When choosing a destination as a digital nomad in the Balkans, it’s important to consider factors such as cost of living, internet connectivity, local cuisine, and leisure activities that align with your interests. It can also be helpful to research whether there is already a strong community of digital nomads in the area, as this can provide support and make it easier to connect with others who are also living and working remotely.
In this episode of The New Nomad podcast, Anna Maria Kochanska joins Allen Koski and Chris Nam to discuss the beauty of the Balkan region and the benefits of the digital nomad lifestyle. They share their own experiences traveling and living as digital nomads, and emphasize the importance of helping others and using travel as a means of personal growth. Tune in to learn more about the unique insights and perspectives that can be gained through the digital nomad experience, and be inspired to travel and pay it forward.
From the episode
Anna Maria Kochanska:
What You’ll Learn
Welcome to the New Nomad Podcast, the podcast that supports digital workers, remote workers, digital nomads, and folks who are just interested in exploring the world. We have a great guest today, Anna Maria Kochanska. Anna has traveled to the Balkans and Barcelona, among other locations. She’s been a noted speaker at different presentations and is here today to talk about how she consults with people who want to live the nomadic lifestyle and helps companies with inquiries. I’m excited to talk to her about it. Chris, I’m going to bring in my co-host today, Chris Nam. Chris, one thing I’ve noticed about digital nomads is that there doesn’t seem to be much of an age difference. You and I are two completely different generations, but it seems like it’s more about a desire to experience new things. What stands out to you when you look at digital nomad communities?
Yeah, for sure. Good to be here as a co-host. I think a lot of digital nomads are motivated by the idea of experiencing new things and getting out of their own culture. I’m living outside of my home country of South Korea and have lived in four different countries. My dad wanted something new, he was a surgeon in Korea and hated the life so he got into business and golf. That’s the expat life. But I think the same goes for digital nomads, a lot of people I’ve talked to lately say they want to get out of their boring lives, whether it’s an office job, school, or after graduation. They want to experience new things, try new food. When I travel, I like to plan all my trips around food. There’s so much to see and experience even just a two-hour car ride away. I think that’s the motivation for a lot of people.
That’s tremendous. Of course, we’ll bring Anna in. A two-hour car ride in the Balkans can take you to a completely different country, depending on the border crossing. Anna, you’ve been a speaker on the future of work and the ideal lifestyle. Can you give a quick overview of your travels and what brought you to the remote work lifestyle? I know you’ve been having some exciting conversations about Mostar and Dubrovnik in the Balkans.
Sure, how are you all doing? Well, I’ve been a nomad since 2017. I started working remotely long before the COVID pandemic. I worked with pharmaceutical companies, helping them with digital transformation. But eventually, I also moved more into remote work and consulting about remote work, helping companies adapt to it. As I was traveling as a nomad myself, I also started speaking about remote work and digital nomadism. A couple of organizations contacted me, wanting to bring remote workers to their countries and asked for my help in adapting their strategies to make it happen. That all came together around 2020. I spent a lot of time in the Balkans, including Mostar and Dubrovnik, and have been speaking about remote work and digital nomadism in those areas.
I mean, when I visited the Balkans and this was just before the pandemic. First off, the quality of life was tremendous. The cost of living is low, and I didn’t have any trouble finding WiFi or people to speak with and meet. When Chris talks about food, it’s fantastic. I also enjoy going to places that brew beer, etc. There’s no shortage of that, too. So what do you think, if you’re looking and consulting with an organization, do you suggest they first find a place that might have digital nomad visas and then look at it? Or do they mostly look at what the quality of life is first and then figure out how to get people to work there? What’s your typical suggestion for folks if I’m listening to your podcast and I say, “You know what, I do want to come work in the Balkans, but I don’t know where in the Balkans and how should I evaluate? Other than I would reach out to you for direction. But your thoughts?”
