Travel the world as gay digital nomads

(CNN) — Ignacio Nieto Carvajal and Miguel Piñas Rodríguez met by chance at a gay bar in Madrid, shortly after Nieto Carvajal moved to the Spanish capital for work.

Nieto Carvajal almost didn’t go out that night, but he says he’s so glad he did.

“With Miguel, it was love at first sight, I knew it from the first time I saw him”, says Nieto Carvajal CNN Travel today.

“At first it was like this crazy thing with butterflies and everything.”

Within months, Nieto Carvajal and Piñas Rodríguez were living together. Less than five years later, they were married.

A year after getting married, the couple decided to get up and travel the world together, working remotely along the way.

Piñas Rodríguez quit his 9 to 5 job at the company and started working for himself in web design and SEO. Nieto Carvajal was in his second year leading his own development company.

The two sold all of their furniture and most of their possessions in Spain and became digital nomads in their own right. Now in their 40s, they say they’ve never looked back.

Travel the world

Miguel Piñas Rodríguez at the Pride parade in Berlin in July 2016. Berlin was one of the couple’s first trips.

Courtesy Ignacio Nieto Carvajal and Miguel Piñas Rodríguez

The couple’s first stop was Riga, the capital of Latvia.

“We had been there before and we loved the city; it was affordable, small and comfortable,” explains Nieto Carvajal. On previous visits, they had also made connections in a coworking space called TechHub, which made it easy to settle in.

Before long, the couple were heading to Berlin, and soon they were addicted to the thrill of exploring a new place, and what Nieto Carvajal calls the “freedom” of not being tied down.

“You’re exploring new cultures and new people, and it’s so exciting,” he says.

The couple have since spent time in destinations including Vietnam, Bali, Estonia and Malaysia.

Embrace new cultures

“Let’s go and see what happens,” is how Nieto Carvajal describes the couple’s journey process.

Whenever they arrive somewhere new, the two usually find an Airbnb “at least for a few days or a few weeks,” says Piñas Rodríguez.

From there, they will usually find a bit more permanent place to settle down for a while.

They like to get to know other travellers, but above all to meet the locals and get their tips. The couple say the only downside to their lifestyle is saying goodbye to people and places along the way.

“Every time we travel from one country to another, I’m very sad at first, because I miss the previous country, and I miss the people,” says Piñas Rodríguez.

But before long, they’ll be embracing a new culture and making new friends – and for Piñas Rodríguez, those bonds often come through food.

“I’m a foodie. You learn to cook new recipes, amazing ones,” he says, citing Thailand and Malaysia as two of his favorite food cultures he’s embraced over the years.

Traveling while being gay

Nieto Carvajal at an exhibition supporting the LGBTQ community on the Bridge of Lovers in Sofia, Bulgaria in August 2020.

Nieto Carvajal at an exhibition supporting the LGBTQ community on the Bridge of Lovers in Sofia, Bulgaria in August 2020.

Courtesy Ignacio Nieto Carvajal and Miguel Piñas Rodríguez

Although Piñas Rodríguez and Nieto Carvajal love to travel, they say life as a digital nomad presents challenges from managing a dodgy Wi-Fi network or arriving at vacation rentals that don’t look like the photos in line.

And in addition to these more minor ups and downs, the couple must also navigate safely as gay men.

“Some countries are more welcoming than others to this,” says Nieto Carvajal, who explains that the couple was particularly concerned before traveling to countries with weak or non-existent legal protection for LGBTQ people, such as Malaysia.

But Nieto Carvajal and Piñas Rodríguez say the locals they met in Malaysia were very welcoming and that, overall, their experience as gay digital nomads has been overwhelmingly positive.

When visiting countries known to be less tolerant, Nieto Carvajal and Piñas Rodríguez don’t usually come across as a couple.

Instead, they say they let the people they meet come to that understanding independently.

“People are more tolerant than you think,” says Nieto Carvajal. “They get to know you, and they come to this conclusion that these guys are together after a while.”

“Everyone will know,” adds Piñas Rodríguez.

