As you begin your digital nomad journey, one of the first questions you might ask yourself is, “Where am I going to live?” Insurance, flights, banking, and other things are extremely important. (So much so, the founder of World Embark has nicknamed the entire Digital Nomad Process “The Roadmap.”) However, where you stay, the quality of sleep you receive, and the people you interact with are going to
- A) Directly impact your work efficacy
- B) The perception of the communities in which you are living among
Far too often, I have let my personal attitude affect the way I view a community or city. (And something I have learned…. A lack of sleep makes me irritable.)
So, today we are going to talk about 8 different housing options for digital nomads, some pros and cons, and then a conclusion
So, let’s talk about 8 different housing options for digital nomads, their pros and cons, and which ones I recommend.
As always, please feel free to reach out on my Instagram comments if you have any questions.
Table of Contents
Short-Term Rental Apartments (Flats)
Pros: Housing Equipped with Kitchens and Wash/Dry Machines, Privacy to get work done
Cons: Gentrification, Cost, Potential Support Issues, Cleaning Fees
Other Things to Think About: Privacy & Security
With the recent retaliation/revolution away from Airbnb, I debated putting this one on here. However, for digital nomad productivity, it might be one of the best options. The ability to seclude yourself whenever you need to take a conference call, have nobody bother you or tap on your shoulder whenever you are working, etc. etc. etc.
Plus, short-term rental apartments occasionally have some money saving appliances such as stoves, ovens, and washer and dryer units.
How do I find Short-Term Rentals?
There are some places to look including the infamous Airbnb. However, you can always look to someplace such as VRBO, Craigslist sites, or simply google “Short Term Rentals in My City.”
Airbnb Case Study
I keep mentioning Airbnb in this article, so I decided to put them to the test. (Or more specifically, put Airbnb’s support to the test.) Unfortunately, I cannot accurately verify the horror stories of cameras in bedrooms, the laundry list of chores after you leave, and the unclean living spaces despite the exorbitant cleaning fee.
I decided to reach out to AirBnB support with a few questions regarding their updated refund and rebooking policy. More specifically, the technical jargon “The amount refunded depends on the severity of the travel issue.”
Imagine this scenario with me.
Something goes wrong one-quarter of the way through your thirty-day stay at an Airbnb. This might be as simple as the washer and dryer not working, or as complex as the internet not working. (And you can’t work as a digital nomad because of it.)
Maybe something even worse happens, and you are forced to vacate the premises. (Busted pipe, etc.)
So, you didn’t stay the full-amount of time because of something beyond your control. Shouldn’t you be eligible for a partial refund?
Now, that question was not all encompassing, so I elected to ask a second question in the chat box.
“If someone chooses to stay in the accommodation, when is the host notified that they will not be getting the full-amount if Airbnb elects to issue a partial refund?”
I was worried about potential retaliation from Airbnb hosts, as I believe that Airbnb should withhold payment until after the guest checks out of the accommodation. (Instead of their 24-hour policy.)
To be honest, Airbnb support did not provide the information I needed, so I asked the second question again as they seemingly ignored it. (And eventually found my own answer to the first question as seen below.)
Question #2: When is the host notified if Airbnb elects to issue a partial refund
I might be overreacting, but I found the tone a bit…. frustrating. All I did was ask a question again. However, from Chem’s answer, I learned something. When it comes to something going wrong after the three-day window, it’s a lose-it or use-it situation.
Now, let’s go back to the first question, “The amount refunded depends on the severity of the travel issue.”
Here are the list of travel issues on Airbnb’s websites.
It seems very arbitrary, but Airbnb might have a checklist for their employees if something goes wrong. However, from a consumer standpoint, I wouldn’t rely on it.
Granted, I might have approached this from the wrong-angle entirely, and it could have been confusing.
And of course, we still need to talk about…
The Social Impact of Short-Term Rentals
As I moved around the world, I increasingly became aware of the social impact of short-term rental apartments. There is a two-fold issue.
#1: Gentrification: Typically, short-term rental apartments are in gentrified neighborhoods. Of itself, this is particularly problematic. However, combined with #2, a transient population is a nightmare.
