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My girlfriend visited me for a week in Medellín and I felt a great responsibility to maximize her vacation experience. She had come all the way from Germany to visit, so I made sure that she experienced Medellín in all its glory. I lived for four months in Medellín and I crammed all the touristy activities in one week because my main focus was work and I didn’t want to do the activities twice.
I did extensive research and wrote the perfect travel itinerary in advance. It was important for me to find a good mix of action, culture and nature. The only activity outside of Medellín is the day trip to Guatape. I slightly tweaked the original itinerary based on my experience.
The easiest option to get to Medellín is to take one of the white airport taxis lined up in front of the airport. The white taxis are bigger and more comfortable than the small yellow taxis and the ride costs $24. There are also cheaper options like taking a bus or a shared taxi.
Colombia is known for its excellent coffee and coffee is still a central element of the economy. As a hardcore coffee drinker, I wanted to know more about the production process of the black gold. Most coffee farms are in the countryside of Medellín and you have to drive for a couple of hours to get there. I was delighted when I found out that there is also a coffee farm in Sabaneta. Urbania Café organizes the tour. They empower coffee farmers by helping them to produce higher quality coffee. I booked the Coffee – From the seed to the cup tour on Airbnb experiences. As the name suggests, the tour covers the whole process of coffee cultivation and production and it takes 4 hours.
You can take the Metro to La Estrella Metro station and take a taxi from there to the coffee farm. You can also walk from the station. An American woman was the only other person taking the tour. Our guide Julian explained the harvest, the post-harvest, the milling, the roasting, the sourcing and the different forms of coffee preparation. He also explained the coffee business and the coffee market. We finished the tour with a coffee tasting.
$33 + Metro/taxi fare
Comuna San Javier better known as Comuna 13 is one of sixteen districts in Medellín. When tourists talk about Comuna 13, they usually mean the small area around the outdoor escalators on the hills. Once considered the most dangerous neighborhood of Medellín it is now a major tourist attraction because of its graffiti and its view over the city. There is plenty of security and police presence and I felt safe during the day. I recommend taking a free walking tour for a better understanding of the dark history of the district.
We did a free walking tour organized by Zippy Tour. We met at 10 AM in front of the San Javier Metro station and walked to the escalators with our local guide John. He talked about the history of Comuna 13, his personal story and the graffiti. We went to the viewpoint at the end of the escalators and our tour ended soon afterward. He suggested an appropriate tip and I recommend to be generous.
We wanted to go paragliding next, so we walked back to San Javier Metro station. We had booked a flight with paragliding medellín. They operate in San Felix just outside of Medellín and you have to take the Metrocable to get there. We took the Metrocable from San Javier Metro station to the last station called La Aurora. The Metrocable ride is an experience in itself. We had arranged a shuttle from La Aurora station with paragliding medellín. The owner Ruben aka “Ruben Fly” greeted us warmly and drove us in his van to his office. From there we had to walk up a steep hill to the launch site. The whole operation was very professional: We were insured and we had to sign a form and watch a safety video on an iPad.
It was my first time paragliding and I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out that paragliding is more relaxed than I thought. For the take-off, I had to run down the hill and we took off before reaching the abyss. The pilot did all the work and all I had to do was enjoy the view over Bello, a suburb of Medellín. My girlfriend and I had gotten walkie-talkies, so we chatted for a little bit. We circled up and down for 20 minutes and then we landed on the back side of the starting spot. I can’t imagine a better place for paragliding than the Andes. The experience was exciting and surreal at the same time. It’s like discovering a whole new world and it felt similar to scuba diving for the first time. We walked down to the office where Ruben drove us back to La Aurora Metro station. From there we took the Metrocable again. You don’t have to pay for a ride at San Javier Metro station because the Metro and the Metrocable belong to the same system.
Walking Tour tip $X + Paragliding $52 + Paragliding Shuttle $8 + Metro fare
Three sights might seem excessive for one day, but they are all in the same area and it’s easy to hail a taxi to get to the next one. You have to pay only the taxi fare because all three sights are free.
The Memory House Museum is dedicated to the victims of the armed conflict in Medellín. It’s a good place to get a better understanding of the different layers of the conflict and to learn about the perspective of the victims and their families. The Memory House Museum does a great job of explaining the timeline of the conflict in Medellín. I recommend starting with the Memory House Museum and doing more lighthearted activities afterward.
I was surprised that I didn’t see any tourists when we visited Botero Park. The center has a somewhat sketchy reputation, but during the day I felt safe. Botero Park is an outside park that displays 23 sculptures by Botero. I like his sculptures more than his paintings, so I enjoyed walking around and taking pictures. If you want to see a collection of his paintings you have to visit the Museum of Antioquia next to the park. After 30 minutes we took a taxi to Jardín Botánico.
I noticed people sitting on blankets on the grass in Jardin Botánico, which I hadn’t seen before in Medellín. In Europe, it’s common to see small groups of friends (mostly students) and families sitting on the grass and enjoying the sun in public parks. I didn’t sit down because the Iguanas caught my attention. After an hour of Iguana watching, we walked to the nearby Universidad metro station (Line A) and headed back home.
Guatape is most famous for its giant rock overlooking the surrounding lake scenery. The ride from Medellín to Guatape takes around 2 hours and therefore you should plan a whole day for the excursion. You can take a public bus or pay for a private shuttle to get there. Both options didn’t appeal to me, so I booked a guided bus tour with Tours Guatape. Normally, I am not a big fan of guided bus tours, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The tour was a bargain and cost $30. The biggest advantage is that you see more than just the rock. You also visit the towns Guatape, Marinilla and Peñol. Breakfast and lunch are also included in the price. My tour included a boat trip, but they have removed it from the program. A competitor called Viaje Medellín offers a Guatape tour with a boat trip for $45.
I recommend visiting Guatape during the week because the Rock of Guatapé is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Antioquia. A local family owns the rock and you have to pay an entrance fee of $6 to climb the stairs to the top. The view from the rock is well worth the $6 and a must for outdoor enthusiasts.
