People often ask me which of the places I’ve lived I like best — so I thought it would be fun to do a roundup. This is totally subjective. Some of these places I was only in for 10 days, others for six months — but I’ll give you my thoughts anyway.
(Prepare for a long post with lots of photos — you may want to take a break while the page loads, then come back to read it).
Things I look for when choosing a place:
- comfortable weather
- simpatico people (or friends and “friends of friends”)
- arts & culture (especially indie movies)
- walkable neighborhoods (since I’m car-free)
- moderate cost of living (rent and food)
- beautiful surroundings (urban beauty and/or rural beauty)
Here are the places I’ll discuss. I’ve noted the places where I’ve lived for longer than one month.
- Oaxaca, Mexico (5 months)
- Mexico City
- Monterey, CA
- San Francisco, CA
- Los Angeles, CA
- San Diego, CA
- Portland, OR (1.5 months)
- Seattle, WA (6 months)
- Montpelier, VT
- Brattleboro, VT
- Tucson, AZ (5 months)
- Budapest, Hungary (3 months)
2013 – Mexico and California
I was in Oaxaca from May through Sept 2013. I began my digital nomadic life there because of my interest in learning more about Mexico, and because of its low cost of living. I chose it because I heard it there were fewer long-term retirees from the U.S., and fewer tourists than some other parts of Mexico.
- Weather – April and May are the hottest months there, so I wish I had started my time there in June instead of May. From June through September it’s really nice. The high altitude means the weather is fairly moderate. Highs usually around 80 degrees F.
- People – I found the locals to be very friendly. My Spanish conversation skills were (are) not so high, so I could only talk about the basics, but people were always super-nice and very helpful. It’s also easy to meet people from other countries there. There seem to be a mix of retirees and younger people – many of them working for social justice organizations, studying Spanish, or passing through while traveling. I met some people from the U.S., Canada, and Australia via the Oaxaca Lending Library (English language library), and the wonderful school for learning Spanish: Instituto Cultural Oaxaca. I got invited to parties and social gatherings and I eventually found someone to share a house with.
- Arts and culture – Oaxaca is full of interesting street art, museums, musical performances, and cinema. It’s great! Besides taking lots of photos of street art everywhere, and visiting interesting museums of archeology, history, and art, I also enjoyed hearing one of their favorite local singers, Lila Downs, at the beautiful theater: Teatro Macedonio Alcala.
- Walkability – Oaxaca is very walkable if you live in the city. I found it to be safe, and if it’s getting late and you don’t feel like walking, cabs are everywhere and it’s only about the equivalent of $3 to go almost anywhere in the city.
- Cost of living – It’s possible to pay high rent if you just go for the tourist places, but just keep looking and you’ll find great apartments with local prices that are very low (compared to the U.S.) Food is much cheaper (with the exception of imported items — don’t buy maple syrup or Ben and Jerry’s ice cream here!) You can easily live cheaply by eating at small local places and/or cooking at home with local ingredients (wonderful cheese and mole sauces are the speciality here).
- Beauty – Oaxaca is full of interesting colonial architecture and colorful Mexican buildings. The surrounding area has many beautiful sites to see, such as Hierve el Agua and the ruins of Monte Alban.
- Special places – In addition to the places every tourist goes, here are a two of my favorites.
For a different kind of indie movie experience, go to El Ateneo. At the time I was there (2013) it was in a small storefront, with just a few plastic chairs, a sofa, and a laptop hooked up to a projector on the wall. I’ve heard that it might be nomadic now — showing in different places around town. Look for their posters on the walls of coffee shops. There is nothing like seeing old classics, like Treasures of the Sierra Madre (in English with Spanish subtitles) in a small venue like this. They have innovative programming, showing films that have been milestones in film history. They even have popcorn, candy, coffee, soda, for a very small fee. The movies are free (donations accepted).
Once you’ve had enough Oaxacan food (if such a thing is possible), and you’re in the mood for deli food, go to Gourmand. My favorite thing was to order their excellent potato salad and mint iced tea, and spend a few hours with my laptop on their wi-fi. Friendly staff, great food.
