Co-Living Abroad: Why It Ain’t for This Nomad

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Last week, a news release made its rounds, showing us nomads and location-independent folks just how the media perceives our lifestyle, and how off-base that perception is for the majority of us.

“Roam Co-Living” is a “novel idea” for lifestyle travellers. It may be the first to make big news but it’s not alone in its quest to provide drama-free life for those wanting to live/work abroad.

Co-Living: The Breakdown

The concept? Sign up, pay up, get access to spaces around the globe that fall under Roam’s purview. Essentially you’re paying a lease of $500 US per week, and this gets you a bedroom and private bathroom, good WiFi, shared living spaces, and pop-up community wherever you lay your hat. So you’re paying $2,000 a month for a hotel room that’s not a hotel room, basically. To put it crassly, it’s the unhotel for hipsters.

Currently, the places up for grab now or shortly include London, Ubud (Bali), Madrid’s wicked Malasaña neighbourhood, London, Buenos Aires, and Miami.

I stayed in this horrible self-contained apartment in Croatia's amazing Venetian-syle waterfront town Rovinj, with no roommates for a $275 CDN for 5 nights in the off-season. Had I stayed a month, I could've negotiated a better rate -- I always do.

I stayed in this horrible self-contained apartment in Croatia’s amazing Venetian-style waterfront town Rovinj, with no roommates for a $275 CDN for 5 nights in the off-season. Had I stayed a month, I could’ve negotiated a better rate — I always do.

It looks ritzy and cool, for sure. Malasaña is a beautiful neighbourhood to live in, and London is legend. The others I have yet to step foot in myself, but I’m sure they’re equally vibrant places to live/work for a spell.

The trouble is the price. $2,000 monthly, for me as a Canadian, works out to $2,500 Canuck bucks at today’s rate, or about $2,800 in January, 2016’s currency exchange.

Nomad Life: The Reality

You can’t hear it, but my wallet is laughing loudly as I type. Oh, so funny.

Guess what? I’m a nomad so I can escape those Vancouver-like prices for living.

I’m also a nomad so I can be exposed to culture and deal with all the strife and shock that comes with total immersion travel life. I actually enjoy having to bust out my Google Translate to negotiate with people every day. I like not knowing what I’m gonna run into around any corner. I enjoy the suspense of my lodgings, creating a plan, and knowing I won’t be surrounded by same-culture folk who speak my language all the time.

That’s travel, man.

This is the terrible room I stayed in outside Lisbon, on one of Europe's top beaches, in a 5-bedroom beachhouse where everyone else cancelled and I wound up having the whole home to myself for 2 weeks for $660 in December (it'd have cost over $5,000 for the whole home, with private pool). That was rough, man. Photo from AirBNB.com.

This is the terrible room I stayed in outside Lisbon, on one of Europe’s top beaches, in a 5-bedroom beachhouse where everyone else cancelled and I wound up having the whole home to myself for 2 weeks for $660 in December (it’d have cost over $5,000 for the whole home, with private pool). That was rough, man. Photo from AirBNB.com.

The nomads I’ve met are all getting by on little money. We’re shrewd. We research. We’re willing to compromise on amenities to live in neighbourhoods that put us in the centre of the “real” place we’re visiting. We try to live more, work less, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Live Like a Local

I personally have zero interest in being around a community of travellers 24/7 while I’m a nomad, and that’s what Roam offers – travel with travellers. Sure, the “Roamers” may be a variety of nationalities, but they’ll all be the same income level and are all the same in that they want to be in “community” and have a safe, predictable space rather than taking the chance of finding something themselves, or immersing in a region where it’s mainly locals living.

I’m not sure that’s a crowd I really want to be around, not because I would dislike them, but because I would simply no longer be challenged in the ways I’ve come to enjoy.

Without a doubt, there are people for whom travel is overwhelming. They want to do it, but going “full nomad” is intimidating. (Hell, it intimidates me! But in a good way now.) The idea of having community makes these folks feel safer. The knowledge something’s the same everywhere they go – a consistent décor/living style, for instance, and solid internet – is a great peace of mind for them. I don’t judge that. It’s great that there’s an option for those folks too.

Long-term Travel is Something You Learn, then Live

But the media perception that this is a lifestyle that those of us who are already location-independent will run to with open arms, well, that’s way off-base. We’ve figured this out. We have our systems. We know the research. We have the gear, the plan, the tolerance for the compromises we’ve been making already. That’s not to say all the nomads are doing it the same; we’re not, but that’s the beauty – there’s no one clear-cut way to make this life work. It’s as customisable as the way you do your hair.

 

Just about 3 blocks from the cool neighbourhood of Malasana, and close to all the touristy things, yet quiet too, this huge, spacious, clean room with a private bathroom came to $637 for two weeks, or about half what it'd be in Canadian dollars to stay in Roam's lodgings in the same area. I'd rather eat my savings in Spain... wouldn't you?