Guided Bus Tour $30 + Entrance fee $6
The Pablo Escobar Tour is the only controversial item on the itinerary and I can understand people who feel uneasy about the current glorification of Pablo Escobar. I have to cringe at the thought of a group of clueless American and European backpackers doing a sensationalist Pablo Escobar Tour and buying a Pablo Escobar t-shirt afterward. But Pablo Escobar is also part of Medellíns history and you have to understand the past to understand the massive transformation of Medellín. I recommend visiting the Memory House Museum before to understand the negative consequences of his actions. It’s a balancing act and I was careful to choose a legitimate guide.
I booked the Pablo Escobar, the complete true story tour on Airbnb Experiences. The guide Camila was friendly and knowledgeable. The tour took three hours and had three stops: the Monaco building in Medellín, the cathedral jail in Envigado and his grave in Itagüí. The Monaco building was recently demolished to make room for a memorial. My highlight was the visit to the cathedral jail, which Pablo Escobar build for himself. The prison overlooked the city and had a helipad. The last stop was Escobar’s cemetery in Itagüí. I felt a bit uncomfortable about visiting the grave of a mass murderer. The grave itself wasn’t interesting, but the graveyard was impressive. It’s a large meadow with a beautiful view.
My girlfriend and I were the only ones taking the tour. The tour included a driver who picked us up at our apartment in the morning and dropped us of afterward. Camila presented us with different viewpoints about events so that we could get a better picture of the conflict. The American perspective is different from the Colombian one. And the narco perspective is different from the perspective of the government.
The most convenient option is to order a white taxi for the ride back to the airport. You can buy souvenirs like Colombian coffee and mugs at the small Juan Valdez Café inside the Airport.
If you don’t like an item of the itinerary you can replace it with one of the following items:
Cerro de Las Tres Cruces: A moderate hike with a great view of the city. Don’t go late in the day to avoid getting robbed.
Ciclovia: Avenida Poblado closes between 7 am and 1 pm every Sunday and opens for cyclists, runners and the general public.
Museo de Antioquia: The most renowned museum in Medellín with a large Botero section.
Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín: Underrated museum for modern art.
Parque Arví: A popular nature preserve accessible by Metrocable.
Pueblito Paisa: A small replica town on Cerro Nutibara. The view from Cerro Nutibara is more impressive than the town.
Check out Catalyst Weekly if you want to find out about events during your stay.
Most people stay either in Laureles or in Poblado and I have written a comparison of both neighborhoods on Quora. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment during the week. Our apartment was on the 16th floor and had an incredible view. Our building was right next to Calle 70 in Laureles. A similar apartment in Europe or the States would have been out of reach for us. In the afternoons, we strolled around Medellín and I showed my girlfriend my favorite cafés (Café Naturalia, Café Revolución 2 and Café Zeppelin) and restaurants (Naan, Opera Pizza and Uno más Uno) in Laureles.
I researched the current prices carefully, but they can change slightly based on exchange rate fluctuations and price changes. The prices have already gone up since I did the activities last year. Medellín is still great value for money and I recommend to spend at least a week to get a feel for the city.
It’s tempting to cram as many activities and cities as possible into your itinerary to maximize your experience, but fast travel comes at the expense of depth. In particular, Americans tend to travel fast. I think it’s because they have less vacation than Europeans and therefore they want to make the most of their limited time. I tried to find a balance between action and relaxation. The itinerary has two full-day activities (Comuna 13/Guatape + Paragliding) and three more relaxed half-day activities. Now you know everything you need to know about traveling to Medellín for one week.
The rest is up to you,
I decided to finish my four-months stay in Medellín with a week-long meditation retreat. I had been planning to go on a retreat for a long time and I figured why not do it in Colombia. I also like to work towards a goal and use it as motivation. After a quick google search, it became clear that La Casa de Loto was the only option for a retreat in Medellín. I didn’t mind because the program looked well rounded and the retreat had great reviews. The small group size of the retreat also appealed to me. La Casa de Loto is located in El Carmen de Viboral, which is an 80 minutes ride away from Medellín and a 45 minutes ride away from the José María Córdova International Airport.
You can book a private room ($660 per week) or a shared room ($450 per week). The monthly rate is lower. I booked a shared room by email. You can also use a booking platform like BookYogaRetreats. Additionally, I booked a driver, who picked me up in Laureles. I was the only one booking the service so I wasn’t able to share the costs and I had to pay the whole price ($45). Transportation from Poblado is a little cheaper. You can also hire a driver on your own, but he might get lost because the road to La Casa de Loto is easy to miss. A couple of retreaters came late because their driver got lost. Another option is to take a shared taxi from the San Diego Mall to the airport and book a driver from there.
I arrived in the afternoon and got greeted by Pema, the German founder of the retreat. He has an extraordinary life story, which led him from a struggle with addiction and depression in Berlin to living in Tibetan monasteries for over two years before finally coming to Colombia. He instantly made an impression on me with his centered and compassionate demeanor and I knew I was in good hands during the retreat. We went inside to the living room, where other retreaters were already gathering. I spent the first 30 minutes filling out a questionnaire, booking an Ayurveda Massage and choosing my meal plan (chicken or vegetarian). Usually, retreats offer only vegetarian food and almost everyone in our group chose the vegetarian option.
The afternoon was the last chance to talk to other retreaters before the silence started. I spoke briefly to a social worker from the Netherlands, who was traveling around Latin America with her boyfriend. Our group consisted of 7 retreaters (3 men and 4 women), a yoga teacher and Pema. The yoga teacher was from Spain and took part in a teacher-in-residence program of La Casa de Loto. I shared my room with two other young guys. Both were in their twenties and I talked to them for the first time after the retreat. One of them was a British guy who had worked for Goldman Sachs and was using his free time in between jobs for this retreat. The other one was German. He had finished his studies in Australia recently and was about to start a finance job in Australia.
I noticed the clean air and the calmness in comparison with the constant noise pollution of cars and street vendors in Medellín. The silence was only broken by an occasional dog bark or a call by a donkey. The altitude of El Carmen de Viboral is higher than Medellín and therefore the temperature was lower and I wore a sweater instead of a t-shirt.
The finca itself was also impressive. The living room terrace overlooking the surrounding valley was the centerpiece of the finca. I also liked the natural style of the interior and my room was much nicer than expected. Four well-trained dogs and two cats were milling around and added to the relaxed atmosphere. I felt at home right away and was more than happy to spend a week in this environment.
