I put on one more layer of clothes, holding my palms above the heater next to me as the cold makes my fingers stiff and I need to keep writing. I don’t even want to look through the window to once again see mist, snow, and the wind making a mess outside. The last time I remember it being -18C outside was twelve years ago. My friend calls but I reject her invitation to go out. I want to fall asleep in January and wake up in March. But then I stumble upon something that makes me want to stay awake, even when I am not a winter person. An opportunity to volunteer at a coworking space in Bansko, a small mountain town in Bulgaria.
I fill the form. I have a good feeling about this. The next day, I receive an email from Irina, Chief Coworking Officer. She asks me when I can come and we set a date. Two weeks later, I arrive in Bansko. I have been to two co-living spaces before and both changed me in a way so I expect to build friendships, make connections, have fun in a diverse environment. I meet Matthias and Uwe, the two co-founders and then I am taken to the apartment where I will live with one more volunteer, Nav. The apartment is new, clean, warm, and right above the coworking space. Great. I don’t have to be outside in the cold for a long time.
I leave my suitcase in the apartment and go downstairs to meet the others and to have a briefing with the co-founders and Irina. The deal is to provide 1 to 2 hours per day of my time in exchange for accommodation and using the coworking space. We agree on my creative project to make a few short videos which is great for me because I want to do this, I want to learn and add filmmaking to my skills, I need to practice. It’s a great opportunity to practice this skill. I can also get creative and paint some signs for the kitchen, Skype room, and the toilets. As an artist, I love having freedom.
It is an extended family
The value of being a member of a coworking space is not in how comfortable the chairs are, how fast the WiFi is or how many free cups of coffees per day I can drink, although these things count too. I wasn’t expecting to meet so many digital nomads in Bansko or to find out how getting Bulgarian residency is becoming a trend among those who come here.Two of the members, Jurgen and Ricardo set up a company together and decide to start a co-living space. Collaborations and friendships happen naturally. I am Bulgarian. Most of the young people here leave the country to look for a ‘better future’ outside of it. And then there are these foreigners who come. And want to stay. I have a feeling that the lower living expenses and the 10% corporate tax are not the only reasons for that.
Matthias is eager to take us to try a different restaurant each evening, the nearby hot spring, or any other local experience there is.
– You are a great nomad, you should experience!
I am here to experience but I like to do it at a slow pace and by having meaningful conversations. I could have stayed in Sofia, working from my bedroom, usually on my own, hanging out with my Bulgarian friends. But here, I am once again motivated to push my boundaries and create new opportunities for myself. I realize that I need that international environment, that human-to-human connection.
I decide to host a copywriting workshop and teach the other members how to create and tell their story. This is also a good practice for me as I want to learn how to teach others. We have movie nights, we play Exploding Kittens, we go on trips to the nearby bigger town Blagoevgrad together. Matthias shows us how to use the 3D printers in the space, we print a whistle and I get to keep it. He also lets me use the microphone, the 360 camera, and the tripod in the space. Most of these gadgets are available to all members if they just ask.
Life is easier and expenses are lower in Bansko
I miss the city life but I also enjoy being near the mountains, breathing clean air, and feeling calm. In Bansko, it is cheaper to eat in restaurants rather than cook my own food. A lunch special meal costs €2.50. A two-course dinner can be between €5 and €10. Drinks vary between €1 for a glass of the typical local drink rakia and €4 for a signature cocktail. Here is a breakdown of the average expenses:
Accommodation – €100 per month or €12 – €20 per night for a hotel (free if you are a Nomad In Residence)
Coworking membership – €50 to €150 per month (free if you are a Nomad In Residence)
Food – €7.50 to €20 per day
Drinks – €1 to €4 per drink
Transportation between Sofia and Bansko – €8 one way
Flights to Sofia – check WizzAir and Ryanair for the best low-cost deals
Skiing or snowboarding – €40 per day
Hot springs visit – €3.50
Luxury SPA visit – €12.50
It is time for me to leave for Morocco and we all gather for a goodbye dinner.
– Why do you have to leave? Don’t go! Stay in Bansko. You know you want to stay.
Matthias waits for me to get distracted and takes a cucumber from my salad.
– Hey, I’m not sharing my food!
I will miss this.
I head to Sofia. The night before my flight to Marrakech, I realize that I haven’t checked in for my flight yet. I open my passport and then I drop it. Expiry date – four days ago. I guess I won’t make it for the plane tomorrow morning at 6 am.
– I am coming to pick you up on Friday.
Matthias takes me back to Bansko and we agree on a new creative project that is in line with my other passion – writing articles.
Staying and being a part of the team
The ice on the sidewalks melts, the female cats start calling out for males, and I replace the sweater with a shirt and an unzipped jacket.
– Bansko is nice during the winter but during the summer it’s amazing.
I believe Matthias when he says that. It is not even spring yet but I already feel energized by the sun that is shining almost every day. I get inspired and organize a train trip for the community. It is the slowest train journey in Bulgaria. We travel across three mountains, tunnels, wilderness, the highest train station on the Balkans, villages preserving the past. Sometimes it’s good to slow the pace down, grab some snacks, hop on a train, enjoy the view, and ponder on things. We talk, laugh, take pictures, play fun games. I even get invited to the train driver’s’ cabin where I’m shown how to drive it myself.
– Press the pedal when the light goes off.
I keep asking him questions about his job and what’s challenging about it.
– The pedal!
– What happens if I don’t press it?
– The train stops. It’s designed to keep us awake.
It’s that simple. And that complicated.
The only downside of being a Nomad In Residence is that I feel like a part of the team. I am used to passing by instead of staying. I create friendships, and then someone always has to go. Two other members, Itay and Maria leave. But then their plans also change.
– This place is hexed. Haha! So how long are you staying?
– I don’t know.
Maria answers the same way as I did when I came back from my failed Moroccan trip. Maybe the mountains are magical and all of us who are here are charmed.
As a nomad in residence, I exchange my skills for accommodation and coworking. But I notice that the other members are doing a similar thing. Magnus and I agree to help each other present on camera and film each other. Alisa agrees to help me with the user experience design of my website in exchange for editing her copy. Jurgen asks me to help him with copywriting, offering his business building knowledge in return. The economy rules within the community are different. No competition. Barter payments accepted.
Is the Nomad In Residence program for you?
Writers, filmmakers, photographers, designers, marketers, social media stars. Calling all artists and creatives who can contribute to building the community.
What do you get
Free accommodation and coworking membership in exchange for 1 to 2 hours of your time each day. A diverse environment where you can meet other like-minded digital nomads. Opportunities for collaborations. An unusual type of coworking in the mountains rather than at the beach.
Why you should just do try it…
Bulgaria is a great place for digital nomads who want to explore an authentic eastern European culture, try new food, learn a new language, start a business, and have a great lifestyle with lower expenses. Come here to set up a business or to have an easy life.