The rise of the hybrid traveler

Most people won't be "digital nomads".

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In the early days of the pandemic (a lifetime ago, in 2020) I wrote about shifting patterns in remote work, and how this might affect smaller municipalities, tourism, and travel. In particular, I had a strong feeling that the future of work would *remote*, not *nomadic*. I think there’s still a pervasive use of ‘digital nomad’ in the global lexicon, but I’ve been using a new one that I think is more accurate. The “hybrid traveler”.

I still expect digital nomads to increase as travel continues to recover — there’s no question that interest and adoption of this lifestyle is growing. If the revenue charts on Nomadlist.com or Google Trends around ‘digital nomad’ are any indication, that’s certainly true.

Interest on Google peaked over the summer, and has fallen a bit (possibly due to fall/winter and omicron), although I expect that trend to continue upward as we hit spring and summer 2022.

However, full-time digital nomad living can be mentally intensive (and lonely). There are logistics around where to live, where to work, and finding local community. Depending on how long you stay in a place, you start to miss stability, consistency, and friends. I spent 4 months in New York this fall, and while I was lucky enough to have friends visit, and connect with some old friends, it felt like It took several months just to start developing a *new* local group of friends. If you’re staying places for shorter periods, you’ve got to do all of those logistics every time you move. I’m in London right now, and experiencing similar mental stresses.

It’s also especially hard if you have a partner or family. There’s a reason why most full-time nomads are in their 20’s and single. Granted, I’m also coming to terms with the fact that I’m less comfortable with discomfort/ as I’ve gotten older.

The rise of the hybrid traveler

With office jobs, there was an inherent bias to “being in the office”, even when you could get work done from home. Now that everyone is remote, longer and longer “workcations” are becoming increasingly common. Let’s define the hybrid traveler.

  • Works remotely (or company has a hybrid policy)
  • Owns or rents a home/apartment in a place they would consider “home”.
  • Participates in travel of 2+ weeks that include intentional work (not a vacation where you end up having to do some work). For some this might mean working during the week and then exploring on the weekends, and for others it might take the form of month-plus live/work vacations.

A Skift report from June 2021 found that more than half of Americans had taken or were planning to travel as a result of being remote.

Here are a few highlights from Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky’s recent tweet thread about how he'll be living from Airbnb's for the next year (nomadic work, not hybrid 😁):

"1. Starting today, I'm living on Airbnb. I’ll be staying in a different town or city every couple weeks"
"6. We’re seeing this in our data. From July to September, 1 in 5 nights booked on Airbnb were for stays of a month or longer, and nearly half of nights booked were for stays of a week or longer"
"8. In 2022, I think the biggest trend in travel will be people spreading out to thousands of towns and cities, staying for weeks, months, or even entire seasons at a time"
"10. Cities and countries will compete to attract these remote workers, and it will lead to a redistribution of where people travel and live"

Of note, about 20 per cent of nights booked on Airbnb between July and September were 28 days or longer. And from my May 2020 Here & There 😬:

“The next few years (this isn’t going to happen overnight) will be a tremendous opportunity for small towns to reshape themselves as optimal locales for remote work…it will be on the towns themselves to actively develop services and communities that attract and welcome this new type of resident.”

Here’s why hybrid travel works

Remote work has (mostly) allowed us to live where we choose. This might mean something completely different for everyone, but I would posit that *most* people still want to live in a place where they have a strong community, can afford to live, and enjoy their quality of life. With office jobs, there was an inherent bias to “being in the office”, even when you could get work done from home. Now that everyone is remote, longer and longer “workcations” will become the norm — without needing to sacrifice that home base. The availability of that home base and attachment to a more permanent community is an important part of life for many people -- especially as you get older.

I’ll admit, the life of a hybrid traveler is a privileged one. Having a remote job that allows you the disposable income to travel (even if you’re working while traveling) is a privilege. Some may choose to put their house or apartment up on an Airbnb-like platform while they’re out of town, which could allow you to break even on your travel costs (or even make money).

I’ve put together a few companies at the intersection of hybrid work and travel that I’ve found interesting lately:

Wander

Wander is kinda like Airbnb, set up specifically for remote work, if you could guarantee an A+ experience every time. They plan to own all of their properties, set them up with beautiful workstations, have an app to control house functions, and a Tesla in every garage. No joke. As expected, with such a high bar of experience comes a pretty high cost. I love the idea of not having to worry about whether the wifi will be good, or if there’s a comfortable spot to get work done. I’m just not sure I can afford it. Surprise, surprise, their first properties sit at the intersection of smaller towns + great outdoor access. Big market opportunity here IMO.

The short-term/flexible rental crowd.

I’ll put a few companies in this bucket, since they’re all doing similar things. Zeus, Landing, Bungalow, and Sonder are all targeting some form of short-term stays. My struggle here is with the cost. I expected to be the target market for these companies, living in New York recently, and now London. However, the prices are just so extreme that I’ve been completely turned off of them. Naturally, that led me to search for short-term rentals on platforms like Leasebreak (NYC specific), which also led to a lot of time and mental overhead figuring that out. Maybe the extra cost per month is worth a quick checkout, but I struggled to see the value prop when I could save several *thousand* dollars a month and get a more comfortable living situation.

Daybase

Daybase is focused on bringing co-working away from city centers, and to the suburbs. The general thesis is that people are fine working from home…just not 100% of the time. And as people move away from urban areas, they shouldn’t have to commute back to an office or a huge, centralized WeWork in a downtown area. They’re targeting smaller footprint spaces that are close to where folks live in suburban areas. Think more of a “nicely designed, large coffee shop/lounge with good wifi” than a behemoth WeWork. It's still early but so much room for growth, and partnerships targeting both locals and travelers. Their pilot location recently opened in Hoboken, NJ.

Airbnb

It’s only a matter of time before the 10,000 lb gorilla turns more of its focus to remote work. As Chesky’s tweet thread shows above as well as their PR/news focus, it’s something they’re actively thinking about. Additionally, they had an ambassador program last summer focused on highlighting the use of Airbnb for remote work + travel (I applied, didn’t get selected). They even finally added verified wifi speeds to Airbnb listings. Startups like Wander could be acquisition or acquihire targets as well.

Wojo

A European network of flexible co-working spaces, offices, and meeting rooms. It’s a broad approach to solving remote-work needs for companies across Europe. It’s a venture of the hospitality giant Accor, with many of the initial spaces being opened in Accor hotels. Having the $$ + location benefit of being an Accor company gives Wojo a big boost right out of the gate — over 600 companies are already working with them across Europe.

Thanks for reading :)