So, we kicked the locals who had lived their 30 years out of their houses to build brand-new apartments. However, the people we are replacing the locals with are a group of people who won’t even be there *usually longer than 90 days.
There’s enough in that sentence to unpack, but it’s something to really think about and consider.
Pros: Support a local, more ethical side of short-term rentals, Own Bed
Cons: Privacy, Location to tourism sites, Spotty Wifi
Other things to think about: Does this home-stay include access to a kitchen? How did I meet this person?
Homestays are a form of short-term rental where you rent a room from a local member of the community. Growing in popularity, you can find these rooms on couchsurfing.com, craigslist, or even local facebook groups.
What’s awesome is homestays are typically cheaper than private apartments (and still might have kitchen access). But most importantly, you get to know the place you are visiting at a much more intimate level. (Plus, you might get some language-practicing experience!!)
However, there are some potential downsides, too. There might be house rules (don’t use the kitchen after 9:00PM, you might get asked to clean the bathroom, and you still are required to find your own community. Homestay volunteers are often still living their 9-5 jobs, and are looking at renting their extra bedroom for some money. Meanwhile, you are still stuck in their apartment, alone.
Pros: Cheap, Built-In Community
Cons: Quality of Sleep, Wifi (In my personal experience),
Other Things to Think About: Wifi
I bounced from hostel to hostel while in Europe. From the Yellow Square in Rome to Urbany Hostel in London, I believe that I have experienced about every hostel environment that exists. (Yes, even those space pods!)
Yet, for digital nomads, hostels are an interesting dichotomy. Digital Nomadism is a lifestyle, not necessarily a vacation. Hostels promote partying and community at the expense of productivity. People might stay up until 6 AM, wake up in the afternoon to explore the sites, and then start right after dinner…. On a Tuesday.
However, if you need to follow your client’s schedule, this won’t be possible. Plus, from personal experience, the constant interruption to a sleep schedule greatly affects my work output.
Of course, I am reminded of a story of Istanbul. Somebody walked into our room at 3:30AM, turned the lights on, used the bathroom, and left. He wasn’t even sleeping there. #Frustrating Now, I carry an old pair of nasty earplugs and a sleeping mask, which have helped tremendously. However, those little things are just reminders of what awaits me if I don’t prepare accordingly.
What makes a great hostel for digital nomads?
If you are still leaning on staying in a hostel, I have found a few characteristics that constitute a great hostel.
- Don’t pick a hostel with a built-in bar. Instead, stay at a hostel that arranges pub or bar crawls
- Never stay in a room with more than eight people.
- It’s one thing to have a kitchen, it is another to have a kitchen table
- Smaller hostels (less than 100 people) have a home vibe
- Couches and televisions are both a pro and con for travelers.
Pros: Chain Standards, Plenty of Reviews, Quality Control, More Ethical
Cons: Isolation, Typically Expensive, Lack kitchens
Other Things to Think About: Isolation, Breakfast
There are thousands of digital nomads around the world who live in hotels, but you probably are not aware of it. After getting done with a busy day exploring, they can shut the door, isolate themselves from the world, and it’s almost as if you have a private apartment.
Sure, you may not have a kitchen. But if you’re staying in a hotel 24/7, you’re probably not worried about the cost of dining.
Personally, some advantages that I see beyond privacy include, quality standards (if you stay in a chain hotel such as Marriott or Hyatt), and most importantly, government regulation. As sad as it may be, hotels are often more ethical than short-term rentals due to zoning laws, taxation, and other daily operations. (Plus, you don’t have the exorbitant cleaning fees of Airbnb.)
Pros: Private room, Cost Saving
Cons: Cannot control the people you live with, Cleanliness, Sharing literally everything
Other Things to Think About: Internet Bandwidth
Co-living is different from a homestay, as I define co-living as someone being assigned a private room. However, each person shares a common “living space”.” This living space might include washers, dryers, dishwashers, etc. (Really, just think of co-living as a combination of a hostel and a hotel.)
Now, I will be honest. Out of all the living arrangements on this page, this was one of the two I have never utilized. So, I asked my friend, Kit, about her experience in coliving. (Thanks for doing this, Kit!)
