Bansko Nomad Fest -what, where, when, and why
Bansko Nomad Fest is an annual event in the Bulgarian mountains that brings together hundreds of digital nomads from around the world. It takes a whole week and is full of knowledge sharing, fun activities, and opportunities to meet new people.
Having started during the height of the pandemic in 2020 with about a hundred nomads, last year (2021), Bansko Nomad Fest attracted more than 300 participants, while this year, there were over 500 attendees!
Over 500 digital nomads from 41 different countries in one place
Who are digital nomads?
Modern-day nomads are people who are not tied to a specific city or country but are constantly traveling the world while at the same time working online. Technology enabling remote work in many industries opened up these opportunities a few years ago, and the Covid-19 pandemic only accelerated this already popular trend.
They call themselves location independent, and when asked where they are from, they would answer “I grew up in…” or “I am originally from…”. However, right now, they are from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Those are the true digital nomads. Not all of us are made for such a lifestyle, though. So the community includes all kinds of remote workers, those who nomad all the time and those who go on a workation a few times a year.
I must admit that I am not one of those true digital nomads at the moment, as I have my home base, to which I come back after my travels. And to be honest, I’m happy with that.
What do digital nomads do for a living?
All kinds of things! There are many software engineers or graphic designers, representatives of the professions that have been among the first to enable remote work. But actually, most of the Bansko Nomad Fest participants are self-employed. There are bloggers, vloggers, self-published authors, online teachers, entrepreneurs, etc. It seems that the goal we all seek in our professional lives is generating a source of passive income that would enable us to work less and travel more (and by travel, I don’t mean working remotely from a different place but traveling and not having to work or spending very little time working).
I met a few successful travel bloggers in Bansko that inspired me to start writing again (as you might have noticed, I had writer’s block for a few years!), so you can expect more content coming soon on Liquid Traveling.
Where are digital nomads from (originally;)?
From all around the world. What might be surprising at first glance is that Americans were the biggest group in Bansko when it comes to nationality. However, these are nomads, and many of them did not come directly from their homelands. Anyway, it did not matter where people were from, as we all spoke the same language (English obviously) and had a very similar attitude to life (which is not so obvious in the “real world,” where friends and family with more traditional approaches don’t always get this drive to travel the world). A perfect example was our little hiking party that gathered spontaneously on the last day to see some mountain lakes – one Polish, one Bulgarian, one Dutch, one Israeli, one Indian, and one American. How cool is that?
Keynotes and Unconference talks
It was not all parting but an actual knowledge-sharing event. Every morning was filled with insightful keynotes on digital nomad related topics. Tips on being a successful entrepreneur, blogger/vlogger, real estate and investment, crypto, marketing – you name it. As the presentations happened simultaneously in two locations (one in an actual theater and the other in a cinema!), it was often difficult to decide which to attend. Fortunately, they were all streamed live on the Coworking Bansko Facebook page and are available to rewatch anytime you want.
Among many great presentations, I would like to mention 4 that I found the most inspiring.
- “Lessons learned from scanning high-performing brains” by Chris Reynolds
It was so interesting to listen to this presentation that explained a lot on how our brain works and how we can use this knowledge to be more efficient at work and a happier person.
- “Staying strong and pain-free as a digital nomad” by Conor O’Shea
Isn’t it just what all of us who spend hours every day in front of a computer need? For me, even more, as I do a lot of sports that sometimes lead to injuries. Conor is an online personal trainer who specializes in mobility. You can check out his Facebook group for some free tips.
- “How coliving changed the way I travel” by Leah Ziliak
It was the first time I heard about coliving spaces, making me want to try it out. Coliving is like coworking, but you share your living space with other people. I imagine it a bit like in a backpackers hostel but more long-term – an excellent opportunity to go on a workation alone and have some company from day one. I will definitely check it out to see what it is like and share it in another blog post.
- “Digital Nomad life during the war in Ukraine” by Orest Zub
This presentation got a standing ovation! Orest is a Ukrainian digital nomad from Lviv who was so brave to go back to his homeland when the war started. Now he’s doing some great work spreading the news on what is happening in Ukraine and helping out the refugees (especially orphaned children from the East). If you’d like to support him, you can share his work with your friends and also donate to his cause.
