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Roam has constructed an international housing network for digital nomads (nytimes.com)
86 points by kawera 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 79 comments

I've stayed at a Roam before in London. On the upside, it was pleasant, clean, quiet, and conveniently located. The room was a bit small and the in-room fridge was tiny, but those are common traits for temporary housing in London.

The real downside to me is a conflict inherent in Roam's branding and strategic positioning. They position themselves as being for digital nomads (i.e. people who are working as permanent travelers) and assume that what I want as such a person is to actively engage and spend time with other people doing the same. To that end they're aggressively friendly, which I found a bit off-putting. I travel to be integrated into the communities in which I am traveling, not to hang out with other travelers.

Different strokes for different folks. Many people travel with no particular expectation of engaging on any kind of deep level with the local community of a place they're visiting for a few weeks, and engaging in a multinational community of people with a shared interest in travel, remote working and potentially even complementary knowledge and skillsets isn't necessarily a less worthwhile thing than hanging out with locals as the novelty foreigner. More to the point, unless they massively overdo forced socialisation, the two shouldn't be mutually exclusive, and a well-run programme ought to have some non-commercial interaction with local people built in anyway.

tbh I'd have thought the community aspect was the sole justification for choosing a Roam over an alternative short term rental

That is Roam's entire value add. The large majority of digital nomads are looking to find likeminded individuals with the same constraints in the same foreign city as they are. Similar to hostels when backpacking.

If you want to be integrated into the communities of whom your traveling you want to be crashing on their couches or in the very least renting a local Airbnb.

That may be. But what I'm looking for is a quiet environment with high speed internet and dedicated work spaces. Most hotels are a poor match for one, if not both parts of that equation.

"Crashing on couches" or using Airbnb are both high-variance options - you don't have a guarantee of quality, quiet, or internet, let alone separate dedicated work spaces.

Thankfully affordable co-working spaces offering a quiet environment with high speed internet and dedicated work spaces are abundant.

Id do more digital nomading if the rentals were easier to arrange. Airbnb's often have poor internet, poor desks, and noise. It's also less obviously a business expense for taxes.

But when I'm in a place, I'd rather hang out with locals. Hearing about that goal of Roam puts me off using it.

Haha that's what the fad is becoming! I've been to many "nomad" cities and always avoid meeting so-called nomads - and cringe when I see one in a cafe who brought 2 external monitors and is having a "standup" call...

> I travel to be integrated into the communities in which I am traveling, not to hang out with other travelers.

Same here, and it seems there are very few businesses catering to us. Unfortunately, I think we are in the minority so that won't likely change soon.

Any advice on easing the stress of finding the next place? We use skyscanner to find cheap flights from where we are, Craig's List a ton, and then random searches online for 'furnished apartments {destination}".

> it seems there are very few businesses catering to us

Slow travelers (to avoid the whole "digital nomad" thing) are, in my experience, most welcome, especially in family-run places: We are pretty low maintenance.

> Any advice on easing the stress of finding the next place?

This is how I do it: Book flight and one or two nights in a hotel (depending on duration of flight/expected jetlag). Find a better hotel locally (one I am comfortable paying and staying at for the whole stay in worst case), start local hunt for a place. I usually find something within two weeks that is a much better deal than anything on airbnb (or with any other online presence).

These two weeks allow me to learn the very basics to make an informed decision: Local salaries in the area (if a cop makes $200, a lease of $800 should ring an alarm), reality about security issues (pay more for something in a gated community?), actual transportation costs (just because a taxi has to be metered by law, it does not mean it will be for you, if you stand out as a foreigner) etc.

By "businesses catering to us" I was referring to companies like Roam (or, any "hey digital nomad, come stay with us for a month away from anyone local just to be a tourist" companies), but I 100% agree with your statement that we are usually welcome by local businesses.

And thank you for the description of your process, always good to get another perspective. We find ourselves working very hard to find the proper place before we arrive, and having some local time first would definitely seem to make things easier. Just have to balance that cost with our budget.

> Just have to balance that cost with our budget.

