It can be hard to decide where to go on a RTW trip, or even just on vacation. When you have creative skills and an interest in arts and culture, that can help you narrow down what you’re looking for… or it can make it even harder to determine which destinations will fulfill you the most. After a year of nonstop travel, I’ve pinpointed what creatives need in a destination to enjoy work and travel. Read on for 15 artsy and awe-inspiring destinations for creative professionals in Europe, Asia and South America.
Table of Contents
- 1 What makes a city a great destination for creative professionals?
- 2 Europe
- 3 Asia
- 4 South America
- 5 Want to Take Your Own Job on the Road?
- 6 Success!
What makes a city a great destination for creative professionals?
There are three key things that have defined me as a traveling creative and determined my wants and needs in a fantastic destination. As a freelance writer, I made peanuts. (Sometimes less than peanuts if we’re being totally honest.) While I was saving for my RTW trip, I juggled multiple part time jobs to scrape together about $20,000 a year. All that added up to a shoestring budget, so affordability was a major factor in deciding where to go. My ideal destination has safe and clean hostels, plenty of options for cheap eats, and lots of inexpensive or free things to do. Another critical factor in determining the best destinations for creative professionals is the availability of WiFi and comfortable work spaces. So often we’re pursuing freelance work and creative projects while we travel. Being able to work on the road was always at the forefront of my mind when deciding where to go. (Of course, sometimes getting away from a WiFi signal was key. Treks like the Annapurna Sanctuary and the Inca Trail were the only way I could take a real vacation and keep myself from working.) Last but certainly not least, as a creative person I most enjoy destinations with rich arts and culture. Whether in the form of museums, architecture, craft markets, amazing food and drink, or a history as a famous artist’s home, there are so many ways a destination can show off its creative chops. Places like these engage and inspire me. They remind me why I travel. A city doesn’t need to have all three of these qualities to make it on my list of favorite destinations for creative professionals, but it’s certainly a plus.
Iceland isn’t winning any awards for affordability anytime soon. While there are some hostels and inexpensive dining options, budget travel in Reykjavik is a challenge. However, getting here from the United States can be very cheap thanks to the expansion of budget carriers like Wow Air, and the country’s natural beauty is as deserving a tourism draw as any. Many people have told me over the years that it’s not worth staying in Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital, for more than a day, that it’s just another capital city, or that you haven’t been to Iceland if you stayed in Reykjavik. I wholeheartedly disagree. While, like many countries, Iceland shines most in terms of its natural beauty, Reykjavik is a perfectly lovely destination for creative professionals in its own right. It’s attractive and pleasantly small, and filled with charming cafes, boutiques and friendly people. This was a place where I truly felt inspired to write and work on my creative projects. Read my full guide to travel in Iceland as a creative professional.
Barcelona’s chief artistic legacy can be summarized in one word: Gaudi. The modernist architect’s works are peppered all over the Catalonian capital and have been converted into some of the best museums in Europe. The Basilica de Sagrada Familia is the rightful icon of the city, but the unique architecture of Park Guell and private homes turned museums like Casa Batllo and La Pedrera all owe their must-see status to Gaudi as well. When that level of creativity defines not just one attraction, but an entire city’s landscape, it must be a great destination for creative professionals today. Read my full guide to travel in Barcelona as a creative professional.
Who hasn’t dreamed of settling down for a spell in Paris? The City of Light captures the romantic imagination of most travelers at some point, and for a few of us, it never lets go. One of the more expensive destinations of my list, Paris isn’t a place you go for its cost of living, but budget travel is possible. If the museums, the architecture, the fashion or the downright drool-worthy food and wine scene are worth it to you, this can be a wonderful city for creative professionals and artists. Read my full guide to travel in Paris as a creative professional.
My first stroll around rain-soaked cobblestone streets in Ljubljana was love at first sight. The historic city center of the Slovenian capital is filled with riverfront cafe patios and design-focused boutiques. I had been feeling burnt out by fast paced travel through France and Italy, but less than an hour in Ljubljana was enough to completely revive me. All I wanted to do was curl up in the corner of one of those riverfront cafes and write and write and write. Far more budget friendly than a well-known European capital like Paris, Ljubljana is one of Europe’s greatest hidden gems. Read my full guide to travel in Ljubljana as a creative professional.
Unlike Ljubljana, Belgrade was not a city that won me over instantly. The capital of modern-day Serbia and formerly Yugoslavia bears more traces of its grey communist bloc days than nearby Slovenia. Behind that grit, however, is a 19th century history of welcoming artists and an undeniable spirit forged in the 1990s war. Just one walk around the city center can reveal several eras of history from the medieval Kalemegdan Fortress to the bohemian district of Skadarlija, popular with writers, actors and painters around the turn of the 20th century. If Ljubljana is a hidden gem, Belgrade’s beauty is even deeper and it’s cost of living even lower as a result. (While I’ve only highlighted a couple main cities here, the Balkans overall are full of wonderful destinations for creative professionals with underrated charm and affordable prices.) Read my full guide to travel in Belgrade as a creative professional.