For more about my time in Oaxaca, see my posts Living in Oaxaca: what it’s like for me, 16 things I’ve noticed about food in Oaxaca, and Street art in Oaxaca.
- Weather – The average high temperature in September is 73 degrees F — very comfortable.
- People – I stayed with two friendly hosts in a beautiful modern apartment that I booked on Airbnb. I purposely chose to stay with locals for my first visit to Mexico City, so I could ask for advice on getting around and what to see. They were very congenial and helpful. I also met the son of a couple of friends from Oaxaca, and that was really nice. We had coffee and talked about being technology workers, working on educational content. Other than those acquaintances, I didn’t have a lot of experience with local people there, since I was only there for 10 days. In general, Mexico is a very friendly place.
- Arts and culture – Mexico City is of course great for arts and culture, being a huge, cosmopolitan destination. One of the best sites is the Anthropology Museum — it’s huge and totally worth spending time in.
- Walkability – Condesa is a very walkable neighborhood, and the subway system there is also quite convenient and cheap. One downside — it’s not safe to hail a cab on the street. Tourists are warned to only call cabs, not hail them, because there are those who have fake cabs and rob tourists. The metro and bus system is so convenient, that I didn’t feel the need for a cab. And when it was time to go to the airport, my Airbnb hosts called a special car service for me to bring me there.
- Cost of living – It’s not quite as cheap as Oaxaca, but still it’s very reasonable for rent and food, compared to cities in the U.S. Like every place, you can control your costs by eating local food, and looking for the best deals on Airbnb.
- Beauty – This all depends on which neighborhoods you are in, like any big city. There are some beautiful parks and historic buildings, especially near the Anthropology Museum. A fun thing to do is take one of those double-decker bus tours that every big city has for tourists. It’s a nice way to get an overview of many places, so you can figure out where the safest neighborhoods are and decide where to go on foot later.
- Special places – My favorite place that most people don’t know about, is a museum of antique toys, called MUJAM. I went there because I heard that it’s also a great place for street art and murals. It was super-fun, and I got a private tour by the founder of the museum and his son (who organizes events with world-famous street artists).
I learned about it through an app called Urban Buddy, where you can ask volunteer locals for advice. The app doesn’t exists in that form any longer (sadly), but it was how I found this hidden gem. It was the highlight of my stay in Mexico City. You can follow MUJAM on Twitter — they are very active on social media and may be finding their way into guidebooks by now. Here’s my post about how I found the place and how much fun it was (with lots of photos): A Unique Place to See Street Art in Mexico City. And here are my pics on Flickr of the street art I saw there.
I was there for 4 weeks, during October 2013. I came to give a talk at a conference called Internet Librarian, and rather than pay for a hotel for a few days, I decided to book an Airbnb place for the whole month (for about the same amount of money).
- Weather – The month of October is beautiful, with perfectly comfortable, sunny weather. Just perfect.
- People – I didn’t meet local people other than my Airbnb host and her husband. They were super-nice and friendly, of course. Since I was there for a conference, I hung out with my librarian-colleagues during the conference week. I organized a dinner at a local restaurant for librarians interested in the topic of digital nomads (very fun).
- Arts and culture – Since I was preparing for my conference talk I didn’t take advantage of going to hear music or anything, but I did go to a few movies at the local independent theater.
- Walkability – Monterey is very walkable and bikeable. I rented a bike a few times, and other than that, walked everywhere. I used their bus system to go to a local mall and Whole Foods. I happened to fall and break my ankle when getting off a bus there, and that’s another story. Luckily it was at the end of the month, after my conference talk, and near the time when a friend from San Francisco was planning on coming down anyway. He drove me back to San Francisco in our shared rental car.
- Cost of living – Monterey is expensive, like any beautiful coastal tourist destination in California. For that reason I will probably never live there… but it’s nice to be able to spend a month.
- Beauty – The coastal area is super-beautiful! You can see and hear all manner of sea life — bird, sea lions, otters, and more. It’s absolutely beautiful.
- Special places – My favorite special place here is the bike path along the coast from downtown Monterey going towards the aquarium and beyond. You can rent a bicycle for a few hours and do this beautiful ride.
