Highlights and lowlights of my first year traveling as a digital nomad

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Highlights of traveling as a digital nomad in Asia: my absolute TOP 3 highlights, plus 5 favorite places and 5 favorite experiences. And because nothing is perfect, and traveling is no exception, I also add the travel lowlights of the year.

Highlights and lowlights of my first year as a digital nomad

I know this kind of posts are usually written either in December or January, but 2017 was such an intense year that I’ve needed some time to reflect and digest.

About a year ago I started traveling as a digital nomad, that is, working and traveling at the same time. I bought a one way ticket to Asia and I traveled for almost 10 months before coming back home for Christmas.

It was a year full of challenges, lessons learnt and unexpected things, a year that helped me grow personally and professionally, a year that I will never forget.

In this post I’ll tell you my TOP3 travel highlights of the year, plus 5 favorite places and 5 favorite experiences. Finally, I’ve briefly added the lowlights at the end of the post. I like to remember the positive things, but I it is important to show that digital nomad life is not always sunsets and rainbows.

Content

  • Asia 2017: list of destinations
  • TOP 3 highlights
    • A home away from home in Penang (Malaysia)
    • People
    • Meditation retreat in Suan Mokk (Thailand)
  • Highlights: 5 favorite places
    • Singapore (Singapore)
    • Halong Bay and Tam Coc (Vietnam)
    • Hoi An (Vietnam)
    • Krabi (Thailand)
    • Ayutthaya (Thailand)
  • Highlights: 5 favorite experiences
    • Glowing plankton (Malaysia)
    • Camping (Malaysia)
    • Snorkeling (Thailand)
    • Sunsets (Malaysia and Thailand)
    • Food (Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand)

First year as a digital nomad: photo summary of month 1

Asia 2017: list of destinations

  • Malaysia (almost 3 months)
    • Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, Melaka
  • Singapore (5 days)
  • Indonesia, Bali (4 weeks)
  • Vietnam (3,5 weeks)
    • Hanoi, Halong Bay, Tam Coc, Phong Nha, Hoi An, Da Nang
  • Malaysia (almost 3 months)
    • Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Song Song island
  • Thailand (almost 2 months)
    • Songkla, Trang, Koh Lanta, Krabi, Suan Mokk, Ayutthaya

TOP 3 highlights

A home away from home in Penang (Malaysia)

I started the trip in Malaysia with the clear idea of traveling. Traveling slow, yes, but traveling. I went first to Penang to visit a friend who was moving to Australia… and I end up staying for 2 months and a half.

I met people, I made friends, I fell in love with the island, its attractions, its sunsets and its food, and I found a home in Penang.

When my visa expired, I knew I wanted to go back, I wanted to spend three more months in Penang.

I thought my wanderlust had no limits, but Penang showed me that I am able to stay still, I am able to feel at home away from home. Because home is where my hearth is, and my hearth (and I’m not talking about love) found a place in Penang.

First year as digital nomad: photo summary of month 2

People

What gives me the best travel memories, the reason that makes me go back to a certain place, is people. The friends I make on the road.

I am grateful that 2017 was full of beautiful encounters. The magic of travel is the unexpected things that happen, and 2017 was full of magic.

I fondly remember…

  • The CS members from Penang and Singapore
  • The friends who became my students, and the students who became my friends
  • The digital nomads I finally met in person in Penang, Bali and Vietnam
  • The airbnb hosts in Penang, and the stuff from the guesthouses in Hanoi, Hoi An and Krabi who became my friends
  • The people from the meditation retreat with whom I could not talk until the last day
  • The friend I hadn’t seen for 10 years and I suddenly met at the airport
  • Other people I randomly met

I’m still in contact with many of them, I’m sure some of them will be long term friendships, and we will meet again.

First year as digital nomad: photo summary of month 3

Meditation retreat in Suan Mokk (Thailand)

Doing a meditation retreat had been on my list for a long time, but I never found the right moment. I finally did it in Thailand, a 10 days mindfulness retreat in Suan Mokk.

I could write a full post on the experience, but if I have to summarize in one word, I would say revealing.

It wasn’t easy, the conditions are challenging. You don’t get a lot of sleep or food, the living conditions are very simple and you cannot talk. On the other hand, the life lessons are precious and worth. It’s different for every person, but every one there agreed that it had been worth and they felt something had changed.

First year as digital nomad: photo summary of month 4

Highlights: 5 favorite places

Singapore: my favorite Asian city

Penang became my home away from home and is my favorite place in Asia, but my favorite city was Singapore.

