When Julie McCain 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 it wasn’t easy.
Most vacation rental platforms are created for short-term leisure travelers. Dealing directly with a landlord – both deposits and utility bills – seemed like too much hassle.
Then he saw an ad on Instagram and a light bulb went off. A company called Blueground offered furnished apartments for monthly stays at a competitive price.
“Discovering Blueground helped me put a lot of things together for this European setup that I was dreaming of at the time,” says McCane, a consultant who works with law firms. “Finding a well-furnished flat on flexible terms meant I had a lot less to worry about as I prepared for this 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 a 9% increase from 2021 and a 131% increase from the pre-pandemic year 2019. According to some estimates, there are 35 million digital nomads worldwide.
The actual number may be higher. Many remote workers, including McCane, don’t use the term “digital nomad” to describe their lifestyle. They prefer to be called consultants or site-independent 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’s hard 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 increases, so does the need for reliable and affordable accommodation. Remote workers aren’t necessarily interested in the amenities of a vacation rental, such as a pool or entertainment center. Instead, they need fast Wi-Fi, a fully equipped kitchen and laundry facilities.
What are the housing options for extended stays?
You have many options for accommodations as a digital nomad — almost too many. Here is a short list:
The largest vacation platform is also an option for remote workers. For Ravi Davda, CEO of a marketing firm, it is his preferred place to book accommodation. Davda says that in some parts of the world, prices are reasonable and hosts can be flexible.
“There have been times when we’ve booked the first month through Airbnb and then talked to 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. However, you still have to deal with the fact that most Airbnb rentals are created for people on vacation, so you may not find all the amenities you need as a digital nomad.
McCain, who is about to switch from a Blueground rental in London to 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 the same from one city to another, which she also finds comforting. But Blueground is different from a traditional rental in other important ways. Most messaging with Blueground is done 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 flat.
“I messaged the team through the Blueground app and someone happily delivered a new set in less than two hours,” he says. “That’s not a bad achievement in central London, so it’s a great system they have.”
Extended stay apartments
Some destinations are so attractive to digital nomads that they are creating a new kind of flexible accommodation category. Take Portugal, for example, which has just introduced a new digital nomadic visa. “Portugal’s geographic location and time zone also favor international work,” explains Chitra Stern, CEO and co-founder of Martinhal Resorts.
The company already offers long-term rentals in some of its larger units, equipped with kitchens and fully equipped 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 the digital nomad audience with a combination 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 during select weeks in January and from mid-April to mid-September. For $950 a week per person, a price that includes breakfast, digital nomads can set up shop in Mexico.
Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner, a travel technology company, says hotels are actively attracting digital nomads by offering lower rates and larger accommodations for longer stays.
“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 deals now. It’s a whole new category of permanent travel.”
When Paige Beauregard and her husband, Francois, needed a place to stay in Orlando, they turned to the Internet. “I think I typed in ‘long-term corporate housing,’ and that’s when I came across the Landing,” says Beauregard. They applied for membership and were accepted. The Landing gives you access to its apartment inventory as a member ($199 per year).
“To say we were amazed with the apartment and the furniture 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.”
The Landing has apartments in dozens of US cities, from Albuquerque to Winston-Salem. And like Blueground, amenities are standard, 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 hosting powered by technology. Mint features full kitchens, large living spaces, 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 fun at every 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 make a short-term rental. This is what Steffanie van Twuijver, a travel blogger, has done in Korea and Germany.
Prices and requirements vary. There are forms to fill out and deposits can be significant.
“For example, my apartment in Seoul required a $4,500 deposit—the minimum deposit size—and my rent was $600,” he says. “Renting my house in Germany is about 2,500 euros down payment and 1,350 euros monthly. So be prepared to have a big down payment for some areas.”
How a digital nomad does it
I have been a digital nomad for the past six years and have tried most of these accommodation options. There is no 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 perfect for a digital nomad. It was close to grocery stores, a mall, and the beach — plus, it had bad and fast Wi-Fi.
When it comes to ease of use, you can’t beat Blueground and Landing. Everything is handled through their smartphone apps. Connecting to WiFi in Blueground’s apartment in Athens was extremely easy. The apartment also had everything I needed as a remote worker without the extra amenities you sometimes get with a vacation rental. Landing locations are always in the middle of everything, close to grocery stores, malls and subway stations.
McCane, the legal adviser, says she wouldn’t trade it for a stable life despite the difficulties of being a remote worker.
“A new environment has rejuvenated me, especially after the pandemic isolation,” he told me. “Although there’s a lot to juggle, being here helps me run a better business — I can also give sound advice to clients who are thinking about making adjustments in their lives.”
So how do digital nomads juggle it all? I will tell you in the second part of this series.