13 Oct How To Chose Your Next Digital Nomad Destination: Why We’re Going to Cuenca, Ecuador
Apart from domestic travels, our next big trip we have planned is to Quito and Cuenca, Ecuador in the winter. Several people have asked us how we chose that destination, so I thought we could take the opportunity to share our thought-process and a few resources we use to plan our travel.
Here are our basic steps to choose a destination:
1. Determine the purpose of the trip
2. Research desirable areas
3. Find an ideal living situation
4. Check for award tickets
5. Secure discounts
6. Book the trip
We always strive to learn and grow through our travels, and one of our life-long goals has been to master multiple languages (like Spanish, French, and Japanese). We decided it would be motivating to schedule a stay in a Spanish-speaking country. That way we could start studying in preparation, take classes when we arrived, and be immersed for a few weeks.
Some secondary purposes of our trip are:
- Experience someplace new
- Be in a warmer/milder climate during the winter
- Have access to internet good enough to continue our online work
- Keep our expenses low (This may sound strange to some, but this kind of travel is actually cheaper than it would be to settle down in Portland)
Cost of Living Research:
As digital nomads who live on a tight budget, a destination’s cost of living is a primary concern. So we started our search by looking at cities where we could potentially save money compared to our normal living expenses in the States.
This map on Numbeo shows a cost of living index rating for cities around the world. For example, Cuenca’s consumer price index is 52.23, whereas Portland’s is 80.71 and Honolulu is 99.09. It will even tell you the average price for certain items – like a soda at a restaurant, a pound of potatoes at the market, a one way ticket on local transit, rent for a one-bed apartment in the city center, and a host of other things.
|Consumer Price Index (Excl.Rent):||52.23|
|Consumer Price Plus Rent Index:||34.31|
|Local Purchasing Power:||36.65|
I also reviewed Nomad List, which gives cities ratings for monthly cost of living, weather, air quality, internet speed, and safety. According to their profile of Cuenca, the monthly cost for a nomad is $777, average internet speed is 4 Mbps (which is not great but we found an Airbnb apartment that has confirmed faster speeds), and the weather tends to stay around 70F all year.
Once we had narrowed our search to Latin America, I also did a Google and a Pinterest search for “best digital nomad destinations.” A couple bloggers had shared positive experiences staying in Cuenca and mentioned the charming, UNESCO World Heritage city center, a good selection of cafes, and ease of transit. Plus, it’s not far from Ecuador’s largest site of ruins, Ingapirca.
Who You Know:
So far, every international destination we visit has been home to someone from our personal network. We’ve found that this really helps us develop an authentic cultural connection quickly in a new place and often helps out financially when we can stay with friends and family or share meals together.
When we were deciding where to go, the fact that I had a friend from my MBA program living in Quito tipped the scales. So we’ll be welcomed and oriented by native Ecuadorians before heading out on our own!
When we settled on Ecuador as a destination, I started researching potential schools to do Spanish lessons. This is a bit of a splurge for us so cost was a major factor. I chose three promising schools based on reviews and e-mailed them an informal pitch to see if we could get a discount in exchange for sharing our experience of their school on our blog.
Fortunately, one of the schools offered us a great discount. They are a non-profit institution that does an intensive, individualized week of Spanish language and cultural immersion. So we’ll be staying a few days in a homestay, doing 20 hours of personalized lessons, and participating in cultural field trips together. We’ll tell you all about it when we get there!
Accommodations and Amenities:
Having secured a spot in this Spanish school in Cuenca for our first week, I started researching neighborhoods in town. I knew the school was in a nice part of the Old Town, so I aimed to find more accommodations around there. My go-to is Airbnb, and it served me well, as usual.
I searched Cuenca Airbnb’s for a one-month period using the filter for wireless internet. I found an Airbnb host that oversees a number of properties and each one had excellent reviews. One apartment unit in particular was in a central but quiet part of Old Town, with free laundry in the building, and 8Mbs internet. The nice thing about Airbnb is we don’t have to rely on the host’s description of the property because all of these things were confirmed by 20+ guest reviews.
Guess what! You can sign up for a new Airbnb account with this link and for a limited time, you’ll get up to $40 off your first booking! (And we’ll get some credit, too.)
Book the Trip
Before finalizing any of our arrangements, we had to make sure that we could get to and from Ecuador using airline miles. (Thanks to travel hacking, we don’t pay anything but fees for international flights.)
I searched for award flights online using the airlines where we have a good stock of miles right now: United, American, and Alaska. Alaska and American partner with LAN for many of their South America award flights, and unfortunately these cannot be viewed or booked online. So I used LAN’s website just to see what flights might be available from Portland. If I had found something on LAN that looked good, I could have called Alaska or American to book the flight (using Alaska/American miles on a LAN-operated flight). But in our case, I found an Alaska/American flight through Miami on AlaskaAir.com without using LAN.
Once all of the key pieces of our plans were looking good, it was time to book. I used our Alaska miles to book a one-way flight to Quito. Then I confirmed our week with the Spanish school in Cuenca and our month stay in the Cuenca Airbnb.
To get from Quito to Cuenca, we can either take a short flight or a longer, cheaper bus ride and potentially stop somewhere along the way. We have an extra week or two at the end of February to potentially make another stop before returning home, which we’ll do on our miles again.
So that’s our plan and process. UPDATE: We loved Ecuador and Cuenca has become one of our favorite digital nomad destinations. We now have blogs about Cuenca’s food, Spanish lessons, day trips, and other beautiful destinations in the Andes.
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