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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.