How We Find Apartments Around the World

View from our apartment in Medellin, Colombia.

We may be travelling permanently but this doesn’t mean we spend all our time in hostels and hotels. Living in hotels may seem a glamourous life but it gets old fast. After a while we crave a couch, reliable internet and a kitchen so we don’t have to eat out for every meal. Most importantly we need a comfortable and quiet place to focus on work (unfortunately an essential part of the digital nomad thing).

Every few months or so when we feel travel burnout setting in we find an apartment to rent (or if we are lucky a housesit) for a month or two to slow our pace, take a break from the rigours of constant movement and get some work done. The problem is, finding a decent, reasonably priced short term apartment rental isn’t always easy. We are often asked how we find the apartments we rent, so we’ve decided to walk you through the process of finding one in each of the places we have “settled” in the last two years.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires Apartment

Our Buenos Aires Apartment

We started our digital nomad life in South America and after a few weeks travelling in Brazil we decided to spend a month (which turned into two) in Buenos Aires to take Spanish lessons to prepare for the next 14 months we’d spend in Latin America.

We never book apartments before we arrive but sometimes we’ll book a hostel or hotel for a few nights. It can take us 2 – 7 days to find an apartment and move in.

In Buenos Aires we used our hostel as a base to find an apartment. We asked the staff at the hostel, responded to listings on Craigslist, and searched through apartment listings websites. After a few days we weren’t getting anywhere. No one on Craigslist responded to my emails, the listings on the websites were too expensive and the place the hostel receptionist suggested was shared.

In the end we found our apartment through another blogging couple Audrey and Dan of Uncornered Market who had been in Buenos Aires a few months before, and responded to our request on Twitter. They put us in contact with the woman they’d rented their apartment from (they had actually found it on Craigslist) and a few days later we moved in.

Our apartment was a very modern and spacious studio in Barrio Norte. It cost $800 a month, about the same as we were spending at the hostel, and we had a kitchen, balcony, rooftop pool and great location.

Lesson learned: Reach out to anyone you know who might have contacts.

Salta, Argentina

Jacuzzi in our Salta Apartment

Jacuzzi on the balcony of our Salta Apartment

We didn’t plan to stay long in Salta. We were couchsurfing with another blogger Leigh and her family, who took us to a barbeque at their friend’s house. The British couple had been in Salta for a few months but were leaving soon and suggested we could take over their apartment rental. We rejected the idea at first as we had plans to move onto Bolivia, but we couldn’t get their apartment out of our minds. It was a modern one bedroom with an oven (seriously, that never happens) and a huge balcony complete with jacuzzi and views of the mountains that surround Salta. All for $800 a month. We couldn’t resist.

We ended up staying for a month, moving out of town to housesit our friend’s house and then back into the apartment for a few weeks to complete some work before we finally made it to Bolivia. We loved Salta and the surrounding area and were glad we’d taken up the opportunity and stayed. It was our easiest apartment search ever!

Lesson learned: Embrace serendipity, it can lead you to unexpected places.

Peru

Lazy Dog Inn Living Room

The cosy living room at Lazy Dog Inn, near Huaraz

After a few months in exhausting (but incredible) Bolivia and southern Peru we were ready for a break again. In the white city of Arequipa we began our search by posting messages on the local couchsurfing group forum, responding to newspaper ads (I so don’t enjoy phone calls in Spanish), searching listing websites and having a friend put us in contact with her friend who lived in the city. We looked at a lot of apartments but couldn’t find a place we liked in an area we liked at a price we could afford. After a week we decided that we didn’t like Arequipa enough to continue with the search and we gave up.

We moved on to Lima. We had mixed feelings about the capital and weren’t sure we wanted to stay there long term, but by that point we really needed to stop moving for a while. We half-heartedly looked for an apartment by looking for rental signs as we walked the streets and asking on the Lima couchsurfing group.  Our hearts weren’t in it and after a long search in Arequipa we couldn’t face more of the same.

We never did manage to find an apartment in Peru but it worked out well in the end as while treating ourselves for Simon’s 30th at a luxurious hotel in the rural Andes near Huaraz, we were given the opportunity to stay and eat for free in exchange for creating a website for their NGO. The three weeks we spent at the comfortable and friendly family-run Lazy Dog Inn was just what we needed.

Lesson learned: Finding an apartment can be hard work and it isn’t always worth it.

Medellin, Colombia

Pool in our Medellin Apartment Building

Pool in our Medellin Apartment Building

During our stay at Lazy Dog Inn Simon had a huge amount of web design work come in. As every freelancer knows it’s difficult to say no to work, and we realised our plans to travel overland through northern Peru and Ecuador were not compatible with creating five websites. Instead we booked a flight from Lima to Medellin, the Colombian city that was becoming a popular base with other digital nomads and travel bloggers.