We went to the dojo for our first guided meditation and the introduction. The dojo is at the bottom of the valley and you have to walk downwards for a couple of minutes. I liked the separation of the dojo and the finca because the walk to the dojo became part of the daily ritual. Pema guided a meditation, explained the schedule to us and answered remaining questions about the retreat. He recommended meditating between 24 and 48 minutes per session depending on our experience level. I am still a beginner, so I decided to meditate for 24 minutes per session. His talk centered around the elephant mind and the monkey mind (picture below). His daily talks focused on different aspects of Buddhism.
We followed the meditation schedule from Monday to Wednesday. The program consisted of yoga in the morning and several meditation sessions throughout the day. The days started at 6 AM and ended at 10 PM. The daily schedule was as follows:
|6 AM||Silent Meditation|
|8 AM||Walking Meditation|
|9 AM||Guided Yoga|
|11 AM||Silent Meditation|
|2 PM||Walking Meditation|
|3 PM||Guided Analytical Meditation|
|4 PM||Tea Time|
|6 PM||Silent Meditation|
|8 PM||Walking Meditation|
|10 PM||Lights out|
Despite living together, we spent most of the day in solitude. The silent meditations and the walking meditations were our responsibility and we could do them wherever we felt most comfortable. I meditated in my room in the morning and the evening and during the day I went to the dojo. Other retreaters also mediated in the living room, on the terrace and in the garden. The guided yoga and meditation sessions and the meals were the only group activities. During the guided yoga and meditation sessions it was allowed to speak and ask questions.
Thursday was different in that reading and long walks were banned to reduce stimulation and to facilitate introspection. The schedule was reduced to the meals and the guided meditation and Pema recommended to skip the yoga session in the morning. Pema also told us to meditate without the fixed times and without a timer. I enjoyed the missing schedule and I was able to let go of the checklist mentality, which I had brought with me from everyday life. As a result, I was more present during the day.
After the Thursday break, we went back to following the regular meditation schedule. My presence from Thursday carried over to Friday and I felt great. My Ayurvedic massage was scheduled for the afternoon and I went to a small hut in the garden for the massage. The masseur Carlos had a strong presence and radiated positive energy. The massage was great and ended with a short explanation of my Ayurvedic body type.
Pema revoked the silence after the guided meditation and I was a little taken aback by the sudden eruption of chatter. It seemed like everyone was happy to talk again after one week of silence. In the evening, I got to know the other retreaters and we shared our experiences. I think a meditation retreat attracts open-minded people and I liked everyone.
A final guided meditation with Pema replaced the yoga session in the morning and the retreat was over after lunch. I left La Casa de Loto with a great sense of gratitude and inner peace. One of the retreaters gave me a ride back to Medellín, where I was greeted by the noise and air pollution of city life.
I read The Miracle of Mindfulness and You are here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh during the retreat. I like his clear and personal writing style. The books complemented the daily meditation sessions and the talks by Pema.
I think the peaceful environment of La Casa de Loto is perfect for a retreat. The combination of cats and dogs, healthy food and scenic countryside has a calming effect. I also liked the personal responsibility of following the schedule. Some people in our group took the meditation schedule very serious and others were less committed and skipped a couple of meditation sessions. I think it’s nice that people can meditate at their own pace.
I noticed how I slowed down throughout the week, mentally and physically. I didn’t get caught up in random thoughts as often, and when I got caught up, I noticed quickly and shifted my focus back to the present moment. I had never experienced a mental clarity like this before and the effect probably would have been even stronger if I had stayed longer than one week. I also moved slower and more deliberate. I noticed this the most during my walking meditations, where I slowed down with each passing day.
The daily talks by Pema were my highlight of the retreat. I liked his straightforward teaching style and his thought-provoking impulses. He was able to make Buddhist concepts like gratitude and forgiveness more relatable. He also gave practical advice on how to implement mindfulness in your daily life. He answered general questions during the talks and he was also available for personal questions after the talks. I had a short conversation with him and he was able to give me a new perspective on my problem. The retreat was the highlight of my four months stay in Colombia in terms of personal growth.
Our group consisted of meditation beginners, but I think the retreat is also valuable for advanced practitioners. The retreat was a great starting point for my spiritual journey. I think the teacher, the program and the environment are the most important elements of a retreat. Pema is a great teacher and he created a balanced program in a peaceful environment and therefore I can recommend La Casa de Loto wholeheartedly. Now you know everything you need to know about La Casa de Loto. The rest is up to you,
During my second week in Colombia, I went to an ATM in Poblado to withdraw cash and an error message appeared on the screen: “Contact your bank.” I tried my second credit card, but the same error message appeared again. I tried the other ATMs in the bank, but they told me to contact my bank as well. Now I was getting worried because I didn’t have any cash on me and I needed to take a taxi to Laureles. I sat down nearby the bank to think and overheard two American backpackers saying that they can’t withdraw any money. The error message had let me to believe that my cards weren’t working, but now I started to hope that the ATMs weren’t working. I looked up the nearest bank to try my luck again and found one five minutes down the road. The ATM was slow, but after a couple of seconds it finally spat out my money.
Traveling is a great way to test the versatility of your processes and to detect hidden weaknesses. You also gain local knowledge about the places you visit and general knowledge about personal organizing. I recommend to formalize the learning process and to write down the learnings of your travels. As you optimize your systems and processes traveling becomes more convenient over time.
I used CompartoApto to find a cheap room for the first three months. The room was in San Joaquin near Calle 70, so I had to walk for twenty minutes every day to get to La Casa Redonda. The room was basic and didn’t have a window and a desk. After three months I had enough and moved to a nicer Airbnb room near La Casa Redonda for the last three weeks. I paid only slightly more and had a much better experience. Next time, I am not going to take the cheapest room I can find.
Most Colombians use Bancolombia. I went there two times to transfer money. You only need your passport, cash and the account info of the recipient. You should also bring enough time because there is always a long line of people.
I brought a second credit card as a backup. When I wanted to use it, I couldn’t remember the PIN and it became worthless. Live and learn.
