Temporary housing doesn’t have to be stressful—nor does it have to be boring.
The Extra Space Storage team spoke with people who’ve lived in just about every unique housing setting you can think of—from tiny house and van living to Airbnbs and extended stay hotels—and we’re sharing some top short-term housing tips from the pros. Whether you’re planning on where to live for a few weeks in-between moves or considering a longer temporary housing setup to pursue a #DigitalNomad life, we have you covered.
Macy Miller built her 196 square foot tiny home in 2011, then upsized to a 232 square foot design in 2015 to make a bit more space for her growing family. Miller says she wanted the experience and education that came with building her own house. She didn’t want to pay rent or a mortgage, so she rented an empty lot in Boise for $200/month. It took Miller just eight months to become debt free. “I get to live right now, how I want to. I am not opposed to a permanent housing situation, but it’s not what we want right now. I like that our house can be an asset instead of a liability.”
She encourages those considering the tiny home life to “push a little harder than you think you can.” Miller adds, “We’re trained to hang onto everything ‘in case.’ There is nothing that isn’t replaceable, but you can be comfortable, happier even, with a lot less than you think you can.” As for budget considerations, Miller likes to remind her followers that downsizing happens over time, well before any tiny home move-in date, not overnight, so there’s no need to make huge cuts to your daily needs right away. “Put things away and if you don’t need them in three months, you probably won’t need them for the next three months.” She urges people to “focus on actions instead of stuff,” how we use spaces and accommodate for those living needs, adding: “Do you use it or like it enough to make a space for it if it means impacting your life experiences?”
Follow the Millers on Facebook: @MiniMotives
In 2013, Jenna Spesard quit her job and built a tiny house on wheels; she chose the tiny (wheeled) house life for the flexibility to live wherever she wanted without a mortgage. “I also love the personality and creative engineering that comes with tiny house design,” she adds. As for costs, Spesard explains that every tiny house is different: “If you built it yourself, like I did, you can save a lot of money on labor. My tiny house is considered more expensive than most, and it cost me about $30,000 in materials and appliances. If I were to purchase the same house from a manufacturer, it would be double that (or more).” She notes that while this lifestyle offered savings in utilities, it also led to “a minimalistic approach to purchasing new belongings.” Spesard towed her tiny house over 25,000 miles, visiting more than thirty states and five Canadian provinces. In 2016, she parked her tiny house to reside in Oregon.
Follow Jenna on Facebook: @tinyhousegiantjourney
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The Curren Family decided to live in a camper to spend more time exploring and adventuring together as a family. The family of five suggests planning—but not too much! “We love the freedom of life on the road. It’s simple and exciting all at the same time,” says Jess. “We find that the cost of living on the road is similar to living in a house. Instead of paying a mortgage, we have campground fees, higher gas, and more expensive groceries,” she adds. While the kids let go of activities like soccer and dance, they traded those in for activities like whitewater rafting and one-of-a-kind museums. “We also love finding free activities wherever we go. It’s a great challenge!”
Follow the Currens on Facebook: @currentlywandering
Follow the Currens on Instagram: @currentlywandering
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Malea and Raphaël Harmel are two digital nomads from the U.S. and France living in their 1985 Volkwagen Vanagon Westfalia camper van. “By living the van life, it’s easy to stop in middle of nowhere—for example, in front of a deserted beach, surrounded only by the ocean and coconut trees.” The Harmels say connecting with nature is important to them, and they try to avoid cities “at all costs.” Their top budget tips include buying local sim cards with data to avoid roaming fees when driving through foreign countries, and using the iOverlander app to find cheap spots to sleep. The couple adds, “We try to sleep as much as we can for free. If it is not possible, we camp. Once in a while, we treat ourselves with a real room in a hotel!”
Follow the Harmels on Facebook: @followthesol
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Follow the Harmels on Twitter: @followthesol
Roy Barker of Fort Worth, Texas planned to live in a big city after selling his large home on 1.5 acres of land a few years ago. However, with timing not quite going according to plan, Barker instead altered his plans to temporarily live in a small 600 square foot cabin. He found it liberating—surrounded by trees and a creek, with no other homes nearby. “I got rid of 95 percent of what I had accumulated over the last 40 years,” he says. “I bought about 25 percent of the clothes I had, my laptop, bed, and put a few things in storage.” And he still finds items in his home today he doesn’t use much, which he justifies as reason to get rid of even more.
