical travel tips go to our Start page.
A few videos that get to the why of travel and what it can teach us about life:
- TEDx Talk: What is your “What If?”
- World Domination Summit (WDS) Keynote: Life lessons through travel and the why
1. How to create connections when traveling? How to meet and connect with locals and people on the ground?
The topic of how to create connections when traveling and meet locals connect is something we're going to explore deeply in our upcoming e-book (be sure to sign up for updates).
Here are a few ways that we've found help us connect with people and engage locally when we travel:
- How to Travel Outside Your Comfort Zone. Many of the tips included in this article are about how to better connect with locals: strike out on your own, get lost, visit the fresh market.
- Go where the locals go. This may sound obvious, but when we travel we don’t always follow this advice and instead spend our time in tourist sites as these are the places usually in our guidebooks and form the anchors to our trip. It's important to see the sites, but be sure to plan some time outside of them as well. Some of the best places to do this is at parks, neighborhoods outside city center, public transportation and markets.
- Visit the fresh market.One of the first places we usually go when we arrive in a new place is the fresh market. This provides us grounding for a place as the market is usually a cross-section of society and full of activity. Not only are locals at the market to buy food, but they are also there to exchange information and meet people. And if you show your curiosity about food there are endless opportunities to engage with vendors and other locals. Don’t be shy, ask questions (see below). Note: be sure that when you ask a local about where the market is that you ask for the food market as many people will assume that you mean the souvenir market.
- Ask questions like a child. When you show your genuine curiosity, people will respond accordingly and want to share of themselves, their culture and their home country. We find the best way to engage and show this curiosity is by asking questions like a kid. What this means is: 1) don’t be embarrassed to speak up and 2) don’t make assumptions, that you already know the answer. Questions that we might think of as “obvious” or “stupid” can yield new knowledge and a connection that begins with the answer to your question and perhaps ends with a long discussion. Sometimes it can lead to being invited to tea, dinner or just to join the person again. Example: When you’re at the fresh market ask questions about fruit, vegetable, spices and dishes that you don’t know about. Start with, “What is the name of this in your language? How do you use it (e..g, spices or veg)? How do you eat this?” You may begin talking about spices and end up talking about families and life.
- Open body language. Smile. When you present yourself as open and friendly people usually respond in a similar way. One of the best ways to approach someone is with a smile. Not a goofy slap happy grin, but a genuine “I’m happy to be here and meet you” smile. This immediately breaks down barriers. I often also will say hello to the person (either in English or local language) and give a slight nod, especially if I’m greeting elders or people of the opposite gender. This is a sign of respect and usually surprises people, in a good way.
- Be present. Plan less & put down the device. It’s easy to be busy and hide in devices, at home as well as on the road. The less you are rushing around the more you can slow down and observe. This helps you take in all that is around you – place and people. When you put down the device you are more open to the environment and situation around you. This helps you connect to the place and people.
- Walk and take public transport. It’s easy to put up barriers and protect yourself from people and the place you’re visiting by taking taxis or private transport. But when you walk you are close to the action on the street – to the people, smells, sounds, energy, life. And travel by public transport provides a great glimpse on ordinary life. We’ve also found that many people are not expecting tourists on public transport so they “adopt” you to make sure you get off at the right place and know the best things to do.
- Choose to stay in a neighborhood instead of downtown. It's often in the neighborhoods where you'll get a better feel for everyday life and have more opportunities to engage with people at local cafes, restaurants, markets or shops. When we have an option, we usually prefer to stay in an apartment rather than a traditional hotel. You can use services such as airbnb, 9flats, or Housetrip to search for flats. Local and expat blogs are usually great for researching neighborhood personalities and styles to get the right fit. (A great list of Berlin blogs here.)
