When people ask me where I live, I always pause. I can easily tell you where I’m from- a super small town in the state of Massachusetts, but where do I live? Well, technically everywhere. I’ve been fully nomadic for over a year now- slowly bouncing around from country to country and doing my best to keep my costs reasonable. So far, the best way I’ve found to do that has been housesitting.
What is housesitting?
It's exactly as the name implies. We all know what babysitting is, and I assure you, housesitting is much more manageable.
You’re taking care of a home in an owner’s absence, and in many cases, they have some furry friends they’d like you to feed and walk as well. In short, you are taking responsibility for another person’s home and/or pets, free of charge, in exchange for free accommodation. It’s a win-win! I'm actually writing this post mid-housesit in beautiful Bath, England. Three weeks, two cats, and not a penny to pay for comfortable accommodation in one of the country's most charming cities.
Who is it good for?
Well, everyone...but it is particularly convenient for some more than others. I’ll explain:
Housesitting is PERFECT for digital nomads and also for retirees. Anyone who has extreme flexibility in his or her life is a prime candidate, basically. Housesitting opportunities can range from a short weekend to 6 months to a year! Imagine, rent-free accommodation for a whole year? Yeah, it can happen. In some pretty freakin’ cool places, too. I once saw a listing for a 6-month assignment in Fiji. FIJI!
Ok, so maybe you’re not a digital nomad, and maybe you aren’t over 65. How can housesitting work for the normal, vacation-planning person? Well first of all, you need to be a bit open-minded. You can’t have specific dates AND places in mind and expect that you’re going to find an opportunity to match. What you can do is hone in on one or the other. If you have fixed vacation dates, you can plug those into one of the sites I’m about to tell you about, and see what countries/cities need a housesitter. Planning ahead is key, as you most likely won’t be the only one applying. But let's say you search dates for a week in December when you happen to have vacation time…you might find that someone needs a housesitter in London, the countryside of Spain, a resort town in the south of Turkey, or any other number of places and apply to what appeals to you. There’s a bit of uncertainty that comes with all of this until you lock down the housesit, but consider this. If you get a housesit in London for a week, you’ve just saved yourself hundreds of dollars (if not more) on hotel costs. #worthit
Ever heard of Sintra? I hadn’t, until about two months ago. If there’s one place on earth where you think you might find unicorns, Rapunzel, a forest full of singing animals, the fountain of youth or Prince Charming, you’d swear Sintra, Portugal was it. For such a magical place to have totally escaped my radar until recently is surprising.
If Sintra has caught your attention and made it into your travel plans, you’re most likely flying into or starting out from Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon is my new favorite topic of conversation, and if you’re spending some time there, I wrote alllll about it in my previous blog post here.
The beautiful thing about Sintra is that it’s an easy day trip to make from Lisbon. Simply hop a train from Rossio or Oriente station for 2.15 euros, grab a seat for 40 minutes or so, and you’re there, delivered right into town. In my case, there was plenty of time to spare and I spent five whole days in Sintra with two friends and fellow digital nomads. For the every day traveler on a schedule, I’d probably recommend two. We sorted out an affordable 2-bedroom Airbnb right next to the train station, and it was the perfect place to base ourselves. If you're interested, you can find the listing here. AND, if you've never used Airbnb and want $40 off your first trip (feel like there's not many of you left out there!) I'm just gonna throw this referral code at you to sign up with here.
If you are in Sintra, you are there to explore palaces, enchanted looking forests, and maybe some gorgeous beaches if there’s time. You can even pick up discounted tickets valid for multiple attractions, which we grabbed at the first site we visited, Castle of the Moors. The 30 euro ticket we chose was good for the Castle of the Moors, Pena Palace, and the National Palace. There are tons of sights to see (you can see some of the other spots here), but based on my experience, there are four palaces/castles that you MUST visit. In order of my favorite:
To be fair, I travel a lot. I also fall in love a lot. I’ll be the first to admit that every new city I visit is my “new favorite” (literally just said this about Florence, Italy) but listen. I’m for real this time. Lisbon, Portugal is EVERYTHING. Not to mention, Lauren in Lisbon. It has a ring to it, don’t you think?
