Finding digital nomad accommodation can be daunting for a first timer, time consuming for even experienced nomads, and can lead to your living costs spiralling if the wrong decisions are made. Read my top tips of how to find cheap digital nomad accommodation in whatever place you go.
How do location independent entrepreneurs and digital nomads find apartments to live in? You may think this is an easy task, and nomads are living it up in AirBNBs or swanky hotels around the world. The reality I think is quite different – many nomads like not only a good deal, they want to get a place that suits them, so finding digital nomad accommodation can be a tricky and time consuming thing.
Good internet is so important, it makes most hotels out of the question. AirBNB is the natural fallback choice, but even then, it is starting to get harder to find decent deals – landlords are starting to realise the values of their properties (London, for example), there is plenty of demand (New York, Berlin, etc), or there aren’t enough properties to go around of decent enough quality (Belgrade, Barcelona, etc).
I love a good deal, and I will hustle until I get a real bargain in a great place, as it just makes the whole experience sweeter. I’ve managed to get a 3 bedroom modern villa on a beach with a massive private pool for under £400 per month, a brand new penthouse apartment high up an island mountain with stunning views for under £300 per month (pictured below), a luxury city apartment for £320, a 3 bedroom apartment with a massive amazing sun terrace for £400… You get the idea. These things are possible if you hold out and believe you’ll get a deal.
Finding the best digital nomad accommodation
These are a few tips I’ve learnt by being location independent for the last few years, and here is my typical process before I move somewhere:
1) Set a budget. Set the budget you would like to pay per month, and then set a stretch budget. When searching for places, use your stretch budget plus about 50% – assume you will get a discount. My budget is typically £400 per month (converted to the local currency), with a stretch budget of £500 and I search for places up to about £750 per month. This gives you solid figures to work with when communicating with hosts. Aim to get all prices within your original budget. Bills can be on top, they are never that much extra. Of course, spend less if you can, the place I’m currently staying at in Chiang Mai is costing just £260 per month, but it ticked all the boxes.
2) Start with things you want to live near. Which for me is normally a coworking spot, or friends, or the beach, yoga studio, coffee shops etc. Pull up a Google Map, favourite a few spots. Use Foursquare, do the same. Then work out the rough areas you want to live from there. Google the name of that area, see what comes up to make sure you are not trying to move in to a ghetto. This niches down your target area and allows you to focus on getting the best in the area you really want to be in.
3) Speak to a coworking space. They probably have this question asked all the time “can you recommend anywhere to stay?“, so if you email them they can probably send you lists of “friendly” places to stay, or even hook you up with a deal directly (shout out to KoHub in Koh Lanta who does this!).
4) Look for coliving places. Coliving is slowly becoming a thing, where entrepreneurs all get together in a house or building and do great things together. I normally do a quick search for one in the area I want to be, just to see what comes up, search “coliving in location” or search a coliving directory like CoWoLi or Coliving.org.
5) Look on AirBNB. Pull up the AirBNB map and match the areas you want, filter by what you need (WiFi, AC, or whatever) and then see what results you get. Save all the results you like to a list. Pull up the list, enter your dates, see whats available and then message all the Hosts, saying you want to stay for X days, but your budget is this XX, are they interested in cutting a deal. Sometimes this works, but more often than not recently, prices are geared towards short stays <7 days, but you never know.
6) Look on other holiday lettings websites. This doesn’t work for all areas, but in places where there is a lot of tourism, there is also people who stay in there homes seasonally. I’ve had great deals in Spain of whole villas for half the cost of a small hotel room. Websites like HolidayLettings, HomeAway, VRBO, 9Flats may have something. Occasionally there may be a country specific website – search “holiday lettings location” on Google to be sure. Again, make a list of the ones you like, then message them all asking for a deal within your budget.
7) Search for “serviced apartments”. Serviced apartments are typically fully furnished, with cleaning and internet all ready to go. You can sometimes find them on Agoda, or Booking.com, if not, google “serviced apartments in location”. They are sometimes pretty expensive, and sometimes they try and put multiple people in one place, so make sure you look carefully at the listing.