- Volunteer. This can also be a fantastic way to really understand a place and know people. We recommend at least a three-week commitment if you plan to volunteer. Take a good luck at your skills and interests to determine what type of volunteer experience will not only match your skills, but also provide the most benefit for the host organization. Do your research thoroughly to know your options and costs. If you chose to go with a volunteer placement company be sure to ask how much of the money is actually going to the local organization. If you are interested in volunteering abroad we suggest you check out The Volunteer Traveler's Handbook and Grassroots Volunteering (a database to connect travelers with local organizations and causes) by Shannon O'Donnell.
2. Where are some of the coolest places we’ve traveled?
It’s always hard to pick favorites, but if we had to recommend a few of the places and experiences that we found remarkable:
- Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal: 15-day hike through the Himalayan mountains staying in villages and homes along the way. Incredible mountain scenery, culture, and time for reflection. Easy to organize on the ground in Pokhara, Nepal. If you want a similar style of experience, but slightly more remote and challenging we recommend trekking in Ladakh, India. Stunning landscape and beautiful Tibetan buddhist culture.
- Burma (Myanmar): Incredibly warm people and culture, as well as beautiful Buddhist temples and lakes. This country is changing quickly as the government opens up and businesses move in. Recommend visiting sooner rather than later.
- Kyrgyzstan: Over 90% of this country is mountains, making it a fantastic destination for trekkers. In addition to the landscape, Kyrgyz people are a friendly bunch and their nomadic-meets-post-soviet-hangover culture is unique and interesting. Also, the country has a fantastic Community Based Tourism network making it easy to find home stays and local guides. One of the highlights: sleeping in a yurt in the mountains.
- Peru. Although trekking to and visiting Machu Picchu is a great experience, we highly recommend spending more time in Peru to explore its northern areas or go deeper into the Andean mountains. And, it's worth a visit to Peru just to eat – Peruvian cuisine is that good.
- Laos. Luang Prabang is a beautiful town to spend a few days enjoying the Buddhist temples, monks and culture. But be sure to get out and visit the smaller towns and villages. One of our best experiences was a boat ride up the Mekong River to Nong Khiaw.
- Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania: More than just a physical man vs. mountain journey. This is a mental and emotional journey, one that will teach you much about yourself and life.
- Republic of Georgia: The Georgians have a saying that “Guests are a gift from God” and they mean it. Really. Some of the most hospitable and craziest people in the world. Recommend trekking in the Caucasus mountains of Svaneti, visiting the wine region of Kakheti and enjoying the neighborhoods and back streets of Tbilisi.
- Beginner Travel Guides. If you don't know where to get started where to go or how to start planning, check out our Beginner's Guides. They provide a good overview of regions, countries or cities. Two of our most popular are to Southeast Asia and Central Asia.
3. How can I justify the money and time needed for travel? What are the intangible benefits of travel?
Travel does have the potential to be one of the greatest platforms for building business and life skills. A few resources on the intersection of travel and personal growth:
- 10 Ways Travel Helps You Let Go
- Building a Story-Filled Life: What is Your “What If?”
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Travelers
- How and Why to Be Present in Travel…and Life
There is also more research coming out that indicates that humans derive more happiness and satisfaction when they spent money on experiences rather than stuff. Theres articles – here and here — go into the psychology and research into why this is.
4. How can I travel with kids?
We don't have first-hand experience traveling with kids, but we've met many traveling families and know even more through our online network. The upshot: it is very possible to travel with kids, including in developing countries. In fact, kids often open up so many doors to meet and connect with locals.
Family Travel Resources
- Can families travel long-term? Definitely! Here are a few families who are doing it: Y Travel Blog, 1 Dad 1 Kid, Almost Fearless
- How to educate your kids when traveling? Here are a few homeschooling resources and first-hand experience homeschooling while living and traveling in Southeast Asia.
5. How can one develop creative ways to generate income to support long-term travel? How to set up a location independent lifestyle and business?
Technology and the changing way that people conduct business online has opened up so many opportunities that weren't possible even a decade before. However, the same challenges of running a business at home apply on the road: how to create products and/or services that people find valuable and will pay you for it. In fact, it is even more difficult as you have to deal with issues that never would likely not come up at home (e.g., electrical outages).