Just to give you an idea of potential savings: Including utilities and fiber optics into my house I pay $500/month (two bedrooms, fully furnished house with giant terrace) - the same is available online for $120/day. This is in southern Morocco and even the 500 I pay include a tourist penalty fee. Local cops start with a salary of $220/month...

That's an amazing savings. We are enjoying Panamá (the country, not the city) currently with a rent of $250 per month, internet included.

The challenge we are currently facing is finding a place in the US for two-three months that's actually affordable. Even the hotels are crazy expensive for short stays.

It definitely seems like picking a city, getting there in a hotel, and then finding a place is a better strategy than finding something online. I've been to countless websites that return an error when I put in our target dates: 'our reservation system doesn't allow dates longer than 30 days'!?! LOL Then, almost everything for our target duration is 'vacation rental', which means they want at least $500 per week.

Total side note: is there a way to get notified when people respond to your comment on HN?

As someone who is living in a community in London, and building a community-based house in rural Portugal, the comments here feel somewhat relevant.

My ideal is a situation where people can freely move between both houses (with some element of planning/booking). However, in our case only about 30-50% of people in our community have a work-life that could support this. The result is that the Portugal house could often be somewhat empty.

I would be interested in some kind of digital nomad airbnb. As hosts we would want to be clear about what our community is about / expectations etc, and also be able to be selective above those who may join us.

Couchsurfing is another option that we could look to, but I'm not too keen on that demographic (or at least my experience of it). How about couchsurfing for professionals, with actual bedrooms, longer says (1 month+), who are maybe a bit older / more mature etc?

Please forgive the rambling. Maybe this exists already?

Edit: tomcooks's rant has given me something to think about.

As a digital nomad, we decided not to use Roam because of cost. It's basically like paying SF rent, but in countries with a third the cost of living.

Being a digital nomad is definitely stressful. You have to constantly look for a good place to work. It's hard to meet like-minded people. Roam simplifies a lot of that, and I see the value.

It's like the WeWork of co-working / co-living spaces. I'm sure they'll do well as the movement grows.

> It's basically like paying SF rent, but in countries with a third the cost of living.

Come to Chiang Mai and pay 1/20th :)

Asia is incredibly inexpensive, can't believe how much money I've blown on rent in the western hemisphere over the last 15 years.

> Being a digital nomad is definitely stressful. You have to constantly look for a good place to work.

Indeed, finding the next spot is typically time consuming and hit or miss, particularly when trying to do so via the internet.

Is there good internet throughout Chiang Mai? I had a friend stayed there for a week as a guess in a house with a 50/50 up and down internet connection. He couldn't tell me details because such a brief stay and the house owner not being there. I'm surprised there's such speed there. Would love to relocate to Thailand if I could have such stable fast speeds.

I get 50mbs/20mbs here in my apartment for $20/month; connection is solid. If you need a really fast connection you can get 500mbs/200mbs, residential no less.

Also have unlimited mobile data plan with AIS for $20/month, which is really surprisingly fast given what you're paying.

Thailand's been an eye opener on many levels, will definitely be heading back here next winter if I'm able to.

As someone who is prone to seasonal unproductivity, I wish to travel somewhere warm and sunny during winter months. What's the weather like during winter months (I'm on the east coast of North America)? Also, what's the living cost in addition to uitilities such as internet? Thanks.

I've been in Chiang Mai for about 3 months now; it's rained literally once. "Winter" lasted for maybe 10 days, which meant evening temps in the high 50s I'd guess.

The only real gotcha is now, when the "burning season" begins. Farmers across the north of India and SE Asia start torching previous season's fields, which leads to poor air quality. Up until February you're basically good, it's after that that you start seeing people (myself included) donning the wearable breathing masks.

Here's how things are now, just look at all that fresh air[1], you'd think the earth was a tail pipe.

[1] http://berkeleyearth.org/air-quality-real-time-map/?z=4&x=10...

Wow, I didn't know it was that bad! Thanks for the tips.

