When Julie McCain became a remote worker during the pandemic, she had no trouble choosing a location. London, Paris and Athens were at the top of her list. But how to find a reliable rental apartment – right now that It wasn’t easy.
Most vacation rental platforms are created for short-term leisure travelers. Dealing directly with the owner – and deposits and utility bills – seemed like too much of a hassle.
Then I saw an ad on Instagram and the flashlight went off. A company called Blueground offered furnished apartments for monthly stays at competitive rates.
“Discovering Blueground helped me put a lot of things together about this dream European mission I had at the time,” says McCain, a consultant who works with law firms. “Finding a well-located furnished apartment with flexible terms means you don’t have to worry a lot while preparing for your move.”
How many digital nomads are there?
McCain is not alone. A recent study by MBO Partners found that 16.9 million American workers currently describe themselves as digital nomads. This is up 9% from 2021 and 131% higher than in pre-pandemic 2019. By some estimates, there are 35 million digital nomads worldwide.
The actual number may be higher. Many remote workers, McCain included, don’t even use the name “digital nomad” to describe their lifestyle. They prefer to be called consultants or site independent employees.
“Being a digital nomad is both a blessing and a curse,” explains Denise Russo, professor of Organizational Behavior and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. “It’s attractive because of the flexibility and sense of freedom. But for many knowledge workers, it’s hard to maintain over time.”
Housing can be one of those difficulties, says Rousseau, who has studied remote workers and nomads.
As the number of digital nomads or remote workers increases, so does the need for reliable and affordable accommodations. Remote workers aren’t necessarily interested in the amenities that a vacation rental offers, such as a pool or recreation center. Instead, they need fast Wi-Fi, a fully equipped kitchen, and laundry facilities.
What are your accommodation options for long stays?
You have a lot of options for accommodation as a digital nomad – almost too many options. Here is a short list:
The largest vacation platform is also an option for remote workers. For Ravi Davda, CEO of a marketing agency, it’s his favorite place to book accommodations. Prices are reasonable in some parts of the world, Davda says, and hosts can be flexible.
“There were times when we booked for the first month on Airbnb and then talked to the host directly instead of continuing through Airbnb,” he says.
Airbnb and Vrbo both offer monthly rates at a significant discount from the weekly or daily rates charged to leisure travelers. But you still have to deal with the fact that most Airbnb rentals are designed for people who are on vacation, so you may not find all the amenities you need as a digital nomad.
McCain, who is about to switch from renting the Blueground in London to renting one in Paris, says the company is trying to make its apartments a home.
“They have a pet-friendly policy, which is great,” she says. Furniture and accessories are similar from city to city, which you also find comforting. But Blueground differs from traditional rental in other important ways. Most messages with Blueground happen through a smartphone app. As McCain’s experience, the response time is very fast.
For example, when she arrived in London a few months ago and was still jet lag, she left her keys in her apartment.
“I messaged the team via the Blueground app and someone cheerfully delivered a new set in less than two hours,” she says. “It’s no mean feat in central London, so it’s a great system they have.”
Extended stay apartments
Some destinations are such a magnet for digital nomads that they are creating a new kind of flexible housing category. Take Portugal, for example, which just introduced a new digital visa for backpackers. “Portugal’s geographic and temporal location also helps it work internationally,” explains Chitra Stern, CEO and co-founder of Martinhal Resorts.
The company is already offering long-term leases on some of its larger units, which are equipped with full kitchens and living rooms. (Rates start at $45 per night based on a six-month rental agreement.) The company is also putting the finishing touches on the Martinhal Residences project in the Park of Nations area in Lisbon. The property has been specifically designed to cater to the digital nomad crowd with a mix of hotel suites and luxury apartments for long-term stays.
Hotels and resorts
Some hotels cater to long-term guests. For example, Casa Delphine, a luxury boutique hotel in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, has a special “work from hotel” offer on select weeks in January and from mid-April to mid-September. For $950 per week per person, the price that includes breakfast, digital nomads can set up shop in Mexico.
Hotels are actively courting digital nomads by offering lower prices and larger accommodations for long-term stays, says Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner, a travel technology company.
“This phenomenon may become the biggest change in the travel and tourism industry since the invention of the airplane,” he says. “I’m not kidding. Hotels are spending millions and millions on these extended stay offerings now. It’s a whole new frequent travel category.”
When Paige Beauregard and her husband, Francois, needed a place to stay in Orlando, they turned to the Internet. “I think I typed in the word ‘long-term corporate housing,'” says Beauregard, “and that’s when I came across Landing. They applied for membership and were accepted. Landing gives you access to his apartment inventory as a member ($199 annually).
“To say we were surprised by the apartment and the furnishings would be an understatement,” she says. “Not only was the apartment beautiful and the furnishings perfect, the apartment complex itself was beautiful, gated, and had amazing amenities.”
Landing has apartments in dozens of American cities, from Albuquerque to Winston-Salem. And like the Blueground, the amenities are standardized, so you’ll get the same furnishings, super-fast Wi-Fi, and other amenities.
Another option for site-independent workers is Mint House, which is trying to create a new class of hospitality powered by technology. Mint includes full kitchens, large living areas, and connected workspaces in downtown locations, including Miami, New York, and Seattle. Mint emphasizes technology integration with mobile check-in, keyless entry, and 24/7 digital concierge services. The company caters to business travelers who need a reliable Wi-Fi connection “but want to have some fun at either end of the trip and even bring their family,” says Paul Sacco, Mint’s chief development officer.
Location-independent travelers who plan to spend more than a month in one location can rent a short-term rental. This is what Steffanie van Twuijver, travel blogger, has done in Korea and Germany.
Prices and requirements vary. There are forms to fill out, and deposits can be large.
“For example, my apartment in Seoul required a $4,500 deposit—the minimum deposit size—and my rent was $600,” she says. “My home rent in Germany is about €2,500 deposit and €1,350 per month. So be prepared for a big deposit in some areas.”
How does one digital nomad do it
I’ve been a digital nomad for the past 6 years and have tried most of these accommodation options. There is no one perfect option. Finding the right place to live depends on the location, your needs as a remote worker, and your preferences.
For example, I stayed in a Vrbo rental in Cape Town, South Africa, this spring it was perfect for digital nomads. It was close to groceries, the shopping center, and the beach – plus it had a wicked fast wireless connection.
In terms of ease of use, you can’t beat Blueground and Landing. Everything is handled through their smartphone app. Connecting to the WiFi in Blueground’s Athens apartment was very easy. The apartment also has everything I need as a remote worker without the superlative amenities you sometimes get with a vacation rental. Drop off locations are always in the middle of everything, near grocery stores, malls, and metro stations.
McCain, the legal advisor, says she wouldn’t trade it for a life of stability despite the hardships of working remotely.
“A new environment has refreshed me, especially after the pandemic isolate,” she told me. “Although there is more to juggle, being here helps me run a better company — I can give sound advice to clients who are considering making adjustments to their lives, too.”
So how do digital nomads mess it all up? I’ll tell you in the second part of this series.