The Top 10 Lifestyle Design Cities – 2014 Edition

The Top 10 Lifestyle Design Cities – 2014 Edition post image

I was fascinated by an article on Marginal Revolution that listed cities “at or near their peak of excellence.” I enjoyed hearing the author’s perspective and comparing it with my own, so I thought I’d do something similar and try and identify “lifestyle design” hot spots.

Many might remember in the Four Hour Work Week Tim Ferriss specifically mentioned Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Thailand as great places to go on a mini-vacation. Those cities were, more or less, chosen for how far a dollar goes there. A lot has changed since then, notably people have been relocating not just to enjoy a break, but to build their enterprises in the first place. Those spots will be the ones listed below.

Of course the list is somewhat arbitrary. I’ve tried to use DC as a sort of canary in the coal mine. With close to 1,000 location independent entrepreneurs hanging around in there, it’s pretty easy to see trends popping up.

The cities listed below demonstrate:

  1. A good value for money.
  2. DC trends like monthly meet-up attendance, “migrations,” (like the massive one to Saigon last year inspired by @JonMyers), popular threads, etc.
  3. Travel friendly– hubs, availability of short term housing, visas, etc.
  4. Co-working and cafe cultures.

Hope you enjoy, and I would love your thoughts about where I went wrong and what you see happening in the future.

Top 10 for 2014…

  1. Berlin. Artsy and sprawling with great apartments, nightlife, and cafes. At least in the DC, Berlin is the place to be this summer. Berlin’s got some of the best of what Europe has on offer, and the rest of the continent is within easy reach. Co-working and digital bohemian culture abounds.
  2. Prague. Inexpensive, fairy-tale like architecture in the center, large format apartment buildings in the residential neighborhoods, great parks, easy public transport, and a growing scene. It’s summertime in Europe, who can argue? The only thing Prague is missing is palm trees.
  3. Chiang Mai. Still popping off despite the recent coup, Thailand has long been the quintessential “lifestyle” destination. Chiang Mai is nestled in the mountainous north of the country. It’s almost tailor made for the digital nomad, with great coffee shops, co-working spaces, and serviced apartments just a walk and a knock away. If I were 18 years old I’d go to Chiang Mai instead of going to college.
  4. Ho Chi Minh City. The economic heart of Vietnam, this up and coming city features cheap rent and 1000’s of cafes that are laptop worker friendly. It’s easy to live a good lifestyle on less than $1500 a month.
  5. New York City. Housing can be difficult to come by and expensive, but once you’ve got that sorted it’s a great value. Brooklyn is happening, food and entertainment are world class and a great value, and the fellow entrepreneurs you get to know just might return the investment you made in your apartment.
  6. Austin, TX. Quickly becoming the internet marketing capital of the US. Lots to do, great healthy food options, tons of recreation activities, reasonable rents, and plenty of space.
  7. Bangkok. Traffic sucks, but Bangkok is still a great value for the money. For nightlife and dining, it’s tough to beat anywhere. The Thong Lor area really seems to be taking off for young expats. After cooling off the past few years, BKK is seeing a resurgence in 2014.
  8. Medellin. A city with it all— nightlife, nature, friendly and passionate locals and expats from all around the globe. Medellin attracts perhaps a less transient crowd as it’s a little more difficult to get along without the local language.
  9. Barcelona. Livable, clean, great nightlife and food. Not much of an entrepreneurial scene (yet) but one of the best all around cities in Europe. With many fans coming through periodically, a scene is bound to coalesce.
  10. Ubud, Bali. It’s not just Eat, Pray, Lovers flocking to the island of the gods lately, with internet speeds improving rapidly, co-working spaces and cafes popping up like weeds, internet entrepreneurs are seeking to grow their businesses in and amongst natural beauty and world class services.

Honorable mentions: Melbourne, Mexico City, Shenzhen, Taipei, San Diego, Danang Vietnam, Portland.

Outside of the cost and difficulty in terms of securing housing, NYC shines in terms of networking, vibrancy, community, and value.

Outside of the cost and difficulty in terms of securing housing, NYC shines in terms of networking, vibrancy, community, and value.

Dinners organized on the fly via group texting applications are common in places like Saigon.

Informal meet-ups organized on the fly via group texting applications are common in places like Saigon.

Chaing Mai, perhaps the world's most user friendly city. Living costs can be lower that $1K monthly.

Chaing Mai, perhaps the world’s most user friendly city. Living costs can be lower that $1K monthly.

This year's top city, Berlin, mixes some of the best of what Europe has to offer and allows easy access to other destinations.

This year’s top city, Berlin, mixes some of the best of what Europe has to offer and allows easy access to other destinations.

Many in our community are re-considering Bangkok as an option, in particular the stylish Thong Lo district.

Many in our community are re-considering Bangkok as an option, in particular the stylish Thong Lo district.

That’s it. I’ll make a note for us to circle back in 1 year to see if we see if I’ve noticed any movements. I’d love your thoughts.



Published on 06.17.14
  • David Moore

    That’s a great list Dan so thanks for sharing! I wasn’t able to make it myself, but I’ve heard good things about Alive in Berlin and visited the city for the first time last November on a friend’s stag do and agree that it’s an excellent city.

  • cheers David thanks for reading!

  • patrickdomingo

    Brooklyn is getting too expensive(Williamsburg rent is only $200-300 less than manhattan). Astoria, Queens all the way!!

  • I am a “mum”…not yours but I am proud of you. Your life Your call. Peace. P

  • As it is sung “If you can make it there you can make it anywhere”…my 2 daughters live together in a cute apt. in Brooklyn…on their own dimes. I applaud them. @22 and 25 now is the time. It will make for great memories and stories.

