6 months in: seeing the trees, not just the forest

Then:

  • Not creating
  • Feeling stuck
  • Stressed out
  • Unclear on future goals
  • Unable to find time for both family as well as personal travel

 

Now:

  • Actively learning and creating
  • Feeling inspired
  • Less stressed (but slightly more apprehensive!)
  • Developing future goals and plans that excite me
  • Prioritising what matters most to me: health, family & loved ones, travel

 

As of 8 October, I’ve been blogging for 6 months. In that time, I’ve quit my corporate job, given notice on my apartment, and had a few exciting adventures along the way. It’s amazing how much can happen in the span of 6 months.

 

I’m only just beginning, both in terms of my blogging journey, and in self-employment. I think it’s often easy to compare ourselves to those around us who are much further ahead on their journeys, and feel it’s too late, or that it will be too hard to catch up. Those thoughts do still surface, but ultimately I remind myself I’m grateful that I started when I did.

 

The old saying is true, whether we’re talking about investing, creating something, pursuing your dreams, or making a big change in your life:

 

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese proverb

 

I could have spent the last 6 months still unhappy in my job, still feeling like I wasn’t progressing towards anything. Yes, still collecting a steady paycheque. But still no closer to the others out there, doing what I wished I could be doing.

 

And, much more importantly, still no closer to my dreams for the life I wanted to create for myself.

 

Because ultimately, my dreams and goals aren’t comprised of metrics like money, or pageviews, or anything that can be externally measured. But even if it’s not measured out in numbers that can be reassuringly analysed, making progress towards goals requires action. Taking a first step, and then taking another. And then another. 

 

It’s so often repeated as to become trite, but I find I need to remind myself of it on a regular basis, now that I’m working towards creating something for myself. Taking action is always, always, always, better than the alternative. Trying something, anything, is going to be better than staying stagnant. And it’s never possible to be fully optimised, so it’s best to just jump in.

 

Seeing the trees, not just the forest

It’s easy to get distracted by all the noise out there, by all the possibilities. We all want to succeed (whatever that means), to offer something of value, and, perhaps most dangerous of all, to not be left behind. The more time I spend in the entrepreneurial sphere, I notice a kind of business FOMO out there. If you’re not careful, it can make you feel like it’s a HUGE CRISIS that you’re not simultaneously building an FBA empire, and mastering Pinterest, and growing your email list, and dabbling in crypto currency, and, and, and…

All of those things are great, and have been paths to incredible success for many people. But we can’t properly focus on all of them, all at once. And for many people, that sense of overwhelm could stop them from even starting something new.

Whether it’s starting a business, or embarking on a creative endeavour, or travelling, or starting to invest and get your finances in order, I think all of these worthy pursuits can seem out of reach when we all we see is forest.

Just to continue on with tree-related cliches for a moment, the old admonishment that it’s a problem when you can’t see the forest for the trees certainly has its place. But how do you know where to start, when staring at the vastness of an impenetrable forest? What if instead you chose to focus on one perfectly manageable tree at a time?

This approach keeps me moving forward, which is the best cure for overwhelm. And each step taken, each action, each tree planted (or climbed, or hell, even hugged) builds on the last, until you may find yourself in the midst of a far more beautiful and interesting landscape than when you started.

I’d love it if you’d comment and share one step you’re taking, whether it’s in business, personal finance, travel, your personal life, or anything else!

Happy autumn, and here’s to your next 6 months. 

 

Airbnb strategies – Part 2: Digital nomads

In Part 1, I shared my thoughts on Airbnb strategies for hosts, particularly geared towards those of you considering subletting a place you rent. If you decide to try that out, it can be a great experience. And of course the side income stream to help fund your travels doesn’t hurt!

 

But what about using Airbnb as a digital nomad?

 

Part 2 will discuss strategies for digital nomads to use Airbnb as part of their accommodation planning process, and the 3 ways I think digital nomads can benefit from including Airbnb in their housing search.

 

What’s different about digital nomad housing needs

 

I’ve used Airbnb many times as a typical guest, most often for stays of less than a week. And I think it’s great for that purpose. I generally prefer having a more “like a local” experience, rather than staying in a hotel. And while Airbnb can certainly be pricey in some cities, I still think it can be far more affordable than most hotels. It’s also just a more interesting experience. But I’m really not a fan of hotels. I don’t like how sterile they often feel. Staying in a real home is much more comfortable to me.

 

However, as digital nomads, our housing needs are a bit different than the typical traveller who spends a few days or a week at a time in any one place. A digital nomad might spend more like 1 to 3 months at a time in a location.

 

That’s the time frame that I’m planning on, which dovetails nicely with the amount of time many of us may have to spend in countries visa-free. There are plenty of good resources to help you figure out how long you can stay visa-free in various countries. But once you decide how long you want to stay in a given place, what’s the best approach for finding housing?

 

I think there are 3 advantages to using Airbnb, but I’m also keeping my eye out for new and emerging tools and solutions. I really think this is an underserved area right now, but there are a few interesting and creative solutions coming out that digital nomads will want to be aware of.

 

  1. Planning
  2. Rent, don’t own
  3. Socialising/normalising in a location

 

 

1. PLANNING

 

I love planning. One of the most fun parts of getting ready for a trip of any length is getting stuck into research and anticipating what neighbourhoods you’ll explore and what unique experiences you’ll want to seek out.

I know many digital nomads advocate a boots-on-the-ground approach to finding housing, and I intend to test out that approach myself. But even so, I’d want to do some research into a completely new place before deciding to go there.

In fact, I think a reasonable approach for the digital nomad who’s looking to keep her costs low, is to choose a location with housing costs very much in mind.

The way I’ve begun to tackle this is to start by searching Airbnb for a somewhat random month, and comparing the selection across a few different cities. The trick to searching for an entire month at a time is it allows you to see the discounted monthly rates that many hosts offer.

 

For example, by searching for at least 4 weeks at a time, the site shows you the monthly rate, instead of the nightly one. And many hosts offer steep discounts off their nightly rates when you book for an entire month at a time.

 

Here are some examples of searches for the month of March, in Prague and Budapest:

Prague daily rates

Prague monthly rates

Even for one of the cheaper daily rates, at €27 * 28 nights = €756. As you can see, there are plenty of monthly rates offered well below that.

Let’s compare Budapest as well:

Budapest daily rates

Budapest monthly rates

Besides a few cheaper outliers, the daily rates don’t come close to the value found when you search monthly. That first one for €485/month?! What a steal. See ya soon, Budapest.

As you can see, by searching for 4 weeks or more, you open up a lot more affordable options.

For comparison, here’s what you get when you search in Dublin. Much as I love it here, the housing market is not conducive to those looking for short term housing. Or any housing. Or wishing to pay less than €1200/month. 🙁

Sad map

 

Now, ultimately, savvy nomads may find they can source even more affordable housing once they’re actually on the ground in those cities.

But, I appreciate knowing that I can secure housing in advance, and knowing exactly what it will cost. It’s there as a backup in case you need it, or in case you can’t find anything better or cheaper.

When I search Airbnb for monthly rentals and can’t find anything suitable for less than €1000/month, it gives me a good idea of how expensive housing is in that city, and I may rule it out for longer stays.