With a location independent business you need to be able to deliver that service or product from wherever you are in the world as long as you have an internet connection (and electricity). We highly recommend that you have set up the business before hitting the road so that you have a client base and track record before throwing travel and the unexpected into the mix.
Some traditional location independent businesses include: website development, graphic design, copywriting / freelance writing, publisher (e.g., ebooks/products), online teaching, social media consulting / management. Note: We do not include blogging in this list as blogging can support your business, but it is not usually the actual business (this is a common misperception).
A good place for resources on developing an online business is Fizzle. We do not have a paid subscription so cannot comment on this from firsthand experience. However, we do find that the free podcasts, blog posts and resources are solid and would apply to anyone setting up a new online business, whether you plan to travel or not.
Resources for creating a location independent business:
- Natalie from Suitcase Entrepreneur has written a book on this topic and has many resources available on her site.
- Hammocks and Hard Drives goes over all the technical and gear details you'll need to work as a digital nomad or location independent professional.
- Digital Nomad Month on Too Many Adaptors. Lots of case studies and practical advice.
- Our Office-less Office: The gear we use for our location independent business based on photography and writing.
Trying to balance work and travel.
It is very challenging trying to travel full time and maintain (and grow) a business. Often when you are doing one thing you are thinking about the other. This means that sometimes you don’t do either very well because you’re not fully present when traveling and not fully present when working.
We find that dividing our days or months into work and travel times works best for us. This provides a bit of a routine and keeps you from feeling guilty when not doing the other activity. Often we’ll dedicate mornings for work (when our heads are clear) and then the afternoon for exploring. Alternatively, we’ll chose to travel for a period of time and then take a period of time just for work. Sometimes this involves renting a flat for several weeks or several months. This prevents us from being distracted when we’re traveling (and thinking about work) and vice versa.
How to find wifi and internet when on the road?
This is fortunately becoming easier and easier to find. When we first started our online business in 2007 we spent a lot of time in internet cafes with super slow connections. Search online for cafes that provide free wifi in the places you're traveling. Also, many hotels will provide wifi these days.
We also recommend traveling with an unlocked smartphone so you can pick up a local SIM card (usually for a few dollars/Euros) and get on a local mobile data plan. Then, if wifi is hard to find you can create a hotspot with your smartphone and share it with your laptop. This is how we stayed connected on our recent trips through Uganda and Rwanda.
The challenge is that if you need wifi for your work it limits where you can travel as you always need to plan for internet and be connected. We highly recommend taking offline breaks and disconnecting completely. This helps to clear one’s head and process what you’ve been doing. In order to do this get ahead of your work load, let your clients know that you’ll be incommunicado and enjoy being disconnected.
Choosing a digital nomad / location independent hub
It’s often necessary when running a business while on the road to be still for a while (e.g., 3-6 months) to complete projects, find new projects and also rejuvenate. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a digital nomad hub for one or more months:
- Ease of finding short-term flat. Some cities have a large turnover of short-term accommodation (with internet) while in other places it’s much more difficult. Do your research to find out whether the place you want to stay for a while is the former or the latter. See if there are listings on Craigslist, airbnb, go to local expat forums and ask, search for local or expat blogs and connect with those people to ask.
- Costs. This is a huge factor. Renting a flat in Chiang Mai, Thailand will set you back $200-$500 while doing the same in Oslo, Norway will cost you likely a minimum of $1,500. In addition to the accommodation cost, do your research to find out food, transport and other living costs. This website – Expatistan – will help give you an idea of general costs.
- Internet. Not all internet in the world is created equal. Do your research and ask around with locals or expats on the regular internet speeds. When you look at a place to rent, do a Speedtest to ensure that the internet is as fast as the landlord is telling you it is. Ask if anyone else is sharing the internet/wifi connection or if it’s just you. This can make a HUGE difference whether there is one person using it or three people using it (and streaming YouTube videos all day long).
- Ease of visa. Does the country allow you to stay for 90-days? Can you extend the visa if you choose? Can you renew the visa clock by going over the border (e.g., visa run)?
