My life when we Googled this to check out advice, we were not impressed with many of the tips on how to choose your digital nomad accommodation. There seemed to be a distinct impression among many nomad bloggers that every country is the same and thus, the same tactics work everywhere.
So, before we look at how to choose your digital nomad accommodation (with some South East Asia specific tips based on our experiences), we’ll take a look at the types of accommodation and sources that are available to you.
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The Types Of Digital Nomad Accommodation
Where you stay is often linked to how much you can spend and what kind of facilities you need. Megan and I, for example, aren’t likely to be found in a hostel dorm because… well, you’d have to be a bizarre adult to think sharing a room with your partner and 10 other people was a good idea once you’re older than say… 21.
For some, however, that hostel dorm might be all they need. So, let’s take a glance at the options:
Couch surfing is not as popular as it once was. Turns out a lot of men offering couches to share were expected to be paid in kind for that couch. Many of the couch surfers didn’t want to leave, either, or they helped themselves to a few valuables on the way out of the door.
It’s not dead but it’s much harder to couch surf than it once was.
If you can get it, the deal is simple, you stay on someone’s couch and in return, you keep them company and share about your life. It sounds really nice, if it wasn’t for the rapists and thieves, that is.
The best couch surfing website remains Couchsurfing.com but choose your host with care.
The advantages are clear: free accommodation is free.
The disadvantages (other than those above) include the fact you have to spend time with the host (which is fair enough but reduces your work/tourism time) and that beggars can’t be choosers, it may not be the best set up to work from either.
Staying with “free accommodation”, we turn to house sitting. Which is not always free, not anymore, anyway.
The idea is simple. Somebody wants to go away for a few weeks, they hand you the keys to their home in exchange for you doing some chores (walking pets, watering flowers, cleaning house).
Then you move on when they come home.
It’s much safer than couch surfing but sadly, it’s also a lot more popular too.
That means many house sitting websites expect you to pay them a fee for the privilege and you will have to compete with other people for any “work”.
The best website for housesitting is Mind My House which has an annual fee of $20.
The advantages are: It’s free and it’s relatively safe.
The disadvantages are: It’s not entirely free, it’s hard to get your first job, it means moving according to where the accommodation is not where you want to go, it’s time-consuming (which stops you from working both before you arrive and for some of the time while you’re there) and you have to do all your own chores.
As you may have guessed, we’re not big fans of housesitting because we think if you’re trying to build a business – you ought to work on your business, not on your abilities to beg for a spare room. Though, if you have to – beg for a room first and work second, being homeless won’t help either.
Hostels have massively improved over the last few decades. They used to be grim and stuffed with sweaty teenage and twenty-something backpackers. Now, most of them are nicer than “grim”, attract a wider age range of customers and in addition to dorms, many have private rooms for rent.
Dorm rooms are cheap as chips compared to almost any other paid alternative and the private rooms are usually (but not always) better priced than most hotel accommodation.
The market leader if you’re looking for a hostel room is Hostels.com and when we last checked, it is also the most price competitive.
The advantages of hostels include they tend to offer a decent social life, they are cheaper than most other paid options and typically, there will be food and drink available on site.
The disadvantages include young guests turning up late and shouting while drunk, the occasional punch up between those guests, theft is rampant in hostels and locking up everything you have of value when you’re not there is essential and it can feel a bit “shabby” if you’re used to living somewhere nice.
Hotel rooms abound and so do the companies that can offer them to you. Most hotel rooms offer you a bed to sleep in and somewhere to stow your gear. Better rooms, like the one I am typing this from, will have a desk, a private bathroom, and maybe even some small cooking facilities.
The best hotel rooms can be absolutely palatial with huge comfy beds, butler services, pillow menus, and hot tubs. There’s almost no limit to how much you can spend on a night in a hotel if you want and the cheapest rooms in places like South East Asia will be a little more than hostel costs.
We opt for Booking.com because it’s the only one that doesn’t expect us to pay upfront and which normally allows for last-minute no-fee cancellations too.