Thailands winter is Dec/Jan/Feb which is basically the high season for tourism (it's hot but not stupidly hot). So it's more expensive than other times of the year but still cheap by rest of the world standards.

This channel has some pretty decent vids on the subject


Bear in mind though that Chiang Mai is more of a rural town than major city, you might find yourself preferring Bangkok.

Awesome, thank you!

Internet in Chiang Mai is solid. Very solid uptime, and really cheap 4G data as a fallback.


You can see some of the services available there.

We're in Saigon right now! Bangkok next but thinking about Chiang Mai.

> but thinking about Chiang Mai.

Don't, now is the worst time (especially March/April), air quality gets really bad during this time (see my other comment on this issue).

I'm planning on heading south, maybe to one of the Thai islands, and then at some point over to Bali before surf high season kicks in.

I found Chiang Mai in April amusing. While it is insanely hot. There is Songkran which is literally a three day water fight. Really fun. And because it was so hot I stayed inside most days that month and worked.

It's a bit of a stretch to call 4 cities they have a presence in an "international housing network."

Hey cut them some slack, PR articles got to follow certain grammar standards! /s

The Roam site seems to require you to book at at particular location, with check-in and check-out dates, and a per-day pricing structure. How is that really any different from a traditional hotel/hostel?

It'd be more interesting if they were offering, say, the possibility to get a 6-month tenancy agreement with the option to freely move between locations during that time. But that doesn't seem to be the case?

Logistically I don't that what you describe would actually work. What if you show up and a place is fully booked?

As a digital nomad myself, the difference I see with Roam is it comes with a working space and therefore a network of like-minded people. At a hotel your Wi-Fi might suck, you'd still have to scramble to find a coffee shop to work from, and other tenants would likely be people on holiday rather than digital nomads.

Well, obviously there has to be some kind of booking system, but it could work on a more ad-hoc basis. You can stay in your current location for as long as you like, or you can login and see which other locations have capacity, then let them know you'll be coming in day or so.

Would this be less convenient in certain situations, where you had definite travel plans in advance? Sure. But it'd also encourage and enable the kind "nomadic" approach they claim to be delivering, and you could always use a regular hotel if you absolutely had to be in a particular city one a particular date.

As it stands, "business hotel with guaranteed decent wifi" might be a useful market niche, but it's a far cry from the kind paradigm-shift this seems to be being spun as. And I think there would be something quite interesting in doing it for real.

I’ve found Airbnb to be the best way to deal with this. Book for few weeks, then talk to the owner about staying longer. If there is good supply in the area, then you have a good chance of being able to stay longer as it won’t be booked. Alternatively they may have other properties you can stay in.

Having guaranteed WiFi and a desk would be good though. Even in hotels designed for business use it’s often hit and miss.

'I’ve found Airbnb to be the best way to deal with this.'

You've had better luck than me then. I've got places with good internet but lots of noise; the one place that was quiet had no internet. Quite frustrating really.

Flight fares and tourist visa applications don't really jive with the last minute "we'll come and go when we want" mentality. It's quite expensive to travel this way, and you usually need an exit flight booked before entering. Otherwise you're gonna have a heck of a time convincing the border guard you're actually planning on leaving.

I'm all for a world with fewer borders and this flexible mentality you describe. I just think it'll take a while for governments / transportation to make it feasible.

> you usually need an exit flight booked before entering. Otherwise you're gonna have a heck of a time convincing the border guard you're actually planning on leaving.

Digital nomad here. Only a small minority of countries across the world enforce any rule about having to prove that you will actually leave the country, and so often nomads don’t book their flight/bus/train out of a country until they have already entered it and spent some time there. Digital nomads know, for example, that UK officials are particularly strict and hard to please, and getting a Chinese visa might require faking some plane tickets. But for most of the rest of the world, the border officials will simply wave through anyone from a developed country who says they are there for tourism.

A lot of the time it's not the border guards enforcing the rule, it's the airline (which is on the hook for a return flight and a fine in the unlikely event of you being turned away at the border). This can catch you out even in countries like Thailand with visa free policies and an extremely relaxed approach to border runs.