I think the most common mistake among travelers is to pack too heavy. In particular inexperienced travelers carry around too much gear to prepare for all eventualities. More experienced travelers tend to pack light. I didn’t pack too much stuff, but my gear still had optimization potential.
I had brought a cheap adaptor from Germany. It worked well, but it wasn’t able to carry the weight of any charger. Therefore I had to build a foundation (e.g., my backpack) to prevent the charger from falling when I used the adaptor horizontally. For my next trip, I am going to buy a better adaptor.
I switched from a Lenovo laptop to a MacBook Air two years ago and never looked back. I love the thin and lightweight metal body, the long battery life and the sleek design. I carried my Mac from my apartment to La Casa Redonda and back every day. I didn’t feel comfortable carrying around such an expensive item daily and I think I am going to buy a cheaper Chromebook for my next trip. You can get a decent one for $300.
Medellín and the surrounding area have great hiking trails, which made me wish I had packed my hiking boots. I hadn’t brought my hiking shoes because they take up a lot of space. I considered buying a pair of hiking shoes in Medellín, but they were too expensive and too small. Next time, I am going to check out the new Decathlon Store in Envigado. I love Decathlon and I was pumped when I found out that they operate in Colombia.
For whatever reason, I brought my German SIM card with me to Colombia. I never knew where to put it and I ended up losing it. Next time I am going to leave my German SIM card at home.
I was certain that I had canceled the contract for my German SIM card, but apparently, I hadn’t. Next time I am going to double check all contracts.
I also realized that I have a couple of services, where I need my German phone number to access new messages (PIN) and to make transfers (TAN). Next time, I am going to leave my old phone with my German number for this purpose at my parent’s place.
You can buy a SIM card on every corner in Medellín, but you have to register it as well. You need a Colombian ID or a Cedula Extranjera for the registration. I tried to avoid the registering process and ended up wasting a lot of time. Next time, I am going to register my SIM Card with a Colombian friend straight away.
Before I went to Medellín, I had worked for a couple of months in a co-working space in Germany. I enjoyed working among other people, but there wasn’t an overlap between my work and the work of my coworkers. The space was also a little too corporate for my taste. I wanted to give coworking another chance in Colombia and went to La Casa Redonda for a trial day. I liked the positive and creative vibe so much that I signed up the same day. Living near a great coworking space is a top priority for me from now on.
Living in Medellín for four months was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned a lot about my preferences and priorities and as a side effect, I also discovered weaknesses in my personal organization. I am looking forward to tweaking my personal organization for my next trip. Now you know everything you need to know about traveling as a stress test for your personal organization. The rest is up to you,
Travel bloggers often post photos of themselves laying on a tropical beach and working on their MacBook while sipping a cocktail. This image always amuses me because I can’t imagine a more unproductive setup for work than sitting on a beach chair in the tropical heat. Traveling is sexy, but the truth is that beforehand you have to handle a lot of boring and tedious bullshit to streamline your life for travel. Fewer people talk about this topic because it’s less sexy than tropical beaches.
Before you do something, you have to ask yourself why you are doing it. Autonomy is one of my core values and being able to live wherever I want is an important goal in this stage of my life. Long-term contracts and clutter stand in the way of this goal and therefore I avoid them.
Over time we unconsciously take on more and more obligations in our everyday life. By themselves, they seem insignificant, but in aggregate they become a problem. These responsibilities take up mental space and distract us from more important things like doing meaningful work. We accumulate this enormous pile of responsibilities until we reach a point where we feel paralyzed without knowing why.
Before I moved to Medellín for four months last August, I had to take care of a long checklist of organizational tasks in Germany. The first item on the list was to terminate my lease in Cologne. Terminating the lease was the easy part. The contracts with service providers were more complicated to sort out. I was the main tenant and therefore I had signed all contracts (internet, gas, electricity, radio license fee, etc.) and some of them had ridiculously long cancelation periods. With the help of my flatmate, I was able to figure the mess out and I felt relieved when I was free of any obligations for the flat.
Before I canceled the lease and all the associated contracts, I wasn’t even aware of the burden of these obligations. I am not going to sign up as a main tenant any time soon. It’s much more convenient to be a subtenant with limited responsibility. I also sign short term contracts whenever possible. For example, I have a monthly cell phone plan instead of a yearly plan.
Every move is an excellent opportunity to declutter. I had lived only three and a half years in Cologne, but I had managed to accumulate a bunch of shit during this time. I got rid of everything non-essential and moved the rest to my parents’ house. I also got rid of several subscriptions (Amazon Prime, Dropbox, Spotify, etc.) and I challenged myself to buy only three things in 2019 to avoid more clutter. Decluttering is on everyone’s to-do-list, but nobody ends up doing it. In everyday life it doesn’t seem urgent enough and traveling gives you a good reason to declutter.
Most people wait for the perfect opportunity to travel the world, but this magical moment unfortunately never comes. You have to take matters into your hand and create a situation where you have enough freedom to travel. You need time and money to travel, but you also need to reduce your obligations at home. Don’t use these obligations as an excuse to stay home. Now you know everything you need to know about streamlining your life for travel. The rest is up to you,
I have written my master thesis in economic geography about the locational choices of location independent entrepreneurs and therefore I consider myself a little bit of an expert in this domain. Most people have a job or business which requires them to live in a specific location. Therefore they don’t ask themselves the question: ‘Which is the perfect city for me to live in?’. I work online, which gives me maximal flexibility and therefore it’s a question I have been pondering about for a long time. Your personal preferences and priorities change over time and therefore the question is never truly settled.
The world is a pretty big place; therefore you have many cities to choose from. The abundance of options leads to three popular strategies to reduce the complexity of the locational decision-making process: most people live where they grew up, where they studied or where they found their first job. I don’t like this cookie-cutter strategy, because it doesn’t really account for your personal preferences and is rather reactive.
For example, I grew up in a small village near Hamburg with a population of fewer than 2000 people. While I do like the village, I certainly don’t think it’s the perfect location for me. My parents just happen to live there and I think I should make my own locational decision. I hope this article gives you some ideas on how to approach your locational choice.
There are four necessary conditions for cities to be attractive for a wide range of location independent entrepreneurs.