Like individual people and individual needs, right? Yeah, I think it’s really about knowing what we’re actually looking for, because we always talk about these nomad destinations like everyone is the same, which is not really true. And I think that now, especially after COVID, this group of nomads and remote workers is growing so much that different subgroups of people have started to appear, like different types of nomads and they have different needs. So I would start by asking, “What do we actually need?” Like for example, someone in their 20s who is single may have different needs than someone who has a family or is in their 40s and maybe has a couple. The questions they ask when they ask about a destination are the same. For instance, lots of single males will ask me, “How is the dating scene?” And that seems to be a big factor when they decide if they should go somewhere or not. But maybe it’s not something that matters if you’re traveling with a family or with a group of friends and you already have that social aspect covered. Then it’s not something you wonder about.
So first thing for me is like you need to really know what you’re looking for. And I don’t see that awareness in a lot of nomads yet. Usually, the question is very general. It’s is that a good place for nomads? So then my question would be, what kind of nomads? What actually is important to you, right? You should ask me first, and then I can guide you properly. Because for instance, when we talk about the Balkans, the kinds of nomads that could like Croatia is not the same as the nomad that could like Albania or Bosnia and Herzegovina. Because we are, for instance, in Bosnia, which is a destination for adventure sports and outdoor activities. So if someone appreciates that, they’ll have a great time. But it’s not the place for vegetarians, for instance. We have to take all that into account. If you really care about Mediterranean life and you want to have beaches and sailing, then Croatia is right for you. But it’s important to know what actually matters to you apart from the cost of living, because that’s probably quite good in all of those countries, maybe with Croatia being more westernized and with better infrastructure, but also with higher costs compared to maybe less developed countries. So there is that. And of course, if you go somewhere where there is already a big group of nomads, then it’s probably because there is already a big group of nomads, and it’s easier to maybe even without knowing what to look for, to maybe get some of your needs met because already lots of people checked that place. But in the Balkans, to be honest, we don’t really have yet like in any place, a big community, maybe with the exception of Bansko in Bulgaria, but some people don’t even consider Bulgaria as part of the Balkans because they concentrate more on the ex-Yugoslavian countries when they talk about the Balkans. In other countries, you would have smaller communities spread around different countries and different cities. And then it’s up to you to know what you’re actually looking for to be able to decide where you want to go.
It’s interesting to me that when I traveled in the Balkans, even the big cities like Sarajevo or Dubrovnik seemed very easy to live in and get around. And even the smaller cities like Mostar were so pretty and beautiful. I just felt that it was a tremendous place and I could see somebody spending time there and really getting to know folks. Do you feel like the digital nomad community that visits those locations is regarded as something that the people are happy to see them there and are they making a positive impact on the local communities as they come in? Or how are they perceived if you show up in one of those locations?
You’ll see a lot of digital nomads who are still very disconnected from any local communities. If they are in any way connected, it’s at best to other nomads that happen to be in the city if they manage to have a common group. But from the locals and any kind of local entrepreneurs or freelancers, usually it’s kind of still like a ghetto of nomads that just hang out together in nice places. Because they can usually afford better places and go to better restaurants. This is still mainstream in most countries, not just in the Balkans but almost everywhere by now. I actually started to organize some events in my last destination to create a bridge to connect nomads with locals because I think when we do that, we’re not really getting the full benefits of traveling. We’re not even allowing the locals to help us and have a full experience. And of course, we’re not giving anything back. So it’s like a little bit like going for the barbecue for me and eating just veggies. Like that’s not the plan, if you just go for the place, and hang out with other nomads, just like you are missing a big thing here.
