London’s Financial district. Many digital nomads are relocating to cities like London for work.
When Julie McCane became a remote worker during the pandemic, she had no trouble choosing a location. London, Paris, and Athens were high on her list. But how to find a reliable rental apartment — now that wasn’t easy.
Most vacation rental platforms are created for short-term leisure travelers. Dealing directly with an owner — and deposits and utility bills — seemed like too much of a hassle.
Then she saw an ad on Instagram and a lightbulb went off. A company called Blueground offered furnished apartments for monthly stays at a competitive rate.
“Discovering Blueground helped me piece a lot of things together about this European stint I was dreaming up at the time,” says McCane, a consultant who works with legal firms. “To find a well-located furnished apartment on flexible terms meant I had a lot less to worry about as I prepared for this move.”
Julie McCane in her Blueground apartment in London.
How many digital nomads are there?
McCane is not alone. A recent study by MBO Partners found that 16.9 million American workers currently describe themselves as digital nomads. That’s a 9% increase from 2021 and up 131% from the pre-pandemic year 2019. By some estimates, there are 35 million digital nomads worldwide.
The actual number may be higher. Many remote workers, McCane included, don’t use the name “digital nomad” to describe their lifestyle. They prefer to be called location-independent consultants or employees.
“Being a digital nomad is a blessing — and a curse,” explains Denise Rousseau, 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 is difficult to sustain over time.”
Rousseau, who has studied remote workers and digital nomads, says housing can be one of those difficulties.
As the number of digital nomads or remote workers grows, so does the need for reliable and affordable accommodations. Remote workers aren’t necessarily interested in the amenities of a vacation rental, like a pool or an entertainment center. Instead, they need fast Wi-Fi, a fully equipped kitchen, and laundry facilities.
What are your housing options for extended stays?
You have a lot of choices for accommodations as a digital nomad — almost too many choices. Here’s a short list:
The largest vacation platform is also an option for remote workers. For Ravi Davda, CEO of a marketing agency, it is his preferred place to book accommodations. Davda says in some parts of the world, the rates are reasonable, and hosts can be flexible.
“There have been times when we’ve booked for the initial month on Airbnb and then spoken with the host directly instead of continuing through Airbnb,” he says.
Both Airbnb and Vrbo offer monthly rates at a significant discount from the weekly or daily rates charged to leisure travelers. But you still have to contend with the fact that most Airbnb rentals are created for people who are on vacation, so you may not find all the amenities you need as a digital nomad.
McCane, who is about to switch from a Blueground rental in London to one in Paris, says the company tries to make its apartments a home.
“They have a pet-friendly policy, which is wonderful,” she says. The furniture and accessories are the same from one city to the next, which she also finds comforting. But Blueground is different from a traditional rental in other important ways. Most messaging with Blueground happens through a smartphone app. In McCane’s experience, the response time is lightning-fast.
For example, when she arrived in London a few months ago and was still jet-lagged, she left her keys in her apartment.
“I messaged the team via Blueground’s app and someone cheerfully delivered a new set in under two hours,” she says. “That’s no mean feat in central London, so it’s a great system they have.”
Extended stay apartments
Some destinations are such a draw for digital nomads that they are creating a new kind of flexible living lodging category. Take Portugal, for example, which just introduced a new digital nomad visa. “Portugal’s geographical location and time zone are also conducive to working internationally,” explains Chitra Stern, CEO and co-founder of Martinhal Resorts.
The company already offers long-term rentals on some of its larger units, equipped with kitchens and full living rooms. (Rates start at $45 a night based on a six-month rental agreement.) The company is also putting the finishing touches on the Martinhal Residences project in Lisbon’s Park of Nations district. The property is specially designed to cater to a digital nomad audience with a combination of hotel suites and luxury apartments for longer-term stays.
Hotels and resorts
Some hotels cater to long-term guests. For example, the 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, a rate that includes breakfast, digital nomads can set up shop in Mexico.
Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner, a travel-technology company, says hotels are actively courting digital nomads by offering lower rates and larger accommodations for long-term stays.
“This phenomenon may become the biggest change to 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 permanent travel category.”
When Paige Beauregard and her husband, Francois, needed a place to stay in Orlando, they turned to the Internet. “I believe I typed in ‘long-term corporate housing,’ and that is when I came across Landing,” says Beauregard. They applied for membership and were accepted. Landing gives you access to its apartment inventory as a member ($199 annually).
“To say we were surprised at the apartment and furnishings would be an understatement,” she says. “Not only was the apartment beautiful and the furnishings perfect, but the apartment complex itself was beautiful, gated and with amazing amenities.”
Landing has apartments in dozens of U.S. cities, from Albuquerque to Winston-Salem. And like Blueground, the amenities are standardized, so you’ll get the same furniture, blazing-fast Wi-Fi, and other amenities.
Another option for location-independent workers is Mint House, which is trying to create a new category 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 tack on some fun at either end of the trip and even bring their families,” says Paul Sacco, Mint’s chief development officer.
Location-independent travelers who plan to spend more than a month in one place can also do a short-term rental. That’s what Steffanie van Twuijver, a travel blogger, has done in Korea and Germany.
Prices and requirements vary. There are forms that have to be filled out, and deposits can be considerable.
“For example, my apartment in Seoul required a $4,500 deposit — the bare minimum in deposit size —and my rent was $600,” she says. “My house rental in Germany has about a 2,500 euro deposit and 1,350 euros monthly. So be prepared to have a large deposit for some areas.”
How one digital nomad does it
I’ve been a digital nomad for the last six years, and I’ve tried most of these accommodation options. There’s no one perfect choice. 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 that was ideal for a digital nomad. It was close to grocery stores, a shopping mall, 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 apps. Connecting to WiFi in Blueground’s Athens apartment was super easy. The apartment also had everything I needed as a remote worker without the over-the-top amenities you sometimes get with a vacation rental. Landing’s locations are always in the middle of everything, close to grocery stores, malls and Metro stations.
McCane, the legal consultant, says she wouldn’t trade it in for a life of stability despite the difficulties of being a remote worker.
“A new environment has revitalized me, especially after the pandemic’s isolation,” she told me. “Even though there is more to juggle, being here helps me run a better business — I can give sound advice to clients who are considering life adjustments, too.”
So how do digital nomads juggle everything? I’ll tell you in part two of this series.