- What are the pros/cons of co-living from someone who has lived it?
In my opinion, a positive co-living experience hinges on many things, and most of them are outside of your control. I moved into co-living when I relocated to a new city. In the frantic scramble of finding a job, the grocery store with the best deals, and the best spot for happy hour drinks, it was nice to come home to a place pre-lived in. Our pantry was stocked with that one spice you use two times a year for that one dish. There was a row of appliances lined up on the kitchen counter: toaster, mixer, air fryer, and the coffee maker. Someone had even already bought a twenty-four pack of toilet paper and a twelve pack of paper towels. (Communal goods that I would eventually pay for, but it was one less than I had to worry about.)
For a bit (far longer that I’d wish to admit), I didn’t know anyone outside of my roommates. They unknowingly offered a built-in source of human connection, one that I sorely needed. After several months, I got a job that allowed me to telework. And although it was nice to work from the privacy of my room, it felt even better to occasionally travel to the kitchen for water cooler conversations with other housemates taking a fifteen-minute break from their own jobs. It was almost a little slice of office culture that seemed to have died during the pandemic.
Yet, there are numerous cons that shouldn’t be overlooked. My house sleeps ten people. Whenever someone moves out, my landlord finds a new person to fill their gap. This takes the pressure off the current housemates. (Our name is not on the lease, and we won’t be required to pay for the empty room.) However, we also don’t get to evaluate the new tenant. All we know is that they can pay their rent.
Also, if you’re someone who values a high-standard of cleanliness, co-living quickly becomes messy. It’s important to remember that the people you live with aren’t necessarily friends that you visit. Dishes left in the sink for a few days, hair on the shower wall, and loud music coming from rooms at night are going to happen. However, there is not always an easy way to say, “Please, for the love of God, clean up after yourself. I am not your maid, and we have fruit flies.”
Finally, there is the kitchen. If everyone wants to cook dinner at the same time, you’re screwed. Everyone bought groceries yesterday in order to cook tonight’s dinner, but you cannot find room in the one fridge for a bottle of wine and a pre-made salad? You’re screwed. Did you purchase nonstick pans, but have a housemate who grew up washing everything in the dishwasher? You’re really screwed because you have to speak up. Whether it be the shower conversation or the non-stick pans, conversations are all dependent on the personalities living in the house. (And that can be very hard to control.)
In summary, co-living: Type-A personalities need not apply.
- What is one thing that you were not prepared for in regards to co-living?
More than anything, I wasn’t prepared for people moving in two ways.
#1 The Noise
When I moved-in, I thought, “Well, it’s the city. There’s going to be a lot of noise. I’ve lived in cities before, so I’ll adjust.”
BUT there’s nothing more disturbing to your sleep than the girl in the nearby room deciding to take a shower at midnight. Or the boy on the first floor needing water and a snack at 2 AM. I am constantly waking up due to slammed doors and loud voices in the kitchen. Based on how thin the walls and floors are, I probably know more about my roommate’s lives than they’d want me to.
#2 Lease Lengths
We are all on different leases. I am about to move out while someone else just renewed for a year. Since starting my time in co-living, six people have moved out and another six have moved in. Those who remain are constantly reminding the new tenants the House Rules. But calling them rules sounds so draconian, so we call them customs (i.e. please refill the ice tray, please close the gate behind you, please lower the toilet seat, etc, etc.)
I have no doubt, when I leave, my old housemates will tell the new resident both “Well, the person who used to have your room would always do x, which we liked.” Also, “Thank god you don’t do y, which is what the old tenant of this room did.
- What would you compare this lifestyle to?
On good nights, I love where I live. It feels like a hostel as there is an activity that involves alcohol maybe once a week, someone is always leaving for fun weekend activities and vacations that you’ll hear about later, and you find yourself occasionally having deep conversations with a housemate into the early morning.
Some nights, I look around my room and realize that this is it. (And I don’t even own the room.) Co-living sometimes feels like living in a horrific PETA commercial. My miniscule room sometimes feels like a chicken cage (the one that most chicken farmers stopped using.) I am sure that you’ve seen the videos where chickens are locked in their cages 24/7, and their feet and body awkwardly grow because they never get to stretch.
