Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done. Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.
It’s something we all wonder when we start our nomadic lifestyle. Should we be travelling as much as possible and seeing the world? Should we be slowing down and really getting to grips with the language and culture? Is it too costly to constantly be on the move? How long do digital nomads stay in one place?
I polled the Digital Nomads Facebook Group asking them how often a digital nomad changes locations and found that 64% nomads in that group stay in each location for 3-6 months
After 15 years of nomadic living I’ve come to recognize that there are many reasons why we stay in one place for a certain amount of time. Below I want to discuss some of those reasons and why you might stay in one place longer or shorter than you first think.
What Do Digital Nomads Consider Before Changing Location
Of course that’s not the end of it. We can’t just assume that most digital nomads prefer to stay in one location for 3-6 months. There are so many different factors that go into changing location for me and my nomad friends say the same thing.
What is going on in your life at the time will change how long you stay in one location for. After we had our first child we stayed in one place for a few years! It just felt right for us at the time.
Below I will discuss the main factors that might affect how long you decide to stay in one place.
What You Do For Work Might Dictate How Long You Stay In One Place
I don’t think I’ve ever met two digital nomads with the same income streams. In Siem Reap we met a digital nomad family from Australia who were monetizing their Instagram feed as they documented their journey around the world.
But I’ve also made friends with corporate types that travel around to where ever their companies need them. They may spend a short amount of time in one country then a few months in another.
The truth is that your digital nomad income stream is going to be a deciding factor for how long you stay in each place. Have a look at how long these typical digital nomads stay in one place.
The Travel Blogger – 1 Month
If you rely on a travel blog to make money, you’re going to need to keep moving on to new locations and so your stay duration will be shorter. Perhaps about 1 month in each location.
You need enough time to get to know a place, to write about it and take those jaw dropping photos your readers love but a travel blog soon grows stale if every post is about the same place for months and months
The Remote Worker – 3-9 Months
If you’ve convinced your boss to let you shed the office and have finally become location independent, first of all, congratulations!
Most remote workers need to continue with some sort of regular office hours which, while better than having to go into the office everyday, still does limit the amount of moving they can do.
You know what changing countries is like, lots of preparation, then the actual traveling and add to that a few days to get settled in when you arrive. If you’re expected to be virtually present on Monday morning you just can’t change locations every month.
A slower pace makes a remote working digital nomad lifestyle much more manageable
The Freelancer – 1-3 Months
Freelancing online is one of the reasons that becoming a digital nomad has become so accessible to so many people. No longer do you need a company to allow you to work remotely, or to build your own business to work and travel. No, now all you need is a little writing experience and a laptop.
Freelancing gives you much more freedom than any of the other jobs above. Each assignment is an individual job in itself so you can work when you want. This is perfect for the digital nomad that wants to travel from country to country and see the world at a quicker pace.
When you’re traveling you just don’t take on any new work and once settled in to your latest destination you can take on some more work.
The Corporate Job – Variable, Typically > 1 Year
Although I do have one friend that spends his life on the road, he often stays in 3 countries for a day or two each week, having meetings with managers, that’s far from typical.
I’ve known many more digital nomads that are sent to each location for a year or two by their companies. Typically they refer to themselves as expats rather than digital nomads but I see that as a distinction without a difference.
The English Teacher – 1 Year
If you teach English as a foreign language (or any language) you will probably be bound to the school year. Schools usually don’t want to hire someone short term, preferring to hire a teacher for a full school year and many countries will only issue a work visa for a year
While language teaching companies such as English First may be a little more flexible, they would still much rather you stay in a location for a full year before moving on.
Cost Is Always A Deciding Factor For How Often You Travel
Cost is of course an important factor in how long you spend in each location. It goes without saying that traveling is expensive. Much more expensive than staying in one place.
The difference between moving to a new location each month and twice a year could be 11 flights! The cost an average digital nomad year might be less than $16,000 but traveling more often would more than double that!
When traveling to a new place you need to factor in more than just the flights. Visas, trains, taxis, hotels and rent are all going to take a toll on your wallet.