 

 

2. RENT, DON’T OWN

 

When putting together your monthly budget, don’t forget about all the things you don’t need to buy/bring when you are renting a furnished, fully stocked Airbnb. This is a huge advantage of the digital nomad lifestyle.

It also means there’s far fewer things for you to do when you arrive in order to get set up. You don’t need to set up wifi. You don’t need to go buy towels and bed linens. And you don’t have to pay separately for heating or bin collection.

That makes those lovely sub-€600 monthly rates even more appealing. Even if I’m just comparing that to my current base monthly rent, I’d come out ahead, but when I factor in all the bills, heating/electric, bins, wifi, etc, the difference is really significant.

You don’t need to kit out a whole kitchen, so if there are a few things that would make your month more enjoyable, you may not mind shelling out for a better knife*, or a decent bottle opener. Then just leave them for the next guests, to pay it forward.

*Incidentally, what is it about most Airbnb’s having nigh-unusable knives? I’m far from a kitchen gear snob, but something that can chop vegetables would be nice! But if I have to pick up something for €15 (or in all likelihood, far less) so that I can properly cook, I will happily consider it a friendly parting gift to my host when I leave it behind.

 

 

3. SOCIALISING/LOCALISING

 

If you’re going to be in a place for a month or more, you may prefer to get a full apartment to yourself. However, in many of the places I’ve researched, the hosts either live nearby or clearly state they are happy to provide tips and show you around. This could work as a nice way to develop your local knowledge, or even make a new friend.

Places that are willing to rent you a room in their home for a month at a time would likely be even more open to socialising. It could be an easy, natural way to make some local contacts and to avoid feeling isolated in your first few days in a new location.

 

And, since you’ll most likely be in a real neighbourhood, rather than an area that only tourists stay in, you’ll get an instant look into how and when people shop, go out to eat, have coffee, and/or commute into city centre. You can adapt to the local rhythm much quicker that way. Plus, wandering around your new neighbourhood you can scope out the best places to buy groceries, as opposed to the overpriced and understocked options you’re likely to find adjacent to hotels.

 

 

PITFALLS

 

After having such a good track record with Airbnb, my last few bookings have had some unexpected twists and turns. There were last minute cancellations from the places I’d booked in Oslo, Madrid, and Nice. The one in Madrid was the most dramatic, as unfortunately the host wasn’t able to contact me and I was left waiting outside the apartment at 1 am, and eventually had to check into a hotel. Exciting!

 

These things happen, and Airbnb’s customer service were very helpful and reimbursed my hotel straight away so I wasn’t out of pocket. And in fact, I ended up in a way cooler part of Madrid, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

The view from where I ended up in Madrid

To be fair, unexpected adventures in housing can happen no matter what. Dealing with them with a good sense of humour goes a long way. To me, the random factor is a small price to pay for having access to such a wide array of housing options around the world.

 

ALTERNATIVES

 

Right now, I haven’t come across a site that’s as comprehensive for searching in many different locations. There are a few sites that are highly specific to particular regions, which seem like they can often offer better prices. And there are a few alternatives which have their own pros and cons.

 

Sites like NomadList are a good resource, as are many of the various nomad-oriented Facebook groups out there.

 

One of the sites I’ll be keeping my eye on is GoGoPlaces, which offers some amazing looking deals in parts of Europe. Their selection in Croatia is especially good.

 

And then there are coliving sites, like TheRoof.io which I was fortunate to take a look at in Las Palmas. And more are popping up all over the world. My main hesitation with many of the coliving sites would be the price. Many are more expensive than what you might find on Airbnb. But they do offer networking opportunities with other nomads, and often times access to coworking spaces as well.

 

Opportunity

 

What I’d really love to see is a site that offered an easy way to search all of these options, rather than having to hear about each one individually, or scrolling through various forums. That’s something I could really see giving Airbnb a run for its money in the digital nomad community.

 

I’m looking forward to reporting back on how my little Airbnb experiment goes! What tools do you use when searching for short-term rentals? Please share in the comments below! And let me know if you want to work on that idea for a nomad housing search tool…

Airbnb strategies – Part 1: Hosting

I’ve been a longtime Airbnb user. Recently on Facebook, a memory popped up from 2011, when I posted about this “cool site I was trying out.” Yes, it was a simpler time. I don’t even know if the phrase “sharing economy” existed yet. Fast forward a few years, and there are probably relatively few seasoned travellers out there who haven’t given that “cool site” a try.

 

While Airbnb isn’t all sunshine and roses (check out Part 2 for a few recent experiences I’ve had to prove that point!), I think it has some key advantages that can support both your pursuit of financial independence, and your location independence, if you so choose. If you keep a few simple strategies in mind, it could speed up your progress to both, and expand your horizons once you get there.

 

As this is a chunky enough topic, I’m splitting it into two parts, for both hosts and guests (primarily guests of the semi-nomadic variety). First up, hosting, to get your side hustle income stream flowing:

 

PART 1

HOSTING

 

Airbnb can be an easy way to add a little side hustle income stream to your roster. There has been much written and said about renting out a spare bedroom on Airbnb, or using Airbnb instead of longer term rentals in an investment property (if you didn’t already know, Paula Pant of Afford Anything is an amazing resource for all things investment-property related).

 

What I don’t see discussed as often, and perhaps with good reason, is the potential of making a place that you yourself rent, available as an occasional Airbnb rental. I personally was too scared to try this while I lived in the US. It just felt like there were too many legal/regulatory risks.

Whether or not that fear was justified, for whatever reason it didn’t seem as risky in Dublin, and thus I began my hosting career almost exactly 1 year ago.

 

Tips for hosting in a rental

 

First, I’d say you should determine how annoyed your neighbours and landlord are likely to get, if at all. And obviously have a read through your lease to see if there’s anything explicitly prohibiting it.

 

I took the view that I’d have no qualms about having an out of town friend stay in my place while I was away, which wasn’t so different from what I’d be doing, since I was only going to rent it out when I was out of town travelling. And my building was a pretty relaxed place in general, with people mostly minding their own business. It seemed ideal.

 

*I’m aware that many cities, probably primarily in North America, but possibly increasingly around the world, local authorities are getting a bit tetchy about Airbnb. It’s a complex topic, and often an emotional one, so make your best assessment of both the legal and ethical implications, and proceed accordingly.

 

In Dublin, there’s a full blown housing crisis, and that has knock-on effects into the short term and hotel markets as well. I’ve been told it’s often difficult for visitors to find a hotel room for less than €200 a night, which is far beyond the budgets of many travellers. I’m generally in favour of increasing choice for both residents of a city, as well as visitors. So I was and am satisfied that making my otherwise-unused apartment available while I was away (at far, far less than €200/night, let me assure you!) was a net positive for everyone involved.

 

So, if the stars align and you decide to take the plunge, what are some tips for would-be Airbnb hosts?

 

  • Make check-in/out easy and low-touch for you and your guests

 

Checking in should not require an in-person meetup, if it’s at all possible to avoid it. For me this was essential because I was almost always going to be on a plane heading out of the country whenever my guests were arriving. As a guest, I knew how much I valued being able to check in and out at my leisure, without having to text and coordinate with someone and cater to their schedule.