Refundable tickets are a much smarter move than fake ones.

> might require faking some plane tickets

> who says they are there for tourism

I'm not a nomad, I guess I enjoy nesting too much for that to be an effective lifestyle for me. But I'd be very cautious about choosing a professional lifestyle that's predicated on routinely misrepresenting myself to the authorities.

"Only a small minority of countries across the world enforce any rule about having to prove that you will actually leave the country".

My guess is that it will depend a lot on the passport you arrive with.

Yes this would be much more interesting. I don't see much value (for me) in what is just overpriced co-living space. What would be useful would be a kind of subscription/housing-as-a-service approach. You pay $X month for membership, give four weeks notice that you'll be arriving in Y city on a given date, and you get back an email with a booking you can confirm or reject.

The problem is that as a nomad 1) a lot of time is wasted looking for good housing 2) you do have to understand the dynamics of the local market to find the best deals since AirBNB is often not the best path and 3) it is stressful knowing you'll be homeless at the end of the month.

I think many nomads aren't deciding where to go on a whim but have pretty clear itineraries of what countries they'll be visiting and how long their visas last. A company that could work with such nomads to offer long-term housing planning could save a lot of time and money.

Then again it's not really clear how big such a market really is.

$2373.00 for March 1st till March 31st in Miami and $1650.00 for Ubud (Bali) seem quite expensive.

I did a month at Roam Bali last year and it was super common for folks to show up for a couple weeks, meet people around the place, and then all rent a bungalow somewhere nearby instead of staying at Roam for the rest of their journey. They're really going to have to do something to encourage people to stick around if they want to avoid that happening (lower rates? better community?)

It was a good experience overall but if I were ever back in Ubud I'd go out on my own now that I know the area a bit better instead of paying Roam rates for the package deal.

If you're paying for this, why bother traveling? If you just want to be surrounded by like-minded laptop-bound people that are just like you, why leave home?

Shameless PR piece. I wonder how much do you have to pay to get fluff articles in the NY Times? Does anyone know, even if just approximately?

This is the NYT magazine; I see it as more like travel writing than anything else. One of the downsides of digital articles is that it's no longer clear which section of the paper they're in and therefore whether they should be considered reporting, investigative reporting, reprinted press releases, "lifestyle", or whatever.

I suspect they "paid" simply by having an interesting enough story, giving free accomodation to the writer of the article, possibly other expenses included, and giving access to the founder.

It's not exactly a pure puff piece either. The writer (https://twitter.com/chaykak) puts in subtle clues that he regards it as a Ballardian dystopia, and has retweeted someone's description of his article as "The Talented Mr Ripley, but with digital nomads"

Exactly. I don't write a lot of reviews and other pieces that are mostly disconnected from my day job. But I still get maybe 50 pitches a day. Most are shotgunned crap that have nothing to do with what I write about. And most of the rest just don't interest me. But every now and then, I get a pitch to review a book or gadget or service that looks interesting and I take them up on it. Absolutely no guarantee of a positive review but, if they get me to look, it's just PR doing their job.

Too many people here have this ivory tower fantasy of writers sitting in their offices thinking great thoughts and coming up with ideas about their next article out of the aether.

>has retweeted someone's description of his article as "The Talented Mr Ripley, but with digital nomads"

Everyone who watched that movie felt a pang of longing to live that way; it's still selling the experience to the reader

I think it's less about paying NYT and more about finding a story that they think their readers want to read. If NYT content were just advertisements / sponsored content, people wouldn't read it, and that'd hurt NYT's brand. I doubt they paid for this.

As has been mentioned, it's not a case of paying, it's simply doing the job of PR.

It depends on the cost structure of the PR contract - it's quite likely they just provided services for free (and then paid for transport). Which isn't dissimilar to pretty much all PR work. Although when I used to do video game reviews a long time ago, the PR agency would actually had to prove ROI over the RRP of the review copy of the game (£40) sent out, rather than the unit cost (a few pence for the DVD + postage) - so the "cost" of the journalist visit might be booked at a much higher rate.