Popular Digital Nomad Hubs
- Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand. Check out a breakdown of living costs for Chiang Mai – under $500/month (2011 prices).
- Mexico. We stayed in Oaxaca for two months, while other friends have stayed in San Pancho and Sayulita.
- Berlin, Germany. Obviously, we're biased here 🙂 A good place to look for short-term flats is on WG-Gesucht or Craigslist.
- Buenos Aires, Argentina. We spent two months in Buenos Aires and although the flats are not super cheap, we found that the total expenses including food and transport still fit our budget.
- Medellin, Columbia. We have not lived here, but have several friends who chose Medellin as a base and then decided to live there for several years.
- Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam. Our friends Jodi and James have chosen Saigon as their base for a few months over the last couple of years due to awesome food, low costs, easy access to wifi, and energy of the place.
6. How do you decide to set up a base and transition from a fully nomadic life? What factors are important in choosing a base?
We wrote about the decision process and reasons why we chose to give up our fully nomadic life for a base in Berlin. After over six years of being nomadic as shift happened to us. The freedom and opportunity that being nomadic provided was outweighed by the desire to have a bit more stability and grounding with a community of friends (in real life). We wanted a place to return to where we had friends and that had a lifestyle that we liked (e.g., no car needed, fresh markets, central location, etc.).
At the end of 2012 when we chose Berlin as our next home we evaluated the place based on what factors and values were most important to us. We went through a similar decision process when we when we left San Francisco in 2001 with a one-way ticket to Prague and no jobs.
Here are some of the important factors in choosing a base or new home (especially in a foreign country):
- Community and friends (VERY important). Do I have friends there already? Is this a place with like-minded people? Will it be easy to make friends? Are there activities and events around my interests (e.g., music, film, etc.) that will make it easy to meet people?
- Cost of living. What is the cost of long-term apartments? How easy is it to find an apartment? Food? Health Insurance? Local Taxes? Transport (e.g., public/bike vs. needing to buy a car)?
- Style of living. Does the place have the components that you consider important to your style of life? For example, fresh markets, access to live music, outdoor spaces, good public transport, and more.
- Visa requirements. Does the country have a visa regime for freelancers (if I don't want to work as an employee)? What are the requirements? If I want to find employment, how difficult is it for companies to sponsor me?
- Job Opportunities (if not Location Independent). How easy is it for a foreigner to get a job given my skill set? Do I need to develop another skill set to meet market demands?
7. How to maintain relationships (with friends and family back home) while traveling?
Maintaining relationships when abroad and traveling can be challenging, but technology (e.g., Skype, Facebook, email) has made it much easier than ever before. Technology is a tool, however. It’s still up to you to practice good communication tactics and be in touch.
We’ve found that the best thing to do is to get in touch with people when you are thinking of them – just send a two-line message letting them know you're wondering how they are doing. Don't put off communicating with people until you have something “important” to share – have smaller, more continual communication.
It is difficult when you are traveling and having such different experience from friends and family at home. Sometimes they just don’t “get it” or can comprehend what you’re experiencing and why it’s so important to you. This is very hard, but the reality is that sometimes you need to let go of this. Don’t try to convince or force people to be interested in your travels. If you show interest in them and what’s happening in their lives they will likely do the same.
And sometimes it means that you lose friends along the way. If you don’t share similar values and interests, it’s natural to grow apart. It’s not easy, but it’s part of this journey we call life.
8. How to travel solo if you are in a long-term relationship?
For the first three years we knew each other we were in a long-distance relationship between Monterey and San Francisco and then San Francisco and Estonia. And while one of us wasn't off traveling, the fundamentals for maintaining a good relationship when apart are the same: open and strong communication. In addition, regular visits to see each other are crucial as well.
Be sensitive to not gush about your travels so that your partner feels left out. Share genuinely, but be sensitive to the fact that your partner would likely want to be with you. Enjoy the present, but also plan ahead for the time you have together. And when you do travel again as a couple, here is some advice on how to travel together without wanting to kill each other.