 

My solution to this was to buy a key-safe lockbox, which I attach to a railing near my building’s front door. I always inform my guests of this in advance, and I send them pictures of its location in case they are checking in after dark, and just to allay any potential worries that they might have.

The one I use is here:

 

Overall, I’m delighted with that solution. I’ve very rarely had anyone who had any difficulty with locating or using the lock box, and I’ve never received any negative feedback because of it. Possible alternatives could be a local business that doesn’t mind giving a key to your guests, especially if you’re a regular customer or if you have some relationship with them. Or an obliging friend or neighbour who you don’t impose upon too heavily. I’ve stayed in places as a guest that did both, with varying degrees of success. I’d still suggest going for the fully remote solution where possible.

 

  • Set expectations

 

This is so important for both your sanity, and that of your guests. I try to emphasise that my place is small, and in an older building, and is also my main dwelling place, so people know what they’re getting. This doesn’t mean I’ve never had a complaint that the place is small, but at least I’d caveated that emptor, so I didn’t feel too badly about it.

 

I’d also let guests know in advance the situation regarding parking, wifi, how heat/hot water/garbage worked, and what they could expect in terms of linens and bathroom basics. I’d still sometimes get questions on all of those things, and more, but to the extent possible I made an effort to be very explicit about all the quirks and features of my place.

 

  • Anticipate questions

 

This ties in closely with the above, but I made sure to make a house manual on Airbnb for specific things that I knew were unique about my place, such as the switch for the hot water, or the highly sensitive smoke alarm that will go off if you leave the door open while taking a shower.

 

Another thing I did that I think worked well was to preemptively send a link to the exact coordinates of the location on Google Maps. I actually don’t know why more hosts don’t do this! Addresses are funny and are so different from one place to the next. And it’s so blindingly easy to drop a pin on Google Maps that Airbnb should actually make it mandatory.

 

  • Bonus: prepare for tax time!

 

One of the things people sometimes worry about related to becoming an Airbnb host is what to do in terms of taxes. Generally, income is income is income, and whatever jurisdiction you live in would like for you to report that income, please and thank you very much. But how exactly that looks will vary widely from place to place.

 

In Ireland, at least, Airbnb very helpfully reminded their hosts that our income had been reported to Irish Revenue, just in case it might’ve slipped some people’s minds. How thoughtful of them! Here’s the email I received:

To Airbnb’s credit, as you can see, they did provide some links to resources in case people had questions. And when it comes to taxes, I know firsthand that people always do. And that it’s almost never an especially easy or user-friendly process.

 

If you’re a new Airbnb host and wondering what to do about taxes, here are some first steps to consider:

  1. Keep record of your related expenses

    From supplies like sheets and towels for guest use only, to getting that second set of keys cut, to the lockbox itself, it helps to keep track of all these small expenses as you go. I stuck mine all in a simple spreadsheet.

  2. Determine how and when you’ll report it

    Be especially mindful in case there are any pre-filing registrations you need. For example, in Ireland, I needed to register for MyAccount, which I discovered entailed Revenue sending me a code in the post. So I was glad I didn’t wait until the last minute, as the Irish tax filing deadline is coming up on 31 October!

  3. What are your expenses when you don’t own the place yourself?

    This will vary depending what jurisdiction you’re in, but one approach that makes sense from an accounting perspective is to take a ratable portion of your monthly rent as a rental expense. 

    For example: My monthly rent was €850, so if I rented my place for 5 days in a month, I’d figure my expense for that month as follows

(850/30)*5= €141.67

You could reasonably treat your monthly wifi, heating/electricity, and even bin charges, in a similar fashion.

Be aware that if there is no specific guidance from Revenue where you live, you should have a sound basis for why you claimed the expenses you did.

 

  1. Seek out a professional

My general, and very high-level tips aside, if you haven’t reported rental income before, and if you have any doubts at all, you should definitely seek out a qualified professional. It’s almost always worth the expense, both in terms of peace of mind, and in the cost of your valuable time. Getting your reporting right the first time, and avoiding time consuming and potentially costly questions or corrections with the tax authorities in your location, is definitely the way to go.

If you have questions from a US perspective, I’d be happy to assist you. In my experience, US reporting is likely to be one of the trickiest, and adding rental income when you’ve previously been a simple W-2-only kinda gal or guy, might mean you’d benefit from a little initial guidance.

 

PITFALLS

 

Becoming an Airbnb host is a great way to generate a little side income, to fund your travels, and to help utilise a resource that might otherwise go unused. These are all good things, but there are some potential pitfalls. In my experience as a host, these are actually pretty minor and most importantly, rare.

 

  • Cleanliness/potential damage

 

The main concerns of most hosts would be the condition that guests leave their place in. I have to say, my expectations have been wildly exceeded in this regard. Of the 17 different bookings I’ve had, ranging from solo travellers, to couples, to, in one case, a young family with a 1 year old, no one has done more damage than a broken plate (which they kindly left a euro to compensate for!). And the extent of any “mess” to clean up has been a few stray crumbs.

 

Have I just been preternaturally lucky? Well, it’s possible, and it wouldn’t be the first time. But being an Airbnb host has actually cemented my belief in the general soundness of people. I feel like this concern shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for most would-be hosts.

 

  • Unexpected guest needs

 

This one might be a bit more of a wildcard. Again, my guests have been lovely. But I could certainly see a guest who had a lot of demands being difficult to manage from afar.

 

I have had people who had questions about things that I wasn’t always able to respond to immediately (usually due to being mid-flight), and my terrific guests have either figured it out themselves, or been wonderfully patient.

 

And then there was the time that, thankfully, I was in town, and I almost had to go assist a guest with the keysafe at 3 am, which I definitely would have done. In fact, I was somewhat tipsily attempting to hail a taxi when they rang to inform me they’d figured it out! So hosts should be prepared for that to happen on occasion.

 

  • Last minute cancellations

 

There’s not much you can do there, besides set a stricter cancellation policy and hope for the best. Airbnb do a good job of managing this on both sides.

 

So should you consider becoming an Airbnb host? I say yes, with some caveats:

 

  • Be aware of the impact on those around you, including any landlords, neighbours, housemates, etc

 

  • Educate yourself on the tax and legal implications

 

  • Be ready to be flexible and adaptable to guest needs

 

Opening your home to a traveller in need can be a wonderful experience. In Part 2, I’ll talk about the guest side of the equation, particularly the potential utility for digital nomads.

 

What do you think? Would you try hosting on Airbnb? If you do, please consider using this link to sign up as a host, and I’ll get a small referral credit!

 

Nomad City Recap

From 20-25 September 2017, I was privileged to attend Nomad City Las Palmas, which is a conference for digital nomads held in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. It was the first conference like this that I’ve attended, and was also my first speaking engagement since going into business for myself, so I was really excited to check it out.

The excellent team at Nomad City kindly set me up with a loft share with some of the other speakers. It was a perfect place to explore Las Palmas for a few days.

The view from Loft Canteras. Really. Walking distance to the beach, naturally.

Overall it was an amazing experience, and it’s an event I will continue to follow and hope to be a part of again in future! I really can’t recommend attending an event like this highly enough. The networking opportunities were amazing and it was so much fun.