8) Look on localised “classifieds” websites. Sites like CraigsList or Gumtree, the “free ad” style websites, normally have a holiday lettings or short term lets section. Its worth looking through these to get a feel for pricing as they tend to be accurate/cheaper when compared to AirBNB (as there are no charges to get bookings for the owner and less regulations). They may not be in English, so use Google Translate to work out the words for apartment rent and then Google that to find other sites in the area (example: Spanish apartments in Tarifa, search “alquiler tarifa espana”. If you are staying somewhere for a few months, its worth looking at the standard rental pages, and asking fully furnished places if they are able to accommodate short lets. You may also come across an agent or two…
9) Contact a real estate agent in the location. Depending on where you want to go, these can be really useful. In London and I guess in many other expensive cities, estate agents are pretty useless and won’t return your calls, especially for short lets. But in places like Thailand, they are happy to get your business and run around with you all day showing you places. I’ve found some great agents with real local knowledge in South East Asia who have found me great deals and expect little for it.
10) Facebook groups. Search on Facebook for “location rent” and see what groups are suggested. Join a few, see what adverts are being posted and go from there. Most people posting don’t seem to put locations, so ask for the Google map link to the area. If you don’t see something suitable that you want to live in, post up a “wanted” advert in the group and say what you are looking for, and wait for people to get in touch.
11) Find deals on the ground. Book a cheap hotel or AirBNB for a few days in the area you want to be in, then walk/drive around looking for places to rent. This is the standard procedure for Chiang Mai, where booking in advance is near impossible, and where short term lets are easily available.
12) Become a Housesitter. Always worth checking this out if you are on a tight budget – people want you to house sit their home while they travel. Which means you get to live in their home for free! Its a great way to find accommodation and have a trip that isn’t the norm – live like a local!
13) Ask other location independent entrepreneurs. A few times I’ve not had much luck finding good places to live, so I have asked for advice from friends or in communities I am member of (such as NomadList).
3 ways to get the best deal on accommodation
Make sure the property is suitable for you before you try to get a deal. Ask all your questions about the property before trying to get a deal. It gives you more information about the property and you might be able to use the information to get a deal.
Never pay asking price. People like money. And properties need to make money. So if an owner doesn’t have anyone in a property, and you offer them something, they may well take it.
Wait until the last minute. If you can find a hotel thats available within your budget, and it offers free cancellation, book it. This gives you a safety net. Then wait until a few days before you are due to arrive, then email all apartment owners asking for a “last minute deal” – if it happens, great, cancel the hotel. If not, you have the hotel to fallback on.
Just ask for a deal. I think the phrase is “if you don’t ask you don’t get” so ask the owner if they can drop the price, or if they can cover the internet bill for the property, or what is there lowest price, or whats the best deal if I pay upfront for 3 months, etc. Sometimes these deals are better when you are face to face with someone – if they like you its more likely to happen. What’s the worst that can happen?
How to speed up the accommodation finding process
Get your story right. Put together some email copy that you will send to each owner; you are in the area for X months, you arrive on X date, leave on X date, you like the look of their property, you are looking for somewhere with great internet as you work online, you are staying on your own, you keep places clean, you have great references, do you have availability? etc, etc. Whatever you are happy with. When you write this once, save it to a text file so you can easily copy and paste in to future enquiries.
Get your follow up right. The owner has availability, the internet speed is good, the place looks nice. Its a goer. So now you need to put together a followup email; I’m really interested in taking your place, as this is a last minute arrangement are you able to offer me a deal, my top budget is X, can leave you a great review on the property, etc etc.
Get a VA to do it all. Different stages of this can be done by a virtual assistant, from initial research, to sending emails, to follow ups. If you write your required list, dates, email responses, you could easily re-use it from place to place with your assistant.
Hire a local assistant. If the language barrier is a problem, or if your only solution is to get to a place and then find accommodation, why not hire a local assistant. Use Upwork or Fiverr to post a job, and specify the candidate must be in your future location. Get them to go and look for apartments, find availability, organise appointments, take photos, and find places that you might not ever find about unless you were a local.