I’m lucky enough to have two people I can stay with when I visit the Bay area (one in Bernal Heights and one in Oakland). What can you say about San Francisco that everyone doesn’t already know? It’s great in all areas except price!
- Weather – The weather can be a bit too cool in the summer for my taste, but overall it’s a wonderful climate.
- Arts and culture – Obviously a mecca, with anything and everything you could want.
- Walkability – Very walkable, and depending on the neighborhood you might need to climb lots of hills. They have a new electric scooter rental program that my friend David loves — he recommends it highly.
- Cost of living – Rents are through the roof, which is why I don’t ever consider living here. I enjoy passing through from time to time to visit my friends.
- Beauty – Stunning, for both urban and nature scenes.
- Special places – Since I’m usually staying in Bernal Heights, I like to walk down to the Mission and visit Mission Pie. Yummy pie, wi-fi, and a good place to hang out with friends.
2014 – West Coast U.S. Cities
- Weather – I was there for the month of February and the weather was beautiful. Sunny and in the 70s.
- Arts and culture – Of course in LA, just about any kind of arts and culture is available. The only problem is the huge distances you need to cover to reach certain venues or events if you don’t have a car.
- Walkability – I lived in Echo Park in a cute 1930s-style bungalow (via Airbnb). It was very walkable within the neighborhood, with coffee shops, bookstore, a small local food market, a nice park with a pond, and frequent bus service to other neighborhoods. Some people do actually live without cars in LA, see: “Yes, I Am Car-Free in Los Angeles,” and for news of improvements to public transportation, see “L.A.’s Transit Revolution.”
- Cost of living – It’s expensive, but not as high as San Francisco. I will probably never live here for more than one month at a time.
- Beauty – Like any large urban area, there are different types of beauty, depending on where you are. I enjoyed the park nearby, and found it a very pleasant neighborhood to walk around in.
- Special places – I enjoyed a coffee shop called Chango. It had excellent food, strong wi-fi, and was near a small locally-grown foods market. Get to Chango early, because it gets crowded with people working on their laptops. It’s here that I worked every day on writing my book, Apps for Librarians – published in the fall of 2014.
- Weather – San Diego is one of the few places in the U.S. that has great weather year-round. It was totally comfortable, in the 70s when I was there in March.
- Walkability – I stayed in the downtown neighborhood known as East Village, in a condo that I rented via Airbnb. Within the downtown area, it was very walkable.
- Cost of living – San Diego has very high rents, so I will probably only visit for short periods of time and never live there.
- Beauty – I especially enjoyed being near the ocean. I spent a few days visiting with my ex-husband (it’s easy to be friends now, after a more than a decade apart), and hanging out on his sailboat in Chula Vista Harbor. Beautiful!
- Special places – The downtown branch of the San Diego Public Library is very nice and has a roof deck with a fabulous view of the area. Worth visiting! My favorite coffee shop for getting work done was Hart Lounge in the East Village.
- Weather – I flew from San Diego to Portland in mid-March, so that I could be there in time for an event called Pioneer Nation (for independent entrepreneurs). It was cold and rainy (in contrast to LA and San Diego), but by April it became very nice, with beautiful cherry blossoms everywhere and many sunny days.
- Arts and culture – There are many good arts and culture events: indie movie theaters, live music, and more.
- Walkability – Portland is very walkable, with good public transportation, and also very bike-able (mostly flat). I got a great deal on a rental bike for the whole six weeks I was there, by using Spinlister, a service where locals can rent bikes and outdoor equipment to people.
- Cost of living – Rents are significantly cheaper than other big U.S. cities, though the locals complain because rents have increased a lot. It sill seemed very reasonable to me (being from Boston).
- Beauty – Portland is very lush, with many trees and greenery everywhere. I especially enjoyed seeing all the pink blossoms in April.
- Special places – I enjoyed eating and using wi-fi at an eatery called Harlow. They have many healthy vegetarian options, and everything I tried there tasted great! The wi-fi worked well and there were large tables — it’s a great place.
I liked Seattle the best of all my west coast cities in 2014. I stayed for six months. I would like to spend more time there in the future. It’s a bit expensive, but there is so much to see and do — it’s worth it, if you can balance it with cheaper places during other times of year (and clear out for the winter).