I spent one month in Portugal, from mid-October to mid-November, and it was nothing short of magical. I have a lot to say about the country in general, but I’ll dedicate this post to Lisbon, a place where everything you’ve ever wanted in a city collides and makes you wonder where it’s been all your life. It didn’t take long to understand why it’s a huge digital nomad hub, and also a place where tourists are flocking to. Each day, new items on my “perfect city” wish list were ticked off. Culture? Most definitely. Affordability? Check. Beaches? A cheap taxi ride away. Nomad Scene? Plentiful. Wi-Fi? Download speeds you’ve only dreamed about. Nightlife? Insane. Food? Delicious. Safety? Non-issue. English? Rampant. Not to mention, it was sunny and in the 70s every day. When I ventured a few hours south of Lisbon, I went swimming in the ocean and was tanning on beaches…in NOVEMBER, in EUROPE.
So, digital nomad or not, I’m going to drop names of all of my favorite places in Lisbon, which anyone visiting can benefit from. If you go, you’ll fall in love. You’ve been warned.
Already have the freedom to work from anywhere and want to travel the world with a group of amazing, like-minded people? If you call yourself a digital nomad or entrepreneur and you're living the remote life, then this post is for you.
Back in April, I headed out on a solo adventure to Central and South America. I took on Panama, Colombia, Chile and Peru for three adventurous months before I started to get sick of myself. It occurred to me that I’d really like some friends and socialization in my life. You know, beyond the fleeting interactions with fellow travelers that would cross my path for a few hours or days at a time. I was craving a community. People to laugh with. Do my adventuring with. Eat, drink and be merry with.
The WiFi Tribe had been in the back of my mind for a while- a friend had joined a few of their chapters and highly recommended them. Coincidentally, they were headed for Ecuador right around the time my plans were coming to an abrupt halt. The stars seemed to be aligning. I contacted them, had an interview only days later, received notice of my acceptance, and booked a flight. I’m here to tell you what a fantastic decision that was.
If you’re headed to Peru, find the nearest stair climber or mountain and get to work ASAP. Your body will thank you if you have any desire to head to Cusco, the high altitude gateway to my new favorite wonder, Machu Picchu. The city sits 11,000+ feet above sea level and makes a leisurely stroll feel like the hike of your life. Acclimating to what feels like a whole new stratosphere is key before doing anything too strenuous, like hiking up to Machu Picchu.
When I quit my real estate job back in 2014, I did so with a dream of escaping the corporate grind. I was sick of monotonous routines, four-walled offices with no windows, and limited vacation time. Little did I know, three years later I’d actually have pulled it off. My office has expanded from a single small room to the entire world. I’m finally doing the digital nomad thing, and I couldn’t be happier.
As someone who works online, I’ve come to the conclusion that slow travel is the way to go. If you move around too much your productivity goes down, stress levels go up, and you don't give yourself a chance to enjoy the places you’re in. This is why I decided to drop anchor in Valparaiso, Chile for a month. I don’t think it’s a common choice, and many people have asked me why I chose this particular city. I don’t really have a good answer to that question; I just know I was ready to sit still for a while. Plus, Google mustered up some pretty persuasive images. Search “Valparaiso” and you’ll see what I mean- a sea of color by the ocean.
Whether you’re planning to hang around for a while or just swinging through for a day or two as many travelers do- I’d like to share my favorite spots and what I learned. Valparaiso is a beautiful place to explore but hang around for the end and some tips on how to stay safe. For the first time in my life I had my life threatened, and there’s a few simple ways of avoiding the same situation, especially if you’re traveling solo.
Being from the US, it might seem odd that I never paid much mind to my southern neighbors Central and South America. When I finally did decide to venture into this unknown territory, my plans were made a bit haphazardly, and the itinerary ultimately came down to price. This is how I ended up flying to Panama City, a hub and connector of Central and South America. I showed up without a plan, and without much knowledge about the country in general. On more than one occasion the words “San Blas” were mentioned as a must-see place, and after a quick Google image search, I was sold (a similar Google search is pretty much how I ended up teaching abroad and subsequently living in Thailand for two years).
The epitome of paradise, there are enough San Blas islands for every day of the year, and only 49 of them are actually inhabited. If you search online, you’ll find a series of tours that’ll put you up on one of these islands, all-inclusive, for $250 or more for only two nights. Considering I’m traveling on a budget and have made $250 last me an entire month before, I wasn’t a fan. Unfortunately, Panama isn’t the cheapest country, so two nights in paradise came with a price tag, but a reasonable one that even I was willing to splurge a bit for.
