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Navigating Short-Term Housing

4 Tips from Long-Term Travelers

For most of us, temporary housing is a novel thing, and its inherent challenges only come up a few times maximum in our lives.

For some, however, hopping from one short-term rental to the next is a way of life.  What if you could live anywhere in the world?

And the only things you needed were:

  • A backpack full of clothes
  • A laptop
  • And a stable WiFi connection.

Such is the life for digital nomads, a growing group of largely young professionals whose jobs have no fixed location.

When it comes to temporary housing, these guys know their stuff.

Which is why when we put together tips on how to navigate the tricky waters of short-term housing, they’re who we asked.

So if you have a hasty move coming up or you’re about to find yourself in-between homes, keep reading to learn how the pros embrace the feeling of being untethered.

Get Organized to Make a Soft Landing

We recently spoke to Australian travel writer Megan Jerrard from Mapping Megan about how she handles life on the road. She has been traveling long-term since 2007, though she and her husband Mike have recently made Tasmania their base of operations … at least for now.

When they land in a new country and plan to stay for a few weeks or months, the Jerrards have found that organization is key. Even when everything you need fits into a single suitcase, Megan recommends keeping that suitcase organized. She has compartments for dirty clothes, for shoes, for pants, for shirts and for toiletries.

“The same goes for my laptop bag,” she tells us. “Working online, I travel from place to place with a lot of electronics, so keep my laptop and camera equipment, chargers and cords, organized within their own bag.”

Even if you have boxes upon boxes of things you’re bringing with you, the more you can organize in advance, the easier it will be for you to unpack (and repack again in a few months).

Adapt to Your New Space

Part of what makes temporary moves so challenging is how they knock you out of your routines and your familiar habits.

Even something as benign as having to remind yourself where the silverware drawer is forces your mind to focus on things it had long ago put on autopilot. Little by little, you’re reminded that you are outside of your comfort zone, if only temporarily, and you have to adapt to even little inconveniences.

But Daniel Noll at Uncornered Market sees this as a good thing. He would know, too. Noll and his wife, Audrey Scott, have been traveling long-term since the end of 2006, and they’ve built one of the most thoughtful travel blogs around in the process.

That’s because both are comfortable embracing the cerebral challenges of being constantly thrown into new and unfamiliar situations. “Living outside your comfort zone becomes the norm on the road,” Noll says. “New environments provide different challenges; what worked in the last country may not work in the next. All that stuff you became accustomed to just last week? Forget about it. Independent travel forces you to continually size up each situation and adapt accordingly.”

They’ve developed an uncommon situational awareness as a result — which came in handy when they had to negotiate with suspicious, gun-toting Tajik soldiers on a hike once.

Author Colin Wright echoes Noll’s thoughts on embracing discomfort. Wright, who has moved to a new country roughly every four months since 2009, has discovered opportunity in having his habits disrupted.

“During a period of relative predictability, maintaining our rituals and holding down the fort keeps us engaged and occupied,” he writes. “Moving away from that routine, we instead must exert ourselves by filtering through our countless options and figure out not just what our new lives will look like, but who we will be, next. We have to figure out what priorities will shape our environments, and if we have what it takes to accomplish what we think we might be able to get done.”

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Accommodate Your Partner’s Needs

If you have a partner, children or other loved ones moving with you, the challenges extend well beyond your own sense of comfort. You also need to help your family members make the adjustment to a temporary space.

There are many ways to offer comfort, companionship and space to a loved one who is also working to get settled, but perhaps the most important thing you can do is to listen.

Journalist Karen Catchpole and photographer Eric Mohl have learned this first-hand as a couple who have spent 10 years on the road together. All of that time in close proximity can be a challenge for couples, but Catchpole and Mohl see this time as a chance to better understand each other’s needs.

“Being with someone all the time means it’s ‘important to find a way to give in to your partner’s needs on his or her deal-breaker issues, and vice versa,’” they said in an interview at Nomadic Matt’s blog.

What About Moving With Kids?

For nomad families who travel with kids, the challenges can be even greater — and the opportunities sometimes richer. Kerry Clarkson recently wrote about this for Roam, a co-living startup that offers short-term accommodation for digital nomads around the world.

Clarkson and her 7-year-old daughter left California for Peru and at first tried to travel frequently. But this became tiring after a while. “So, we rented a house for a month in the jungle and enrolled her in the local school,” Clarkson wrote. “Having a routine, even a new one in a totally different language, helped her regain her energy and vibrancy.”

A house in the jungle? Having to make new friends at a Spanish-speaking school? To adults, this sounds terrifying. To an adventurous, curious child, though, it’s the adventure of a lifetime. But even if you’re not moving to the jungle, give your child room to explore the new home, to ask questions, to be curious.

Let this change offer inspiration where it can. At the same time, be mindful that children still need to able to get themselves back to their comfort zones — sometimes, at just a moment’s notice.

“Kids need creature comforts just like adults,” Clarkson wrote. “Except they can’t grab a glass of wine at the end of a long day or book a massage. I realized that with so much change and constant uploading of new information, dynamic, and structure, always keeping certain comfort items and routines helped create a feeling of control.”

Clarkson makes sure her daughter has her favorite toys, her favorite movies and her favorite snacks available whenever life imposes a little too much stress. Any parents who have ever taken their children on a road trip will recognize the wisdom in this.

And that is maybe the most important point. We all have our comfort zones, and we all have our limits for stress. This is true for someone who can casually hop from country to country, or for someone feeling anxious about a move a few counties over.

But by testing the boundaries of those comfort zones — and by having something in place that can pull us back into those comfort zones when the tether gets stretched too far — we can learn to adapt to most of life’s challenges.

Images by: Eutah Mizushima, Mroux Bulikowska

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