- Weather – Seattle has really super weather between May and September. Most of the rain and clouds happen in the other half of the year. It was lovely while I was there, and rarely too hot or too cloudy.
- Arts and culture – Seattle has everything for arts and culture (similar to San Francisco). I enjoyed attending the Bumbershoot Arts and Music Festival, which includes fabulous acts from all over on both indoor and outdoor stages (held every Labor Day weekend). I also enjoyed several interesting author lectures at Town Hall Seattle – they have a really good series of events.
- Walkability – I was lucky to find a micro-apartment that offered a six-month lease (partially furnished) on Capitol Hill (a completely walkable neighborhood). The busses ran frequently and weren’t crowded, making it easy to visit other neighborhoods. I could walk to several coffee shops, public library, movie theaters, food coop, groceries store, and lots more. I didn’t use a bike in Seattle, mainly because I lived in a very hilly area (and I’m a wimp about biking steep hills). I probably got more exercise by walking up and down those hills anyway. Sometimes when you have a bike (in a flat area like Portland or Tucson) it’s too easy to just coast everywhere and not get much of a workout.
- Cost of living – The rents are a bit cheaper than Boston or LA, and much cheaper than San Francisco (of course), but it’s still a bit on the expensive side. Like Portland, locals are complaining about rising rents.
- Beauty – Seattle has fantastic natural beauty both in the city and the surrounding area. With views of both mountains and Puget Sound, lots of parks with giant trees, and a nice urban landscape, it’s a lovely place to be. The only downside is that with so much new construction everywhere, there are usually large, ugly cranes in many locations.
- Special places – One of my favorite places was Volunteer Park. It’s got huge trees, an old water tower that you can go to the top of for great views, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, a reservoir, a conservatory, and more. It’s a relaxing place to spend time in and close to several neighborhood coffee shops.
I also enjoyed working with my laptop in a coffee shop/bookstore called Ada’s Technical Books. It’s the ultimate nerdy/science-lover’s bookstore with books on engineering, math, science fiction, science books for kids, computers, and related topics. It’s fun to browse their hacking-related project kits, puzzles, games, gifts, and also to attend their interesting author series. The cafe has wonderful food, and the space has a high ceiling with lots of sunlight — it’s a great place to spend time and use wi-fi with your laptop. Their selection reminds me of the MIT Press Bookstore in Cambride, MA, with the added feature of a cafe.
I spent three weeks there in November/December 2014, staying with my dear friends who I’ve spent Thanksgiving with every year for the past 20 years. The whole group is vegetarian, so it’s perfect for me to always have a vegetarian Thanksgiving. I stayed with my friends there for three weeks instead of the usual few days around Thanksgiving, so that was nice.
- Weather – November/December is obviously very cold and snowy in Vermont. The snow is beautiful though, and the sky is a vivid blue. Montpelier is a very friendly small town that I enjoy visiting any time. My friends live on top of a very steep hill, so at times the icy conditions made the walk up and down that hill a bit treacherous.
- Arts and culture – There are some good options for arts and culture. I enjoyed going to an indie movie theater there (The Savoy), where I saw the documentary about Edward Snowden called Citizen Four. I also happened upon an Irish music jam in a local bagel shop that was really fun. Burlington is a 45-minute drive to the north and also has many cultural events (being a university town).
- Walkability – It’s very walkable within and near the downtown area. But to live there year-round, it would be easier with a car.
- Cost of living – It’s cheaper than Boston for apartment rentals, but not dramatically.
- Beauty – The town itself and the surrounding area is very beautiful and charming in that old New England way. I especially enjoy the drive between Montpelier and Burlington, with the small mountains and rolling hills.
- Special places – I have a favorite coffee shop in Montpelier. It’s called The North Branch Cafe. They have a huge tea selection (I prefer tea to coffee), and a very pleasant interior with free wi-fi, good food, and friendly staff. Also, be sure to check out Montpelier’s fantastic food co-op: Hunger Mountain. It’s one of the best co-ops I’ve been to in the U.S.
In early December I took the train from Montpelier to Brattleboro. I stayed there for about three weeks, mainly to be with my group of friends who have become family to me. We have celebrated Christmas together for over 20 years.