While staying with a friend we gave ourselves two days to find an apartment. We saw a LOT of apartments in those two days. We asked people we knew in the city for contacts, looked on Craigslist, searched through Spanish language listings sites and contacted a number of rental agents. The agents were the most helpful and we saw a lot of apartments this way. The problem is we didn’t like the apartments or areas they showed us – near busy highways and far way from everything and for a lot more that we wanted to pay.

Due to our time constraints we ended up taking a place on Craigslist that was way over budget (at $1200 a month it was the most we’ve ever paid by far) and didn’t meet many of our requirements. But, it was absolutely beautiful, had an amazing location, stunning view, rooftop pool and gym. We never regretted taking it and stayed for two months.

Lesson learned: Sometimes the splurge is worth it.

Tokyo, Japan

Our HomeAway apartment in Tokyo

Our apartment in Tokyo

Japan is expensive and accommodation costs in Tokyo are particularly high. We were lucky enough to have our week stay there partly sponsored by the holiday rental website HomeAway. Our apartment was great value for Japan and at $120 a night only cost a little more than a tiny hostel room with shared bathroom would have cost. We had a clean, modern apartment with a separate bedroom, kitchen, and a cool location in an untouristy area close to a train station. It was the only apartment we booked in advance as we were only staying for a week.

Lesson learned: Apartments can be cheaper than hotels and even hostels.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai apartment pool

Chiang Mai apartment pool

We are currently renting an apartment in Chiang Mai, and plan to stay for four months (we’ve been here for three already) – the longest we’ve spent in one place in our two years as digital nomads.

It took us a week to find our apartment and was particularly challenging because we wanted a kitchen and separate bedroom. Before we came to Chiang Mai we’d heard apartments cost $150 – 300 a month here, but it turned out that is what you pay for a studio without a kitchen (eating out is cheap here so it’s what most people do), and you pay a lot more if you want a bigger place.

We spent a lot of time searching for an apartment that met our requirements. We asked friends and searched the web to compile a list of apartment buildings to take a look at. We rented a scooter which gave us the freedom to search further afield quickly. As well as looking at the apartments on our list we stopped and asked at any apartment building we saw along the way.

When we still couldn’t find anything we liked we decided to use the services of an agent, Chiang Mai Properties. They took us to look at a number of places and we found a few places we loved but that were, of course, over budget. Oh well. We decided that $630 a month (plus bills) was worth it for our super comfortable one bedroom apartment with kitchen, lots of light, balcony and a gorgeous pool and gym.

Lesson learned: You pay more for western conveniences but it’s important to do what is right for you.

We have found apartments all over the world using a range of means – social media, personal contacts, Craigslist, rental agents and apartment websites. If your requirements are high and your budget limited then it can take some time, but it’s always possible. With the availability of short term apartments worldwide it’s easy to take a break from hotels and experience local life in a bit more comfort.

Also see Part 2 of How We Find Apartments Around the World with apartments we’ve stayed in in Asia, Europe and North America and Part 3 for Mexico, Italy, Paris, and Thailand.

Trail Wallet

Do you rent apartments when you travel? Leave a comment and tell us how you find them.

47 thoughts on How We Find Apartments Around the World

  1. Hi Simon/Erin,

    I’m a web designer going nomadic later this year – I’m wondering how you manage your workload on the road? Specifically when you’re in a place for a short amount of time, and on the road a lot, do you put client projects on hold until you’re settled in a place? Or do you work at the same pace regardless of where you are?

    Love your site btw :-)

    Tom

    • Hi Tom,
      It is definitely much harder when we are travelling around. We do still have client work on when we are moving around but we have to be a bit more realistic with timescales as we get less done. We usually take breaks from client work when we are going to places without good internet access, although Simon does use a local server so he can get work done offline too. It’s a balance we are still trying to figure out to be honest! Smaller projects work better than large ones when we are travelling.

  2. This blog never fails to amaze me! My husband & I are both vegetarians and traveler-wanna-be’s. The idea is to finish building our sustainable homestead in Arkansas, then with no rent or electric bills we can save up for beautiful trips such as the ones you’ve taken. Because of your helpful tips and inspiration, I’ve nominated you for The Versatile Blogger Award! You deserve it. Check out my post for more details about the award.

  3. Great post. We travel with our toddler and find it easier and more enjoyable to rent an apartment and stick around longer. Lots of useful ideas for me on alternatives to vacation rental sites like vrbo, which are inevitably more expensive.

    • Renting apartment when you are travelling with kids definitely makes sense. Sites like vrbo and air bnb can be good but we’ve found the options in teh places we’ve been a little limited, and like you said, more expensive.

  4. Just wanted to say thanks for this post – we’ve just started thinking about renting apartments as we travel through South America (though probably on a weekly basis) so it was a happy discovery when I saw this. Gave me a better scope of what we’ll be looking at. Great job!

