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Julian Power

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The power of home bases

The concept of digital nomadism fascinates me. However, it’s not a satisfying lifestyle for myself. I like the digital part, which means you work online and thus you are location independent, but I don’t like the implication of nomadism, which means you are moving around constantly. Semantically speaking, digital nomadism could mean that it gives you the option to move around, which you don’t have to exercise. But in my understanding you are also exercising this option as a digital nomad; otherwise, you would be location independent. I would call myself location independent, but not a digital nomad. 


I plan on living in different cities for an extended period (3-12 months) to find suitable home bases. A home base is a compromise between stationary living and constant traveling. You live alternatively in two or three cities. For example, six months in Barcelona and six months in Medellín each year. I think it’s also a good option for Digital Nomads, who have traveled the globe for a couple of years and got travel fatigue. Matthew Karsten has written an excellent article on this topic and his own transformation.


I have already found my first home base in Europe: Barcelona. Now I am looking for another home base in Latin America for some variety. My first destination is Medellín, where I am staying for four months. I am also interested in other destination like Bocas del Toro (Panama), Córdoba (Argentina),  Florianópolis (Brazil) and Lima (Peru). You could argue that these travel pattern also falls under the umbrella of digital nomadism, but I associate the term with shorter stays.

Entrepreneurial hubs

As a bootstrapped online entrepreneur, you are looking for a destination with a combination of low cost of living, high quality of life and a good internet connection. Many cities meet these criteria. Let’s say you additionally want to work in a city with an existing community of entrepreneurs, because of the network effects. This criterion narrows the lists of potential cities down dramatically. These cities become more and more attractive over time because of compounding network effects:

  1. Barcelona (Europe)
  2. Berlin (Europe)
  3. Buenos Aires (South America)
  4. Chiang Mai (South East Asia)
  5. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) (South East Asia)
  6. Medellín (South America)
  7. Ubud (South East Asia)


The choice of cities is somewhat subjective, but I exclusively considered cities with a critical mass of online entrepreneurs. Some cities with a sizeable number of online entrepreneurs like Budapest, Canggu and Lisbon didn’t make the cut because they didn’t reach a critical mass of online entrepreneurs in absolute terms.

Stationary living vs. traveling

It surprises me that most jobs still require you to work in the same office every day. Increased employee satisfaction, decreased commuting time, a larger talent pool and no office lease are good arguments to shut down your office for good and switch to remote work. The main counter-arguments against remote work adhere to hindered communication and lower productivity. I do think that it takes extra effort to work in a remote work (clear communication, periodic company retreats, strong company culture, etc.), but the extra effort is rewarded with great flexibility in the long term.

A few companies like Automattic and Buffer embrace remote work and try new ways of collaboration, but the majority of firms holds on to traditional offices. The current job market dictates that you have to live a stationary life in most cases. As an online entrepreneur you are freed from these spatial limitations and new questions arise: In which city do I want to live? How long do I want to live there? Digital Nomads take this newfound freedom to the extreme and hop from one location to another and travel constantly.

I don’t think constant traveling is a sustainable lifestyle for your entire life, but I do think it can be an exciting phase when you are young. You have fewer responsibilities and you can see the world and experience different cultures. You also have to travel to test different home bases.


It’s not for me though, because when I travel longer than two weeks, I feel a growing sense of emptiness. I have backpacked one month with a friend in Thailand and one month on my own in Costa Rica and Panama and I experienced this feeling both times. I enjoy the experience of getting to know new cool places and people, but at the same time, it feels shallow. The richness and deepness of your travel experience depend on yourself, but whatever you do, at the end of the day, you are just a short-term visitor. While it feels like you are active because of your constant movement, you are still a passive consumer of local sights and attractions.

Another factor is the backpacking crowd. Backpackers tend to be interesting, positive and open, but often they lack drive and direction. That’s the whole point of backpacking after all; it’s a  form of escapism. Chilling at the beach in Ko Phi Phi and slurping cocktails is the opposite of getting shit done.

My favorite destination in Thailand was Ko Tao, where I got my PADI Open Water Diver certification. It was the only time during my month in Thailand when I was doing shit. I need some form of mission. My mission in Medellín is to improve my Spanish and to learn Salsa. I prefer to travel for short periods and then I don’t work at all. I schedule these trips after I hit an important milestone because it’s nice to execute towards a goal. The vacation is the reward for your grind and therefore you can appreciate it more. For example, I went to Porto for a long weekend after submitting my master thesis.

It’s also difficult to feel a sense of community and develop meaningful connections with other people when you stay in each location short-term. Modern technology facilitates communication, but nothing beats weekly face time with friends. Constant traveling also impacts your productivity level in two dimensions. It’s harder to stick to your work habits and routines and you have to find a good working environment with reliable internet in each new location.


Home bases

The stationary life is dull and constant traveling is exhaustive. What alternative do you have? The answer is home bases. They are the perfect compromise in that you get the best of both worlds while eliminating the downsides. You can be part of a community in your home bases and you can optimize your workspace while enjoying different cities at the same time. Each city has different strengths and weaknesses and with two or three cities you can cover all your needs. It’s unlikely that you can cover all your needs with one city.

Barcelona is my favorite city by far, but it lacks a sense of adventure because it’s located in Europe. I can balance this downside by having another home base in Medellin, which offers a different culture and climate. This way I am living partly in an international metropolis by the Mediterranean Sea and partly in the Andes Mountains. The location of both cities allows me to take short trips to other cities in Europe and Latin America.

How to choose home bases?

I have already recommended books, which help you find your perfect city, in my Barcelona article:
1. The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent
2. The New Geography of Jobs
3. The Rise of the Creative Class-Revisited: Revised and Expanded
4. Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important  Decision of Your Life

Conclusion

You don’t have to go from one extreme (stationary living) to the other (digital nomadism). It’s a false dualism. Instead, you can choose the middle way, which is home bases. Now you know everything you need to know about choosing home bases.
The rest is up to you,

 

 

Recommended books

1. The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent
2. The New Geography of Jobs
3. The Rise of the Creative Class-Revisited: Revised and Expanded
4. Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important  Decision of Your Life