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I love being a digital nomad, and I love festivals, so when the opportunity came up to attend Bansko Nomad Fest, I couldn’t resist.
It was my first digital nomad festival, and overall I had an amazing week celebrating the location-independent lifestyle with so many other nomads. But there were a few things I wish I had known before!
In this post, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the festival if you’re considering joining next year, plus what to know about being a digital nomad in Bansko.
Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary ticket to Bansko Nomad Fest. As Always, all opinions are my own.
What Is The Bansko Nomad Fest?
The digital nomad movement is continuing to grow worldwide, with an estimated 22% of the American workforce projected to be remote workers by 2025.
The world is shifting to meet the needs of nomads, including the rise of digital nomad festivals.
Bansko Nomad Fest started in 2020 and celebrated its third event in June 2022, with 500+ nomads coming together! The festival is organized by Coworking Bansko and celebrates the location-independent lifestyle and nomad mindset.
But why Bansko?
Over the last few years, Bansko has grown into a digital nomad hub in Europe, and the nomad festival compresses the magic of the town into one week.
As an attendee, you get to come and learn about everything Bansko has to offer and meet hundreds of new nomad friends, as well as tips to succeed as a digital nomad.
During the week, there’s a mix of presentations, workshops, sports, mindfulness, nature, outdoor activities, and parties.
Topics covered at the event
There are dozens of speakers at the event, covering every topic you could ever want to know about becoming and succeeding as a digital nomad, with many topics aimed at entrepreneurs.
Some talks I went to included mindset roadblocks, coliving, YouTube, course creation, fundraising 101, remote life without visas, imposter syndrome, report job search strategies, hiring virtual assistants, real estate investing, building communities, managing finances, and more!
There were also a few talks specifically about being a digital nomad in Bulgaria and buying property in Bansko (which is definitely something that piqued my interest).
As you can see, the talks cover a vast range of topics, so you can choose the ones most relevant to you.
As I’ve been a digital nomad for a while now, I didn’t know how much I would get from the talks, but a few gave me some great ideas for my business.
The morning sessions take place in the Cinema Stage and Theatre Stage, which are in the center of town.
In the afternoon, the ‘unconference’ takes place in the town park, about a ten-minute walk away.
The unconference sessions are more informal and include topics like taxes for nomads, how to stay fit, hypnotizing yourself, dating as a nomad, and more.
In addition to that, there are daily yoga/fitness classes in the morning and afternoon at the park, which is a great way to unwind at the end of the day.
A typical day at Bansko Nomad fest
An average day starts around 9 am when you head to the Theatre or Cinema Stage for the talk of your choice.
Talks are around 25 minutes + questions, with a short break in-between and enough time to walk between the stages.
If you need a coffee, there are cafes nearby as well as a coffee vending machine outside the Theatre stage – and a machine that squeezes fresh orange juice! It’s actually pretty good; I recommend this for a quick hit.
Around 12:30 the morning sessions end, and it’s time for a lunch break. You can either head to one of the restaurants in town or pre-order through the festival app to have your lunch delivered to the park. They work with three local restaurants, and you can choose between Bulgarian, Mexican, and Greek.
Around 2 pm, the unconference sessions kick off in the park. These are more informal and are about half an hour each. The park is also a chill place to hang out and network with fellow nomads.
If you aren’t feeling up for more talks, there are also free and premium activities you can join in the afternoon, which meet in the park around 2 for transportation—more on that in the next section.
Each evening at the Bansko festival is different, but most involve a party. There was an opening party in the town square, a party at the hot springs, parties at bars around town, a bonfire night, and several parties in the park, including a comedy night.
In addition to these, several niche meetups and events run throughout the week that you can join.
They may be listed on the app, but many last-minute events were planned on an informal WhatsApp group.
Side note for my content creator friends – I wasn’t expecting to meet so many other creators at this festival, but there were actually many of us and a few familiar faces from Traverse. So while I don’t think it’s as beneficial as a conference specifically aimed at bloggers, I still made some great connections.
As you can see, you won’t find yourself bored at the Bansko nomad fest. I’d recommend clearing your schedule as much as possible for the week of the event because it’s jam-packed with fun things to do.
Free and premium activities
In addition to the conference, as an attendee, you can book free and premium activities through the app to explore Bansko.
One day I spent the afternoon walking dogs from Bansko Street Dogs, a fantastic non-profit helping the street dogs of Bansko.