1) A good internet connection. This one is the most important condition and you could argue the only real necessary condition. Without a fast and reliable internet connection you can’t earn money online. It’s the main limiting factor. The minimum requirements for internet speed depend on your line of work. A video editor needs faster internet than a copywriter.
2) Low cost of living. If you can choose your location, why would you waste money on expensive cities like Tokio when you can life in an affordable city like Berlin and save money doing so. As you progress in your entrepreneurial journey your budget and options increase.
3) A high quality of life. While the internet connection and cost of living are hard factors, quality of life is a soft factor and therefore hard to measure. It consists of multiple factors like a wide range of leisure opportunities, nature and good weather. The quality of life of a city is dependent on your personal preferences. For example, a surfer will be more happy in Barcelona than Madrid. However, there are some preferences like warm weather, which are shared by a large group of people.
4) A community of location independent entrepreneurs. It’s easier and more fun to work in a community of like-minded folks instead of being a lone fighter. Other people can motivate you, hold you accountable, give new impulses and direct feedback, among other things. Your chances of success are much higher in this kind of environment. A large presence of location independent entrepreneurs is also an indicator for a good infrastructure, a low cost of living and a high quality of life.
This list isn’t exhaustive by any measure, but it covers the most important factors. Safety is another critical factor, but you can include it into the quality of life. Another factor is the national visa policy. If you can’t enter a country or stay for a significant amount of time, it’s also an eliminating factor. In general, this shouldn’t be a problem with an American or a European passport though.
There are certain cities, which check all the criteria on the list and therefore they are populated by a large community of entrepreneurs. Obviously, there is some variance between them, but they all fulfill the criteria to a certain degree. Some examples:
South East Asia (Chiang Mai, Ho-Chi-Minh-City (Saigon), Ubud)
Europe (Barcelona, Berlin)
South America (Buenos Aires, Medellín)
Entrepreneurs prefer cities with an existing community of entrepreneurs and therefore it’s a self-accelerating process. South-East Asia is the largest hub for entrepreneurs, in large part due to the combination of high quality of living and low cost of living.
The job isn’t the only limiting factor for most people. Many people stay in their home city, because of the proximity to family and friends. I think this factor is overrated. If you are location independent, you can invite your family and friends to your to your new location and visit them at theirs. Additionally, you can make new friends, wherever you go. I think quality time is more important than the frequency of meetings. Wherever I live, I like to come home for Christmas and during this time I focus on family and friends and slack off workwise.
Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp and other technologies make it also fairly easy to keep in touch with people. If proximity to family and friends is important to you, you can limit your locational options to cities with a good connection to your home city or a specific region like Europe. For instance, a flight from Barcelona to Hamburg takes a meekly 2:50 hours and therefore it’s easy to visit for a weekend.
Let’s say I want to live in one of the entrepreneur hubs, which fulfill all four necessary conditions. This eliminates most cities and limits the options to a good dozen options. I am going to present some sufficient conditions and my personal preferences using the example of Barcelona.
I really like Spanish and therefore one of my life goals is to speak perfect Spanish (Level C2) before I turn 30. I can only achieve this goal by immersing myself into a Spanish speaking country. This limits my options to the Spanish entrepreneurial hubs Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Medellín. Barcelona has two official languages: Spanish and Catalan. In my experience, it’s not necessary to speak Catalan, because everybody speaks Spanish and all the street signs and public information are provided in both languages.
Barcelona is located at the Mediterranean Sea and has mild winters and hot summers and little fluctuation in temperature. The average annual temperature is 70.2 °F (21.2 °C) and pleasant sea breezes cool you down. Therefore it doesn’t have extremely hot summers like Madrid, where everybody is leaving during the summer.
The most popular beach is the Playa de la Barceloneta. It was artificially created for the Olympic games in 1992 and renewed since then. It can be crowded in the summer, but you can always walk further along the promenade to the calmer Playa de la Nova Icaria. The beach itself isn’t that spectacular, but the proximity to the city center is unique. The beach is long, clean and has public showers and toilets. Many sellers (Mojitos, beer, water, blankets, etc.) are walking across the beach, but they are less intrusive than in other countries and they concentrate in the most touristic areas of the beach.
Barcelona is located at the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula near the French border. The Balearic Islands are nearby and easy to visit via plane or ferry.
The Barcelona International Airport is linked to the city center with Renfe train and Aerobus. The Airport is connected to almost all of Europe and a couple of destinations in South America (Bogotá, Lima, Sáo Paolo). With a stopover in Madrid, you can reach even more destinations in South America. Like I mentioned before, a flight between Barcelona and Hamburg takes 2:50 hours and therefore it’s easy for me to visit family and friends.
Barcelona has a strong brand and is an international household name, which attracts world-class talent to the city. It hosts more concerts than you can possibly attend and a series of popular annual festivals, most notably Primavera Sound and the Sónar festival. Personally, I like to chill at the Monday jam sessions in the Jamboree. You may prefer Nasty Mondays in Apollo, the self-proclaimed biggest rock ‘n’ roll party in Europe. Whatever floats your boat. Check out city magazine TimeOut Barcelona for current activities and events.
One of the main reasons I prefer living in Europe over the States is the architecture. Barcelona has a nice mix of gothic and modern architecture. You can feel the influence of Gaudí in large parts of the city. My favorite is the Park Güell in Grácia. I like the relaxed vibe of Grácia in general.
Barcelona has a grid plan. This is a result of the Cerdá Plan from 1859. Ildefons Cerdà was a founding father of urbanization and he focused on the needs of the inhabitants. He emphasized mobility and communication. The streets were optimized for pedestrians and streetcars and large green spaces were part of the concept. This is visible to this day. Barcelona has plenty of dope parks, where you can chill year-round. One of my favorites is the Parc de la Ciutadella, which never fails to inspire me and get my creative juice flowing.
Barcelona is perfect for watching professional sports and doing sports. FC Barcelona is one of the best international football clubs, but the tickets are somewhat hard to get and overpriced for non-members. But you should attend a game at least once, preferably El Clasico against Real Madrid. Camp Nou is largest stadium in Europe with a capacity of 100,000. If you want to attend football games regularly, you can go to the second team RCD Espanyol Barcelona, where tickets are much cheaper.