Traditionally, the value is based on the AVE (some agencies still use AVE...) vs perceived uplift in interest. When you should start worrying about integrity is when there are follow links in the article with some kind of explicit UTM tracking. Something getting increasingly pervasive with the digital PR/SEO side of things.

The New York Times has a very strict ethics policy regarding coverage of travel related topics. They don't accept free lodging, junkets, etc, from the subjects of coverage.


I think the MO is generally to sweeten up the journalist, not the paper; actual paid adverts need to be marked as such. Roam will have a PR agency with relationships with journalists who they keep sweet, and will occasionally suggest should write articles about their clients.

I think every nomad had thought a solution about housing because this is a real problem for us and really annoying. I have my own house back in my country that I rent. I would be more than receptive to lend my house to a service so I could rent someone else's house somewhere in the world. Growing a network of houses by yourself, as Roam is doing, is costly and I think inneficient.

House exchange services are well-established, though mostly used for holidays. (eg homexchange.com)

Way too expensive (those are 4 Star Hotel prices, at least for Bali and Tokyo)...might as well just stay in a hotel? The only advantage maybe is you meet fellow nomads but one can do that anyway.

> The only advantage maybe is you meet fellow nomads.

These coworker/coliving spaces advertise heavily in the digital nomad community and there’s often a suggestion that hanging around fellow nomads will magically make useful new connections and boost their businesses. Maybe there are some entrepreneurs who benefit from that kind of socializing, but a lot of digital nomads are a solitary bunch – if not outright hostile to other nomads who, they fear, might compete with them for clients.

Does anybody know pricing? That article omits it, or I missed it.

The Miami location is $120/night for 7-29 nights, and $79/night for 30+ nights.

The Roam website [1] falls into the standard "travel booking site antipattern" of not giving any sort of pricing overview and instead forcing the user to randomly throw dates into the booking form.

[1] https://www.roam.co/places/miami

Bali $62/night for shorter stays about $55 longer. Which is kind of upper end for Bali. I was recently there in a nice hotel for $35.

So, basically, too expensive for what it gives.


Their account is twice as old as yours.

Someone needs to make an an airbnb for this maybe? this looks expensive

I wonder how much market research did they do before releasing this.

Or maybe this is aimed at a very specific group within the nomad community, but you have to be in it to know?

Some people like to spend their holidays in all-inclusive resorts where they never really have to leave the hotel area. Sometimes I think these digital nomad offers target similarly minded people.

The "digital nomads" I know fly more than anyone I know. The discounts they find make them beneficiaries of our not accounting for externalities of the pollution from flying.

Does anyone know the carbon footprint or pollution levels their lifestyle causes? My intuition may be off, but they would seem high.

Carbon footprint of flying is around 0.2kg CO2/mile, carbon footprint of commuting by car is around 0.4kg CO2/mile.

So a car commuter with a 20 mile commute emits 2 tonnes of CO2 per year; a digital nomad without a car commute would need to fly around 20,000 miles a year to get the same amount of carbon emission -- which is the equivalent of two return flights from London to Bangkok, or 10-11 return flights from London to Lisbon.

So they are roughly on the same order of magnitude as a suburban car commute, but could go substantially higher with weekly return flights...

Thank you for the comparison. According to this site https://co2.myclimate.org/en/portfolios?calculation_id=10570..., London-Bangkok round trip by coach is 3.6 tons of CO2, so two r/t flights would be 7.2.

The ones I know travel that much several times a year, which puts them over an order of magnitude above a suburban commuter, at least for travel costs.

So compared to most of the world, who don't have cars to commute, they're multiple orders of magnitude over.

Darn. I had hoped they weren't polluting so much. I hope they enjoy the environments they are helping pollute before they're gone.

Seems ingenuous to compare digital nomads that are flying around the world several times a year to commuters who never take vacations or fly for business.


Would you mind please posting civilly and substantively instead of rants?


Neither Portugal or Thailand have been authentic cultural destinations in decades. What you see as "gentrification", they see as "progress" and a prerequisite to future tourist dollars.