It may be better known than Balkan cities like Ljubljana or Belgrade, but Athens is actually still pretty underrated as European capitals go. Most visitors pop by for the Acropolis and move on after a day or two. Why stay longer? Its museums, like the National Archaeological Museum and the Acropolis Musuem, are some of the absolute best in the world. Beyond those must-sees, there are loads of contemporary galleries to enjoy. But my favorite art in Athens is of a more public nature. Every corner in Athens is a riot of color and graffiti, and if you know where to look, you’ll see crude tags give way to incredible works of street art. Read my full guide to travel in Athens as a creative professional.
What can I possibly say about London? Out of everywhere I’ve been, this is the one place I know I could happily live year-round. Why? Even though the general cost of living can be high, there are loads of free and cheap things to do in London, which balances my spending out. (In fact, when I changed my RTW itinerary and spent a month here instead of in Istanbul, I only went $200 over budget — the exact difference between my apartment rentals.) And no matter your budget, there is no shortage of things to see and do in London. It is truly impossible to ever feel like you’ve seen it all. From parks and museums, to street art and cafes, London has all the things I love best in a destination. If only it were a tiny bit cheaper. Read my full guide to travel in London as a creative professional.
Southeast Asia is brimming with popular destinations for creative professionals, and Chiang Mai in particular is a digital nomad mecca. Its combination of super low Southeast Asian prices, strong WiFi and fun things to do have made this northern Thailand city one of the most popular places in the world for creative professionals to live. It also boasts a more relaxed pace of life than Thai capital Bangkok. Some call it the Boston to Bangkok’s New York City. In addition to the countless temples and the huge Sunday night street market in the city’s central old town, Chiang Mai is a great base for exploring other parts of Thailand like Pai and Chiang Rai. Read my full guide to travel in Chiang Mai as a creative professional.
It may not have the abundant WiFi of Chiang Mai, but Luang Prabang, one of the major cities of landlocked Laos, is worth the trouble. The entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, chock full of beautiful colonial architecture and restaurants specializing in fusion cuisine. In addition to the city’s beauty, there are some wonderful cultural activities to partake in, like cooking classes and workshops in traditional weaving. Read my full guide to travel in Luang Prabang as a creative professional.
As the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is a massive melting pot of cultures. Filled with digital nomad-friendly workspaces and diverse arts, this metropolitan city can be a great destination for creative professionals. Read a local’s full guide to travel in Kuala Lumpur as a creative professional.
Confession: I spent an entire month in Bali and not only did I never leave Ubud, I didn’t even do much fun touristy stuff. How come? After a couple months of fast paced travel through Southeast Asia, I was feeling pretty burnt out and it was just so nice to be somewhere for an extended period of time. I enjoyed settling into a daily routine in the cultural heart of Bali. Ubud is jam packed with excellent restaurants and cafes. I’d spend my days working from one and return to a bungalow where I was hosted by a local family. When I did want to shake things up, I had plenty of options, from cooking classes to yoga.
It may not have the super inexpensive prices of Southeast Asia, but Japan’s rich culture from cuisine to calligraphy to anime makes it an attractive destination for anyone, not just creative professionals. Capsule hotels can be an affordable option, and there are a handful of cafes and coworking spaces throughout the city. Tokyo, in spite of its big city bustle, is also a very safe destination for solo female travelers. Read my 4 day itinerary for solo female travelers in Tokyo.
The tiny, often overlooked country of Uruguay lies sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina, and its capital Montevideo has little in the way of famous landmarks to draw tourists. What Montevideo does have is an equal parts lively and laidback pace of life, a long seaside walk and a charming old town with a handful of cafes with excellent connectivity, plus one of the most beautiful bookstores I’ve ever been in.
In a city as large as Buenos Aires, you need to know where to go in advance. (I definitely started my stay on the wrong side of town.) The ultra-trendy neighborhood of Palermo Soho is chock full of restaurants and cafes and covered in beautiful and creative street art. Supremely walkable with no shortage of space to work from, this is hipster central at its best, and one of South America’s best destinations for creative professionals.
The capital of Peru can admittedly be a bit hit or miss. Like Buenos Aires, Lima is a very large city with massive differences between the safety and attractiveness of its various neighborhoods. Most tourists land in Miraflores, which has its share of workable coffee shops. For the best creative experience, head just a little further down the shoreline to the neighboring district of Barranco. This artsy neighborhood is colorful both literally and figuratively, and absolutely packed with musuems, galleries, boutiques, restaurants and cafes all showing off the talent and creativity of Peru.