Just about 3 blocks from the cool neighbourhood of Malasana, and close to all the touristy things, yet quiet too, this huge, spacious, clean room with a private bathroom came to $637 for two weeks, or about half what it’d be in Canadian dollars to stay in Roam’s lodgings in the same area. I’d rather eat my savings in Spain… wouldn’t you?

I don’t want to stick to major cities only when I’m travelling. I’m in Oaxaca, Mexico, right now, for instance, population under a million, and it certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s working for me and the budget is right. When I move to Guanajuato, population of around 100,000, it’ll get even cheaper and easier for me, because I’ll have in-building laundry and filtered water and Wifi included. But how much am I paying? Here in Oaxaca, it’s $420 US a MONTH. In Guanajuato, it’s $447 US a MONTH.

That’s cheaper than a week in this fancy co-living scheme, and I don’t have any friggin’ roommates to contend with. Just me and my apartment, man. I can wear my fat pants and enjoy bedhead daily.

Travel Challenges Us and It’s Supposed To!

Sure, I don’t have “community” either, but I have the experience of a lifetime followed by another experience of a lifetime. I have the amusing challenges and struggles that come with day-to-day life of being a nomad.

One day I’ll have learned these languages and I’ll have the irrefutable cool and ease that seems to define long-term nomads who can land in any country in the world and get a grasp of it in a few days. I’m far from that at this point, but I’m impressed as all hell with how far I’ve come in just a few months.

I was TERRIFIED of being a nomad. Really, I was. I kept giving myself pep-talks and encouraging myself to dare to dream. It always comes back to that quote I love so much and repeat often: It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not. I was held back by my fears but I decided to “feel the fear and do it anyway”, like that perennial self-help classic advises.

And I worry that some would-be-travellers will sell themselves short by opting into schemes like Roam just to avoid confronting fears of who they’re not. Roam, in a way, seems like “Travel, But For The Ambivalent”. You’re sorta travelling but without the dirty business of living like a local. Co-living, for me, feels like an urban version of resort travelling.

We Fumble, Fail, and Grow

I feel they’ll miss out on the weird pride that comes from accomplishing silly things like finding a good restaurant all on your own, ordering a meal off a menu with no clue what it is (and loving it), or navigating foreign places without any friends to accompany you in dodgy areas, or solving problems with nothing but Google and common sense, with maybe a little app-aided translation thrown in.

I stayed in this amazing place when I convinced the owner to let me stay when she normally closes -- November. I stayed for a whole month for 35% off, about $1200 CDN, and had this, a kitchen, and a bathroom all to myself, overlooking the valley around Motovun, a 1,000-year-old walled city on top of a hill, population 500. Another place you'll never find Roam or any other co-living company.

I stayed in this amazing place when I convinced the owner to let me stay when she normally closes — November. I stayed for a whole month for 35% off, about $1200 CDN, and had this, a kitchen, and a bathroom all to myself, overlooking the valley around Motovun, Croatia, a 1,000-year-old walled city on top of a hill, population 500. Surrounded by vineyards & truffle forests in the heart of white truffle season. Another place (and experience) you’ll never find Roam or any other co-living company. Photo from AirBNB.com.

Pulling off the Band-Aid and immersing yourself in local culture isn’t just adventurous lifestyle, it’s part of helping foster understanding between all humans. That, for me, is the gold standard of travel. It’s how we grow and challenge our preconceptions and unlock new dimensions of who humans are collectively – habits and traits we share and ways we differ.

Instead of co-living, you’ll find me doing my research, sussing out funky places to live, fumbling through foreign phrases, and always trying to avoid cultural gaffes.

If you’re thinking of being a nomad and you think co-living is the way to do it, I beg of you to consider not going that route. Do the “real” nomad thing and go your own way. Find your own path. It’s a hard and challenging life but the rewards are unlike what you’ll experience in any other lifestyle.

 

I lived just three blocks from here for 5 nights last November and I fell madly in love with Croatia’s Rovinj. The chances of Roam EVER opening a place in a town like this are akin to a snowball in hell. This is why I’m a nomad, to live in amazing places like this, but that’s what you don’t get when you buy into a fixed plan with preset options in something like co-living. Your choice, man.

I lived just three blocks from here for 5 nights last November and I fell madly in love with Croatia’s Rovinj. The chances of Roam EVER opening a place in a town like this are akin to a snowball in hell. This is why I’m a nomad, to live in amazing places like this, but that’s what you don’t get when you buy into a fixed plan with preset options in something like co-living. Your choice, man.

I Was a Total Travel Noob and Look at Me Now!

Keep in mind, this is all coming from someone who had only done one trip to London as a teen with my Mom, a couple big roadtrips, and a weekend trip to Vegas, before I sold everything and dove headlong into a life on the road. I was terrified of being a nomad, was sure I’d run into safety issues or financial problems, and you know what? Some of my biggest fears about this lifestyle have already hit me in my first eight months and I’ve done just fine despite them. My currency crashed last winter, leaving me in a 20% budget-shifting deficit at the same time that I lost a writing client that accounted for nearly 60% of my 2015 income.