Borneo, Myanmar and rural Cambodia are a few hours at most from Bangkok. The Balkans and eastern Europe are also only a couple of hours by plane from Lisbon. Next to zero digital nomads, bloggers or "YouTube creators".

I think you are mistaken about Portugal or Thailand not having been culturally significant in decades, and I suggest taking a second look on the current state of the Balkans gentification (Croatia and Montenegro first, Albania next).

I suggest asking to locals where to find a bar for old people downtown, with cheap coffee/tea. When they'll tell you that such places do not exist anymore and were transformed in yet another hipster barbershop, burger bar or McDonald fast food parlor (looking at you Lisboa) maybe you'll agree it's not progress - it's whoring yourself to uninterested tourists.

Both countries are still incredibly culturally significant, they've just traded their authenticity for whatever tricks draw dollars.

Thailand for example has been a hedonistic paradise for several decades. Full moon parties, rampant prostitution and cheap surgery. I'm guessing you've never been to Koh Phangan, Patong Road or Pattaya if you think it's the digital nomads destroying Thailand.

Can't speak for Portugal but having traveled around south east asia on and off for 10 years now I'm pretty sure the Thai's are quite capable of gentrifying their own country, I think they call it "progress".

Obviously it's always the locals starting the gentrification, after all they're the ones selling buildings to foreign rental companies. That's why it's mandatory to mingle with locals, in their own language, and not alter the local economy with stupid standards.

The difference between self-gentrification or gentrification based on foreign investments, just as in Portugal, is that on one side you have a country that decides from its own fate. On the other side you have foreigners setting high prices and changing the local economy.

The "progress" you mention tends to happen in cities with a lot of of disinvested foreigneers.

I invite you to check the rent data for Chiang Mai and Lisbon between 2000 and 2018, or better yet ask to locals. You'll notice a striking difference in prices, especially for what concerns rent and food, compared to places without masses of digital colonialists.

Thailand has been developing regions by selling travel experiences, girlfriend experiences and retirement to paradise to foreigners since before "digital nomads" were a thing, and there's no shortage of gentrified cafes and bars aimed squarely at Thais in areas Western bloggers and YouTubers don't venture. As more authentic an experience as it might have been when Ko Samui was an unspoilt island where you might be able to use your broken Thai to persuade a local fisherman to rent his hut to you, ultimately the Thais would rather not continue to be poor. And of all the problems with tourism in Thailand, digital nomads paying 250 baht for a flat white and veggieburger in some restored old building with neo-hippy decor in the tourist showpiece part of Chiang Mai has got to be very close to the bottom.

Yeah, I'm in Thailand now, it's more expensive than 10 years ago, no doubt. But that's the nature of economies, Thailand is "tiger economy", it's been relatively stable and economically prosperous growing at decent rates for nigh on 20 years now (since the Asian financial crisis). It's no less immune from wealth concentrating in larger cities than the UK or the US is, rents in London, New York, <insert any other major city> have been going up over the same time period.

"Digital colonists" are a drop in the bucket compared to the forces driving that change.

Your resentment may or may not be valid. Can you explain any reasoning behind it?

Sure, resentment about what?

- This PR article pushed on HN?

- Gentrification of beautiful cities?

- Entitled colonialism?

> Don't bother learning the local language. Don't bother hanging out at local cheap bars. Don't bother paying a fair price for things.

My friends and I study Thai. We love cheap bars where local people hang out. We don't haggle, and we tip generously. We try hard to abide by local customs.

> Digital nomads, especially from the Silicon Valley startup area, are the new digital colonialists destroying Asia

My teachers are glad I'm here. The people at the restaurants and cafes I frequent are glad to have my business. When I ask Uber or Grab drivers in Thai if they like their work, they almost always say yes.

You call it gentrification, but the locals seem to prefer living in the city rather than the villages where they were born. Do you think they'd prefer it if people like me decided to just stay home rather than travel? I don't. And I'm actually here. Where are you doing all that hating from?

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