- Weather – I was there in the dead of winter and it was very cold, snowy, and icy. I was staying at my friend’s apartment while she was away and it was only a few blocks walk from downtown, so I carefully treaded through the snow and ice, down the hill to coffee shops for my work.
- Arts and culture – Brattleboro is similar to Montpelier, with a strong arts scene for a small town. I went to some movies at their downtown theater, The Latchis. I also saw a fabulous production of The Sound of Music, by the young actors of New England Youth Theatre (my friend is creative director). You should definitely check out a show when you are in Brattleboro.
Brattleboro has a gallery walk on the first Friday of every month, and I enjoyed that with a couple of friends when I was there.
- Walkability – It’s very walkable near the downtown area. Beyond that you would need a car. Since all I need is coffee shops and a food coop (they have a good one), it’s fine for me to live there without a car.
- Cost of living – Rents are cheaper than Boston, but not by a huge amount. It’s similar to Montpelier. Both are attractive, artsy, beautiful towns, so they don’t have the cheapest rents, especially in walkable areas.
- Beauty – Brattleboro has a very picturesque downtown, with old buildings and a view of small mountains of New Hampshire just across the Connecticut river. This year I also went hiking with my friends in the hills of New Hampshire, just across the river.
- Special places – My favorite place to eat a healthy meal is Superfresh (organic cafe with many vegetarian and vegan options). Get a seat that looks out the window over the river.
- Weather – Tucson had beautiful weather during my stay from January through May. It didn’t get too hot until the very end of May.
- People – I’ve never had so many strangers strike up conversations with me as I have in Tucson — and each person was very interesting. I made new friends there and totally enjoyed the friendliness of people. (They seem a bit more outgoing than people in Seattle or Boston).
- Arts and culture – Tucson has TONS of arts and culture. Being near the University of Arizona means there is a lot going on. There are many alternative arts and cultural events and some really good museums.
- Walkability – Certain neighborhoods are very walkable and bikeable. Armory Park, West University, Downtown, and nearby neighborhoods are the best. Their new streetcar doesn’t go very far yet and I could bike more quickly, but it’s a good start. The rest of Tucson is totally car-oriented.
- Cost of living – Prices are definitely lower than most U.S. cities, especially for rent, food, yoga classes, coin laundry, and public transportation. You can find great Mexican food in small family-style restaurants, for very reasonable prices. It’s also close enough to Mexico (1 hour drive) to go there for very cheap, high quality dental work. I went with a local friend to his checkup at Dental Laser in Nogales, just to experience and see the place where I might go in the future.
- Beauty – There are many beautiful nearby mountains and views. It’s great for local hikes. The desert has a unique kind of beauty. The sky seemed more blue here (to me) than other places I’ve lived in.
- Special places – Favorite coffee shop with fast wi-fi: Exo Roast. Favorite indie movie theaters: The Screening Room and The Loft Cinema.
Tucson is one of my favorite locations in the U.S. I will go back again for January through May of 2016. Combined people, price, beauty, and culture makes it my kind of place. Read more in my post Living in Tucson without a Car.
June 2015: A month of visiting friends
In June I visited friends and relatives in San Francisco, Seattle, Omaha, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve already discussed San Francisco and Seattle, and I’ll save the other locations for a future post.
I’m currently living in Budapest. I arrived on July 1, and I’m leaving at the end of September. I really like Budapest. It’s very interesting, beautiful, full of history, arts, and culture — with a great blend of old and new. It’s also affordable. I will write about Budapest after I leave here, so watch for that as the topic of a future post.
So that’s my summary of places I’ve spent time in since I became a digital nomad. My favorites so far are Tucson and Budapest — they each combine all the factors of low prices plus everything I like in a city — and they are completely different from each other.
My next stop will be Chiang Mai, Thailand — I’ll report on that later. And there are many more places I would like to experience for a few months at a time. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to live this way!
I was in Mexico City for 10 days in September of 2013. It was my first experience with staying in an apartment on Airbnb (and it was great). I was in a very nice neighborhood, Condesa, with lots of sidewalk cafes and parks.