And, of course, like because we have a very specific lifestyle, many people, especially locals, may not understand the reasons and how it all works. So, of course, we need a group of people we can relate to and nomads can definitely provide that. But I believe the best group, the one that will bring you the most benefits, is a mixed group. Then you will have some locals and some nomads, and ideally, they can hang out and do things together. Then you will be able to have some impact on them and they will be able to have some impact on you. And that’s how I see travel and that’s also what usually promotes longer term stays, because you become more engaged. You feel like your presence there matters and you connect with real people, you can make friends, and then you can stay for a few months, which is becoming very popular now. Or maybe you can come back next year and go to the same place and connect again. There are so many places and initiatives, things that you can connect with locals through. But it comes down to the fact that first you have to actually look for that. But this conflict comes from both sides. When I talk with organizations, I tell them that’s something they can do from their side, right? Like you provide context for nomads, where they can connect with local people and what they can do if they want to have conversations, make friends. And then from the nomad perspective, you have to be open to that, you have to join those events if they are even there. Here, for instance, in Mostar, there is one great place called the Mostar Rock School. If you think about it, you can join the community. If you play an instrument, you can play. If you don’t play, you can learn. But if you don’t play and you don’t want to learn, you can just join the jam sessions. You’ll still meet amazing people that live there and you’ll meet them through music, which is always a great way to connect, right? So it doesn’t have to be super serious, like we have to organize a big conference and talk about super serious stuff. We can also connect through entertainment activities like music or dance or just organizing a barbecue together and trying local food. There are so many ways to do that. But I believe the first step is actually showing up and wanting to do that.
Alright, Chris, you’re next.
I was going to say that’s a really good way to put it, you know, the digital nomad life. I have a quick question though. I’ve chatted with a few digital nomads in the last two weeks, just to get a sense of what they do and how we can work with them. But a lot of single people, like you mentioned a few minutes ago, they’re wanting to leave their current situation and they’re traveling abroad to become slowmads and just experience the wild. Do you, as someone who’s been in that field for a while, see a lot of people trying to escape reality? Is that a thing?
Yeah, so there is that perception that a lot of nomads are running from something, like commitment or their past. That’s why they’re traveling all the time. So it’s really hard to know the real motives behind why someone becomes a nomad. It could be because of a bad breakup, or maybe they just want to see more of the world. Or maybe they don’t even know what they’re looking for. I don’t think it’s important to know why someone starts their nomad journey. It’s about leaving your comfort zone and allowing life to unfold and trying new experiences. What’s important to me is to be open, no matter the reason we start. We have to be open to meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, especially if we’re traveling somewhere with a very different culture than we’re used to. We shouldn’t judge immediately, but try to understand why they behave a certain way. Can we live with that without it making us unhappy? But we shouldn’t judge them based on our own position. Like, “This is not how we would do things in Poland or Germany.” Otherwise, you won’t be happy.
And then again, like I mentioned earlier, connecting with locals is important. If someone left their country because of personal problems, it’s even more important to focus on doing something good and meaningful in their life. That can help them focus on something else and overcome their problems. For example, a lot of people find that helping others helps them see the world in a more positive light. We started an initiative in Cape Verde with volunteering at a local organization. When you think your own life isn’t enough, even if that’s subjective, giving back can be the best way to make yourself happy. When you volunteer and try to make a positive impact, you get back more than you give. That’s something I never expected. So even if someone starts out thinking only of themselves, the best way to make themselves happy is to help others because they’ll get so much more in return that eventually it will make them feel better.
That’s tremendous. There are actually a lot of studies to indicate that. And you know, Anna Maria, the other thing about Chris and I traveling is that sometimes people travel to leave relationships or change relationships. The other thing is, there are people at the other end of the spectrum who reach a point in their life where they say, you know, I’ve been at my desk for 35 years, I want to see the world. And I love something you wrote up that I totally agree with. You know, like one year of nomad life could equal like five years of sedentary life and with the things you learn and experience. And a lot of studies also seem to indicate that if you’re adventurous, you get more out of this. And it sounds like you’re an adventurous person, you’ve moved from different places and you meet adventurous people. But what I like about these communities is that even if some of the digital nomads aren’t the most adventurous people, they can meet people who will still support them and give them community, which is a big issue. So I’d love your comment on whether it’s, you know, everybody’s different. Somebody might be one year of nomad life equals five years of sedentary life, some people might be one in three, but you learn so many more things. So a quick question for you as you’ve traveled on your own personal journey, what have you really learned about yourself? You know, in that, and it’s a great example to others that every journey, no matter how adventurous we are, we learn something new and different.
