The New Way to Travel in Your 30s: It’s the Co-Living Life For Me
To give you a bit of context, I’ve always loved traveling. I’ll spend the time between my vacations (and even some time while ON my vacations) planning my next big adventure: mapping the top attractions to find the most efficient way to visit them, scouring Google flights for new routes on my preferred airlines, and — possibly the portion I spend the most time on — finding the ideal place to stay.
Newbie Days: Traveling in Your Twenties
As a relatively new traveler in my mid to late twenties, I always stuck with major hotel chains — for three main reasons.
First, I was a little less confident back then and liked knowing that if I had questions about navigating the area, there’d be a concierge or bartender readily available to answer them.
Second, I was working harder than an accountant on April 15 at building my finance career, so I was flush with cash…and also with the desire to Instagram the heck out of my fancy hotel rooms.
Third, as a business traveler, I had platinum status with a particular hotel chain — so I’d get upgrades, and freebies. Lots of freebies. I loved checking in and being thanked for my status — and also the gorgeous $40 breakfast buffets which were comped. (Yes, I know that a free breakfast buffet does not justify spending an insane amount on a hotel room, and that I could’ve booked cheaper accommodations and also paid for a breakfast fit for a queen for far less than $250 per night…but we all did stupid things in our twenties, ok?)
Shifting Priorities: Traveling in Your Early Thirties
Enter my early thirties, and also the “Airbnb explosion” — and that became my accommodation of choice. As a more confident traveler, my focus became “living like a local”. I loved booking properties that were close to the center of everything, yet simultaneously residential, because I had access to grocery stores, locals bars, etc.
Still single, free, and in the corporate grind, I would spring for the fancier ones: a two-bedroom balconied apartment in Paris, a ski-in, ski-out cottage in Colorado. But by booking properties with kitchens, I was saving a decent amount of money on food — and was also more able to maintain my healthy eating habits.
When the Game Changes: Traveling in Your Mid Thirties
Now here I am, quickly approaching my mid-thirties, and I’ve gotten…well…way more frugal, to say the least. I don’t know if it’s just that I’m a decade closer to retirement, or if I’ve finally actually grown up (doubtful) — but I look back at the 26-year-old version of myself and think “Are you INSANE? One night in one of your fancy hotels could cover, like, an entire month’s worth of lodging in Thailand if you do it right!”
Of course, my situation has changed quite a bit, in addition to my age…so that does have something to do with it. I am now a digital nomad, traveling around the world for several months after finally getting fed up enough with the finance world that I handed in my resignation and bought a one-way plane ticket.
As a “baby” entrepreneur living off savings until my new business started generating income, I booked myself a series of inexpensive Airbnbs back in February, and set off on my adventure.
The problem with this was that when you’re starting an online business, you actually need to be able to get online. And Airbnb hosts don’t always have the same perception as an entrepreneur about what “strong WiFi” means when they are writing up their property descriptions. I’ve also been in some situations recently where, due to strategic photography, the “desk in room” looked like it was far larger than my iPad…which ended up being a total fake-out.
And so, on one fine day in Thailand when I was set to check out of an AirBnb and also wasn’t sure where I should head to next, I decided to explore a concept that I’d heard about in a FaceBook group: co-living. It turns out that, unbeknownst to me when I’d done my initial trip planning, my current location was a very popular location for ex-pats…and so there were several of these facilities around.
What is Co-Living All About?
For those who aren’t familiar with co-living, since it’s still relatively new to the block — the best comparison I can make is that it’s sort of like living in a sorority house full of really responsible adults (I’m avoiding a comparison to a frat house here because in co-living spaces, people actually do sleep — and it doesn’t reek of beer). They are generally rented on a weekly or monthly (sometimes daily) basis, and you have your choice of accommodations — along with access to shared kitchen, living, laundry, and working facilities. Some properties come with other amenities, such as free bicycle use or in-house chef services.
Note: There’s a lot of chatter going on right now about whether or not co-working facilities are worth the price; and while I definitely take the side that they are, my opinions on that would make this post far too long…so stay tuned for a follow-up on that particular topic soon. Now back to the co-living.
What is Staying in a Co-Living Space Really Like?
So, you want to know how my experience was? Well…aside from the unlimited coffee and super-strong, consistent WiFi (which, together, were enough at this point to make me happier than a camel on a Wednesday), I have never felt so immediately at peace when arriving at a property. Check-in was a breeze, and I received assistance with slugging my luggage to my room. And when I entered the co-working space (to which 24/7 access was included for co-living guests), people smiled and introduced themselves.
Fast forward through the days ahead, and I found the other residents to be fantastic company. Almost all digital nomads or entrepreneurs (there were a few who proclaimed themselves as “retired” and just traded cryptocurrencies or lived off savings), my housemates provided constant motivation to get work done — as well as assistance with anything involving technologies which, as a fledgling business owner, I was unfamiliar with.
Most surprisingly for a solo traveler like me, though, was how much I really liked having other people around. We’d meet for dinner in the evenings, and make late-night ice creams runs when working overnight to synchronize with overseas conference call hours; we organized hiking and motor biking trips on weekends, and impromptu idea-generating sessions in the outdoor living room.
Yet aside from the unique cultural exchange opportunities from my international housemates and the convenience of finally being able to live and work in the same place while on the road, co-living provided something very important that I was used to from back in my fancy hotel days: peace of mind.
When you walk into a hotel, you almost always know what you’re getting. And when you walk into a co-living space, it’s the same. While there might not be a concierge desk or an on-site bar, you know that there will always be someone there to answer any questions you might have. You also know that the amenities you expect will be on point — because unlike other accommodations which cater to a multitude of different types of travelers, co-living spaces cater to one specific type: cool people who just want to get their stuff done.
So, Is Co-Living Worth It?
Would I choose to stay in a co-living space again? For sure…and I already have (in Siem Reap, Cambodia). I consider it to be a no-brainer for anyone who wants to work while traveling, or who isn’t working yet wants quiet/privacy and also a group of instant friends to occasionally do things with.
Aside from the social (and WiFi) aspects of it all, it’s also an extremely attractive option from a cost perspective. The co-living spaces I’ve stayed in have both been on par, price-wise, with some of the cheapest apartment rental options I’ve found…and have actually been cheaper than a private room in a backpacker hostel. Plus, the facilities are much nicer, and the locations are typically close to the center of everything.
It’s the ideal situation for a traveler who is “too old for that”, yet “too young for that”…a near-mid-life identity crisis that I think many people can identify with nowadays.
My advice if you’re on the fence about whether or not to give this alternative form of accommodation a go? Just do it! Many properties allow you to book for shorter time periods — weekly, or even daily (although I’d encourage you to give it more than one day to get a feel for the vibe) — so just book a few nights to try it out. You’ll end up extending…I know you will.
PS — those Instagram moments I craved from the 5-star hotels? Co-Living spaces have them, too! Try working from a garden hammock for a day like I did in Southeast Asia and then tell me if you miss your concierge lounge that much. I dare ya.