The organisers of Nomad City deserve a ton of credit for putting on such a high value and well-executed event. I’ve summarised my thoughts on the various components of the conference below.

 

Meetups

Each day there were both daytime and evening meetups organised for attendees and speakers. Due to when I arrived, I only made it to the after-work meetup on Thursday, in the Mercado del Puerto for some drinks and tapas. The market has a cool vibe, with really good tapas and drinks at great prices. It was so much fun to socialise with the other attendees, and people were all super friendly. It ended up being a late night with some new friends!

New friends!

Workshops

The workshops were on Friday, at the INFECAR conference facilities in Las Palmas. First off, the facilities are really world class. They are sleek and modern and allowed for a nice collaborative atmosphere.

Listening intently to Sergio’s workshop

The workshops themselves were primarily 1 hour sessions with various experts, and were really informative. Of the ones I attended, I really got a lot of value from Sergio Sala’s session on how to attract better clients and earn more as a freelancer.

Another cool part of this day was getting professional headshots taken, which was set up as a drop-in session, open throughout the afternoon.

There were free beers flowing as well, which was much appreciated!

 

Talks

Getting set up for the talks

Saturday was the talks, one of which was mine! There were so many amazing sessions, it would be really difficult to pick a favourite. The talks ranged from the future of remote work, to AI, to lessons learned from sailing across the Atlantic, to coliving, to yours truly giving a brief overview of tax issues for digital nomads.

Suzanne, the Oceanpreneur!

The only small tweak I might make to this format for next time, would be to give each speaker a bit more time, and perhaps to break this up over two days. By the time we got to the end of the day, it might’ve been a bit of information overload.

They used Slido for taking questions from the audience, which worked really well. It would’ve been nice to have a little more time for questions, though.

I got great value from all of the speakers here, and there was some chance for networking on the breaks between the talks.

The littlest Nomad.

 

Social events

I attended two social events in connection with the conference. First, on Friday evening there was a gathering for speakers and sponsors, at the rooftop of an amazing coliving space in Las Palmas (called, appropriately enough, The Roof).

Sleek interior of The Roof

This was a super fun evening with great food and drinks. And the coliving space itself looked unreal. It’s so well designed, with a huge wraparound rooftop and lots of nice, inviting spaces. Places like this will make Las Palmas especially interesting to digital nomads.

The second event was the wrap party on Sunday night. It was also our chance to bid bon voyage to those continuing on to the Nomad Cruise. It was on the rooftop of the Hotel Cantur in Las Palmas. Once again, this was a really fun event. There was a real festive atmosphere and it made me wish I was going on the cruise as well! I can guarantee those guys are having an amazing time right now.

The Nomad City wrap party getting started

 

Las Palmas

If you’ve never been to Las Palmas, book a trip immediately! It’s in the Canary Islands, so of course the weather is amazing, and the beaches are top notch. But beyond that, there is a super friendly, relaxed atmosphere, plenty of great food, and really good value compared to much of the rest of Europe.

I’d seriously consider spending more time here, and I definitely don’t think 5 days was nearly enough! Las Palmas is positioning itself to become a major digital nomad hub, with coliving spaces like The Roof, and a surprising amount of choice in terms of coworking spaces.

I had perfect cell coverage and 4G/LTE data connection everywhere we went, and the city is really easy to navigate on foot, by bus, or even by reasonably-priced taxis. It goes without saying, but of course since the Canary Islands are part of Spain, they’re on the euro which makes life easy for those of us based in Europe.

I can see a lot of advantages to the Canary Islands, in particular Las Palmas and Gran Canaria. There’s ease of access to Europe, and the opportunity for a really great lifestyle on a reasonable budget.

I learned there are also certain advantages for residents of the Canary Islands, in terms of discounted travel to mainland Spain. I haven’t investigated this fully, and it might not be of much relevance to digital nomads, but nonetheless it’s an interesting feature.

 

As you can see, this was a great experience. I can’t thank the organisers, Nacho in particular, enough for this opportunity. I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone considering it. I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for future conferences like this, and hopefully attending Nomad City 2018!

Frugality and flexibility are freedom

 

What if there were a tool that could enhance your freedom and improve your life more powerfully than mere monetary wealth? I read, write, and think about money and personal finance a lot but I’m a firm believer that money is far from the most important thing in life. Certainly, if used wisely, money can be a tool that increases access to the most important things. But there are other tools in our arsenal that can be even more impactful, when wielded intentionally.

I find a lot of value in the principles of minimalism, but I’m aware it doesn’t appeal to everyone. While many aspects of minimalism might in fact be more broadly applicable than is sometimes assumed, there are two related concepts that I do think can be employed by everyone, regardless of their position or circumstances. These are the complementary practices of frugality and flexibility. If taken as practices, to engage with repeatedly and continually, these two ideas can transform the way you live, travel, and move throughout the world and towards your goals.

Frugality

Thanks to excellent bloggers such as the Frugalwoods, the concept of frugality is enjoying something of a revival. The word used to carry a sort of dour, joyless undertone, but that’s an unnecessary association that’s quickly dissipating. I consider the concept of frugality to be centred around appreciation and mindfulness of value. And that definition of value should be expansive enough to include value as measured not just in money, but also in time, focus, energy, and attention. No matter how much or how little material wealth we may have (and that itself is always a relative matter), we can all practice avoidance of wastefulness and excess. In fact, the practice of frugality is one of the most freeing aspects of minimalism. Best yet, one needn’t identify as a minimalist to enjoy the freedom-enhancing benefits of frugality.

For me, one of the most important elements in a practice of frugality is an honest assessment of value, and of one’s needs. This assessment is uniquely personal to each individual, but it does require a high level of self-honesty to be used to its full effect. For example, should the frugal traveller, be she a vacationer, an expat, or a digital nomad, take a taxi or the local public transport to and from the airport? My personal vote will almost always be to go for public transport, but someone who suffers from severe motion sickness might make another value assessment. I’d caution, however, that if the full benefits of frugality are sought, enduring or even seeking out some level of discomfort could become an occasional practice. I genuinely enjoy discovering both how resilient I can be, and, much more frequently if I’m honest, how little discomfort is really involved in making the more frugal choice.

But how, specifically, does this practice translate into greater freedom? It’s simple: the fewer resources you need to consume, the freer you are. This is especially true for the nomadic. This means you’re free to go more places, do more, experience more, without the shackles of many expensive (in terms of money, time, or otherwise) self-imposed ‘requirements’. If you build up your frugality muscles, you’ll simply need fewer resources to sustain your travels. You may find you are just as happy in a small, modest accommodation as in an expensive hotel, just as satisfied by local fare, stumbled upon while walking around the neighbourhood, as in a pricey, top-rated restaurant. It’s not that those experiences don’t have their place, but with no baseline concept of frugality, it’s all too easy to allow them to greedily take over, and subsume the other experiences. Too much luxury is an expensive prison. Frugality unshackles us from that prison, and opens up ever more of the world for us to explore.

