Being a Split digital nomad brings back some great memories. I was fresh off living in Southeast Asia for 4 months and needed a little break from fast paced Asia. And more importantly, my lungs couldn’t take the pollution. Fresh air was a surprising priority in my next spot. I was looking at staying in Asia and just moving to Taipei or Tokyo but decided to go with the complete opposite. I decided on Europe.
I was looking to go in February, meaning I could either buy all winter clothes or pick somewhere in Southern Europe. I looked at the Greek islands but it seemed to be too far in off season. I considered Sicily but language barriers and unreliable wifi scared me off. I considered Spain or Portugal but didn’t want to be in the Schengen area and eliminate the possibility of spending summer there (you can only stay 90 out of every 180 days there). So I chose Croatia. I had always wanted to go there and now seemed the perfect time. I chose Split because I knew I’d get fresh air from the sea and a nice, popular destination. Perfect!
One thing I quickly discovered about Split is that it wasn’t always a popular tourist destination. It started to gain mass popularity only in the last decade. That was surprising because the weather is nice, old town is beautiful, and it’s right on the Adriatic sea.
Tourists flock to Split during its summer months. Whenever I told people I’d only stay for a few months (starting in February), they’d look at me with puzzled eyes. Why wouldn’t I travel here during their famous summer months? This is when everything is happening. And I can’t argue.
When I arrived in February, the city felt dead. I was shocked. Most businesses were closed in the Old Town. Very few people were on the streets. It was still too cold to go sailing or do anything on the water. The whole place felt deserted.
Seeing restaurants closed was definitely disappointing. But I was actually happy about it. I was there to live and work… not to island hop and party every night. And my aspirations of fresh air definitely came to fruition.
Split revolves around Riva, its coastal city center main street. The picture at the top of this article shows a side-shot of Riva. Behind it, you find Diocletian’s Palace. It’s not really a palace but a giant walled city that comprises half of the city’s old town. It’s breathtaking. Limestone and marble throughout the city, with really interesting architecture and design. I was thoroughly impressed and haven’t seen many cities like this. For historical background, Diocletian was a Roman emperor and chose this spot for his retirement home.
The Old Town is a large portion of the city. All the action seems to happen here. I lived about a 25 minute walk along the coast near a harbor called Zenta. This was a very upscale area due to its proximity to the water and city center. I was uncertain when I booked it but quite happy choosing it. It was that perfect mix of calm and peaceful but central.
Aside from that, there isn’t much else to note about Split. You can do some nice hikes along a mountainous surrounding area. You can continue down the coast or visit one of their many nearby islands. You can see a few Game of Thrones filming locations. Or you can head inland to something else that Croatia has to offer.
Being a Split Digital Nomad
This was my biggest disappointment about Split. I assumed that a highly touristic destination would be an easy place to meet new people. I was very wrong.
During these spring months, I felt like the only tourist in the city at times. I made a few awesome friends (Croatian and non) but compared to other cities, I didn’t have much going on. I had a very hard time meeting people. A few reasons:
1 – Tourists just don’t come to Croatia during off-season. I’m not sure why, as the weather is still pretty reasonable for Europe. So meeting other travelers didn’t happen too often.
2 – Locals were seemingly in hibernation. The city’s economy now revolves around its tourist months. That’s why businesses shut down in winter. They make all their money during tourism season and don’t feel the need to work when travelers leave. Obviously restaurants might be empty in the absence of tourists. However, it didn’t feel like they were trying too hard either. Locals wanted the down-time to relax.
3 – In city center locations, I could see that property owners lived in these homes during off-season and rented it during tourist season. I rented a place on Airbnb that was quite reasonable in February and March. By April, they doubled the price. And by summer, I believe they quadrupled it. The short term summer rentals pay their mortgage for the year. And the owners live there during the winter. Again, it’s a tale of two seasons. They want their home-life time during winter.
4 – Croatians were very nice when I got to know them. But it’s a very social-circle type of culture. Meeting new people was very difficult. The city revolves around cafe-bars, where groups would come and sit for hours at a time. It was seemingly impossible to break into a group and introduce myself. That’s just their culture and I’m sure they had their share of tourists during summer.
5 – Online dating is non-existent. I’ve never been to a city that lacks interest in meeting people online. But Croatians just don’t do it. Again, they’re very social-circle driven.
6 – The last place I hoped to meet people were professional circles. But I quickly learned that very little professional activity happens here. The local economy is focused on tourism and natural resources. In off-season, not much work activity was happening. I would walk past cafe-bars on my way to lunch and then hours later, would see the same people sitting in them. People just don’t work hard in Split. They are a leisure first culture. There were two co-working spaces in the area but I never joined them. I probably should have tried but it’s just not my scene to pay $200/month to sit inside and work. I doubt much was happening inside them anyway.
Anyway, this was a big disappointment. I got lonely in Split. It was the hardest place to meet people of anywhere I’ve traveled. Meeting people would be much easier in summer but it’d primarily be the party backpacker type. Not exactly what I’m looking for when I live somewhere. Ultimately, this is why I left and why I’d question coming back for more than just a visit.
I enjoyed the Croatian culture but probably couldn’t do it for the long-term. It is very Southern European. Very laid back and leisure focused. Family first. Work is necessary but far from a priority. Slow pace.
The culture also had a very Italian feel to it. The Roman influences remain to this day. The food is very close to Italian, with pastas, breads, and meat. I liked the food a lot but there was little creativity. The menu was pretty much the same in every restaurant in the city.
Life revolves around those cafe-bars. I got a bit frustrated for a few reasons. First, it’s not very social unless you come with a group (as I mentioned). Second, everyone smokes and there’s no regulation against indoor smoking. Go inside and you’ll smell like an ashtray. Third, they never serve food. Coffee, alcoholic beverages, and smoking. That’s it. So it’s not the type of coffee shop to work out of. And they are everywhere! I walked around, found a place that looked interesting, only to find it was a cafe-bar like all the others. No food and nothing for me to do in there. They’re probably quite nice for locals but not too inviting for non-locals.
So the culture is what it is. If you go there expecting a nice, relaxing time then you’ll get it. If you’re expecting a friendly, professional setting, you won’t get it. For me, I loved it some days and grew tired of it on others. For two months, it was great. Longer and I would’ve pulled my hair out in boredom.
This is a definite advantage of Split. In February/March, the weather was good enough to be outdoors and a nice refuge from freezing Europe. I heard it does get hot in summer and has a violent winter wind called bura. But compared to other destinations in Europe, I think it’s a great weather spot. And since a lot of life revolves around the sea, that’s pretty essential. When I left in April, the weather was really starting to get nice. I wish I had come in March and stayed through April for the perfect weather timing.
Being a Split digital nomad was fun. Overall, I would recommend it for others but think it’s a better spot if you’re coming with a group or significant other. I’d guess April as the perfect month to go. It’s right before the crazy summer tourist invasion and just as the weather is getting nicer. Everything is open by then and prices are still reasonable.
Don’t come here for professional reasons. The city lacks anything noteworthy in that department and an environment that seemingly dislikes hard work. You might find yourself getting a little lazy if you have anything important to accomplish.
Compared to other spots in Croatia, it’s a good spot. From what I heard, Dubrovnik is much smaller and more tourist-focused. Zagreb, the capital, is more of a normal city feel but lacks the coastal benefits. Split balances both quite nicely.
For me, I’ll remember my walks down the sea. I’ll remember the gorgeous sunsets. I’ll recall the fresh air after months of Southeast Asia pollution. And I will remember the awesome people I met, even if it wasn’t a big quantity. All in all, positive memories.