Digital nomads should always have a budget to stop the expenses getting out of hand. Budgeting how much you can afford before you decide to leave your current location is necessary.
Staying in one location can save you money, not only because it means you’ll spend less traveling. After a while in one location the urge to see the sights, try the local cuisine and buy souvenirs decreases. You also start to learn the most cost efficient ways to live there.
You find the little restaurants off the beaten track which are typically cheaper and where the locals go to eat.
What’s The Location Like?
If you decide to travel to London, you could easily spend years there and still have new experiences to be found all around you. But we once stayed on a small Thai island, Koh Bon, and were bored after a a day of doing nothing on the beach.
Every place you go will be different, in size, in attractions and just in how much you like it. There are many people that could easily stay on Koh Bon for months and still want more.
We enjoy the convenience of being in a city with all the shops and restaurants around us to keep us entertained for the long term. But after a long stint in a highly populated area, moving somewhere rural or by the coast for a few months is usually a welcome break.
While we were living in Beijing we often went to Phuket to recharge and unwind. It was the perfect place to sit on the beach and do nothing for a few months and once we started to get bored, Beijing was still there waiting for us.
Long Stay Digital Nomad Locations
This is highly subjective but this list represents the best digital nomad locations for long stays that either I or my nomadic friends have stayed in.
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
Perhaps the ultimate digital nomad city
- Medellin, Colombia
The most popular choice in South America
- Kathmandu, Nepal
With all the culture of Nepal and Mount Everest, it’s easy to stay here a while
- London, England
A city since Roman times, you can never run out of things to do and see there
- Bali, Indonesia
An island paradise, it’s easy to see why so many foreigners never leave
Visa Length – How Long Can You Stay?
Visa length is the real hard limit for nomads of how long we can stay anywhere. Once the visa is up, it’s time to move on. With the rise of long term digital nomad visas, which are usually for about 1 year, it’s becoming easier to stay in one place for longer.
In the past we were often constrained to the length of a travel visa which are typically between 30-90 days though they do vary. As digital nomad visas become more common I predict that being a slowmad will become more popular in the next few years.
- Hanoi, Vietnam
Long term visas here are easier than it’s South East Asia neighbors
- Lisbon, Portugal
The best place in Western Europe with a residency visa for digital nomads and retirees
- Cancun, Mexico
With 6 month tourist visas and a 4 year temporary residence visa, Mexico is a good choice for long stay nomads
- Cape Verde
An extendable 6 month visa makes this the perfect digital nomad island getaway
Check out this awesome resource for the best digital nomad visas available right now.
Age & Experience Might Mean A Slower Pace
When I was younger I was happy to travel to a different place each month, sleeping on buses and trains to reduce the cost. As I’ve gotten older however I’ve adopted a much slower pace in moving around from one country to the next.
Perhaps it’s only partly to do with age. I’ve already visited so many places that I don’t feel that burning desire or urgency to continuously move on.
Many new digital nomads , regardless of their age, will travel much more frequently than their more experienced counterparts.
After a few years of the digital nomad lifestyle you realize that the opportunity to see the next place is not going away (unless a global pandemic appears.)
You Might Want More Time In Each Place With A Family
The other reason I personally slowed down and started spending longer in each place was that I got married and had a son.
Traveling with a family is not only much more work but also much more expensive! Where I used to buy one ticket I’m now buying three!
But having a family doesn’t mean I had to give up my digital nomad lifestyle, instead it just made me want to slow down. Now I spend much longer in each location which gives me a chance to really get to know where I am, to learn some of the language and really get a good feel for each spot.
Final Thoughts What Type Of Nomad Are You?
Are you a digital nomad explorer that wants to see as much of the world as you can this year? Are you looking to have a digital nomad adventure for a couple of years and then go back home? Or are you a lifer that enjoys finding a good digital nomad city and staying there as long as you can before moving on?
I fall squarely in the last camp at this point of my digital nomad journey. Right now I’m in Tianjin China but I see a move to Thailand, Chiang Mai in near future and I’d like to settle in there for at least a year. After than, possibly somewhere in South America.
But the benefit of being a nomad is that this lifestyle has the flexibility to change if somewhere else appeals to us.