From the scooter-bustle of Bali, daytime Chiang Mai contrasts as a place of delivery trucks, local shops, temples, and nomads with heads down in their work. And then in the evening, when the cool air settles down from Suthep and the smoke from nearby rice-patty fires fades, the patio lights come on and the parties begin.
Like Canggu, Chiang Mai opened to me with a string of hangouts and events to meet fellow nomads. I’m staying at In The City, a cozy and helpful co-working space and hostel. It’s a great jumping-off point for getting to know the city.
Chiang Mai has been at the top of my must-visit nomad cities for a long time—not because I’ve had a personal hankering for its temple-lined old city, but because everyone I’ve come across who’s visited the place is effusive about it. Consistently at the top of NomadList’s rankings, I can see why. It’s friendly, fun, easy to get around and meet people, walkable and very affordable. There’s a much higher percentage of long-termers here in Thailand, people who have settled and made Chiang Mai home. It’s incredibly cheap to live here (apartment & coworking space for $150/month? Check!) with many events, hikes, and places to visit.
I’ve only been here a week but I’m loving it so far. A great vibe, great people and a productive space for me.
Tucked away in a quiet side street, behind an unassuming café, dozens—and on busy days, more than a hundred—fellow nomads crunch away on their laptops. Some are software developers. Some are marketers. Some are cryptocurrency bros. Many are starting a new business.
For most it’s a lifestyle choice. Life on the road is cheaper, with more freedom and a culture developed to the point that many communities surround newcomers to make the transition easy.
It’s also a sign of something else. It’s empowerment—for a specific kind of individual. It’s an extension of the “do what you love” movement, enabled by the privilege of mobility, education and digital economies.
The upsides are great. Having a group of fellow travelers who are open, interested to learn, ready for connection and already in a place of growth makes for a potent milieu. There’s something here, an energy and a possibility that’s just at the front edges of being explored. But, like many things being primarily explored by people like myself who come from Western privilege and education, I’m cautious and a little skeptical.
There’s a dark-grey underbelly. Local culture is largely ignored. Perhaps it’s a little more healthy than pure consumerist tourism, but still: when hundreds of by-local-standards wealthy remote workers descend on a place, it shifts the cultural dynamics. There’s also a very strong bro culture amongst many men that I find challenging (though there are many awake and aware men as well). And the largest mostly-undiscussed downside: living life as a nomad leaves traditional community structures in tatters. Human mobility requires a completely different approach to lasting relationships, something I’m curious to explore and learn more about as I continue my trip.
What’s here is real and interesting as a cultural phenomenon. Can it be extrapolated beyond the privileged, largely Western and white group who are taking advantage of it now? Philosophically it relates to many things—migration, travel, cultural interaction, privilege, exchange, the value of work and workers, how we calculate wealth. It’s definitely something new, definitely different, and definitely just the beginning.
It’s a bit of a cliche, I know… but despite the hordes of partiers who end up in nearby towns, Bali—specifically Canggu—is a great place to start a long trip. It’s cheap, accessible and there’s a great digital nomad community centred around Dojo Coworking. It’s been a great spot to get into the rhythms of nomadic travel and meet some fellow work-while-wandering friends.
The people are the best part. My first night in Canggu a fellow nomad took a few of us new arrivals around to his favourite hotspots. It was a great kickstart to meet some friends and find some regular haunts. As I’ve seen before in my travels, if on your first night in a new place someone local invites you out, it’s a good sign. Canggu is no exception. A small group of us from that first night ended up forming a core that would travel to nearby adventures on the weekends, grab meals together and generally commiserate.
Surprisingly for me, many of the people trying out the nomad lifestyle are in a similar life stage—30’s, had some success, trying something new. A beautifully large proportion of them are women. So far I’m the only full-time filmmaker but hopefully that’s just a matter of time.
The downside to Canggu is that it’s very, very touristy, and the prices & culture reflect the mostly-foreign population. So while it’s a great place to get my feet wet as a traveler it’s not a leap as far as I’d like. It’s more a tropical party-town Portland than a cultural excursion. So we’ll see where I’ll end up next…
One upside: Canggu is a convenient place to practice my scootering, in particularly my Darth Helmet impressions.
There’s so much that can be wrapped up in a single photo. For me, this image represents the end of many things and the start of something new; something I’ve been thinking of and longing after for most of my adult life.
Today I begin life as a nomad. I’ve sold all my belongings, packed a few momentos into boxes with gracious friends and family, and sized my physical entourage to fit the dimensions of two small backpacks. In every way I’ve downsized, outsourced, automated and rethought to bring my life to its most minimal essence: me and a few things, on the road.
I expect to spend at least a year traveling. My goal is to travel westward, starting in Indonesia and completing a circumnavigation back to Canada in time for Christmas. And after that… we’ll see. I’ve quietly updated this site to be a home for stories and photos from my travels along with news on my latest projects. I will edit my most recent film while I travel as well as starting projects as I go, though I leave the possibilities and opportunities open for what comes next.
Glad to have you here, and excited to see where this goes!