By far, the most difficult thing about long-term travel is finding medium-term accommodation. Sure, just affording to travel is tough enough, but for us, finding cheap apartments is miles tougher. In fact, we’ve never contemplated returning home due to financial troubles, but we have absolutely considered a one-way ticket home as a result of house-hunting madness.
So after staying (usualy 3+ months) in seven different cities, we have finally come up with a strategy.
1. Find the Websites Used By Locals
You typically want to visit one website, send a few requests, see a couple of apartments, and be done with it ASAP. The sooner you settle in, the sooner you can be productive, and the more days you can put aside for adventure.
The trick is to not be swindled by people looking to overcharge tourists.
Start by asking a few locals what websites they use for accommodation. In the case of countries mostly offline, ask about popular house-hunting newspapers. And in the case of newspapers in difficult foreign languages (e.g. Arabic, Thai, etc), offer to buy your new friend dinner in exchange for some help.
Often, it makes a world of difference to hop out of your comfort zone and enlist the services of a local.
2. Have the Money Ready
When you find your dream apartment in an idyllic location, it’s important to have the cash ready so you can just drop your bags and alleviate the pain of house-hunting (usually with beer or wine).
If you don’t have the money already, daily withdrawal limits could mean it’s days until you can move in.
Also, landlords often want a month of rent in advance, plus another month of rent as a deposit. They may also want the entire period pre-paid to mitigate the risk of renting to someone who’s a flight risk. Having all of this money ready can save both time and more money, especially if you’re staying in hotels while you search.
3. Consider Guesthouses
Some cities have a thriving medium-term accommodation market (e.g. check out Vienna Apartments). But some just aren’t geared for it (e.g. India). So don’t just consider apartments, also consider guesthouses designed for short-term stays. In developing countries, this is often a cheaper alternative too.
In somewhere like Thailand, you can stay in a guesthouse with full facilities, weekly cleaning and regular linen changes for the price of doing it all yourself in the West. The same goes for South America. We once stayed on the top floor of a guest house in Peru for only $7/night. We had a quaint balcony, a kitchen area, plus they cleaned daily for what amounted to the price of fish & chips in most other places.
4. Search Short-Stay Websites Too
A new trend in accommodation is self-rented rooms and apartments. So rather than offering a couch for free (e.g. through couchsurfing.org), people are now renting out their rooms to subsidise rent. They may also offer their entire apartment while they’re away on holidays or for schooling.
Although self-rented apartments may be advertised with daily rates, you’ll be surprised how many are willing to rent for longer if you make an offer. These places are usually fully furnished too, whereas long-term stays are often unfurnished.
What I also like about this option is that you can book a place online without even seeing it. This isn’t necessarily good practice, but when it comes down to the wire and you’re ready to return home, it can literally save your trip.
Check out websites like Wimdu.com, where people list apartments all over the world for short-term stays.
5. Beware of Craigslist
Some people use Craigslist for medium-term house hunting, but I’ve found the following problems with Craigslist:
- Listings are often for a few weeks in the future (but we need a place now)
- Most people never reply to your emails, so you sit waiting in limbo
- There are lots of scams, which end up driving you nuts