When we talk about destinations for digital nomads, we tend to focus on the best spots for remote working. Not every stop along the way works out quite so nicely, though. First of all, being a nomad means you need a little more than the average traveler – a decent internet for one thing.
So today, I’m going to run through some of the worst countries I’ve been to as a digital nomad. To be clear, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these countries specifically. I’m also not saying these are bad places to travel. Each country is this list is an absolute cracking place to visit – just not the most practical when it comes to getting work done.
I hate having to put this country on my list because China is one of the most impressive places I’ve ever visited. Unfortunately, the visa situation is a bit of a pig and they’re a bit selective about careers. My friend got turned away because he said he was a writing a book about Buddhism (the whole Tibet thing). I just said I work in marketing.
I’m not sure if that made me paranoid but I felt like everyone happened to ask me what I do for a living. Sitting there tapping away on the laptop for a few hours felt a bit weird. Spies have been known to follow tourists in China, too, although I’m not sure how common that is these days.
Anyway, the practical side of working was way more difficult than I expected, too. After enjoying the internet of South Korea and Japan I was surprised to find pretty poor internet and a serious lack of places to work. Then you have the whole censorship thing which blocks half the internet anyway (slight exaggeration).
Apart from all of that, I absolutely loved China!
India is an assault on the senses, spirit and just about everything else. There aren’t many travel experiences that feel as intense as India and it certainly teaches you how to be more patient (mostly by testing it). But I found the-the place way too stressful and generally underequipped for someone who needs to work along the way.
It’s not India’s fault; more that the nomad requirements aren’t suitable for this kind of trip. Everything you do here is a long, exhausting process and I’m sure that’s part of the experience. But when you have the distraction of work hanging over you, it’s hard to fully enjoy it.
As for the internet, forget it.
This is a strange one, considering Bali is widely thought of as the Mecca for digital nomads. It’s an incredible country, too – one of my favorites, in fact – but it only pains me more to say it’s not ideal for the nomad.
First of all, the visa situation gives you a maximum of 30 days to work with in this huge country of islands. You can easily spend half your trip traveling and that doesn’t leave enough time to get any real work done and enjoy the places you visit.
Then there’s the internet. S. L. O. W.
If you really want to visit Indonesia and work, I would suggest staying in one spot – like Bali or the Gili Islands for the full 30 days. This way, you can enjoy the surroundings and work as you need to. To get a better idea of the real, full Indonesian experience, though, come here when you can afford to take 30 days off. It’s absolutely worth it.
Once you get into Russia, you’re in for a treat. Sadly, it’s the getting in part that can pose a problem. The visa application process is pretty invasive and I hear its ten times worse for American citizens.
If you’re here purely for travel, then your time in Russia will be interesting, to say the least. There’s a real mix of intrigue from the locals – ranging from incredibly interested to the occasionally suspicious and those who simply couldn’t give a damn. It varies from city to city, person to person and it’s part of the charm – nothing to worry about.
The landmarks are incredible, too. Bolshoi Theater, Red Square, St. Basil’s, Lenin’s Tomb, and the Kremlin are just a few of the treats awaiting you. Sadly, for the nomad, there are some infrastructural issues once again. The sheer size of the country makes working and moving around difficult and the lack of WiFi/workplaces was a real problem for me.
I didn’t expect to get much done on a quick tour through Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe in 2014. While the other places we’ve looked at so far (except India) surprised me, I knew this trip wouldn’t be one for working. Each country was about as difficult as the other from a work perspective but Tanzania and Zimbabwe were absolutely stunning none the less.
I would definitely recommend these places for travelers but the infrastructure simply isn’t there for nomads. Things were a little better in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, but barely enough to make work any easier. From a pure travel perspective, though, great times.
My first stop in Central/South America was the electric Mexico. I was lucky enough to have some local friends from my time in Spain and knew enough of the language to make daily living much easier. I’d only just started the nomad gig at the time as well, so I didn’t have much work coming in. Good job, too.
Reliable internet was basically confined to my mate’s house and even that was limited. We’re talking about six years since I was there so the internet situation may well have improved. But I’m pretty confident places like Vera Cruz haven’t changed all that much in the last decade, let alone since I was there.
You get the same problems in terms of the internet and places to work in many parts of Central/South America. Bolivia was tough and Peru a non-starter. Again, things will have improved in the major cities perhaps but I imagine that’s about it.
Once again, I don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing these countries for not providing me free internet. I’m not that naïve or arrogant to expect the first-class infrastructure everywhere I go. That said, it does surprise you sometimes which countries are difficult to work in. The power cuts in Laos and the lack of technology in Nepal are well documented. It’s when you go somewhere like Shanghai and find it tough to get stuff done you might get caught out. All part of the (mostly) fun.
Do you have questions? Do you need resources? Others? Email me here firstname.lastname@example.org I will do my very best to help.