I first remember coming across the term Digital Nomad in the early 2000s, when social media websites like Instagram and Twitter were gaining popularity. You would open your feed and see these embellished images of 20-year-olds sitting on a mountaintop, overlooking a beautiful valley, in some exotic country with their laptop and a mug of coffee, with captions that read something like “this is my office”. And as an older millennial, I remember thinking “cool, but not for me”. However, with the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic, I, like millions of other people around the world, was stuck at home, feeling more isolated and unable to travel at all. According to NCII, fewer than 6% of Americans worked primarily from home and in May 2020, 48.7 million people, about 35% of the employed workforce, reported that they had worked from home because of COVID-19.
The pandemic also gave life to “The Great Resignation”. A Pew Research Center survey found that low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected at work, and a poor work-life balance and flexibility caused Americans to quit their jobs in mass. People reevaluated their lives, their relationships, and what they wanted their life to look like. I was no exception. My life revolved around my tiny New York City apartment, which was my office and prison. As an avid traveler and freelance writer who has been to over 45 countries, the inability to go anywhere during the lockdown was suffocating. Many countries were closed to American tourists. I felt as if I was in an unfamiliar position. I could always travel freely to most countries. Sometimes I needed to get a visa, but the world was open and welcoming. During the pandemic, as countries began to slowly, open Americans were being told: “thank you, but no thank you don’t come here”.
Slowly in early 2021, because of dropping Covid cases and increased health protocols, things changed. Americans were slowly becoming welcomed by an increasing number of countries. Traveling for the first time during the pandemic was a bit terrifying and there were a lot of protocols in place depending on where you went. Traveling internationally was not the same, and honestly, it will never be the same. Most countries require Americans to present a negative Covid test, some only accept PCR tests while others will accept Antigen tests taken within the last 24 hours, some require you to be vaccinated while others do not, and you can not renter the United States without presenting a negative Covid test. This means that if you test positive for Covid, you are stuck where you are until you can prove that you are free of the virus. It seemed as if a new variant was popping up regularly and it was never ending.
Regardless of all of this, my love of travel outweighed any hesitations I might have had, and I moved forward with my first international trip to Montreal. I wanted to go somewhere close and safe and I wasn’t ready to get on a plane yet. I assumed Canada was my best bet. All the Covid restrictions for international travel were tedious but definitely doable and you find you adjust quickly, so off I went first to the Netherlands then France, Spain, a few countries in the Caribbean, and then Brazil to check out Rio de Janeiro. I went to Rio on a whim and I knew little about the city, aside from the fact that it was hot and crime was rampant. Since I was going there as a solo traveler I thought it would be best to stay somewhere with security, a place where I would encounter other travelers like myself, with reliable Wi-Fi, somewhere with a quiet space to do some work, and I wanted to be near the beach because I assumed it would be safer to be in the most touristic part of town. This is when I came across Selina Copacabana.
Selina is located directly across from Copacabana Beach in a neighborhood with a blend of Brazilian soul, a lively atmosphere, bohemian fashion boutiques, and an electric nightlife scene. The property has a cinema, library, beachfront restaurant, a rooftop bar with breathtaking panoramic views, tours, a full-time doorman for security, and a coworking space. It was perfect! Selina is reminiscent of a boutique hotel with vibrant colors, music that wafted throughout the hallways, art designed by local artists was everywhere, and the indoor plant life added depth and texture to the already aesthetically appealing property. I booked a suite, and I was on my way.
On my first day, I met a young married couple from the United Kingdom, Laura, a Digital Marketing expert who is about to launch her own marketing agency, and her husband, Chris, a Personal Trainer. They explained to me they had been traveling throughout South America for six months and Brazil was their last stop before returning home. I was curious why they were doing this since they both had full-time jobs and they related that during the pandemic they worked remotely so they asked themselves “why should we stay at home if we can work from anywhere?”, they said, “why not see the world?”. They explained they liked Selina because of its excellent coworking spaces and explained that they had stayed at properties with coworking spaces in every country they visited. This is when a lightbulb went off in my head- I am a remote worker than well. Why don’t I do that? And why hadn’t I thought of this sooner?