With small cabin living comes some definite organization strategies. Barker had to drastically downsize his fridge, but says this allowed him to be more mindful about carefully planning out meals. And instead of taking up space for a bulky dresser, he purchased a basket set on wheels. Barker says wheeled-carts are the way to go for those living in small, short-term spaces; he also advises repurposing spaces—like using the living room as a home office, too.
Richard and Laura Pawlowski lived in a tent—yes, a tent—for two years. As seniors in their 70s, the Pawlowski couple traveled to ten western states and camped in 15 national parks. During these two years of temporarily living in their tent, they got out of debt, and got their health on track—losing weight during their travels. “We re-energized our life, both spiritually and financially,” they say. As for logistics, the couple suggests eliminating anything and everything you can’t fit in a car or van—and even then, they recommend eliminating more, like the back seats! “Get a roof-top carrier for essential tools,” they say, and try to live within ten miles of towns with markets and medical services. “Pace your travel distance to match your income (when it comes in).” The couple targeted National Parks and Monuments as well as US Forest Service Campgrounds because of the senior discount card (half-off).
Bonnie Truax and Trinity Montero have been primarily living in Airbnb homes for nearly a year. Some of these Airbnb homes have been so tiny, they say, that they’ve lived in spaces where only a small bed fit in the room with a sink and toilet shower positioned inside the shower. “We have chosen to live like this for the freedom of travel it provides,” Truax notes. Their advice to someone considering this lifestyle? Downsize and determine what it is you actually need. “Live below your means and wait to buy what you want until you can pay cash for it,” they say.
As for their top Airbnb budget tips, the traveling duo advises making sure your Airbnb has access to a kitchen to save money cooking your own meals. And for those planning to stay at an Airbnb for longer than a month, Truax and Montero suggest booking one night to begin, and then extending once certain it’s a fit. And given that Airbnb hosts often get short term guests, the couple suggests negotiating a lower rate if you are staying a few months. This is a benefit to the Airbnb host(s), too, as they save money in turnover fees and the hassle of greeting new guests. Truax and Montero add, “We have had some good luck with newly created listings that had no reviews yet. Sometimes they offer lower rates at first to build up their reviews.” Lastly, they add, “Be willing to give up some comfort for a better price. Remember it is only temporary.”
Follow the Bonnie and Trinity on Facebook: @43BlueDoors
Valerie and Jessi live in their teardrop camper. They decided to, in their words, “go super tiny” because their small truck could pull the 1,500 lbs camper, and it would also allow the couple to road trip across the United States in it. Their advice? “Find remote work, learn to boondock, and research money saving techniques.” Valerie adds, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Their top budgeting tips include choosing camp stops near somewhere with groceries to avoid spending money on eating out—and they advise bringing along unbreakable kitchen materials made from plastic or steel, “or else you’ll be paying a lot to replace them after your first road trip,” the couple notes. They add that long-term stays is a great budget saving technique in the winter. “You can do monthly stays in RV parks for as little as $100/month or free if you work/camp.”
Follow Valerie and Jessi on Facebook: @thecamperwives
Follow Valerie and Jessi on Instragram: @happycamperwives
Follow Valerie and Jessi on Twitter: @thecamperwives
Felice Cohen lived in 90 square feet for five years! Her small studio lifestyle even went viral, as her living space was about the size of a Honda Accord. Cohen’s tiny NYC studio on the Upper West Side was just $700/month, allowing her to quit her stressful full-time job and take a year to finish writing her first book. “I had worked as a professional organizer for 20 years, so I knew a lot about utilizing a small space,” she says. Cohen notes that that during her year confined to her Honda-sized studio while writing, her life got better. “More free time, less stress, and my savings even went up,” she says, as with no place to put anything, she wasn’t buying much. Her advice to those hoping to live in a small space is to “find your reason for living tiny” and put the money you’ll save from lower heating and rent bills into a savings account for the future. “You’ll be amazed at the money you save from not wasting it on stuff that you didn’t really need or want.”