Flexibility

Closely related to frugality is the practice of flexibility. Not necessarily in the yoga sense of the word (although that can be a good metaphor), I see flexibility simply as openness and adaptability to a variety of circumstances. It means not clinging to preconceived notions of how we think things are or should be. It means adapting to change or to the conditions we find ourselves in with grace and good humour. And it means practicing putting things in perspective. With a little effort and intention, it can be an incredibly powerful tool in your freedom toolkit.

Firstly, the more flexible and adaptable you are, the easier your practice of frugality will become. But perhaps even more important is how it improves your experience of the world in general. When you practice dealing with delays, setbacks, unexpected challenges, and disappointments with a positive attitude and a sense of humour, you are building up an incredibly valuable skill. It allows you to move through the world much more freely and confidently. You can start to see everything as simply another interesting experience, when you know you’re adaptable enough to make the best of it.

How do frugality and flexibility improve location independence and financial independence?

Both frugality and flexibility are tools that serve those pursuing location independence and/or financial independence especially well. For one, travel requires both, and provides plenty of opportunities to put both concepts into practice. And so does being mindful with money. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that those who want to enhance their location and financial freedom could find no tools more powerful than frugality and flexibility combined.

It makes sense to approach both frugality and flexibility as practices to continually incorporate into our lives, as opposed to unreachable ideals that are met with either success or failure. When we cultivate a practice mindset, then success is simply defined as returning to the practice. Then, all the results that come with the practice are just more interesting bits of data. In that way, we can avoid both judging ourselves to harshly, or being too self-congratulatory. And, as with a yoga practice, for example, there won’t always be linear progress, and that’s OK.

Even once we become location independent or financially independent, we can continue these practices. The person who has meticulously planned their 4% withdrawal rate might incorporate a bit of frugality and flexibility should they encounter a market downturn in their early years of retirement, for example. And if they’ve spent some time getting accustomed to the practice, they may be able to flex their plans, and to be a bit more frugal, and avoid too much unnecessary stress and worry in what might otherwise be a rather stressful time. The person who’s planned a few stops ahead as a digital nomad might reassess based on changing personal needs, or changing conditions in their current or future locations. The key is being willing to re-evaluate and adapt, ideally with a smile.

Even those who don’t identify as minimalists can benefit from incorporating more frugality and flexibility into their lives. It will continue to open up more doors and enhance your freedom, and your overall experience and enjoyment of life.

Tiny wardrobe tour

In advance of moving out of my flat here in Dublin to become more nomadic for a time, I’ve been taking inventory of my physical possessions. They’re quite limited, in fairness, but when faced with the prospect of taking everything you own with you in a few bags, each individual item really needs to deserve its place. One of the biggest and weightiest categories is clothing and shoes. As I take inventory and interrogate each item to assess its worth, I thought I’d offer a glimpse into one example of how a minimalist, travelling wardrobe could look.

I love when other bloggers offer this kind of voyeuristic view, although I’m sure my contribution to the genre will be underwhelming. I keep things pretty basic by nature, both out of personal preference and laziness, so I mightn’t have much more even if I was going to be in one place for a long time. As it is, I know this can and should be cut down significantly, and I’m hoping the exercise of photographing and cataloguing everything will help weed out the unnecessary items.

I’ll go through the categories as follows:

  • Shoes
  • Coats
  • Real clothes
  • Yoga clothes/lounge clothes
  • Underwear and socks
  • Accessories (scarves, gloves, hats)
  • Bags

 

Shoes

I have a grand total of 10 pairs of shoes, including a pair of flip flops. This is too many and is more than I use on a regular basis.

  1. Short black boots: versatile and comfortable, keep.
  2. Tall black boots (slight heel): I could probably get rid of these but they’re handy for being slightly dressier. They’re also really comfortable. Similar here.
  3. Tall black boots (waterproof): I don’t wear these often but they’re useful for lots of rain or snowy conditions. Similar here.
  4. Tall brown boots: I wear these all the time and love them. Keep.
  5. Tan flats: These are my everyday shoes for non-rainy conditions. Keep.
  6. Black flats: These are excessive and I should sell them.
  7. Runners: These are Merrell barefoot runners, which I really like. Similar hereKeep.
  8. Nude patent heels: I don’t really wear heels unless under duress. I’ll probably get rid of these, or maybe leave them in the location I’m most likely to need to attend a wedding in next.
  9. Sandals: Keep.
  10. Flip flops: Keep.

That’s down to 6 pairs of essentials, which still seems like a lot to bring from country to country. Ideally it seems like boots/flats/runners/sandals would be an essential core of 4, but I’ll see how it goes on the road.

 

Coats

I tend to live in places that require a lot of coats, so this is a major category. Also, it’s something you wear every day for most of the year, so it’s best not to hate your options. I like these options well enough, but I could cut down one or two.

  1. Leather jacket: This is real leather, so it keeps out wind out really well, and I like how it looks. I’ve probably had it for close to 10 years. Keep.
  2. Navy trench coat: This is a nice coat but it’s a bit too big on me. I might replace it or see about getting it taken in. Keep for now.
  3. Black trench coat: This is lighter than the navy one, so it was functioning more as a summer commuting coat in Dublin. I probably don’t need both it and the blue one.
  4. Black puffer jacket: This is packable, and yet it’s sufficient to ski in, and it packs into its own little zipper pouch which can double as a pillow. Keep.
  5. Black rain shell: This is a little too sporty/tech-y looking for me to really feel comfortable in, but it packs down to nothing and is super waterproof. That said, I’ve worn it approximately twice in two years. I’ll probably get rid of it.

That’s 3 definite keepers. I can see that being perfectly adequate.

 

real clothes

The category can be broken down into subcategories of tops, bottoms (hee hee, bottoms), and jackets/dresses:

  • Tops:
    1. Sweaters: two knit jumpers and one zip yoga jacket, plus 2 cardigans: 1 black, 1 blue.
    2. Blouses: What a weird word. Two long sleeve, two short sleeve, two button-downs which I don’t really love and will probably get rid of.
    3. Tank tops: a smattering (I think 6) which can be dressed up or down and don’t take up much space.
    4. T-shirts: These are questionable in terms of being “real clothes” and are proof that my mum loves shopping at The Bay. But I do love throwing in a little Canadian pride.

  • Bottoms:
    1. Jeans: 1 blue, 1 black.
    2. Non-jeans trousers: 1 black.
    3. Skirts: I like skirts. I usually wear skirts and tights for about 75% of the year. Still, 6 is too many. I’ll cut this down to 3-4, max.
    4. Shorts: I don’t really wear shorts in Ireland, but I try to remind myself that there are places where people do wear them. 2 pairs, which I may cut down to 1.

  • Other:
    1. Blazers: 1 black, 1 blue. This should be limited to 1 at the most.
    2. Dresses: 3: 1 black long sleeve, 1 red cocktail dress, 1 printed summer dress. This seems adequate for a full year’s worth of dress-worthy occasions.

 

Yoga/Lounge clothes

I don’t really wear pyjamas so this category includes whatever t-shirts and shorts I sleep in. The yoga side consists of two pairs of yoga pants, 4 pairs of yoga shorts, 4 yoga tops, 2 regular tank tops, and a sports bra. All my yoga stuff is from Lululemon because it lasts for ages and looks great after many repeat washings. The sleep stuff is usually just downgraded yoga stuff, so it’s a pair of shorts and a few t-shirts.