Personally, I am more excited about the Basketball division of FC Barcelona. It’s one of the leading Clubs in Spain and the Spanish league is arguably the best basketball league in Europe and the second best league worldwide after the NBA. You can read more about the underlying reasons for the success of Spanish basketball here. I went to a quarterfinal of the Spanish playoffs in Barcelona and paid 18$ (15€).
Barcelona is also perfect for doing sports. The long beach promenade lends itself to a run in the morning to start the day. If you prefer to run in a group, you can join the free organized midnight runs (different times). There is also a nice swimming pool at the beach called Club Natació Barcelona. It’s rather pricey, but that means you can swim uninterrupted. A day ticket costs $15 (13€) and the membership prices depend on your age. There is a discount for residents of Barcelona. There is also a free outdoor gym at the beach with showers. It’s highly popular and therefore you should come early. I like to put in some reps after my morning run.
Barcelona is young, creative, entrepreneurial, international and has an energizing vibe. In other words, it’s the perfect environment for me. If you want to create something meaningful, you have to move to a vibrant city, it’s easy as that. If you want to build a unicorn, by all means, go to Silicon Valley. If you want to grow a successful business, go to Barcelona or Berlin. The living quality is higher and the price tag much lower there. Spain tries to attract entrepreneurs and therefore offers an entrepreneur visa. Having said that, doing business in Spain is still fairly bureaucratic.
Barcelona has an awesome metro/bus system, which is complemented by a streetcar and a bike scheme called Bicing. You save 50% when you buy tenner tickets instead of single tickets. You need an address in Barcelona for a Bicing registration and the annual fee is $55 (47€). The rental is free up to 30 minutes and afterward costs $0,86 (0,74€) per 30 Minutes for the first 2 hours. You have to pick up and return the bicycle at one of the many stations. You can also go the traditional route and buy a bicycle, but bike sharing is more convenient for minimalists. One item less you have to worry about when you move to another city.
Spain is part of the European Union, which makes it a very convenient location for European citizens like me. The European Union has three major advantages for me:
1. I can live in Spain without a visa and I am allowed to work without any form of bureaucracy (massive advantage).
2. Spain has the same currency as Germany (Euro). Since 2002, I don’t have to bother converting Deutsche Mark to Pesetas.
3. My German health insurance covers Spain.
While Barcelona has its own unique culture (Catalan, Castellers, Fideua, etc.), I am referring to Spanish culture in general. I enjoy three parts of Spanish culture in particular:
1. Lifestyle: Spaniards know how to live and they are known for their relaxed way of life (“No vivas para trabajar, trabaja para vivir.”) They prefer a healthy work-life balance and they take their time to meet family and friends. Life is not rushed like in Germany and people prefer to do things unhasty. While this can be a nightmare doing business, it’s rather enjoyable to live at a slower pace and the reduced stress is a nice side-effect.
2. Food: The Mediterranean diet is healthy and delicious. It’s rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, and whole grains and low in red meat, and free of refined foods and added sugars. It’s not a coincidence that Mediterranean people live longer. I choose a grilled fish with a hint of lemon over a greasy cheeseburger, all day every day.
3. Socializing: As a result of the healthy work-life balance people tend to meet more often. Life takes place outside in bars, restaurants and parks, which is also linked to the excellent weather.
It’s not all fun and games in Barcelona. It also has two major drawbacks. No city is perfect in all aspects. It’s about finding a city with maximal upside and minimal downside. Unfortunately, I am not the only one who likes Barcelona and therefore Barcelona is overrun by tourist hordes and dreadful stack parties. This is especially true for the center and Barceloneta. You can avoid this dilemma by avoiding these areas and living in a less touristy area like Grácia. But this way you are missing out on most of the nightlife and the beach. A possible solution is to live in Barceloneta first and move to Grácia when you want some rest from the tourist madness. Another option would be to live in a non-touristy barrio near the beach like Raval.
The other downside is the adventure aspect. While Barcelona has its own culture, it’s not that different from the rest of Europe. I am thinking about solving this problem with a second home base in Buenos Aires or Medellín. That way I have the best of both worlds.
The eleven aspects I listed are sufficient conditions. It’s important to find out your own preferences and priorities and choose your location accordingly. I value entrepreneurial people, warm weather, Spanish and a laid-back and positive lifestyle. Therefore, Barcelona is the perfect fit for me. Barcelona is a global city, but still affordable unlike London, New York City and Paris. Your location impacts your chances of success and your level of happiness. Therefore, it’s an important life decision.
The topics of global cities, entrepreneurial hubs and locational choices fascinate me and I am going to give you some book recommendations if you want to go down the rabbit hole of economic geography and cities:
You should at least check out the first book. It’s a controversial must-read for urban planning. Richard Florida coined the term Creative Class and described their locational choices and the implications for cities. I don’t agree with the scope of his argument, but he challenges common knowledge and his writing game is on point. I always try to get an edge and the locational choice becomes increasingly important in a globalized world.
On first sight, you only need an internet connection as an online entrepreneur. However, your chances increase tenfold when you surround yourself with a network of other entrepreneurs and live in a city, which supports your lifestyle. In my experience, productivity is directly related to happiness. I have to write a book about this shit at some point.
Most people reduce their locational options based on the proximity to family, friends and job opportunities. As an online entrepreneur, you expand your range of options, which is always a good thing. The internet enabled this global lifestyle and for sure I am taking advantage of this relatively new opportunity. The fact that you can move wherever you want, whenever you want is highly appealing to me. It’s time to jump on the bandwagon, the internet isn’t going away anytime soon. Now you know everything you need to know about locational choices.
The rest is up to you,
1. How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood
2. The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent
3. The New Geography of Jobs
4. The Rise of the Creative Class-Revisited: Revised and Expanded
5. Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life
Europe is a popular travel destination, because of its concentration of highly diverse cultures, safety level and the overall standard of living. The only perceived downside is the associated price tag. The article debunks this common misconception and shows how to travel in Europe at a bargain.
