Attention, digital nomads: How to figure out if co-living is for you


Jackie Lam

Jackie Lam

Blog author Jackie Lam

Jackie Lam is a money writer and educator. She helps artists and freelancers get creative with their money at Hey Freelancer.

Published November 6, 2017 | 4 min read

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I’m one of those boring types that thrive off structure. I’ve even been reluctant to take a pet-sitting gig because it would potentially mess with my morning smoothie and workout routine. But after living out of a suitcase for the summer and enjoying it immensely, I’ve done a 180. In fact, I’m thinking about giving up my apartment in Los Angeles. and giving the whole "digital nomad" thing a whirl.

Digital nomads & co-living spaces

A digital nomad is someone who works remotely and travels as a rule — a rolling stone, if you will. But you don't need to journey alone. Thanks to global co-living programs, like Remote Year, digital nomads can co-work remotely and travel together. Sounds pretty cool, right? Of course, there are costs associated with co-living and the whole scene isn't for every personality type. Here are some ways to determine whether co-living is the right option for you.

1. Know your why

Schlepping your belongings in a suitcase and meeting fellow solopreneurs in faraway lands sounds magical, but you’ll want to pin down what specifically is drawing you to co-living. Do you want to gain new perspectives, meet more people or experience the world without having to leave work behind? It's important to have a clear sense of what you want because co-living programs are often a commitment — of time and money. (Remote Year, for instance, is a year-long program that costs $27,000.) And, even if you've already decided to throw down the dough, you’ll want to jump right in and get the most out of a program.

2. Look into different options

Remote Year is the most immersive — and most expensive — co-living program, but there are other options. The Entrepreneur House, for one, is a shorter co-living experience — it's currently advertising a 12-day productivity conference in Thailand — specifically focused on entrepreneurial pursuits. There’s also Outsite, an AirBnb-style co-living program where you can stay on a night-by-night basis, if you want a even lower commitment.

I recently spent some time at Outsite’s Venice Beach location and loved the vibe. The communal area was great for getting your productivity on, and people staying there were interested in getting to know each other and hanging out. But a different setup might work better for you. Read program details carefully and ask plenty of questions so you know exactly what you're getting when you sign up.

3. Factor in all costs

Remote Year’s $27,000-a-year price tag includes travel to different places and access to a 24/7 co-working space. Your hotel stays (in a private room!) are also included. Plus, there’s coaching and opportunities to widen your skill set. (Tango lessons in Buenos Aires, anyone?). That $27,000 works out to about $2,250 a month. (You pay $5,000 upfront and then another $2,000 at the beginning of each month during your year.) But payments don't cover meals, personal travel, a visa, travelers insurance or other ancilliary expenses — and those costs add up.

In other words, remote working programs aren’t a way to lower your living expenses or live life on the cheap. You’ll need to budget well ahead of time to make sure you can afford a co-living program.

4. Understand the trade-offs

While you’re hanging out with awesome solopreneurs, you’re also giving up some of your privacy, says Eva Tang, a product manager in tech who spends half her time as a digital nomad.

“Sure you get to spend time with cool, like-minded people, but you may also need to share a room,” says Tang. “I have friends who really need their personal space. Are you willing to make that trade-off?”

Co-living could also cost more than traveling and workly remotely on your own, and, if so, you’ll have to consider if the heftier price tag is worth it.

5. Consider your Myers-Briggs type

Immersion is the operative word of co-living programs.

“I felt like a sponge on this trip, absorbing information and experiences among the eclectic mix of people around me with different backgrounds and skill sets,” says Mark Hernandez, a current “Remote” who is a product manager and digital marketer. “I learn more every day and gain a more rounded out perspective about people and places in the world, with the remaining two-thirds of my day that is not consumed by my work.”

While this sounds like a meaningful, fruitful experience for adaptable extroverts, if you’re an introvert who needs ample time to decompress, it may not be the best fit.

“Try talking to people who have lived there, and talk to the people who run the programs, so you can understand what to expect,” says Chris Van Patten, owner and creative director of Tomodomo, a community design and strategy consultancy who spent three months in a co-living space in Barcelona with The Entrepreneur House. “If they're hard to reach, that might be a sign in itself!”

While co-living sounds sweet, take time to consider the costs and whether it’s really the best way for you to do the digital nomad thing.

Image: PeopleImages