Upon returning home to New York, I started looking into coworking offices around the globe and it was as if I had opened a new world. There are coworking spaces everywhere and not only this, but communities of Digital Nomads who have been doing this for a while. These weren’t the Digital Nomads I had pictured sitting on top of a rock with their laptop. Today there is a new type of Digital Nomad born of the pandemic. They are older; some have full-time jobs they could now do anywhere. Disillusioned by their previous employment situation, they are starting their own businesses, and things are changing. I went down a rabbit hole that led me to a post on a social networking platform by a girl from Germany named Gina.
Gina’s post read “Home Office in the Algarve, Portugal” It stated that she was an online entrepreneur who was looking for remote workers/digital nomads who wanted to live together in a house in Lagos by the beach. The post discussed skill sharing, exploring beaches, going on adventurous trips after work, and doing yoga. My first thought was “Isn’t Lagos in Africa? And what is the Algarve?” I had briefly been to Portugal in the past visiting Lisbon, however, there was clearly a lot about this country that was a complete mystery to me. My curiosity got the best of me and I sent her a message with three words, “Tell me more”.
She explained she was hosting a trip for one week where she would gather a group of travelers who work remotely from different parts of the world in a luxury apartment in Lagos equipped with an outdoor and indoor pool, a gym, and sauna (all excellent amenities that I was very excited about and never used). I eventually found myself on a Zoom call with my future roommates and the entire experience was a complete blur because I was incredibly nervous. Since I am naturally inquisitive, I was worried about living in a house with complete strangers. However, I wanted to know what being this new version of a Digital Nomad, that spawned from the Coronavirus pandemic, was all about.
I bought a plane ticket from John F. Kennedy Airport to Humberto Delgado Airport in Lisbon and I was off. I arrived in Lagos and was greeted by the host Gina, a free spirit 20 something from Germany. She had just wrapped up a lengthy stay in Bali, Indonesia and her work involved wearing many hats, including teaching yoga, and being a wellness company entrepreneur. She was a modern-day hippie, lover of vegan food, with a boho-chic aesthetic, voluminous brown hair, and I would rarely see without her thick and stylish scarf. The second girl roommate was Sanja, a brunette from Serbia who appeared very relaxed. She was one of the most chill people I have ever met. She gave off a friendly, tattooed, easygoing “cool girl” vibe, she is currently living in Spain, recently separated from her boyfriend, a little mysterious, she loves beaches, and is new to the coliving experience as well and works in content creation. The final roommate was the only guy on the trip, Marco, who, like the host, was also German. Marco was noticeably a little older than the other two and strangely the same age as me, a blonde clean-cut guy with glasses who always smelled great, was an introvert with a desire to travel and learn more about other cultures. He worked in I.T. and had a full time 9 to 5 job at a company he had been with for 20 years, which was quite remarkable. He was kind, an intellectual, an avid hiker who went on daily hikes, he was experienced with coliving environments, and he had an innocence about him as he explained he has never been to a casino.
There were a few things I wanted to explore in the Algarve in Portugal like go on a wine tour and learn about the local regions, gain a better understanding of Lagos the town and its history, and sample the local cuisine, all of which I did. However, I spent a lot of my time being fascinated by my roommates. I was curious about what this whole coliving and coworking experience looked like and I was really interested in how they interacted with each other. We filled our days with phone calls and everyone sitting in front of their computer screens, with Gina taking calls on the balcony or in her room sitting in a full yoga position on the floor while Marco and Sanja had interesting daily banter. We filled the nights with walks into town along the boardwalk and icebreaker games where some of us might have slipped and shared a little “t.m.i.” (that someone was me, of course). The weekend was dedicated to day trips and exploring the Algarve. The biggest takeaway from the experience was the cultural differences. I always considered myself to be a pretty open-minded, relaxed New Yorker, but I realized I wasn’t as open-minded as I thought. This became apparent after I lost my mind after seeing one roommate walk around in their underwear. No one appeared to have an issue with that other than me.
It was an interesting week and I already have plans to do something similar again. I found that there are many coliving and coworking opportunities and many have seen a boost following the pandemic and the changing faces of remote workers. I spoke with Anna Dung from the German-based company JoinMYTrip, a website that allows people to host trips all over the world for coworking, coliving, and tours.