A few words of caution before I continue; if you’re not down with the following, this option probably isn’t going to tickle your fancy:
Huts with sand floors
Zero cell service
Two bathrooms, one island
Specific hours for water usage
Bumpy and often wet boat rides
No-frills meals (think lots of rice and chicken and/or vegetables)
After spending 10 weeks in Turkey over the months of December, January, and February, it became very clear to me that off-season travel is by far the most enjoyable. Sure, it’s not the warmest time of year, and yeah, some areas are a bit dead and you may be sharing drinks with retirees, but the lack of tourists, while detrimental to a social life, is much more of a blessing than a curse. This particularly applies if you decide to visit Cappadocia, one of the country’s most famous and highly visited regions.
Known for sprawling landscapes filled with fairy chimneys, an abundance of cave hotels, underground cities and sunrise hot air balloon rides, Cappadocia is a fascinating draw for travelers from all over the world. Located in the Central Anatolia Region, it’s a short 1 hour 20 minute flight from Istanbul to Kayseri airport, or night buses (Metro Turizm is great!) are available and can get you there in 10-12 hours for cheap cheap!
If you want to be where the cave hotels are, and where the balloons launch, you’ll want to stay in the town of Göreme. There are loads of places to choose from, and you can ball out for a luxury cave hotel for less than a budget hotel in the US. On the budget end of the spectrum, you can get a private room at Yasin’s Place for $13-15 USD/night. Alternatively, if you want to imitate the best Instagram photos out there and stay at Sultan Cave Suites with cute puppies and an outdoor breakfast watching balloons casually float by, you can grab a room for as low as $65-$70 USD/night.
Prefer to stay for free and get an amazing cultural experience? Read my previous post on Couchsurfing and see how ridiculously easy and wonderful it is to do in Turkey! There are tons of opportunities in the area, and you may be surprised when hosts start reaching out to YOU offering up a place to stay.
Want even more great news about visiting during the off-season? Balloon rides that typically cost around $200 USD in the high season (if not more, sometimes they sell out and jack up the prices for the next available day) can be haggled down to around $70 USD in the low season.
What’s the catch? It’s cold- unreasonably cold. I’m glad my fingers are still attached and able to report that in the month of February it was -17 degrees Celsius (about 1 degree Fahrenheit) in the mornings. So, if you’re heading out to watch the balloons or take a ride in one at dawn, I'd strongly suggest putting on as many layers as you can while still being able to walk. The cold is temporary, but the memories and photos of incredible snowy landscapes all to yourself will last forever.
In an effort to really drive home my point, here are 10 of my favorite photos to prove winter truly is the best time to visit Cappadocia.
I’ve recently wrapped up two months of traveling around Turkey, and I can count on fingers and toes the amount of identifiable foreign tourists I saw. My boyfriend (aka The Lonely Traveller Matt) and I lived in and traveled around the country from mid-December to the end of February, and spent our time in Istanbul, Kalkan, Antalya, Cappadocia, and Izmir.
6 days before we arrived, 44 people were killed in a twin bombing attack on an Istanbul football stadium. On New Year’s Eve, 39 more people were killed in a nightclub shooting in Istanbul. These are only two examples of many terrorist attacks on Turkish soil, the combination of which have significantly deterred tourism. Needless to say, friends and family heavily criticized my travel plans. Having already booked flights and accommodation, and not being much of a listener, I went anyway. Now here I am, two months and many adventures later, and after several weeks of incredible hospitality and kindness, I would like to write in defense of Turkey, and possibly restore your faith in humanity.
We’ve all just rung in the New Year, and one of two things has happened: you’ve either made some grand travelutions, or your precious vacation time has just reset. Whichever is the case, I have some rather persuasive information and photographic evidence that may sway you in the general direction of Africa- bizarre, exotic, mysterious, colorful Morocco, to be exact.
The majority of people that visit the country make a beeline for Marrakech. I can understand why- it’s relatively westernized, tourist-friendly, full of culture, and absolutely stunning. I was headed along the same track, until somewhere, floating around the social media realm, photos of an incredible blue city called Chefchaouen surfaced. With staggered blue-washed buildings, a maze of narrow streets, and sprawling mountain views, it caught my eye and jumped straight to the top of my must-see list. With a loosely planned 8-day trip ahead, and a starting point in Tangier and an ending point in Marrakech, it was conveniently on the way.
I've never been happier to be a photography enthusiast, as it’s one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever seen. I could have wandered through the old medina’s maze of blue for days on end with my camera. Chefchaouen is a relatively simple place with a complex character, so if you’re content with charm, relaxation, and a bit of cultural immersion, it’s a great place to hang out for a couple of days. It is also the setting for some of my all-time favorite photos, so I highly recommend it for any photographers that make it to Morocco.
So, what makes Chefchaouen stand out from other destinations?
I’ve compiled a list of its 5 most memorable features.