Follow Felice on Facebook: @90LessonsforLivingLargein90SquareFeet
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Follow Felice on Twitter: @felicecohe
Laurence Norah and his wife lived for six weeks in a Bay Area windowless basement room they found on Craigslist. “We were in the process of moving from the United States to Europe,” Norah notes. “The house we were originally living in ended our lease six weeks early, leaving us with a six week accommodation gap in one of the world’s most expensive places to live.” Making their temporary living lifestyle even more interesting, the couple shared the room with a giant rabbit, two cats, two dogs, six ducks, and a variety of fish! Part of the rental agreement involved the Norah couple to care for their landlords’ animals. Norah says the six week rental turned out to be quite fun, allowing them to get to know the family they rented from quite well before their European adventure began.
The couple suggests that those in need of a temporary housing space consider every temporary living avenue presented. “Sometimes something that doesn’t look like it’s going to work on paper can be made to work.” And when considering a budget during gaps between moving, they suggests short-term house sitting options. “If you’re lucky, you might be able to find somewhere to stay at a fraction of the cost, in return for a bit of dog walking or plant watering.”
Follow the Norahs on Facebook: @findingtheuniverse
Follow the Norahs on Instagram: @Lozula
Follow the Norahs on Twitter: @Lozula
Leigh Wilson lived in an extended stay hotel for six weeks while relocating from Seattle to Chicago, and she will soon live in her car and tent for the next few months. “My best tip for doing this is to downsize and practice minimalism before you enter into this situation,” Wilson shares. She says once you’re accustomed to a minimalist lifestyle, you’ll realize that you don’t really need all the things you once did. But she does advise easing into it; downsized from a 1,200 square foot home to an 800 square foot storage home to now a 50 square foot storage unit. As far as budgeting, Wilson suggests selling items you no longer need on sites like Craigslist and Facebook.
Follow Leigh on Facebook: @campfiresandconcierges
Follow Leigh on Instagram: @campfiresandconcierges
Follow Leigh on Twitter: @leighlwilson
Ross Lukeman currently lives, travels, and works out of a cargo van that has been converted into a small RV. He chose this housing option to lower expenses, leave his corporate job, and work full-time on his own venture and explore new places. Lukeman recommends those interested in doing something similar go look for discounted vans that have been used by short-term by rental companies. Then, he adds, “Put some effort into adding amenities such as solar power, insulation, and a small refrigerator.” He suggests getting a nationwide gym membership for showers and adding a small food prep area to cut down on eating out. Lukeman adds, I have also used coworking spaces in Phoenix, LA, and Seattle as a cost-effective alternative to a home office.”
Follow Ross on Facebook: @AlternativeHomesToday
Follow Ross on Instagram: @ross.lukeman
Brandon Nelson lived for two years in a converted sprinter van. He worked at GoPro in San Mateo, a pricey area—so he decided to buy a van, put a mattress in the back, and park it in his work parking lot. He loved it and decided to invest a bit more into his “living situation” since he didn’t have to worry about paying a rent or mortgage! Brandon most wanted some cabinets in his van, so he bought some wood and built himself cabinets. Then he met up with an old friend who offered him refurbished redwood and built himself a counter. Everyone knew about Brandon’s van and they all wanted one! Soon enough, after creating an Instagram account called advanture.co while posting pictures of his van and admired vans, he started getting inquiries from people looking for him to convert their vans. Today, Advanture.co is a flourishing van conversion company based out of Santa Cruz.
Follow Brandon’s van conversion company on Facebook: @advanture.co
Follow Brandon’s van conversion company on Instagram: @advanture.co
No matter what your short-term living plan is, you can draw a few ideas from these 13 experts who have lived it. From tents to campers to cabins, the options for your temporary nomad travel life or in-between move spots are endless.
Do you have any temporary housing advice to share? Leave a comment and share your pro-tips!