What It’s Like To Travel Through Latin America as A Solo Female Digital Nomad
‘Guys, I’m off. In two months I’m escaping Dutch winter for three months to explore what it’s like to venture around Latin America while working remotely — ‘digital nomad’ing’ as the hipsters call it. Oh and uh, I’m going by myself.’
That’s what I told my family and friends last November. Reactions were mixed. Some thought it was a bit of a bold decision (‘Why three months?’). My dad — unsurprisingly — was worried about my safety (‘Do you really have to go to drug infused Colombia?’). Some didn’t understand why I was going by myself (‘But you don’t know anyone there!’). One thought I’d never come back (‘You’ll fall in love with a Colombian.’). But most thought it was cool and brave (‘I wouldn’t have the guts to do it’) and people were rather jealous I had the freedom to exchange Dutch winter for Latin American summer like that.
During the last weeks in Amsterdam I gathered a bunch of copywriting and journalism assignments that could be done while working remotely. Not because I desperately wanted to work while in South America, but because I simply couldn’t afford going otherwise.
Upon boarding my flight from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires on January 24th I blinked a tear. I was going to travel 17h on a plane by myself to a city where I didn’t know anyone except for a Dutch acquaintance I hadn’t seen in over ten years. The last time I practiced my beginner Spanish was over twelve years ago. Why did I go again? Why did I want this?, I asked myself, feeling mostly empty and lonely, rather than excited. But my plane was about to leave.
One month in, time for some reflections
Fast forward to now — late February. I’m sitting in a nice little coffeeshop in Lima’s artsy Barranco district in Peru while Despacito is shouting from the speakers agáin, reflecting on the last month. Without exaggeration: it has been amazing, empowering, eye-opening, a bit of a rollercoaster of adventures (small and big) and a continuity of interesting encounters. I’ll spare sharing a list of ‘you should have been there’-type of moments, simply because — well — you should have been there. But I will share why (1) I experience this digital nomad ‘escape’ as the maturer (30 something) version of the gap-year-backpacking-around-the-world-while-staying-in-hostels-and-getting-wasted-experience, (2) it hasn’t been lonely at all, and why (3) it’s been a great way of experiencing a country and its (office) culture as a local, rather than a tourist.
Coworking spaces are for digital nomads what hostels are for backpackers: a place to meet people
Upon arriving in Buenos Aires I stumbled upon La Huerta Coworking House, a small coworking space in the heart of the bohemian Palermo area and a 10 minute walk from my Airbnb. It was set up by four Argentineans in their twenties with a digital marketing background. They witnessed how the American cowork giant WeWork is quickly snapping up market share in the Argentinean cowork space and wanted to get a piece of the pie as well. The result is La Huerta.
For a week and a half I worked 5hr days from the space because, as a rule, I don’t work more than 5hrs per day while here. Not because I’m lazy but because I believe someone cannot actually concentrate for longer than that and hey, let’s live! The people at La Huerta— mostly Argentineans in their late twenties — were very welcoming and instantly made me feel at home. Only a few days in I already thought ‘getting to the office’ felt more like entering a living room with friends than going to the office. Saying hello meant giving everyone a hug and a kiss on the cheek. We had lunch every day, the people encouraged me to speak Spanish or Lunfardo -the local Argentinean Spanish (macho) dialect, they taught me about Argentinean customs and politics, invited me for asado’s (Argentinean barbeque) and wanted to learn about — what’s new— Amsterdam and its drugs culture. These two weeks offered a great glimpse into ‘porteño’ life, what Argentinean office culture is like (disclaimer: it includes drinking and passing a LOT of matte) and I actually got quite some work done (thank you airconditioning and comfortable office chairs).
Post-Buenos Aires I went to the Argentinean side of Patagonia to do some trekkings. It was incredible and stunning and an experience I wouldn’t have wanted to miss despite the ridiculous amount of $$$ spent (Argentina’s ‘Sur’ (south) is known to be pretty overpriced). Next up was a wedding in the Chilean city of Concepcion of a Chilean friend I had met whilst living in New York, to then ‘settle’ for two weeks in Chile’s capital Santiago, because another stint of work had to be done.
I booked an Airbnb in the buzzing and artsy Bellavista district and paid $50 for a chair at the rather fancy cowork space CoWork LatAm, home to, as it’s dubbed, ‘Chilecon Valley’. Startup Chile is Latin America’s leading startup accelerator and resides here. It attract entrepreneurs from all around the world. Besides all the free micro-roasted coffee (always a big pro) and comfy fauteuils, Startup Chile’s latest generation of entrepreneurs had just received seed money from the Chilean government and started the accelerator program. This meant the space was buzzing with positive energy and international newbies excited to meet likeminded entrepreneurs and go for after office drinks. Lucky me I could free-ride their newbie wave for two weeks, they were very accommodating and happy to adopt this lonesome digital nomad soul into their startup tribe.
Hence how I met the Siberian Anastasia Gutkevich, who moved to Santiago to launch a medical icecream brand — say what?!. There was AnnMaria De Mars, an American 58-year old gold medal winning judoka launching a game startup to teach kids about math. Colombian business woman Astrid Castaneda has a platform to boost information sharing for pregnant women and new mothers (+2mln likes on Facebook). She quickly became a friend given she had lived in Amsterdam for 7 years and pronounced ‘Egelantiersgracht’ like a proper Dutchy. Then there was Mathias, an ‘ethical hacker’ who is developing a dirt-cheap tool for startups so they can quickly identify hackers. He gained over $300,000 over the last three years by investing in bitcoin and, idealistic as he is, has reinvested that money into his company. There was also a Londoner working on an artificial intelligence tool for — yes — fish farms, and… well a whole bunch of other interesting and inspiring people.
Needless to say these two weeks in Santiago were great again, involved a lot of pisco sours (the South American cocktail classic) and in between visits to the colorful coastal towns Vina del Mar, Valparaíso — home to worldclass poët Pablo Neruda, and several must sees in Santiago, a lot of work was done.
Now I’m in Lima for four days, doing an attempt to eat as many types of ceviche as possible in 96 hours, to then head to Medellín, Colombia, a hub for digital nomads and startups. I’m very excited to go there, spend a bit more time (5 weeks at least) in one place and continue this whole, as it turns out, solo-not-so-solo digital nomad trip around Latin America from there.
Being far away from home base Amsterdam and physically distance myself from the social life there is liberating and reflecting. Amsterdam life sometimes feels like constantly playing catch-up and a permanent stream of new house/baby/engagement/wedding celebrations given all my friends are in their thirties. The people I’ve so far met on my journey in South America don’t seem to just follow the conventional huisje-boompje-beestje path. To name a few: there was Emily, a British girl who is cycling and camping around Patagonia for 2 months by herself. There was an Australian couple that has been motorbiking around the world for 7 years now. There was a Florida-native who is traveling the world while playing poker. And there were Drew Mohoric and Dani Lichliter who are trying out digital nomad life around South America for at least a year. Meeting these sorts of people makes me more convinced that a life filled with wonder, discovery, special encounters and freedom is what makes me the happiest and therefore should be the priority, rather than feeling rushed to also buy that house and settle down. Vamos Colombia!