Singapore is multicultural, with mosques, Indian and Chinese temples, multicultural gastronomy and a good street art scene. It’s modern and clean. It has an efficient public transport system and is walkable (it’s not chaotic and cars respect the traffic lights).

I specially enjoyed the Marina Bay area at night and tasting new food.

First year as digital nomad: photo summary of month 5

Halong Bay and Tam Coc (Halong Bay on the land): stunning landscapes

Vietnam is stunning, and Halong Bay and Tam Coc were the most beautiful places I visited (and I hear that the far north is even more amazing!).

I loved the combination of water and islands in Halong Bay, and the similar landscapes with hills and rice fields in Tam Coc. The best views were, of course, from the top of the islands or hills.

In addition, being the (rainy) low season it was quiet and peaceful.

Hoi An: my place in Vietnam

After two weeks of backpacking across Vietnam I found my place: Hoi An, where I spend the last 10 days.

Hoi An is a quiet town that can easily be explored by bicycle since it’s small and flat. It’s surrounded by rice fields, there is a river and the sea and the beach are nearby.

I was surprised by the water coconut forest and the food scene.

First year as digital nomad: photo summary of month 6

Krabi: my place in Thailand

And my place in Thailand was Krabi. I was there for one week before the meditation retreat, and two more weeks after that.

I loved the landscapes around, kind of similar to Halong Bay, with high limestones islands. The Tonsai and Railay beaches were stunning and reachable on a day trip. The view on the top of the Tiger temple were worth the 1200 steps.

And the food! In Krabi there are several night markets every day.

Ayutthaya: amazing historical site

In Ayutthaya my explorer side woke up again. After a month in islands and beaches, I was excited by the many temples the city has to offer.

In one week I visited 15 temples. I don’t even know how many kilometers I walked and how many I did by bicycle! It was indeed the most active week of the year.

And at night I explored the night markets, of course!

First year as digital nomad: photo summary of month 7

Highlights: 5 favorite experiences

Glowing plankton 

Imagine the beach at night. It’s all dark except for a few lights from the nearby road. You cannot see anything.

Then you walk inside the water, the waves moving around you. You move your hand in front of you, and you see sparkling little lights. It’s glowing plankton.

I saw glowing plankton in two beaches in Penang, between Spice Garden and the National Park.

First year as digital nomad: photo summary of month 8

Camping

Can you believe that I had never slept in a tent?

And can you believe that I went camping twice in one month on my second stay in Penang?

The first time was in Kerachut beach (Turtle beach) in Penang National Park. The second in Song Song island, where we survived a tropical storm. I had so much fun!

Snorkeling

I visited the islands in Trang (Thailand) thanks to the recommendation of a local friend. It’s an area of small islands and hidden beaches, and the best part was snorkeling there. I saw so many tropical colorful fish, including nemos!

First year as digital nomad: photo summary of month 9

Sunsets

Last year I saw some of the most magical sunsets ever in Penang (Malaysia) and Koh Lanta (Thailand).

Sunsets at the beach, with amazing colors, dancing clouds, reflections on the water, different every  single day. Stunning, magic. I loved living near the beach.

Food

I’ve always enjoyed exploring the local gastronomy when I travel, and last year I loved it more than ever. Making local friends was the key to discover the best of each place. Moreover, traveling slow allowed me to go back to my favorite places.

Still dreaming about the food scene in Penang, Vietnam and Thailand…

First year as digital nomad: photo summary of month 10

Lowlights

Nothing is perfect, and living as a digital nomad is not the exception. In 2017 I faced many challenges:

  • I went twice to hospitals: when I got stung by a jelly fish in Malaysia and when I got an infection after I fell in Bali
  • I was scammed in Malaysia and Bali, and overcharged in Vietnam
  • My camera broke down on the flight from Singapore to Bali
  • I had problems with ATMs in Bali and my main card was blocked
  • Two men touched me, one in Bali and one in Malaysia
  • There was a mistake in my evisa for Vietnam and had to pay for a second visa
  • I got bed bugs in Thailand

Overall it was a good year though, a great year full of experiences.

How was your 2017? Please share it in the comments! 

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Highlights of my first year traveling as a digital nomad in Asia: TOP 3 travel highlights + 5 favorite places + 5 favorite experiences. Travel lowlights.

Photo credits: month 4 me in Bali (Anna), month 5 group photo (Antonio), months 6-7-8 group photos (CS Penang)

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