    • I hope you find it useful Lauren. Renting apartments is a great option although usually the one month deals are such better value that they might tempt you to stay longer :)

  5. Thanks so much for this insightful and well-written post! I wish you’d written it last year, when my twin and I decided to re-locate our translation business to Santiago de Chile for a month. ;) As you mention, finding a short-time rental is a challenge. We ended up going with a highly reputable agency (supposedly), ContactChile, which ended up pulling the wool over our eyes big time. They’d never even seen the apartment (but were taking a 20% commission), and it looked worse than an hourly motel in a bad part of Tijuana. Think blood on the walls, rotting food in cupboards, magazines from 1988 in the drawers, dilapidated furniture, sheets and pillows full of… you get the idea. Total discount on this $800 apartment (plus utilities) for all our troubles? (We are talking weeks of e-mails with the agency and the apartment owner trying to get this filthy hole into livable condition): Zero. The agency owner claimed he simply could not look at all apartments personally. We were dumbfounded and got an attorney. While that was a very stressful situation — and sleeping in a disgusting place was terrible (no others available, and the agency wasn’t even there when we moved into the place because it we arrived sixty minutes after their closing time) — we had a fantastic time in Chile. Next time we rent an apartment, we will do even more due diligence.

    • Oh no, what a horrific story! That’s one of the reasons we always see a place before we commit, although I realise that not everyone has the time to do this.

  6. Wow, incredible apartments. This post was very encouraging to me — one of the reasons I shy away from the “permanent nomad” lifestyle is because I worry that I would just always feel like I am away from home, never settled. I love the feeling of going on a trip and looking forward to sleeping in our own bed again. Even though you’re only in the places for a few months at most, it does seem as though the apartment option allows you to settle in a bit more. We’ll definitely keep this in mind. You found some beautiful places! I think Medellin would be my favorite.

    • We have never missed “home” but we do miss a comfy bed and always manage to feel completely at home and settled when we rent an apartment for a month or two. It’s the perfect balance for us.

  7. Very good !! I been last year in Patagonia with some friends and we find houses called Cabaña on sur.travel with good prices and the accomodation was manage for the owner.
    I recoment to visit Patagonia on March because you will fined good prices.

  8. Hello Erin,

    We are leaving for South America in two weeks and your site has really been very helpful to us. Great tips.
    Imagine we just booked the apartment in BA you enjoyed so much! We keep following your big adventure. Have fun.

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  11. Hi Erin and Simon,

    I was wondering if you had a contact name/email/number for the apartment you rented in Salta? It looks amazing and we’re going to be looking for somewhere soon.

    Thank, Victoria and Steve

      • Sadly we didn’t get that apartment as the owner’s son is in town, but we did find another apartment with a jacuzzi and sauna (they are shared with the rest of the building)! We walked past it the day before and I commented that that was exactly the type of building I’d like to live in. Next day, we saw a studio in it advertised on the internet and now we move in on Tuesday! With Argentina’s rampant inflation, I think rental prices have risen a bit since you were here but we still got a good deal at 3,500 pesos for the month. Thanks for inspiring us to visit Salta.

  12. Enjoyed your post – especially in Medellín, it can be a BIG difference between the feel of a hostel or hotel room and an apartment. It just takes a little more digging to understand how to rent apartments, which you can rent by the day(s), week(s) or month(s). Some apartment owners and/or agencies just require that you pay in advance of each term, other’s have much tougher requirements, such as a contract, a co-signer and/or advance payment of more time. Something good to ask about is if you can get a discount for a longer stay – some agencies have a discount chart that shows how much you pay for each length of stay. Your apartment in Medellín looks a bit like the Nueva Alejandría building in El Poblado, which is a common place to stay for foreigners and quite expensive. Your Buenos Aires apartment looks gorgeous (simple/elegant/modern) and your Salta apartment looks like it had a great jacuzzi. If it’s helpful, I’ve been writing/organizing a lot about Medellín and other places in Colombia at http://www.amanado.com/. Hope you enjoy your world travels – looks like you’re seeing a lot. In Spanish, they may say you’re “aprovechando su tiempo” or “taking advantage of your time”.

  13. Hi Erin and Simon,

    I was wondering if you had a contact name and email for the apartment you rented in Medellin? I would like to study Spanish there for a month or two this winter.

    Thank you,

    Veronique

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  16. Hi there,

    We usually rent apartments when we travel. We started about 16 years ago when living in London. We would whisk away to other places in Europe and just found them to be more affordable with so much space! (Amsterdam, Brussels, Venice, Paris, England, Scotland, Puerto Rico, various U.S. cities, and Spain) Now years later with 2 kids in tow, we still do the same. We are currently renting in Spain and plan to travel Europe a bit over the summer. We will rent apartments and hopefully break into our first house sits. Thanks for sharing!

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  18. Of all the places youve been, which do you prefer for quality of life for the money? Please compare Chiang Mai to Medellin

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