On more than one occasion, while living in Barcelona, we have looked jealously at one of the brightly coloured red bikes whizzing past. These bicing bikes can be found all over the city, and are a fixture of Barcelona life. With high levels of bike theft, residents often choose to whiz around on these vehicles rather than purchasing their own and risking having it stolen. Bike use of this city bike system is so widespread that the bike stations themselves are labeled at the maps that the transit system provides within each metro stop. There are even a handful of electric bicycles that one can check out throughout the city.
Within a few days of seeing these bikes all throughout the city, Jones and I concluded that we'd like to hop on one of these ourselves to get around. At just under 50 euros for a year-long membership that affords you the use of the bike for as many 30 minute intervals as you'd like to use it for, it's an extremely affordable system. The system itself is largely subsidized by street parking fees that Barcelona car drivers pay. Unfortunately, it seems that these are out of reach for a number of nomad users -- despite being in the city for several months, and having a permanent address, we were unable to sign up for the program without a valid permanent resident permit. The local bike rental shops seem to have lobbied to prevent the Bicing system from being offered to those without permanent resident or citizenship status. Despite the potential environmental benefits of extending the Bicing to all users who wish to partake, it looks like the city has no plans to change its current policies.
Nonetheless, we still have no trouble getting around Barcelona. Fortunately, despite not being able to access the communal bike system, the city had a lot of other features that made it easy for us to get around. So what are the characteristics that we look for in cities that make sure that we are able to get around successfully, despite being digital nomads?
1. Pedestrian friendliness.
Fundamentally, when we first hit the ground, we end up walking most places. Owning a car is simply not compatible with our habit of frequent international travel. We additionally save money on car repair and gas, allowing us to save this money or put it towards future travel and living costs. There's nothing scarier though than walking by the side of a road that doesn't have a sidewalk while cars zoom past you at 6 in the morning on your way to your early visa appointment. We try to avoid cities where we would end up needing to make this kind of a trek: lack of pedestrian-friendly urban structures is one of the reasons we left Montevideo early.
2. Smaller cities without excessive sprawl.
The more compact a city, the easier it is to get around. While every city won't be a highly dense metropolis with all sorts of things available in walking distance, high urban density is important to us. We've looked into living in a handful of more rural locations, but the logistics of having to walk 10+ kilometres to the nearest grocery store is not appealing. A denser city means that we can hit up our favourite spots easier, and have a higher chance of finding coffee shops/coworking spaces/exciting places to explore.
3. A good public transit system that is preferably dog friendly.Having a good, efficient metro system is a boon: there's nothing easier than arriving in a city, putting some money on a transit card, and immediately being able to access all sorts of neighbourhoods and areas that would have been out of reach before. And the dog friendliness bit? Well, we see no reason that Nomad Hound should be left out of weekend jaunts to local parks, or whatever we're up to that week. When living in a city with a sub-par transit system (Montevideo, Miami) we've really felt it. We tend to go out less, spend more money overall, and feel less physically fit. There's few things that a long, relaxing walk down a quiet and green street or a long bike ride by the ocean won't fix :) Which brings us to....
4. Bike friendliness.As an avid long-time city biker, bike friendliness is hugely important to me. We're planning to hit up the Netherlands as one of our next destinations in order to enjoy more bike-centric culture. The last year has, unfortunately, not involved too much biking, since we don't travel with fold-up bikes -- though it has been discussed! We also looked briefly into getting a cheap, used bike to get around in a couple of the more bikeable cities, but found that the cost and hassle of getting one (and then needing to sell it after just a few months) wasn't justified. We're hoping that the coming year will, as we get a visa status that is more bicing friendly in Barcelona, and spend some months in Amsterdam, where getting a short-term bike ought to be easier.
What about you? How do our readers get around when they are traveling, and what kind of things are important to you to facilitate traveling?