Interview with Anna from JoinMyTrip.
Q: When did it start and how did you come up with the idea?
Anna: The company started in 2017 with a focus on affordability, we asked “why work alone when you can work remotely?”. At first we started a platform for people to find buddies. In October 2020, we hosted our first remote trip and had a huge response. We had to get 4 houses instead of one. After this, we focused on trips.
Q: Who are your users? Where are they from?
Anna: 70% of our users are German, however, our International community is growing. We have found that our coworking trips attract older people with stable jobs. They have a higher budget and they are less concerned about affordability and they care more about the accommodation and experience.
Q: What value do you see in participating in something like this? Why is it important?
Anna: We are connecting like-minded people with similar values, fostering creativity, and innovative thinking happens. People think outside of the box. An example is self-employed people. They are typically growing their business networking, getting out of “home bubble”. They can make connections and grow faster, make key connections, and even hire people with the skills they are looking for. The unique scenery of the destinations adds motivation.
Q: Do you have any plans or changes in mind for the future of JoinMyTrip?
Anna: Yes. We plan to host more coworking trips to more destinations and we are planning.
“specialized trips’’. These trips would be marketers only trip, or a trip solely for people who work in the tech industry. We also plan to reach out to companies to offer trips and we would take care of things for them.
Q: Would you like to add anything else?
Anna: Our goal is to connect like-minded people, we know that doing something like this requires you to make a huge leap of courage but we have found that after the first jump and you live with random, people often come back and want to do it again.
If you are a remote worker searching for something a little different, Chateau Coliving is a coliving and coworking experience set in a castle in the north of France. The castle offers excellent Wi-Fi, free bicycles, electric car chargers, breakfast, daily dinners, a dedicated workspace, and pets are welcome.
Interview with Katia Dimova the founder of Chateau Coliving.
Q: How did you come to open a coliving space in a castle? How long has it been operating?
Katia: My partner and I have been working remotely and living in different places around the world since 2011. At the time, we would rent random airbnbs or places to stay and would just work from home. In 2019, we discovered coliving, and we fell in love with the concept. It’s so much more enriching when you stay with like-minded people, usually remote workers, digital nomads, full-time travelers from around the world. During our travels and stays in different countries before, it was always hard to find a community. We would either befriend the locals or the foreigners who settled there long term and although we did build great friendships with them, we were always somehow feeling like the outsiders, due to our unusual for the time way of life.
When we arrived in a Coliving House for the first time – we immediately felt that we have found our tribe, our community of people who have the same lifestyle and vision of life and that felt great. We were also so much more productive and learned so much from the people we’ve met. At this time we already had the Property in France, it was our side business and it was functioning as a luxury bed-and-breakfast with a permanent hospitality team on spot. To be honest it didn’t really cross our minds that a place like that might ever work as a coliving, because at the time remote work was not that popular and most people traveling full time would prefer to go to cheap and/or tropical destinations. After the Covid pandemic this changed drastically. The Bed and breakfast business (which we were anyway not at all feeling aligned with) completely collapsed after months of lockdowns and we were faced with the tough decision to either sell property in short notice for just enough so that we could cover the mortgage loan or to take the risk and try to start another business during such uncertain times. The only thing that made sense for us is to turn the place into something that resonates with who we are, so we decided that it’s time to break the cliches about castle life and create an easy-going, approachable and inclusive space for open-minded people. We opened Chateau Coliving & Coworking in May 2021, so a bit less than a year ago, still amidst pandemic, hoping for the best and today we feel very grateful for having the courage to make this decision.
Q: Do you only offer coliving or is there an option to just do coworking?
Katia: We are in a big property with a huge private park in an area that is somewhat still very rural. For the safety of our guests, the Coworking space is exclusive to the people staying at the coliving.
Q: Have you noticed a change in the type of people who are choosing to engage in the coliving experience since the start of the pandemic? Have you been busier? If so, how much busier?
