Let’s get this out of the way first: the term digital nomad is cringey and we all hate it. Using the phrase makes me feel like some poseur tech bro in $500 sneakers trying to pretend I’m chill and interesting when really everyone in the room thinks I need to get over myself asap. (Yes, I have been binge-watching Succession, it’s amazing, I have not been buying Lanvin sneakers.)
And yet, now I am one of those digital nomads. Frankly, it’s the best term to describe what I’m doing – none of the other options are less pretentious. Jetset writer? Cafe scribbler? I live in rundown apartments (writing this as I wait for my hot water to heat up so I can have a lukewarm shower instead of a cold one) and write blogs for small businesses, it’s not glamorous.
What being a digital nomad in Athens is really like
It’s currently a life mostly spent on my couch flicking between energy manufacturing sales website revamps and the Chase banking account balance (paid yet? Nope. Now? Still nope.) with an occasional scroll through AirBnb to find my next crash pad.
But I do love the freedom to live where I want, which right now is a place where I can wear a tank top in late October and eat a lot of cheese.
Where my nomads at?
Despite how inexpensive and sunny it is, Athens isn’t yet a big digital nomad hub. After a month here, I can see a few reasons why. It’s cheap, sure, but the economy is not strong and the euro generally is. It’s fine if you have a job based outside of Greece, but the country itself is still hurting financially. The internet speeds leave a lot to be desired, the trains and buses have regular strikes and outages (I made some new friends the other night waiting an hour for buses that never came thanks to a spontaneous protest), and there’s a constant line at every ATM in my neighborhood.
There’s 10 cafes to a block in Kypseli, the area where I’m staying, but only a few have WiFi at speeds as fast as the tiny black-clad grandmas meandering down the sidewalks. It’s also definitely odd to pull out a laptop there and start typing away. It’s just a cultural thing – you go drink coffee to socialize and relax and maybe play some backgammon and smoke endless cigarettes and pet the stray cat who lives in one of the tables, not to peck away on a screen.
Why chose Athens as a digital nomad?
But that segues nicely into what I love about living here and working remotely. I mean, you already know I love Greece. The life part of the work/life balance is so relaxing I can’t believe it’s already been a month. Lazy days on beaches and boats and long walks to the middle of the city and an hour-long wine break on a roof deck with an impeccable Acropolis view in the warm light of the fading fall sun… it’s perfect.
You can sit at that cafe for three hours sipping just one frothy espresso freddo, as the ice melts and the cat taunts the passing dogs and old friends great each other with delight. I don’t even smell the cigarette smoke any more, or the frequent diesel fumes of this congested city (well, most days I don’t smell it, others it hits me like that first sip of the strong dark espresso).
It’s a place to get your work done early, in the cool of your $600 a month 2 bedroom apartment (the cost of living is also a big draw here) and then go out into the slow and sunny world.
Staying out of the busy tourist center has allowed me to meander into life here – the shouts and rhythms of the weekly farmer’s market around the corner where I get a week’s worth of produce for $5, the intensity of the old men playing backgammon in the tree-shaded square, the snoozing habits of the stray dog who lives behind the 24 hour kiosk (a Greek fixture where I can get anything from energy drinks to bananas to condoms, which tells you they know how to live here).
My favorite Athens spots as a digital nomad:
- Coffee shops: SCRY in Kypseli has decent WiFi and excellent coffee and a very cute cat, Taf in Omonia has incredible espresso and a quiet upstairs section.
- Coworking spaces: There are quite a few open in Athens now, but my favorite is Stone Soup near Omonia. A friendly homey feel but with fast internet (so rare!) and plenty of events to meet your fellow nomads.
- Neighborhoods to live in: Glyfada is for the upscale expats and feels like a Greek LA, Psiri is very central and very hip, Exarchia is a little rough but full of youthful excitement, and Kypseli is packed with activity and farmer’s markets and lovely cafes and poets and actors and young families.
And the way the light looks on the surrounding mountains – soft indefinite rosy gold in the early morning, a clear warm blue mid-day, a lilac and orange sunset over the distant blue of those mountains again. I never tire of looking at it – sustaining me through low periods of work (and pay), the loneliness that’s part of this nomadic unsettled free life, the jitters that come from too much espresso drunk with a giant sugary donut from the corner bakery.
The ancient vastness here is steadying, somehow – Athens has been Athens for so long I feel small in a delightfully freeing way.