Never Normal Newsletter

Best Places to Live, Bulgarian Delight, and Remote Government

Hello again!

Last week, writing about American remote workers moving to Europe, I included a list of The world’s most liveable cities for 2022 (compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit and shared by CNN).

Michael replied to point out how strange some of the choices on that list are. Cities like Calgary and Frankfurt. Cold. Expensive. Perhaps they’re good for business, but no fun for living.

He’s right.

Virtually all of these “best places to live” lists are the same. They almost always rank the most expensive cities in the world at the top of their lists. Cities in Australia, Austria, Canada, Switzerland, and Northern Europe.

The people compiling these lists assume you’re earning a fat paycheck from Citibank and spending your days in a high rise office building. They might as well title their lists:

Which cluster of soulless glass towers should you choose?

But what if you’re a location independent freelancer, remote worker, or entrepreneur, and you can earn the same income regardless of where you live?

What if you prioritize living a good life over having more work opportunities? Then where should you go?

One recent study suggested Moving to Spain could be good for your mental health.

I haven’t dug in to the methodology (I’m very suspicious of their ranking of Venezuela), but the results mostly align with my pre-existing beliefs, so I’m sharing the link here 😅

This part is hardly surprising:

Of the 34 countries involved in the study, the UK had the joint lowest mental health score, tying with South Africa.

“The US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland also came in the bottom 10 countries for overall mental wellbeing.”

Those are some of the richest countries in the world, and yet the people are not the happiest or the healthiest in the world. It’s almost as if what’s good for GDP isn’t (necessarily) good for you and me.

The corollary is that some of the places that traditionally rank lower in economic terms are actually great places to live, especially if you have some foreign source(s) of income.

Bulgarian Delight

Take Bulgaria for example. One of the poorest countries in Europe.

Until just a few years ago, the city of Bansko was practically unheard of outside of Bulgaria. And those who had heard of Bansko, knew it only as a winter sports destination.

But in the past five years Bansko has emerged as a digital nomad hotspot, thanks in large part to the efforts of Matthias Zeitler, co-founder of Coworking Bansko, and the Bansko Nomad Fest.

A big part of the appeal is the incredibly low cost of living. Apartments in Bansko rent for as little as 200 Euros per month. But Bansko is not just a cheap place to hang your hat.

I was chatting with fellow digital nomad dad, Andreas Wil Gerdes, last week. He makes a very compelling case for living in Bansko, at least for part of the year, especially if you have kids.

I’ve written a few times about living the nomad life with kids and I’m happy to see that these ideas are starting to catch on. The BBC recently covered The rise of digital nomad families:

Digital nomads used to be 20-somethings in beach bars. But now some families are taking the plunge, working and learning as they explore new places.

In the long-term they are examining home-schooling options for Luka, and they plan to manage continuity by staying close with a community of friends who also travel.

As I’ve said, this is a great opportunity to build a business or community:

So if someone invents an alternative version of Remote Year where 5-10 families with kids around the same age all travel from country to country, sign me up. Especially if you can bundle in English-speaking nurses and excellent nannies in each country (or traveling with us).

Some people are already working similar projects. The video above featuring Andreas and family is part of a series from The Family Workation.

The Family Workation is a coworking retreat for parents which includes day care and summer camp. It is designed to help parents travel – and spend quality time – with their children while working remotely. We take care all of the logistics, including childcare, allowing you to relax, recharge, and reconnect.

As more and more people shift to permanent remote work, I think these kinds of things will become very popular.

And make no mistake, remote work is here to stay. Even the government wants to work remotely now:

Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja said many federal employees now expect the work-life flexibility that telework allows, and that agency workers are leaving agencies that are enforcing strict office reentry policies — if not leaving government altogether.

That’s all for this week!

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I write occasional emails to share what I’m thinking, learning, and doing. It’s all related to the idea of breaking free from the “default plan” in life.

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