Katia: We didn’t function as a coliving before the pandemic, so in this sense I can’t make a comparison but I used to travel and stay at colivings before as a client, so from this point of view I can say that there’s a difference in terms of the type of people I’ve met and the people I meet. While before most colivers and full time travellers would be either freelancers or entrepreneurs, today more and more are remote workers for various companies. Some of them are not are not even 100% remote, but the company would let them work remotely for 1-2-3 months a year. Some European companies also don’t mind if people work remotely as long as they stay within the same time zone. Another major difference compared to the early years of coliving is that before it was more for people who are full on adventurers without a permanent home base, traveling around the world, while now we see more and more people who have the so called “normal life”, who still have their home bases, but are getting overwhelmed in the big cities and want to spend some in nature and socializing without having to take days off work.
Q: Why do you like the coliving experience? What can someone take away after engaging in such an experience? Or in other words why is coliving good?
Katia: Coliving is good for so many reasons. I’d say the most valuable for me is the social aspect of it – getting to meet and form deep connections with people from around the world is extremely enriching. Usually these are people that I would have never had the chance to meet in my life – we all have different jobs, come from different places, with completely different education and background, sometimes also different generations. Having exchanges with people like that changes our perspectives and broadens our horizons, make us learn so much and definitely makes us more tolerant, more understanding and more accepting. Is this what the world needs right now?
Living with someone for a month or two is very different from being introduced at a party or meeting at dinner with common friends, where you’d spend maximum 2-3 hours and never really get to know the person. When we live together we become family and while we all have our privacy and personal time, we tend to get very close very quickly, we learn to adapt to each other and be more flexible. We learn about the others but we mainly learn about ourselves and that’s the magic of it.
Another great aspect of coliving is the productivity and professional exchanges. When working from home, especially when our schedule is flexible, we tend to procrastinate or to not feel motivated. In the Colving everyone is working, we share a lot about our projects and challenges, we help each other and if needed hold each other accountable. At Chateau coliving we are in nature, it is quiet and great to focus, we respect everyone’s working schedule and we often celebrate our successes together.
The third thing (out of many, but I’ll try to stick to just a few) is the feeling of belonging to a larger community. When you go to a coliving you meet people, you become very close very quickly and then we part ways, but that’s only for a certain time, because we always meet again – in another country, at another coliving. We often realise that we know so many people in common and that we even have common friends, from our travels. It’s quite incredible.
And last but not least, it’s difficult to explain how exactly this happens but in a coliving you just do so many more things that what you would usually do, while at the same time you feel zero pressure to participate in things that you don’t want to. Some call it positive peer pressure. Because people are always organising workouts, hikes and other activities, it’s sometimes so easy to just join and then you think about it … wow I would have never gone alone on this hike or practiced yoga at 8.30 in the morning if I was by myself, but since it’s there and someone organised it, you’re joining and you’re very happy that you did. Makes you take time for yourself and also challenges you to do things that you wouldn’t have done in another context.
Q: What is unique about your space aside from the location and setting?
Katia: Well, you don’t get to live in a castle every day, but especially in our case everything in the castle is authentic – furniture, personal items and belongings such as the portraits of the previous residents, family photos, various rare objects… things people see only in museums, but we didn’t want the castle to be like a museum, we wanted it to be accessible, to feel like home, to be home. I think this is quite incredible for most people to experience something like this. Our colivers are usually so surprised of how easy-going and open and atmosphere is. Chateau Coliving is everything you expect and don’t expect from a castle.
Something very unique is also that the property turns into an island every winter and then the marshes around dry up and become a green loan again in summer. We like to compare this transformation to the transformation that this place and this lifestyle can make in people. Especially for those who try coliving for the first time.
Besides that there’s the community aspect. Work and life are so blurred nowadays that it’s crucial for our wellbeing to make choices that make it enjoyable and enriching. At chateau coliving we are building a supportive community where people meet, learn from each other, inspire each other and help each other. We’re having a lot of fun and encouraging everyone to organise fun things for the community. Because every place is only as good as the people you share it with and we’re proud that our place due to its unique positioning of being authentic but not pretentious is somehow naturally attracting amazing people, sharing similar values. We’re happy to say that every singe person who has spent time here has also become an ambassador of the place and this makes us very happy.
The pandemic has radically changed the definition of a digital nomad and companies are happily catering to this demographic. However is coliving the future of remote work? Is this the new normal? Only time will tell.
By Mosaka Williamson