Another day I joined a trip to the Bear Sanctuary Belitsa, about 45 minutes outside Bansko. They provide a habitat for bears used for entertainment in Bulgaria, which sadly still happens today. The sanctuary gives them a second chance at life, and we got to some bears close up.
Afterward we went to the alpine roller coaster, which was a fun way to take in the gorgeous forest scenery around Bansko.
Other activities you could participate in included mountain biking, rock climbing, white-water rafting, visiting the Riga monastery, and more.
My experience at the Bansko digital nomad festival
Overall, I had a great time at the festival. I met some cool people, reconnected with some nomad friends, discovered a new digital nomad destination, and even learned a few things that will help my business.
I absolutely loved Bansko and really enjoyed the activities around Bansko outside of the conference. The parties were also a great time.
All that said, I think the festival has a lot of room to improve when it comes to organization, which was a common sentiment among attendees. Some may have even referred to it as the Fyre festival of Europe.
The best example I can give you is the night of the bonfire, which was in the woods about a 40-minute drive away from town (but not accessible by car)
You could book transportation through the app for 5€, which many attendees did. But there was some sort of miscommunication, and not enough seats were reserved.
Hundreds of people showed up at the meeting point at nine that was written in the app, only to find out that the shuttle had gone twenty minutes before. Then about an hour later, a truck showed up, and we were all shoved into the back of it like cattle. I’m pretty sure it actually was a cattle truck.
It was pretty ruthless getting on the back of the truck; people were pushing and shoving to get on. Some didn’t make it and decided to hike, which sounded awful. I met one guy later that night at the bonfire who said he got lost and hiked in the woods for three hours!
So as you can imagine, many people were displeased wiith the situation. I’ve been traveling for so many years now things like this don’t bother me; but I’m small and was able to crouch down into a safe space. While many others were getting banged around and having their glasses thrown off them by branches – yes, that actually happened.
So to ask people to pay 5€ for that is pretty ridiculous. They refunded that due to the chaos, but every other transportation you had to pay for was always a mess.
The bus driver at the hot springs drove off without us because there wasn’t enough space, but thankfully, I met some other attendees who had a car and drove me back to town.
The other major complaint was the app for the event that you booked transportation and events through. It frequently stopped working or glitched out.
Aside from the disorganization and app, I felt that more could be included with the tickets overall. At the very least, transportation to the events around town, maybe a sandwich here and there?
Perhaps it’s just because I’m used to travel blogging conferences where you get A LOT of value with your ticket, but this event surprised me.
Essentially, the value you’re getting with the ticket is the in-person talks, which are streamed on the Bansko Coworking Facebook page during the event.
It’s not that I didn’t find the talks valuable; it’s just that every conference I’ve attended before this has included that AND many other perks – whether it’s free food and alcohol at events or comped tours and activities.
Bansko nomad fest has all these things – but you’ll pay extra. There is no food or alcohol included at any of the events, but thankfully, Bansko is a pretty affordable destination. At the park where many of the parties were, a beer cost costs around 2€. At the opening party and bonfire night, it was on a donation basis.
Many at the festival were left wondering, “where is the revenue from this event going?” and the answer was made clear – to improve and expand Coworking Bansko.
I’m of the mind that it should go back into improving the event, paying speakers, etc., but unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in their plans.
I say this not to dissuade you from going to the event but to give you an honest representation of what you can expect to get with your ticket.
At the end of the day, I think most attendees had a good time (I definitely did), and most would go back, but that’s mainly because of the people and setting.
Bansko is a beautiful place with a fantastic nomad community, so combining that with hundreds of high-spirited nomads from all over the world is a recipe for magic.
Living in Bansko as a digital nomad
Perhaps your interest has peaked in the festival, and you’re considering checking out and maybe even spending some time in Bansko. You should!
Where IS Bansko?
First, you’re probably wondering – where on earth is Bansko? Honestly, I didn’t know anything about it before coming to the festival, but it turned out to be one of my favorite places in Europe I visited that summer!
Bansko is a small mountain town in the south of Bulgaria, about two hours’ drive from the capital city, Sofia. It’s one of the most beautiful places to visit in Bulgaria!
Why live in Bansko?
There are many reasons to choose Bansko as your next digital nomad destination.
To start, Bansko is one of the cheapest digital nomad destinations in the world. You can BUY a studio apartment for as low as 20,000 euros or rent one for 150/month. That’s cheaper than some storage units in North America.
This means you can easily have a base here and leave it to travel without being too concerned about costs at home.