The budget is the most important part of your travel planning and the limiting factor for the length of your stay, accommodation, and mode of transport. For my example I am going to assume a twentysomething with a limited budget, let’s call him Larry. Larry is 25 and lives in Miami. He graduates soon and wants to take a 3-month break before starting his career as an entry-level accountant. It’s a once in a lifetime experience for him. His max. budget for the entire Eurotrip is $6900, that’s $2300 per month. The number is a bit arbitrary, but I am going to use it for my example anyway. That’s a lot of money, but not totally out of reach if you save up for a couple of months. You should take a look at the current Dollar/Euro exchange rate as well.
The longer you stay in a destination, the cheaper it gets, because of reduced travel fare, discounted accommodation and more local knowledge about cheap supermarkets, etc. With this strategy, you can stretch your budget for a longer trip. Having said that, the point of traveling is experiencing different places, so it’s all about finding a healthy balance between traveling and staying put. Personally, I prefer to stay at least for a week in any destination to get a feel for the place.
Larry travels during summer (June, July, August). The main upside is the good weather and the downside is the higher price level and big crowds because of the holiday season in Europe.
The route depends on your budget and personal preferences (party, culture, nature, beach, etc.) Larry wants a mix of all four aspects. He wants to focus on the Iberian Peninsula, which consists of Portugal and Spain. He specifically wants to party for one week in Ibiza and learn surfing in southern Portugal. Additionally, he wants to visit the desert of Morocco for some variety. He also wants to visit the UK and do some city hopping in continental Europe. Based on this preferences he created a travel itinerary.
You can stay up to 90 days in the Schengen Area without a visa as an American. Larry takes advantage of this rule and stays for 90 days in Europe. Larry prefers to fly, but he is also willing to take the bus or train under the condition that the ride is direct and three hours max.
The main costs are transportation, activities, accommodation, food and insurance. Before you plan your trip, you have to think about what is essential for you and in which aspects you are willing to compromise. For example, I am happy to fly without extra baggage, but I am not willing to live outside of the city center.
The first thing you need is a flight to Europe. I recommend using Skyscanner, Google Flights and Kayak. The maps function of Google Flights is pure gold because you can check all possible connections from your airport. There are a million articles on how to find cheap flights, so I am not bothering with adding another one to the list. Generally speaking, flights from the East Coast (Chicago, NYC, Boston, etc.) tend to be cheaper. But there are also good deals to be had in cities like Miami and L.A. My advice is to take the cheapest flight to anywhere in Europe and take it from there. Ryanair has a maps function as well. There are four main means of transportation around Europe: Air travel, bus, carsharing and train.
Europe has several low-budget airlines, most notably the no-frills airline Ryanair. The base price for Ryanair tickets is exceptionally low but can increase rapidly when you add “extras” like baggage. My recommendation is that you limit your baggage to one hand baggage, which is included in the airfare. You may think that one piece of hand baggage isn’t enough, but it’s key to saving money and I will explain how to do it later on. This has the added bonus that you don’t have to wait for baggage at arrival and that you don’t look like a clueless backpacker straight away.
Ryanair has changed the rules for priority boarding, which is a new requirement for taking the (big) hand baggage on board with you. I don’t care about the early boarding, but I like to leave the airport ASAP and therefore I am happy to pay six bucks for priority boarding in most cases. It’s the only extra I splurge on. Ryanair wants to reduce downtime and therefore they handle baggage faster than other airlines, so you don’t have to wait forever when you don’t pay for priority boarding either.
If you fly with a friend, you have to pay extra for sitting next to each other. Another thing you have to keep in mind is that Ryanair often uses small airports in the periphery, so you have to add the additional cost of transportation to the city center. Ryanair also has a zero-tolerance policy and high fees for excess baggage and other violations; it’s part of the business model.
To sum it up, if the price is your only criteria for the flight and you don’t care about comfort, Ryanair is the way to go. Comfort is overrated on short distance flights anyway. The only thing I enjoy about flying Ryanair is the inability to recline your seat so that nobody can invade my precious legroom.
Let me give you a personal example; I paid 70 bucks round trip for the following Ryanair flights:
16.05.2018, 20:50; Cologne – Barcelona (El Prat)
30.05.2018, 18:15; Barcelona (El Prat) – Cologne
Both flights fall on a Wednesday and have a convenient departure time in the evening. I didn’t book any extras in this case. Both airports are located near the city center, which I always check beforehand. Ryanair is notorious for getting creative with airport nomenclature (best example: Airport “Paris” Vatry, 93 miles from central Paris).
Unlike the States, Europe has a good train network and an offer called Eurail Global Pass (12-27 years) for Non-Europeans, which allows you to take trains all over the whole continent. The pass costs $1365 for three months and you can save extra money for accommodation by taking night trains. Trains are the way to go if you want maximal flexibility and to cover a lot of ground.
Car sharing is a thing in Europe, which makes sense in light of the high gas prices. The most popular option is BlaBlaCar, where drivers offer free seats in exchange for a small fee. You can book national as well as cross-national rides. There is obviously no regular schedule, but sometimes you can find a good deal.
The cheapest and most uncomfortable mode of transportation is by bus. The buses stop at various cities to pick up passengers and therefore bus rides tend to be long. It’s a sound option for short distances though. Buses are also the perfect option for the hardcore frugal traveler. Flixbus and Eurolines are the two biggest bus companies in Europe.
I mainly use low-budget flights and trains, but you can mix it up a little bit. The good part is that you don’t have to cross-reference local booking platforms, you can simply use an aggregator like GoEuro in combination with Ryanair.