It is worth shopping around for the best deals and if you intend to say for a long while, it can be worth sending the property a direct mail and asking for a deal on 30, 60, or 90 day+ stays. They can beat the online services on these kinds of bookings.
The advantages of hotels are that they are, generally, cleaner, more comfortable, safer and easier to deal with. They often have English speaking staff.
The disadvantages are that they are more expensive, and it can be hard to work out the best deals.
Or as we say in England, flats. You can rent an apartment online easily enough. 1, 2 or 3 bedroom places are easy to find – though if you want bigger than that, it can be a challenge and it will be next to impossible if you don’t book early for a major holiday. In Southeast Asia, that’s going to be Chinese New Year/The Tet Festival and yes, it’s busier than Songkran, Easter, etc.
Airbnb is the standard for booking apartments online but Booking.com, Agoda.com, etc. are also now offering these services. We’d also note that Facebook groups in your location can be a great source of leads for cheaper apartments than on these services.
Or you could just turn up and book a hotel for 1-2 days and look around after you arrive for an apartment – which tends to lead to the best deals in most places.
The advantages of an apartment are that it’s just like a home away from home (because it is a home away from home) and you’ll get more space for less money than in a hotel.
The disadvantages include the fact that you may need to clean them and do all the laundry, you may also find that your choices in some locations are really limited or really expensive too.
This is our preferred way to live. A serviced apartment is like an apartment, but it comes with hotel-like services. That is somebody comes and cleans, all the equipment is maintained for you, they may provide towels and linens, they may have concierge services, etc.
Now, serviced apartments in some places come at an insane premium and it’s just not worth doing but in many Southeast Asian countries, they’re barely more expensive than Airbnb.
Now, you can find these apartments on Booking.com, Agoda, etc. but we’d recommend that you get Googling and see what you can find directly (which always works out cheaper).
We’d note that in some places “serviced apartments” have specific names. For example, almost all of Chiang Mai’s serviced apartments are called “residences”. Crack the local code before you start Googling for the best results.
The advantages of a serviced apartment are that you get all the benefits of hotel living combined with all the benefits of apartment living.
The disadvantages are that you do pay a premium for this but, oddly, it’s usually cheaper than a long-stay hotel room and comes with more bang for buck.
We mention these last and rightly so, just as we feel that coworking spaces are a rip-off for a desk, we shudder at the thought of paying more than you would for a hotel to live in shared accommodation. In some cases, they may even expect you to share a room.
Co-living spaces normally have built-in co-working which is what people say they love about them but honestly? There are almost always better deals and unless you are absolutely useless at finding friends, you don’t need co-living.
You can search Coliving.com if you want to stay in a co-living space.
The advantages are you can live and work easily in the same place and there’s a ready-built social scene.
The disadvantages are the costs and quite possibly the people who can’t make friends by themselves.
How To Choose Your Digital Nomad Accommodation?
Now that you know what your options are, it’s time to work out your budget. If you want to live well in most of South East Asia, for example, you’ll need $600-$800 for accommodation for two people. Less if there’s only one of you.
You can find something acceptable for less, but it probably won’t be the kind of place you love to live in, either.
In London, however, $800 won’t rent you a garbage bin for a month. Seriously. It won’t.
It’s a good idea to get a rough figure for your costs by Googling a bit and using the booking sites for quotes. You can also ask around in Facebook groups.
Turn Up And Look (Except On Big Festival Dates)
The tried and tested route to finding accommodation is this: book a couple of days in a hotel or hostel and then after you arrive, go out on foot and find somewhere to live. This means you get to see what you’re committing to and can save a few dollars compared to online booking.
Note: Never do this around big festival dates. Never. You may find you can’t find anything at all and if you can – it may cost 30 x what it would normally cost. Same for big events like Formula 1 or the Olympics…
Finding digital nomad accommodation is easy. Book a couple of days, rock up and see what you can find. Don’t do this on festival days. Do get an indication of the price before you travel though – there’s nothing worse than being priced out of a destination that you’ve just arrived in.