By Olivia Huntley, Photos by Olivia Huntley
Since last March when the world became homebound, I’ve lived in four different states, five cities and nine homes. I’ve driven over 3,500 miles through 16 states for more than 55 hours. Twenty-seven of them with a large canine who I picked up along the way. All of my possessions fit in three suitcases plus the back of a sedan. And just like on Zoom, my background is always changing.
My mobile lifestyle has become a topic of conversation among my wanderlust friends who are interested to know how I’ve engineered this flexible and nomadic way of life. I get the feeling most people fantasize about living minimally without geographical constraints. Some of us actually took our employers quite literally when they said to “work remotely.”
The backpacker’s mentality of traveling when, where and however long you want can be liberating. But location independence has its challenges and often comes with a big, fat headache.
As a former New Yorker, I was used to spontaneity and using suitcases instead of a closet. So when COVID-19 had us packing up our offices, I also packed up my life and moved to Austin. Since then, I’ve stayed in one Airbnb after another. Which, though not my intended plan, has been a fun way to get to know these interesting destinations I’ve chosen. Since I haven’t stayed anywhere longer than a few months at a time, I’ve learned a thing or two about vacation rental sites. Even more, I’ve developed strategies to keep my load light and stay on budget without sacrificing comfort. For anyone considering long-term travel or just a bit of adventure before life returns to normal (whenever that will be!), here are a few words of wisdom to send you on your way. Bon voyage!
As anyone who’s ever taken a long vacation knows, what comes out of the suitcase must go back in. Simply put, take what you need and leave the rest behind. As for that which is forsaken, I am an advocate of storage. Whether that’s renting a storage unit, using a friend’s spare closet or FedExing a box to your parents’ house and calling it a day. Whatever your method, remember that as long as you have the essentials, you can always come back for the rest. But after a few months, I’ll bet you won’t.
Although things tend to work themselves out most of the time, being a bit too laissez faire can backfire and lead to some unnecessary costs. If you’re booking an extended stay through Airbnb, try to book for 30 nights or longer. This gets you that built-in “monthly rate” (base rate x 30 days – % monthly price discount). You’ll save even more if you can be flexible with your dates. Just like with airfare, by choosing off-season dates if you’re traveling for fun or booking a reservation that begins midweek versus the weekend, you will avoid peak prices. Look at you, savvy traveler!
Get in Touch with Your Host
Although it may not seem important in the early stages of planning your trip, establishing contact with your host will be your greatest asset when unexpected problems arise. Airbnb has a privacy feature that does not allow for the exchange of phone numbers, email addresses or any external (non-Airbnb) URL until booking is confirmed. There are clever ways around that. But the Messages platform is a great place to ask some clarifying questions about your stay. It’s also how you’ll want to reach your host if there are maintenance or logistical issues. (Such as non-working Wi-Fi or unwanted eight-legged visitors.) Bottom line, you never know when you’ll need to call the exterminator. And it will certainly help to have that new friend of yours on speed dial.
If you’re entering into a rental agreement for two months or longer, then you’re in the position to begin negotiating. In this case, your host may likely be more willing to cut you a deal since it’s helpful to book a reliable guest for an extended period. A good rule of thumb is to be reasonable with what you’re asking. But also don’t forget to mention why you deserve a discount (i.e. you’re booking a longer stay or visiting during the off-season). In most cases, you’ll land a sweet deal if you’ve done the homework.
Have a Plan B
While I hope you won’t need one, it’s always good to have a backup plan when entering into a long-term rental agreement. Cancellation may not be an option depending on the policy of your booking. But if you’re unsatisfied with your host, or the space turned out not to be as advertised, contact Airbnb. The Airbnb customer service team will work with you to get your money back and save the next traveler the hassle of running into the same problems. With over two million Airbnb stays every night and listings in over 100,000 cities, you’re sure to find accommodations that will feel just like home sweet home.