Let’s come back to Larry’s Eurotrip. Larry’s roundtrip flight from Miami to Madrid costs $900. His itinerary in Europe consists of 11 countries and 18 different cities. He is covering ground with 14 flights, two bus rides, one train ride and a rental car. Apparently, Larry isn’t that concerned about his carbon footprint. After the holiday, Larry the accountant calculates a rough estimate of his expenses to check if he stuck to his budget. Let’s say each trip costs $50 on average. That makes $850 for the flights and rides plus rent for the car. The car costs $800, but he shares it with three cool cats he met in Lisbon, so it’s only $200 for him. That’s $1950 in total for transport:
|→ Air Europa flight||8:35 hours|
|→ Train Renfe AVE||2:56 hours|
|Sevilla $$||4 Days|
|→ Bus Alsa||3:00 hours|
|Granada $$||3 Days|
|→ Bus Alsa Supa to Malaga||1:45 hours|
|→ Ryanair flight||1:20 hours|
|Ibiza $$$||1 Week|
|→ Ryanair flight||1:05 hours|
|Barcelona $$||1 week|
|→ Ryanair flight||2:25 hours|
|Marrakech $||1 Week|
|→ Ryanair flight||3:50 hours|
|Dublin $$||3 days|
|→ Ryanair flight||1:10 hours|
|Edinburgh $$||3 Days|
|→ Ryanair flight||1:25 hours|
|London $$$||3 Days|
|→ Ryanair flight||1:45 hours|
|Copenhagen $$$||3 days|
|→ Ryanair flight||1:50 hours|
|Budapest $||1 week|
|→ Ryanair flight||1:10 hours|
|Prague $||1 week|
|→ Ryanair flight||1:45 hours|
|Rom $$$||3 days|
|→ Ryanair flight||2:05 hours|
|Berlin $$||1 week|
|→ Ryanair flight||3:45 hours|
|Lisbon $$||4 days|
|→ Car Rental||2:50 hours|
|Lagos $$||4 days|
|→ Car Rental||0:40 hours|
|Carrapateira $$||2 weeks|
|→ Car Rental to Faro||1:20 hours|
|→ Ryanair flight||1:10 hours|
|Porto $||4 days|
|→ Ryanair flight||1:15 hours|
|→ Air Europa flight||9:20 hours|
Larry spent money on the following activities:
|Party for a week in Ibiza (including accommodation and food)||$800|
|Surf lessons for two weeks (including accommodation and food)||$700|
|Four days trip to the Sahara (including accommodation and food)||$300|
|Four organized pub crawls with an average fee of $15||$60|
|Four bike rentals for $10 each||$40|
|Eight free walking tours ($5 tip)||$40|
|Six museums, with an average entry fee of $5||$30|
Let’s say Larry mainly cooked in the hostels with the odd kebap thrown into the mix. Cooking has the advantage that it’s also a cheap social activity. He limited his alcohol consumption to three beers max, which he drunk while pregaming in the Hostel. He also always carried a water bottle and snacks, so he didn’t have to buy overpriced food. His food is covered in Ibiza, Carrapateira and on the Sahara expedition. The remaining 65 days he spends 20$ on average on food and drinks. That’s $1300 for food and drinks in total.
My general rule is to book hostels when I am going solo and to book Airbnb apartments when I am traveling with other people because you can split the costs. The two biggest booking platforms are Hostelworld and Hostelbookers, which is part of the former. Hostels range from dingy shacks to hotellike design hostels. I tend to go for somewhere in between, so I usually settle for upper mid-priced hostels. My main criteria are location and a decent locker (bring a lock). Normally I check both platforms and occasionally you get the best deal when you book directly. The older I get, the more I tend to book Airbnb apartments though.
Couchsurfing is a free alternative. As the name suggests, it’s a community of people who offer a spare couch/bed for travelers. It’s supposed to be for short stays and I think it would be a class move to offer your own coach in return and thank your host individually by cooking a meal or something along the lines.
Larry stayed in upper mid-priced hostels and spent $18 on average per night. That’s $1170 for 65 nights.
This topic is extremely unsexy, so I am going to keep it short. You don’t have to insure your stuff, but it’s nice to be prepared for medical emergencies because a freak accident can happen anywhere. Insurance doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg and World Nomads Travel Insurance is popular among backpackers. The pricing is straightforward and Larry paid $255 for his standard plan.
Don’t go overboard with your equipment. It’s not like you are climbing Mount Everest or some shit. Do it like the navy and Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS). Your space is limited by your hand baggage anyway. No item costs more than 70 bucks, so you have peace of mind, which is priceless. Some dope shit in no particular order, JP approved:
Larry had been traveling before, so he only bought a backpack for $50, a microfiber travel towel for $20 and earplugs for $5. That’s $75 in total for gear.
This catch-all includes metros, taxis, streetcars, entrance fees and lost items among other things. Larry spent $2 per day on average for random shit like this. That’s $180 in total. It makes sense to include a buffer for this expenses and be mindful of them.
Let’s calculate Larry’s total cost:
Total cost $6900
He maxed out his budget, but didn’t overspend a dime.
Larry didn’t want to compromise on transport and activities, but he saved money on things he didn’t care for:
1. He didn’t buy pointless souvenirs.
2. He pregamed in the hostels and didn’t buy alcohol in the clubs.
3. He cooked with other people.
4. He didn’t bring extra baggage.
5. He split the money for a rental car.
6. He stayed at least three days in every location.
7. He stayed longer in cheap cities.
There are three common mistakes I see time and time again, which make traveling more stressful than it should be:
1. Travelers are packing to much stuff. It’s a pain to carry a heavy load around and packing takes for ages.
2. Travelers carry too much valuable stuff with them. It takes mental energy to worry about your shit. Leave your expensive SLR at home. While the general crime level is low in Europe, petty crime like pickpocketing is common in tourist cities like Barcelona.
3. Travelers visit too many places in a short time span. This is especially true for Americans. You can check a lot of places off your bucket list this way, but it doesn’t make for an enriching travel experience. Short timed travel is also more stressful regarding transportation because you move around a lot and have a stricter schedule.
Avoid these pitfalls and you are good to go.
This article is only a starting point to give you some ideas. Don’t overcomplicate the planning and start playing around with Skyscanner, Ryanair and GoEuro. Be like Larry. He didn’t live like a baller, but he had a reasonable level of comfort.
The truth is you can always go cheaper if you are willing to sacrifice convenience (stopovers, bad hostel locations, etc.) But that’s not for me. Personally, I like to save money as much as the next guy, but I am not willing to compromise on a central accommodation, no matter what. Instead, consider cheaper cities like Budapest, Porto and Berlin, if you have a small budget. This list of cheap cities is a good starting point.
If you want to get pumped up for your next Eurotrip, read the classic “Vagabonding.”
Now you know everything you need to know about budget travel in Europe.
The rest is up to you,