Yeah, so you see, I think the true essence of traveling is because when I started traveling by myself, even before I was a nomad, what I wanted was basically to see the world, see all the beautiful places, meet people, try different foods, go to amazing places, and surround myself with the world. That’s what I wanted, the more of that the better, right? Only money and time were an issue. The second stage when I was actually realizing was that it’s not just about seeing places, but everything that I learned in the process, right because that process happens even if you don’t think about it, like when you’re traveling, you are becoming a different person. You are learning different skills, and there are a lot of them, you know, like problem solving, flexibility, faster thinking, adaptability, communication, practicing different languages. So it’s just so many personal skills that you learn and realize you are actually becoming a different person, you know, like you are able to see different perspectives much faster. A lot of nomads also become entrepreneurs because they see different things being implemented in different countries, they get lots of different ideas, they start to process them, and they get the outputs. Right, that part where you can just collect those experiences, but you need to process them to make sense of them. So that part is very important, like you have to internalize what you actually learned. But that would be the second step when you are traveling, that you are changing your view and becoming a different person. But that stage is still about you, right? It’s just like you are becoming a better person, you are becoming a different person, you are learning things because the world is teaching you things.
The first stage for me is when you are like, “Okay, so I have gotten so much out of that, that I also want to give back. I want to have some impact.” So for me, it also came at some point like, “Okay, but now what? I could, of course, visit more countries and I could probably learn even more things, but what do I want to do with that, right?” And then I realized that I can also give at least part of that to other people who contributed to my growth. I feel like I’m ready, I can mentor other people, I can help them, I can have an impact. And that especially applies to destinations that are less developed, you know, when we traveled to countries where maybe even remote work is new for them. Maybe they don’t even speak English, maybe everything about technology is new for them. So just by showing up, you’re an excellent example that all of this is possible, that they can do something else, that they can have hope. And in that sense, for me, that journey came to the point where I want to have a real impact. I want to go somewhere and not only have fun, but also change at least one person’s life, maybe even show something to those people and make the connection. But when I’m gone, I want someone to think about what I’ve said and maybe that inspires them to look for remote work too or to travel or maybe to open their own business. And then I think it actually matters, because remote work and nomadism are a part of the fact that it’s a lot of fun, but it can also be a tool to change the whole world, I think, if we see it from that perspective.
So this is the time of the podcast where we typically ask, and you’ve shared a couple of things with us. Would you like to share an overlooked person, place, or experience with us? Because I know you’ve seen some really amazing places and you don’t necessarily have to limit yourself to one.
Right, so I would recommend checking out Cape Verde in the winter. I haven’t been there in the last winter, but I’m going back again. It’s a really great place, very affordable, and very safe. It’s made up of 10 different islands, and we are actually building a community on one of them. That island, which is in Mindelo, is the cultural capital. So there is a lot of amazing music, dance, and culture. Even though it’s a small place, there is a lot of that. And for the summer, I generally think the Balkans are an amazing place to be. But people can also look at Croatia, which is becoming more popular now. But they can also look at other places like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Montenegro, which are also great places for nomads like me because the weather matters a lot. I would probably be there between spring and autumn. But that depends on what matters to people because, for instance, Bosnia and Herzegovina is also great for sports like skiing. It’s very affordable and they have at least 20 places where you can ski. So if someone is into that, then coming in the winter would also be a great place. But generally, the Balkans are a great place because the cost of living is very low. So you can play with geo arbitrage. The place is very safe.