 

underwear and socks

Exactly what it says on the tin. I just keep what I use in a week or so, and replace as needed. No picture needed, I think.

 

Accessories

I do like scarves, and they’re small and useful, so I have a few of them. 9 is probably too many, though. I also keep 2 toques and some mittens/gloves on hand for colder weather. I guess jewellery counts as part of this category too. I have a little collection of necklaces etc, which goes in a small pouch. Oh, and I have a couple of bikinis too.

 

Bags

Bags, from smallest to largest:

  1. Small bag for going out: doubles as a wallet in a pinch, small enough to justify the rare usage. Keep.
  2. Tan cross body bag: Every bag and travel day bag of choice. Keep.
  3. Black cross body bag: Excessive and I don’t use it much, although I do like it.
  4. Longchamp Le Pliage: Weekend bag of choice, and it’s packable. Keep.
  5. Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30: Best bag ever. This would be the single bag I’d keep if I only kept one. Love. Keep.
  6. Rolling carry-on suitcase: I might keep this for making medium-term moves. This plus the Tom Bihn could probably be carried on most airlines, or it could be (ugh, shudder) checked in a pinch. Maybe keep.
  7. Big rolling duffle (not pictured): I bought this used to move to Ireland. If I’m not using it for storage somewhere I’ll ditch it.

 

I combined this with packing for my next trip (Nomad City in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria! Where I’ll actually be speaking about tax issues for digital nomads. Craziness).  So it was useful in terms of identifying what I did and didn’t want to bring for just a 1 week trip. Based on that I’ve a few items in mind for the next charity shop run.

So that’s all the things I own, in terms of the things you put on your body, head, or feet, or use to carry those things. Even being a semi-minimalist, it’s amazing how quickly those things can pile up. Any suggestions for what I should get rid of? It’s certainly nice to remind myself that I absolutely do not need to acquire anything additional at this juncture, and donating stuff is fun, so suggestions are very welcome.

 

 

Staying and going

Change tend to provoke strong reactions in people. Those strong reactions can come not only from ourselves, but also from those around us who may experience some of the impact from a change we initiate. But when it comes to changes in our physical location, do we need to justify moving any more than we need to justify staying?

Recently, a few examples have come up that have got me thinking about the typical responses to moving. One of my favourite podcasts is The Minimalists, and on a recent episode they announced they’d be moving cities, from Missoula, Montana to Los Angeles, California. It’s a few states away, which is a fairly large physical distance (because America is so huge) and a significant cultural change from a smaller city to a large, sprawling coastal metropolis. They had sensibly predicted the questions that would arise from their listeners, and had a list of sensible reasons for the move. And of course, making a change involves some motivation to do so, and people will naturally be curious as to what prompted it. But one of the questions was simply: “why?” Which left me wondering, why don’t we tend to ask why people stay, but expect a carefully thought-out answer at the ready when asking why they’re going?

Another example was a friend who, like me, had also left her job recently. Because she’s amazing, she was offered a great job in another, very high profile city. What a rock star! And yet she said that instantly the well-meaning yet apprehensive comments and questions started flowing. If she’d stayed in her previous job, as unhappy and discontented as it was making her, no such flurry of questions would’ve been prompted. Of course, the people in our lives, or sometimes just interested observers, want to know our rationale behind a big change. They want to know that we’ll be ok, that we’ve thought it through. Even though rationally, there’s no inherent safety in staying the same, and both staying and going are choices we make, whether we actively acknowledge them as such or not.  

Loss aversion

Fear of change and loss aversion are powerful motivators. Loss aversion is the concept in behavioural economics that predicts that avoiding losses is a more powerful psychological motivator than pursuing gains. This isn’t entirely rational, especially if we risk too much in our attempt to avoid or recoup losses. I think this can go some way towards explaining why we might stay in a job, or a relationship, or a place, longer than we perhaps should. We’re hesitant to cut our losses, and afraid of losing what we already have. I’ve experienced this many times myself.

But what if we evaluated both staying and going as equally possible choices? And invited them to convince us of their merits a little more dispassionately? Well, for one thing, we might look at the cost/benefit analysis of each choice more honestly, rather than doing what I suspect comes more naturally: that is, to nitpick the perceived costs of change, and inflate the perceived benefits of inaction. In other words, maybe we should stop grasping to avoid losses when we may be missing out on potential gains slipping through our tightly closed fingers.

Opportunity costs exist either way

Another lens through which to examine the choice to stay or to go is to think in terms of opportunity cost. This is simply the concept that when one choice is made, the benefit of the choice not taken is the “cost” of that decision. But as we can never have both the choice we make and the forsaken alternative at once, opportunity cost is a fact of life, and we can’t let it paralyse us. And I think it’s helpful to remember that choosing to stay static carries its own opportunity cost. We don’t get to escape the unavoidable reality of opportunity cost by pretending we’re not actively making a choice.

Everything is a choice

I like to remind myself that everything is a choice. I chose to stay in Seattle perhaps longer than I really needed to be there, and it was in part because I’d convinced myself that change was too big, too difficult, too scary. But as individuals with agency, we are making choices every day. My goal is to be more intentional with my choices, and to fully own the risks and rewards of them. I chose to stay static when my heart was calling me to make a change. And now I’m choosing to work on creating a life that’s more in line with my values and how I want to spend my time.

 

I think being intentional about our choice of location is one of the most powerful tools available to us, but it comes with a lot of questioning and trepidation, both from within ourselves, and from those around us. One of the ways to soothe these fears is the stories we tell ourselves and each other; the ones that sound obvious when stated aloud, and yet are both necessary and true. We can always move back/go home/start over if we hate it/fall flat on our face/*insert other worst-case here. All of those things remain both necessary and true if we stay in one place as well, of course. We’ll face moving/changing/starting over in one guise or another, whether we embrace it or run from it. But it still feels good to say it before making a change, even one we sought and crafted intentionally.

 

So that’s what I’d say to The Minimalists in advance of their move, and what I remind myself before making big moves of my own. And yes, we’ll still need those carefully crafted answers to the inevitable questions that will arise. But perhaps we can comfort ourselves, at least, with the help of some behavioural economics.

Nomad budget

While I’m still in Dublin, and still have my apartment here, I’ve been thinking ahead to my plan after I give it up and become more fully nomadic. Being something of a personal finance geek, and given that my income is now highly variable, the topic of my monthly budget has been top of mind. I have no intention of blowing through too much of my savings on this experiment/adventure. So I’ve been considering how to plan and forecast to ensure my financial goals are being met, as well as lifestyle ones.

I believe the digital nomad lifestyle can be even more affordable than living full time in many expensive cities, even when some of our untraditional costs may be higher than is typical in many budgets. So I’ve been planning, running some numbers, and researching the options. I like to keep things simple, so I’ve minimised the categories to the extent possible. But I think it’s still realistic and includes room for both the things I value, and for emergencies.