“Eventually they realize that these two guys work together, travel together, together all the time — they’re a couple,” says Nieto Carvajal.

The couple are also wary of public displays of affection in some countries. But if he adapts his behavior to certain situations, the couple say they are very aware of the importance of remaining true to themselves during their travels.

Nieto Carvajal’s advice to other LGBTQ travelers is to be aware of your surroundings and know the culture and context, but “don’t try to hide either.”

Piñas Rodríguez echoes this: “Be natural and don’t hide.”

Digital nomads in a pandemic

Nieto Carvajal and Piñas Rodríguez in Lubljana, Slovenia in January 2020.

Nieto Carvajal and Piñas Rodríguez in Lubljana, Slovenia in January 2020.

Courtesy Ignacio Nieto Carvajal and Miguel Piñas Rodríguez

At the start of 2020, Nieto Carvajal and Piñas Rodríguez were in Croatia. Within weeks, they had moved to Serbia.

They hoped to travel to Canada that spring, then go through the United States and South America.

Then Covid-19 hit Europe.

“When we were in Serbia, everything started to explode,” recalls Nieto Carvajal.

The couple moved to Bulgaria at the end of February, around the time Italy had become the European epicenter of the coronavirus. They recall that Bulgarian customs officers assumed they were Italian and initially refused to let them in, only to learn they were Spanish and let them through.

A week after arriving in Bulgaria, many European countries closed their borders and went into lockdown. Nieto Carvajal and Piñas Rodríguez met in Bulgaria for almost a year.

“We decided to wait at least to be vaccinated and everything to be more stable”, explains Nieto Carvajal.

He adds that the pandemic has underlined a consequence of the digital nomads’ way of life that they were unaware of until then: since they were not permanent residents in Bulgaria, they could not get vaccinated right away.

But in the spring of 2021, they had their shots and headed to Turkey, then Spain for a long-awaited reunion with their family and on to Estonia for the next leg of their adventure.

Work abroad

Before the pandemic, “digital nomad” was already becoming a buzzword.

And now – with many people who have spent much of the past 18 months working remotely – more workers may be wondering if they will be able to go online remotely in the future.

Piñas Rodríguez and Nieto Carvajal’s best advice for would-be digital nomads is how you’re going to make money before you hit the road.

The couple also caution against assuming that social media or blogging will be a source of funds. In fact, quite unusual for digital nomads, Piñas Rodríguez and Nieto Carvajal largely avoid social media – Piñas Rodríguez sticks to changing his Facebook status when he changes country and occasionally uploads photos to Instagram .

Nieto Carvajal doesn’t use any social media apps at all, but maintains a work blog.

Today, Nieto Carvajal and Piñas Rodríguez both work for the same organization, Your Company in Estonia. Nieto Carvajal is the CEO and Piñas Rodríguez is the CMO.

“We had different businesses in the past, but this joint project really took off, so we focused on it and closed our previous businesses,” says Nieto Carvajal.

Nieto Carvajal explains that the company helps entrepreneurs run online companies based in Estonia, taking care of tax, accounting and compliance.

While the couple advocate getting your professional affairs in order before you start traveling full-time, they also admit that sometimes you just have to dive into the unknown.

Don’t think you’re too old, or too late, they insist.

“The worst enemy of oneself is probably one’s own fears”, says Nieto Carvajal. “Don’t be so afraid to try.”

Future plans

Some digital nomads may view their travels as a short-term break rather than a long-term lifestyle choice, but Piñas Rodríguez and Nieto Carvajal say they have no plans to stop traveling.

They hope to one day visit Canada and Latin America, and they also have Georgia and South Africa on their long-term visit list.

They sometimes meet former digital nomads who have fallen in love with a particular destination and have chosen to make their stay there permanent.

Piñas Rodríguez believes he could have stayed in Bali, while Nieto Carvajal likes Estonia.

But for now, the couple have no intention of putting down roots.

“Maybe when we’re 60 or something,” says Nieto Carvajal.

“It’s exciting to be able to share this together and we’re grateful for every minute we spend together and every new place we discover hand in hand.”

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