But what also matters a lot to me is that we are very welcome in these places. Like for me, it matters a lot. I don’t want to go to a country where it says on the walls “nomads go home.” I don’t want that. So if I don’t feel welcome there, I’m not going there. I want to be in a place where they are happy that I came because then the treatment you get from locals and the whole experience is much better. And in both Cape Verde and the Balkan countries, they are very happy that you are there because there aren’t many of us there. And then your experience is completely different. Not only is it not touristic and not overcrowded, you can get great deals, but also people will go out of their way to help you. So it’s not just politeness, but they will literally stop whatever they were doing to help you. For instance, if I go to any Western country and I’m a bit lost and I ask for directions, of course, people will help me because that’s how we are educated. We are polite. But that’s only out of politeness. Other than that, they don’t really care. But if you go to the Balkans and you ask for directions, then they will walk with you to make sure you find your destination. So you see, there is more authenticity there. And that’s something that also matters a lot to me.
Yeah, that’s awesome. Um, I mean, I would love to live that kind of digital nomad life soon. And what you’re describing is just like, you know, wow, I want to go to these places, experience these new people, new environments, new, you know, everything about travel, it just, you know, I opened up an organization here where I am in Birmingham, Alabama, last year, because I went on a random trip to Hawaii by myself. I went to Atlanta, Georgia, just to meet some friends with an overnight bag with one pair of you know, socks and underwear and shirt and pants, packed it with my laptop. That night, I was talking to them. And they said yeah, I mean, Hawaii is cool. And I said, okay, so I booked the ticket that night. And then I flew over there the next morning, and I stayed there for a week. And it really just opened up my mind to everything new and I tried different things. I even changed my career paths. So yeah, I think definitely, you know, the digital nomad lifestyle. That’s just something that everybody needs to experience, I think, in my opinion, at least once in their lifetime. But yeah, I mean, all that being said, Anna Maria, where can we find you? Whether that’s online presence, or offline in, you know, the next few months, where are you going to be? Where do you want to travel to?
So I’m actually going to Cape Verde, I will stay there in the winter. So in person in case you are invited. We’re going to organize events there because we are growing the community together with Gonzalo Hall, which probably everyone knows, right, yeah. So I’m collaborating with him to grow the community there. And we’re also going to run volunteering projects there for people to be able to give back. So that’s, that’s at least until the spring, but online, so everyone is welcome to connect with me on LinkedIn or Facebook, Instagram, it’s just my name Anna Maria Kochanska, you can find me there. My profile is open. So I also share what we’re doing, and generally also like tips and my insights on nomadic life and remote work. And yeah, I’m always happy to connect with new and not so new nomads.
Thank you. And you know, we’ll make sure folks that the show notes have this information so you don’t have to scribble furiously through the podcast, we’ll make sure that we have Anna Maria’s information for you. It was a really enlightening podcast today, and I’ll mention this as a side item. You know, just before the pandemic I did have the distinct pleasure of going to Dubrovnik, Mostar, Sarajevo and on to Kosovo, through Albania, through one of the most wonderful canyons I’ve ever seen in my life. You know, for many of you listening to this podcast in the United States, we know the Grand Canyon. But there’s a tremendous canyon in Montenegro that you drive through that is one of the wonders. So I would really suggest you getting in touch with Anna Maria, but also exploring that part of the world. The people were wonderful. And it was just a tremendous, tremendous experience. So as I tied together today’s podcast, you know, what did I learn today? First off, there’s a burgeoning opportunity for you out there, folks, to go to places like Mostar, whether it’s slow travel or moving through faster than that, or putting your roots down and getting a digital nomad visa. The cost of living is tremendously low, the food is great, and the people are very welcoming. And you have Anna Maria as a resource, once again that we’ll put in the show notes. So with that, those of us at the New Nomad podcast hope you travel safely and securely. We look forward to catching another episode and we thank Anna Maria for joining us today and Chris for co-hosting. Have a great trip ahead. Cheers.
About the Guest
Anna Maria Kochanska is a multilingual public speaker and Digital Nomadism and Remote Work consultant. She has been a digital Nomad since 2018 and Digital Nomad Ambassador. She helps brands and organizations with Digital Nomadism, Remote Workers’ strategy, and the Future of Work. Her background is in the IT industry, working with big pharmaceutical companies and helping them with digital transformation. Anna Maria is a self-taught polyglot (+7) and consults on cross-cultural competence & business communication.