Pros: Cheap, Immediate Community, Hospitality
Cons: Safety, Location of Housing, Length of Stay
Other things to think about: Protecting your belongings, Working during the day
Couchsurfing is almost like an extreme version of a homestay. There is the possibility of once-in-a-lifetime moments, language exchange, and getting to know the local spots of towns. However, I think couchsurfing may be geared more towards travelers instead of digital nomads.
People are gracious enough to let you use their couch and living quarters, but I highly doubt they are expecting you to hang around their house during the day. If they let you, you will still need to think about internet bandwidth. They might be staying and working from home, too.
Let’s just say that you cannot stay at the house during the day. Most people’s homes are outside the city center, so you will have to commute daily. Maybe you will have to try twenty different coffee shops before you find the perfect one. (Not a problem in my opinion.) But also you have to consider the length of stay. I highly doubt that you will be allowed to sleep on someone’s couch for a month plus.
Pros: Cheap, Space, Access to Kitchen, Payment
Cons: Short-term housing depending on contract length, Difficult field to enter
Other Things to Think About: Location, Responsibilities.
House sitting might be the best option for digital nomads. However, it is notoriously difficult to break into.
So, what is house sitting?
House sitting is when you enter into an agreement to “watch” someone’s house. Maybe the current residents are leaving town for an extended vacation and need somebody to watch their pets. Or they have plans and just need somebody there. Sometimes, there are responsibilities, and other times there are not. However, in exchange for staying there and helping out, you get free housing. It honestly sounds too good to be true, and there are two cons of house sitting for digital nomads.
#1: How long will you be expected to stay in one place
Sometimes, you will only stay at a place for a week. And whenever you move every week, it becomes difficult to get settled and get to know a place.
#2: You cannot control the location
At least with couchsurfing or coliving, you choose the location. However, with a small number of people promoting their houses for housesitting, you might not. (Remember, you are also competing against other house sitters, too.)This might be the neighborhood, but even go as far as the city. You may want to live in Berlin, but end up in Dresden. So, you decide to take a day-trip to explore Berlin. It’s just important to be flexible.
Pros: The Ultimate Freedom
Cons: Sleeping in Parking Lots, Space, Wifi, How can I keep things charged, Smell
Other things to think about: How can I keep my space organized?
Vanlife is truly the ultimate freedom. However, it is going to require a major lifestyle switch for some. (Myself included.) For context, I lived in a van in Iceland for about seven days, and it was the most economical way to visit the country. It seems like a lot more money, but when you consider the cost of hotels, cooking your own food, and other things, it quickly makes sense.
Honestly, having a vehicle is the ultimate amount of flexibility. Sure, that grocery store is forty kilometers away, but it’s easily doable.
Maybe you’re in the United States, and want to go from the Great Sand Dunes to Yosemite? You don’t have to worry about looking at plane tickets and how to balance work. You can drive while you’re not working.
However, there is one potential con. First up, you will need to make sure you have a good cell phone plan AND you have a wireless hotspot. (If you’re in the United States, I have used Verizon, AT&T, Spring, and T-Mobile in my lifetime. I recommend Verizon or T-Mobile.) There are going to be large swaths of any country, especially in rural areas, that are dead zones for cellular phone coverage.
But for digital nomads and anyone undergoing vanlife, you really have to consider your stuff. Think about minimalism, organization methods, and the clothing you plan on taking. It’s a home, not a vacation.
Pros: Built-In Community, No Planning
Cons: You Don’t Pick the location, Price
Other things to think about: What’s included? Refund policy in case of family emergency?
Digital Nomad group trips were becoming extremely popular before the pandemic, and have slowly seen a resurgence. If you don’t want to plan anything and have a built-in community, these are for you. Plus, these tours have often extensively audited the co-working locations for good-enough wifi and actually visited the places you will be staying.
On the downside, with all of this extra work from the business standpoint means there is an extra cost for the consumer. A good way to avoid this is by picking a cheaper location, but it’s just something to consider.
Well, those are just nine of the different accommodations digital nomads can pick. I tried to take an unbiased approach based on my personal experience. As always, let me know if you have any questions!
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