 

Monthly budget for digital nomad in Europe

Budget for Europe nomad-ing:
Rent (including wifi/heat/electricity) 650
Food 200
Phone 50
Flights (yearly average) 250
Local transport 50
Entertainment (including Netflix & Spotify) 50
Insurance (World Nomads estimate for a year) 50
Yoga 100
Total 1400

Process:

  1. Determine the required line items
  2. Research
  3. Think both best case and worst case

Most of the line items on my budget are fairly obvious. I don’t have a lot of must-haves, and yet as I look at it, I see luxuries built in at every turn. The rent budget is sufficient to stay in Airbnb’s all to myself in many cities in Europe, when booked on a monthly basis. If I had to I could easily find cheaper accommodations. The food budget is has plenty of room in it even here in Dublin, and in many places in Europe food is much cheaper. Yoga is something I really love to do, and is important enough that I include it in the budget, even though it’s a total luxury. I could practice on my own, but I really love finding local studios to practice with a teacher and in a group setting. So that stays on the budget, knowing it could be cut if necessary.

My research has consisted primarily of checking Airbnb, sites like Expatistan, NomadList, Numbeo, and Teleport. I also monitor Google Flights and Skyscanner on a regular basis so I’m pretty comfortable with how much I’d spend on flights in a year.

However, the flight budget is a good example of what I mean by thinking both best-case and worst-case. If I go back to Vancouver twice a year, without any trips booked on points, and with trips at some of the more expensive times of year to fly, that could be €1,400 in flights on its own (worst case). That would leave €1,600 in the yearly budget for flights to and from everywhere else. With any flexibility and advance planning at all, I think that’s very doable, thanks to some of the low cost carriers operating in Europe. It’s important to me to be able to both go back to Vancouver regularly, as well as spend time in regularly Dublin, to be with my boyfriend. So in the best case, I might very well spend less than €200 in any given month. But if I spend €3,000 in a year, it won’t be a disaster.

Plan:

  1. There’s never a “normal” month, in any budget
  2. Lows will help offset highs

A universal truth in personal finance, regardless of whether we’re settled or nomadic, is that there’s no such thing as a normal month. The only true constants in my budget seem to be the cost of Netflix and Spotify. Everything else is in a constant state of flux, and it’s useful to be aware of that so the fluctuations aren’t perceived as stressful or unexpected. A good budget can and will flex and adapt to accommodate these perfectly normal, abnormal occurrences.

For example, I’m very much hoping that my housing costs may average out to be less than €650 per month. Some of the cities I’m eyeing up have really nice Airbnb offerings for closer to €500. But the trick then will be not to increase spending in other areas, because I see that extra “room” as being like built in insurance for unexpected increases in other areas, like if I’m somewhere that I need to take an expensive taxi, or if I need to replace any clothing.

Periodically assess:

    1. Revisit plan vs. Actual on a regular basis
    2. Adjust accordingly

Planning is nice (and I do mean that, although I do get that not everyone enjoys it as much as I do), but the reality can only be assessed in hindsight. That’s why I will go back and revisit the plan vs the actual spending on a regular basis. I think quarterly is the right frequency, as it’s not so granular that a single month could cause too much alarm, and yet it’s often enough to allow for course corrections throughout the year as needed. And, crucially, I’ll have to be open to adjusting based on those periodic assessments.

Starting out with a plan, as well as an expectation of variability and the need to be flexible and adaptable, seems like a balanced approach. If the plan is reasonable and within the boundaries we’re comfortable with, then we can move forward without fear or regret. And as always, rigidity is the enemy of frugality.

This budget accounts for yearly spending of €16,800. Depending on your perspective, that might be very lean indeed, or represent a princely sum. I think it’s enough to live well in many of the areas in Europe that I’m interested in right now. Stay tuned for my quarterly updates throughout 2018 to see how that looks in practice.

Tiny apartment tour

I’ve been thinking about housing options lately. Becoming location independent can give us beleaguered millennials a much-needed leg up in a housing game that can feel rigged against us.

Refusing to play by rules that aren’t fair is a perfectly rational response. But what does that actually look like? In the interest of transparency, I thought I’d give a glimpse into my current housing solution. As I transition into alternatives, I’ll continue to share how those options look and evolve over time. It is and will continue to be an exercise in compromise and is but one possible path among many.

*Not my apartment building

Current location

I’m presently in my apartment in Dublin. I chose it for its proximity to my former office and it’s served its purpose well. It’s the smallest space I’ve lived in to date, and I have very few complaints in that regard. I wasn’t given the exact floor space when I moved in, but I’d say it has to be less than 300 square feet. It was mostly fully furnished, but I had to buy all the kitchen stuff myself.

I’ve had overnight guests stay on an air mattress twice now, for multiple nights each time. It worked fine, and that’s about as often as I hosted overnight guests in a year even when I had much more space.

Without further ado, here’s the grand tour:

Entrez-vous

The entry, as seen from the front door. To the left is the bathroom, to the right is the bedroom.

 

Living space

The living space, comprised of the kitchen to the left, and the seating area to the right. That vast expanse of floor space in the middle is exactly big enough for a queen size air mattress… if you move the storage ottoman/coffee table aside, that is.

 

Seating area

Desk and chair to the left. The set of drawers on the right contains the wifi modem, my yoga clothes, and a few extra pairs of shoes. A large canvas duffle bag is stored under the loveseat, containing some extra winter clothes.

Kitchen

This actually functions really well! I’ve been able to cook everything I’ve wanted to here. There’s enough counter space for chopping, and the dish drying rack doesn’t take up too much of the more useable space. Sometimes North Americans balk at the under-counter fridge. But I’d say for a household of 1 or 2, it’s perfectly sufficient.

 

Kitchen stuff

Here’s all my kitchen stuff. The more eagle-eyed may note there are no drawers in this kitchen. I just keep my cutlery in that orange rack, and other utensils in the bamboo holder to the right of the sink. No junk drawers here! The cabinets contain all crockery, glasses, pots & pans, and miscellany. There’s plenty of space.

 

Bathroom

This is really just to show the very limited footprint of the bathroom! It’s entirely possible to brush your teeth from the hallway. No space to keep many toiletries in here so it’s a good thing I have a pretty minimal routine.

 

Bedroom

Bed is tucked away in the corner, but it’s nice having it separate from the living area. That’s a luxury in the Dublin rental market!

 

Wardrobe/”vanity”

 

Tiny wardrobe

Inside the wardrobe, a minimalist amount of clothes. That black tote bag functions as the laundry bag. Yes, that’s Estonian on the canvas tote on the shelf. I’m delighted you noticed.

Because I enjoy being a voyeur on other people’s tiny wardrobes, I’ll do a tiny wardrobe post soon. It’s really more clothes than I need and I’ll probably pare it down before I move out of this flat.

Trade offs

It’s not fancy or terribly modern, but I pay €300-400 less per month than many people I know, even people who have flatmates. That’s €3,600-4,800 less per year. That’s a lot of travel and/or savings. For that, I don’t mind doing my laundry in a weird, dark, spider-webby shed. Yeah, that’s why you don’t see a washing machine anywhere.

I’m very glad I’ve had this experiment in small space living. I’ll definitely seek out a small, minimalist living space again in future. And I’m really exited to see what other, lower cost options await in the rest of Europe.

Would you give small space living a try?