Yet here I am. I improvised and decided to come to Mexico, where I could live for a fraction of what that life in Europe was costing me, and here I’m finding the opposite with my currency – it’s skyrocketing above the peso. I’m faced constantly with a people who are struggling to live under a much more intimidating economy than I’ve ever known, and I’m learning a new kind of gratitude for simplicity – another gift of immersion travel.

 

Bairro Alto, Lisbon’s amazing Fado District, is pricy to stay in, but I got this double room with a private bathroom in the heart of it for about what I’d probably pay to stay in Roam, but I also stayed with locals who were incredibly gracious and fun and taught me about the area. Photo from AirBNB.com.

Bairro Alto, Lisbon’s amazing Fado District, is pricy to stay in, but I got this double room with a private bathroom in the heart of it for about what I’d probably pay to stay in Roam, but I also stayed with locals who were incredibly gracious and fun and taught me about the area. Photo from AirBNB.com.

The challenges of being a nomad are what make it such a rollicking lifestyle. Co-living removes that element and dilutes the experience. If you feel you can’t survive without the community, then I understand, but if you’re thinking of co-living because you don’t think you have the chops to navigate a solo life on the road – I’m telling you: You do.

The life of the nomad isn’t glamourous or predictable, but it’s so incredibly worth all the compromise and challenge. And it doesn’t need to cost you $3,000-4,000 a month, either. I’ll be living for $1,200-1,500 a month all-in for 5 months here in Mexico. And that’s in Canadian bucks, baby.

Please, don’t give in to the easy road abroad. Go full nomad and embrace the ups and downs, and you’ll never regret it.

Showing 6 comments
  • Liz Pelton
    Reply

    Hi Steffani,
    Thanks for your article. I really enjoyed it. I had considered working for Roam until I read it.
    My dream is to become location independent and I’m now looking for ways to make an income on a shoestring budget with a dog in tow. It might take some doing, but your words were just the encouragement I needed today.
    I’m originally from Winnipeg but spent most of my life working in Africa. I came back because I needed a career change and being 37, thought I had to ‘settle down’. Now I’m quite sure that I’d rather have a root canal without anesthesia.
    Thanks again for sharing your insight. I miss the feeling of belonging that I had on the open road.
    Liz

    • Steffani Cameron
      Steffani Cameron
      Reply

      Oh, I dunno, working for Roam might be cool! Could prove invaluable with getting that lifestyle set up and making needed connections. I wouldn’t throw that idea out just yet. Might be a great way to start the lifestyle off and then make a break after 6 months or a year for a new way ahead. 🙂

      But thank you and I wish you luck!! I have two friends about to start the nomadic life with a dog and they have travelled a lot. The pro tip is that Muslim countries think living under the same roof with animals is vile, so you might have to avoid them, but otherwise people report it possible!

  • Mandi
    Reply

    I totally understand what you are saying about really immersing yourself into the culture and that’s not completely what Roam is about— but some of us need something like Roam to get started. I see Roam as a stepping stone. I am from the US and have visited 43 states in America and am ready to take the leap and work abroad, but I would never just book an Air B n B and go, I just wouldn’t. I need something like Roam to get me started. I just feel like your post here is a bit harsh, what works for you might not work for other people. I am pretty confident that after trying out Roam for a little, I will have such a better understanding of being abroad and my confidence will soar. Also, I am tired of being alone. I work by myself, I travel by myself (when not for work) and I want someone to talk with in a gorgeous city on a balcony at midnight. I hope in a few years I can be as brave as you, until then I’m thankful for places like Roam. Thanks for listening Steffani!

    • Steffani Cameron
      Steffani Cameron
      Reply

      Hey, Mandi! Thanks for your comment. I can understand that need at the beginning of travel, for sure, but I also think people need to realize it’s not as scary or terrifying as they think. But if you need that to learn the ropes, great! I’ve since tried co-living and it’s a neat experience but something I would like in smaller doses here and there. I don’t really need community very often, so I’m built differently.

  • Cody
    Reply

    Hello Stephani,
    Enjoyed all your tips. I’m getting ready to jump into the world of nomad living for the first time. I’m now in my fifties and retiring early to travel alone. Selling or giving away everything that will not fit into a day pack. Most of my friend think I’m nuts even when they say that sounds interesting. Planning to begin in Mexico and work my way southward. Then Europe and eventually the PacifIf rim of Asia. This is all new to me and have no friends who have done this before. Am I really nuts or just a little scarred of uncertainty. Housing is a concern. Your input is valued.

    • Steffani Cameron
      Steffani Cameron
      Reply

      Cody, hi! Sorry, I never saw this. I think you should go for it! But not just with a daypack. Life as a nomad is tough and you’ll want creature comforts. I travel with a cooking kit, a teddy bear, slippers, and other things that can give me a feeling of home.

      You’ll find it’s hard going moving around a lot and you’ll likely want to slow down after you start. I recommend that. It’s hard to get a feel for a place if you’re always just passing through, and it’s too expensive if you keep moving a lot.

      I’m presently writing a book about all this. When are you leaving?

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