Besides the scheduled talks, there were unconference sessions every afternoon, which often took the form of discussions due to the cozy location in the park. For those who don’t know the term, an unconference is like a conference, but the presentations are not planned but decided upon on the spot by the participants. Wannabe speakers pitch their topics, and voting reveals which ones people want to listen to. The unconf talks at Bansko Nomad Fest covered so many exciting topics that, again, it was difficult to decide where to go. From video creation, SEO, and affiliate marketing to tantra and drugs (!).
There were also some spontaneously organized workshops like Wim Hoff breathing method, acro yoga, or mobility, simply by participants who wanted to share their skills. It was amazing how easy it was to organize as the park venue had space for everyone and everything.
Networking has never been easier!
It’s incredible how easy it was to connect with people at Bansko Nomad Fest. Already before the event, I met a bunch of people in Sofia, where I stayed for one night before heading to Bansko. We had a lovely dinner and a few beers in an international group consisting of 2 Germans, one Belgian, one Dutch, one Italian, one American, and one Polish (me). Just like that, someone posted on the Facebook group for participants, and others replied. A similar thing happened every night at the conference. We had this informal Whatsapp group, where people would post about having dinner, and others would spontaneously join them. Have you ever gone to dinner with a bunch of strangers? I really recommend that 🙂
There were also activities throughout the event that encouraged meeting new people like speed networking, human bingo, etc. This was great, but even without it, the networking was so easy and natural. We were all wearing event bracelets, and whenever you’d enter a restaurant and see people wearing them, there was no problem joining their table and having a meal together. This way, one day, I ate my breakfast with two Israeli guys.
And all this in a super relaxed atmosphere, wearing t-shirts and shorts and, as Charlotte from the Daily Telegraph summed it up, drinking lukewarm wine in the town square with hundreds of like-minded people.
As if that was not enough, there is an app called Nomad Soulmates, and its founders were in Bansko, encouraging everyone (especially the single nomads, which somehow makes the most of us;) to try it out.
Starting with yoga at 8 am (that I somehow never managed to attend, but fortunately, there was another session in the afternoon) and followed by a series of other cool activities like a football tournament, volleyball, or dog walking (with dogs from a local shelter). At night there was always an excellent opportunity to connect with new people while playing games like travel trivia, treasure hunt, or karaoke, followed by an afterparty (which made it difficult to get up for the morning yoga :). There were also premium activities (paid extra) like ATV and mountain bike trips, horse riding, a visit to hot tabs, and a pool party.
One might wonder why a small Bulgarian ski resort would be home to such an event and flooded with location-independent people. However, it has been a popular digital nomad hub for a few years already. And this is no surprise, once you visit Bansko. It is not only a cute town beautifully located at the foot of the mountains, with affordable prices and many good restaurants. Bansko’s unique vibe appeals to so many people from different parts of the world. It also checks all the boxes of what digital nomads are looking for in a place where they want to stay. In 2016 Matthias Zeitler opened a coworking space here, and since then, Bansko has grown into a significant digital nomad hub in Europe.
By the way, digital nomads are looking for places:
- Cheap to live in
- With low taxes
- That have something to offer in terms of its vibe (beautiful nature, historical town, favorable climate, tasty cuisine)
- With the infrastructure for remote work (good Internet connection and coworking spaces)
- Preferably already have a nomad community
I must admit that something in Bansko makes people want to come back. I can feel that already, and I am hoping for another great experience at Bansko Nomad Fest 2023. And I did enjoy Bulgarian food a lot!
My volunteer experience at Bansko Nomad Fest
Finally, I’d like to mention that my experience at Bansko Nomad Fest was not just of a participant. I was also a part of the volunteer team (which counted around 70 people as far as I know). Volunteers helped with everything, from the stage organization to photo and video coverage. They were MCs, sound specialists, photographers and videographers, yoga teachers, and bloggers. People of different trades and with many exceptional skills. I was a part of the PR team (together with a fantastic Bulgarian girl Maria, a fellow snowboarder, surfer, and enduro rider, with whom I connected immediately and went on a night hiking trip!). Our job was to spread the news about Bansko Nomad Fest and get it published in as many media outlets as possible. And we did pretty well as the event was covered in (among others): Daily Telegraph, Skift, Globe Trender, and The Recursive.
Want to attend Bansko Nomad Fest 2023?
If you’re wondering, you can also be a part of this event next year. Tickets for Bansko Nomad Fest 2023 are already on sale. And if you’d like to join as a speaker or a volunteer, keep track of the event’s website for updates on the following year’s applications (you just need to fill in a form and choose a role that you’d be interested in. Then wait for feedback from the organizers;)