  • I want to be in Playa del Carmen/Mahahual at least p/t where I can explore into C.A. But I love D.F. and Queretaro

  • Great! I used to live in Queretaro, now I’ll try Playa maybe! We should definitely stay in contact, Pia!

  • Emma33

    Am in Guadalajara At the moment and loving it! I have a room in a share House with good wifi and only 3 blocks from the cathedral for US$190 a month, and the food here is pretty good too. Not sure about co-working setups, because I’m not looking for anything like that.

    But, i am also a big fan of Chiang Mai — awesome city!

  • wow nice!

  • interesting !

  • Great article Dan!

    Looking at moving to Chiang Mai in December (well, tickets are already booked, so I will be moving there ha) and then onwards to Ho Chi Minh in February.

    What’s the weather like in HCM in February/March?

    Tried a few online searches, but couldn’t find any reputable information.

  • thanks Paul! TBH I don’t pay so much attention to those things because in many areas of the world it’s basically “hot and rainy” or “hot and not so rainy” doesn’t change my day to day or wardrobe much so i don’t consider it….

  • Entrepreneurial Nomad

    I recently found your site and listened to a few of your podcasts – and I’m a fan. I’m thinking about joining DC, and one of the main things I’m interested in learning more about are practicalities, like finding places with excellent internet, as well as welcoming visa and tax policies for people living this lifestyle. From one of the podcasts I listened to, it sounded like the current MO might just be fly under the local radar on taxes and proper visas, is that right? Or has this been seriously researched? Are there discussions about Guam or Saipan – considering the big plus that Americans wouldn’t have to deal with visa rules in those places?

  • thanks a lot I appreciate that. Guan and Saipan are not currently discussed very often, the reason for that I suspect is that visas, although an issue that needs to be dealt with, aren’t really a critical issue for those with ‘good for travel’ passports (euro, us, et all). Many places in the world you can show up on a tourist visa and talk to a consultant about which options you’d like to pursue. On or under the radar would completely depend on your situation or goals, but let’s take an example of a nomad working on their laptop for a US or HK based company in a foreign land, for all the 1000’s of nomads i’ve met i’ve yet to hear a case of that foreign land taking issue with that type of thing (i recently saw an article where the Thai government came right out and said “it’s okay”, which is the first time i’ve personally seen a government make a comment about nomads). That said if you want to make your stay more permanent, say for me if I wanted to stay in Europe for 8 months out of the year, I’d prob take the route of setting up a business. In Indonesia it’s as simple as paying 1K for a business visa (no business required). In the Philippines you can stay for 2 years as a tourist. Some nomads decide to become student. Some countries (Sing, Chile, Spain) are starting to just come out and recruit such entrepreneurs, I suspect this trend to continue:

  • Entrepreneurial Nomad

    Hi Dan, Thanks for the reply. When I referred to flying under the radar – I meant dealing with local taxes or working related visa regulations. I know people that do long term tourist or student visas and just don’t report income – but I’m not interested in that approach at this stage. Are there discussions/resources that address which places are most welcoming for taxes/visas for people that need to operate within the rules? If it makes a difference, I’m interested in southeast Asia, not Europe.

  • I’d say only a small handful b/c most SEAsia expats (although not all) tend to base financial operations outside of the region.

    Going on the radar is easy enough though (although it’s worth nothing that ‘on the radar’ and ‘following regulations’ aren’t the same thing, I guess that was the thrust of my initial response, that flying under the radar, assuming you own a foreign corp, is legit): just need to get a job or start a business and both aren’t so difficult to do: Vietnam is particularly friendly, Thailand less so, Philippines is easy enough as well. Singapore/HK a snap! Come to think of it I’m sure there’s plenty of discussions in there about this stuff. If you are US citizen I think US has treaties with most in the region so any tax you pay locally you often won’t be doubly responsible back to US.

  • Xavier Cobos

    Hey, hope you’re still checking this. I’m currently in Mexico City. I’m sure there are other folks down here, but not sure how to find them. Is there a site/resource to help location indpendent entrepreneurs find each other in a given city?

  • Hi! We are digital nomads from Prague!

    Recently heading to Gran Canaria. Thus our home will be free for other (digital) nomads!

    Our apartment is situated in one of the best places in Prague – in safe and charming Letná. The winter is nice, quite warm, not very common:)

    Our home is listed on Airbnb, because we are staring the price is very low. If you want to stay more than two weeks, write me for discount:) Ahoj!:)

  • Michael Holmes

    Hi Dan! I’m an American expat who has been living in Tbilisi, Georgia for the past 2 years. I’ve been to 5 of the top cities mentioned in this post and I really think Tbilisi has a shot of making these nomad lists in the near future.

    The main reason is it offers 360 days without a visa to most of the world. The cost of living is really cheap, but it also ranks as low in crime. World Bank Group’s Doing Business report puts Georgia in the top 15 worldwide for ease of doing business. The country offers a wide variety of terrain within a 6 hour drive of the capital city including the black sea coast, the tallest mountains in Europe (winter sports with $15 lift tickets) and vineyards where they literally invented wine here.

    I’m putting together a short video promoting the place for digital nomads. I’d love to get your feedback on this destination!

  • hey Michael never been there but thanks for putting it on my radar

  • Although this blog was written 3 years back . I would like to highlight the recent trend in the market of Lifestyle. There is a new trend of BATTBOTs which are also called as Smart Balance Scooter which work on the principle of gyroscope and it give feasibility in movement . It is having good aspiration value amongst the youths . For more information about the product check

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