One of the biggest decisions in location independence is how to handle “home”: do you travel full-time, or maintain a permanent home base you can go back to, or something else?
We’ve tried three different models over the years – each with their own pros and cons.
1: Full nomad
This is the true “laptop lifestyle”: just bouncing between Airbnbs with no possessions other than what you can carry.
We did this for several years, and it was great: we loved the feeling of being able to pack up in 15 minutes and hop to a new country. At our peak we were away roughly nine months of each year, and when we were back in London we just rented Airbnbs there too.
Other than the freedom, the big advantage is flexibility. If you’re enjoying living in a certain place, just decide to stay longer. If you make new friends who are heading somewhere new and you want to go with them, do it.
You can also easily flex your cost of living up and down. If your income is variable, you can shift to a country with a lower cost of living (or just a cheaper Airbnb in the same location) when times are lean and treat yourself when things are going well.
Perfect freedom does have practical downsides, though. If you have hobbies that rely on particular equipment, you’ll either have to drop them or deal with selling and re-buying it all every time you move. If you just love having certain possessions (like a collection of books, or high-quality kitchen implements) you’re out of luck too.
There are also complications that arise from not having a permanent address, although these can be partially overcome by having a friend or family member whose address you can use. (There might also be tax advantages to severing ties with your home country and living “nowhere”, but we never explored these.)
2: The Airbnb double-up
This is where you have a “home base” that you live in some of the time, then rent it out short-term on Airbnb when you go away (and stay in another Airbnb yourself).
We did this for a few years too. After a few years of pure nomadding, we wanted to start spending more time in London. At the time there wasn’t much of an Airbnb selection in London for longer-term stays – and prices were crazy – which made coming home a huge hassle.
So we moved back into the same apartment we’d lived in before we started travelling, and whenever we had a trip coming up we listed it on Airbnb. Luckily, because of its location, we usually managed to find guests who wanted to stay for roughly the same duration that we were away – so we didn’t have multiple sets of guests coming and going every few days. We were probably away for roughly half of the year, and home for the other half.
(I also know people who do this the other way around: they list their place on Airbnb, and when they get a suitable booking they then make their own travel plans.)
At its best, this gives the best of both worlds. You still get the freedom of long-term travel, but you’ve always got somewhere to come back to – and somewhere to store possessions you don’t want to take, like a book collection or your winter sports gear. You could have a year where you’re at home nine months of the year and just have a couple of quick trips, then the next year you could be away virtually the whole time.
You can potentially subsidise your travel costs too, if your home base is in a high-cost city. We often rented out our own place for an amount that covered the cost of the place we were staying and our flights, and sometimes a bit more.
The drawback is hassle. Every time you go away, you need to get your home into perfect guest-ready condition. You need to arrange cleaning at the start and end of each stay, and you need some way of getting the keys to your guests. You also need to be constantly available in case your guest has any questions or problems (unless you use an agency). And, of course, you have the same maintenance and administrative obligations as you would if you lived there full-time.
All of this is do-able – we did it for years. It just adds more friction to each trip, and doesn’t give you the total freedom of packing up and going wherever you want at a moment’s notice.
3: The permanent home base
This is what we do now: we have a permanent home where we live the majority of the time, and take extended trips away. We’re home for eight or nine months of the year, and away for three or four.
This model doesn’t have the purity and simplicity of being “full nomad”, but it’s less hassle than being in “Airbnb double-up” mode. When we go away, we just shut the door — leaving our home in whatever state it’s in (usually immaculate, obviously). While we’re away, there are no guests to worry about – which also means we could cut our trip short if we needed to. And when we come back, it’s exactly how we left it.
Why did we shift to this model? The answer is about three feet tall and his favourite song is “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.
For us, having a child added so much complexity (and so many possessions) to our lives that it made renting out our own place too much effort by far. It also shifted our balance towards being home more, so reduced the benefits of flexibility and increased our desire for stability.
It’s amazingly convenient – but the big drawback is cost. Whereas when we rented out our own place we’d usually end up covering our own accommodation costs with the rent that was coming in, by leaving it empty we’re effectively paying double housing costs whenever we’re away.
This has obvious financial drawbacks, and it also acts as a subtle disincentive to travel. Going away is now expensive as well as being more effort, so it’s easy to slip into a pattern of claiming to be location independent but actually spending almost all our time at home.
If all you want though is to take an extended trip during the summer holidays, or get away for a couple of months in the winter, the “home base” might be the simplest and best solution – especially if your housing costs aren’t particularly high.
At the moment we’re sticking to our home base, but I can easily imagine ourselves going back to the other models in the future as our circumstances change.
Every model we’ve used has worked for us at the time, then we’ve switched it as our requirements change and the pro/con balance tilts in a different direction. Because we’re open-minded and not psychologically tied to any one way of doing things, we can be flexible.
It fits in with our general attitude of questioning everything: every so often, we ask ourselves if things are still working out. If they are, great. If not, we know we can make a change.