Housing can make or break you

Housing is a hot topic for everyone, especially millennials. In many cities around the world, prices are rising faster than wages, home ownership feels out of reach for many, and even renting is becoming unsustainable. As though that weren’t stressful enough, it’s also the single biggest line item on most people’s budgets. That’s why it’s such a huge opportunity. Yeah, yeah, I know. But stick with me.

No matter your situation, I think that optimising your housing choices is the single most powerful tool in your arsenal to improve your finances and your life. There are a number of variables you can play with, depending on what matters most to you. More flexibility will result in more options, so I think with the right mindset, anyone can improve their situation by carefully examining this one, crucial choice. We tend to have a lot of emotions and preconceived notions wrapped up in our housing choices, but taking a step back and approaching it intentionally, as a deliberate choice, will dramatically impact your life and your goals.

Church ruins are an adventurous, if unconventional, choice

When you are location independent, a lot of the standard personal finance advice may not apply to you. I’m thinking of things like debates over whether to pay off your mortgage early, etc. Depending on your personal circumstances, it may not make sense for you to buy a property at all. And, don’t despair, because there are plenty of smart people with good reasons why that may not be a bad thing. However, when you don’t own your home, you constantly have to (aka: get to!) reconsider and reevaluate your housing situation.

Broadly, I think of housing consumers (that’s all of us, for the most part!) as fitting into three main categories, depending on how long we’re going to be staying in a given location. Most personal finance advice I’ve seen tends to be tailored to those who will be staying put for the long(ish) term. In my mind, that’s more than around 5 years, which might not seem very long to some! For the location independent or digital nomad communities, we may find ourselves looking at more the medium term (say, 1-5 years) or more often shorter term (1-12 months). Thusly, I’ll focus more on the latter two of the below categories:

  1. Long term: when you’re staying put for a long time (5+ years)

  1. Medium term: when you’re staying for the time being (1-5 years)

  1. Short term: when you’re testing the waters or just passing through (1-12 months)

In any of these situations, however, I think the main competing variables to consider are as follows:

Variables:
  • location

  • cost

  • size/privacy

  • fanciness/amenities

  • specifics (i.e. large kitchen, outdoor space)

  • commitment

Generally, the more flexible you can be with each of these variables, the more options you’ll have. One of the advantages of being location independent is the freedom to play with the first variable as much as you like. It’s the factor that I think is the single most powerful, and gives you the most choice within each of the others.

Beyond location dependence

A large part of why housing markets can suck so badly is that they traditionally have you as a fairly captive consumer. You have to live in a particular area because of where your job is, so you’re stuck with very little latitude on perhaps the most important variable. By becoming location independent, we remove that condition. Instead we can come to view it as a competition of where can offer us the best combination of variables based on our particular values and needs.

Looking at each of the above variables in turn, I think we can make some deliberate and intentional choices about what really matters to us, and what will ultimately make our lives better. Then, we can apply some creative thinking and find housing solutions that work for us rather than against us.

Location

This is a real estate cliche for a reason. But as digital nomads we can think about this beyond neighbourhood and commute time. Considering location, we can expand our search across cities and countries, and then narrow it down to our ideal neighbourhoods. Looking beyond the area you’re in can dramatically improve your options. You can choose less expensive cities and countries for part of the year. You can choose areas outside those adjacent to the CBD of a particular city, if you won’t need to be commuting into city centre every day. However, you may be more concerned with finding a walkable neighbourhood, or somewhere within easy reach of the nearest major airport.

Some of the high cost of living cities around the world don’t offer great value for money. Dublin, where I’m currently based, is in a full blown housing crisis. If I don’t need to compete with thousands of others for overpriced, substandard options, why would I? Then, when I am evaluating a location, I can narrow my search to locations that offer the lifestyle I’m looking for, and be a bit more stringent with the next, and next most important, variable.

Cost

As cost of housing rises, we have to either earn more to keep up, or accept that a higher percentage of our current income gets eaten up by this greedy line item. I prefer to set a maximum percentage of my take-home income that I’m willing to spend on housing. I think 30% of take home is a reasonable maximum. And yes, I’d want to be firm on making that 30% after taxes and retirement contributions, or in other words, 30% of spendable income. If that’s not possible in a given location, I’d have to concede that that location may be temporarily off the short-list. Or maybe it’s a location to work into your plans in shorter increments, or by utilising some unconventional options (some examples of which are briefly noted below).

Location and cost are of course very closely linked, and are the most important variables. If you’re going to be very picky on either of those, you’ll want to be quite flexible indeed on the below, secondary variables.

Size/privacy

In many desirable locations, having housemates is a very common solution to rising costs. If you’d rather more privacy, you’ll likely want to be very flexible on the size of your accommodations. I’m quite happy in small spaces, so that’s an easy one for me to concede. I’d happily accept less space for a location and cost I was happy with.

Fanciness/amenities

If you’re going to be a digital nomad, and sampling the housing offerings of many different locales around the world, being quite flexible on this will serve you well. I personally don’t derive much life satisfaction from expensive finishings or lots of fancy features. Sure, those things are nice to have, but if they become deal-breakers, you will find your options severely limited. Clean, safe, and functional are about as fancy as I personally need. Plus, if you’re looking for somewhere for a shorter term stay, it can be an interesting quirk to practice living without certain things you may have become accustomed to. You may find they’re less essential to your happiness than you thought!

Specifics

This is where you can tailor your search to the things that really do provide you with life satisfaction. I’d want a place I could cook in, in most places if I was staying for longer than about a month. Reliable wifi is probably another must-have. But what makes you happy? Do you crave outdoor space? A quiet street? Enough floor space to bust out a few yoga moves? Or space to host friends and family when they come through town? For me, once I’ve been sufficiently flexible with the categories that matter less, I find I can devote the appropriate level of attention to those few areas that matter most. And then keep experimenting, because they can and will fluctuate over time.

Commitment

As a shorter term housing consumer, you may wish to avoid signing year-long leases. This is easier to pull off if you don’t have a lot of stuff you need to move around with you. I think the default assumption is you’ll need to pay a lot more for the luxury of less commitment, and this is very likely true in many expensive cities in the West. A cursory search on Airbnb reveals at least a dozen attractive cities where a month-long rental is far less than I pay now on my year-long lease in Dublin. And that’s including wifi, heat, electricity, etc. If the conditions are right, I think this is another variable that can work in favour of the location independent.

Unconventional ideas

I’m going to be experimenting with a few untraditional options, such as month-long Airbnb rentals, coliving spaces, and some newer sites that appear intriguing, such as GoGo Places. I  think the options will only continue to increase as more and more people adopt a location independent lifestyle. I’m excited to see this space develop and what other creative solutions people come up with.

 

What does housing mean to you?

Ultimately we each need to decide what really matters to us. Is housing just a place to rest your head, or do you need your home to be your refuge, your nest, a reflection of your taste and personality? I don’t think there are any wrong answers, but examining our answers honestly can help hone our housing choices. And those choices will drastically impact our ability to progress towards our other goals, like financial independence, contribution, and travel.

What does it take to be happy? I believe that the fewer “must-haves” on our list, the greater our access to contentment. And the more flexibility we allow into the most expensive line items on our budget, the better. When approached as an opportunity to be flexible and creative, you can avoid being a victim of the housing market and instead continue to advance towards your goals.