It could be a good place to start your nomad journey, as you can live here frugally while you learn new skills.
Established nomad community
Another reason Bansko is a great place to start your nomad journey is that there’s already an established community of digital nomads here year-round.
This is centered around Coworking Bansko, who runs regular events for the community that make it easy to make friends.
Good location for exploring Eastern Europe
Speaking of travel, Bansko is in a decent location for exploring other parts of Bulgaria and Europe. You can visit the capital, Sofia in two hours, as well as Plovdiv.
Bulgaria neighbors Greece, Romania, Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Turkey, so you’ve got many options for exploring nearby countries.
Outside of Schengen Zone
One of the biggest annoyances about being a digital nomad in Europe is the rule that you can only be within the Schengen zone (a network of 27 countries) for 90 days within 180 days. But Bansko isn’t part of Schengen, so it’s a great place to spend some time if your 90 days are up.
Incredible Outdoor Adventure and Nature
One of the main reasons I fell in love with Bansko is because of all the gorgeous natural landscapes.
During the winter, it’s a premier destination for winter sports, and in the summer, it’s a paradise for hiking!
One day, a friend and I hiked up Vihren’s Peak, the second-highest peak in Bulgaria. The scenery was breathtaking, and we even saw some wild animals along the way.
You can see more of that hike and what it’s like living as a digital nomad in Bansko in this YouTube video by Sergio Sala.
How to get to Bansko
There’s no airport in Bansko, so if you’re flying from another country, you’ll land in Sofia, which is about two hours away by car or three by bus.
Getting from Sofia to Bansko is relatively painless as there are regular buses from the central station in town. Someone also told me there are buses directly from the airport, although I never found them.
During the Bansko digital nomad festival, they run shuttles from the airport the day before and after the festival, which is the easiest way to get there if you’re coming for the event. You can also arrange a private shuttle.
I took the public bus there from Sofia as I arrived late and got a ride back with my friend to Sofia. Having a rental car in Bulgaria is nice, as you can stop in places like the Rila monastery along the way.
Where to Stay in Bansko
I decided to come to Bansko last minute and booked this hotel for $140 for the week, which I thought was a great deal until I realized people were getting apartments for a month at that price!
That said, you’ll only get an apartment at that price if you commit to at least a month. Check out Bansko Nomad Apartments to find a cheap place.
If you’re coming for the festival, I recommend booking your hotel or apartment in advance as the town does fill up with nomads.
I liked my first hotel’s location and price, but the interior left something to be desired. So for my last few days in Bansko, I moved to Grand Royale Apartment Complex. It was about 50/night, but that was for an entire apartment, breakfast, and access to the downstairs spa, which was fantastic.
Most of the apartments are around the town center where the conference sessions take place, or a bit further up near the Bansko ski lift, where many restaurants are, as well as one of the Coworking Bansko locations.
It’s about a 15-20 minute walk between the two areas, so you can stay in either, but if you want to run home between conference sessions, I recommend staying closer to the town square.
Here are some other nice options in Bansko for apartments:
Coliving in Bansko
If you’re looking for a coliving space in Bansko, check out Nomadico.
They have a central location just 10 minutes from the gondola and 15 minutes walking distance from the historical part of town.
There are 13 rooms, all with mountain views, desks, and strong WiFi. There’s also a shared kitchen, Mehana (a typical Bulgarian restaurant), and a sauna in the basement!
There’s a work zone in the restaurant, and your stay includes two days of coworking every week at Nestwork Coworking which is a short walk away.
How long to spend in Bansko
Honestly, I wish I had spent more time in Bansko before and after the event. Many attendees came to Bansko for the month, which is what I would do if I had my time back.
The week is so full on that you won’t have time to do everything you want, and you’ll want some time to decompress afterward.
Bansko is the perfect place to do that. Plus, so many nomads are still there after the event that you’ll have friends to do things with. It’s a great place to save money and go on many outdoor adventures!
Final thoughts: Is it worth it to go to Bansko nomad fest?
If you’re an aspiring digital nomad or just looking to connect with more, then Bansko nomad fest is a wonderful place to do it. Would I fly across the world again for it? Probably not, but I’d consider going again if I was in Europe.
Just don’t expect bells and whistles with this event. If you’re the type of person that gets annoyed by poorly designed apps and disorganization, then you’re probably going to have a bad time. But if you can get past that and bask in the beautiful scenery and amazing people, you’ll have a great time here.
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