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Joy

Writer lives in vacation rentals and Airbnbs because it's cheaper than rent or a mortgage

She stayed 31 days in a 'ski town' AirBnB for $1200. That's $600 cheaper than her mortgage.

michelle joy, digital nomad, travel hacks

A woman looks out into a beautiful canyon.

Can you imagine living life as a digital nomad? You have a job, but your office changes month to month. You spend a few weeks at a ski resort and then a month on the beach. In between, you make a stop in Europe to visit the Christmas markets. It sounds like a millionaire's fantasy, right?

Not according to Michelle Joy, 35, a travel writer based in Houston, Texas. She recently explained to Business Insider how she cracked the code on how to stay in vacation rentals and Airbnbs long-term while making it cost less than the $1,800 a month she was spending on a mortgage payment, taxes and utilities.

Joy is the founder of Harbors and Heavens, a blog that documents her travels, inspires “others to see more of the world,” and shares tips and tricks on how to do so affordably.


“When I started researching places to stay, I quickly decided it would be much cheaper to slow travel and take advantage of long-stay discounts at vacation rentals—so much cheaper, actually, that it made me question whether I ever wanted to pay rent or a mortgage again,” Joy wrote in Business Insider.

Her math also works for the average renter in Houston, where the average property will set you back $1,795 a month. Further, living at other people’s properties means you don’t have to pay for costly home repairs, new furniture or gas and electric bills.

Joy’s trick is finding places in the offseason with plenty of available units that can be rented at a lower rate. She may miss out on some seasonal activities but is still on a permanent vacation.

“When I'm searching for a long-term stay at a bargain, I look for popular and seasonal vacation destinations with a large concentration of short-term rentals, like Daytona Beach, Florida, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina,” she wrote for Business Insider. “Towns with a lot of individually owned condos typically have plenty of rentals on sites like Airbnb, the platform I typically book on.”

“To get a good deal, I make my reservations for the offseason and book for at least a month at a time,” Joy continued. “Many rentals give weekly discounts, but the nightly rate bottoms out once you hit the monthly rental rate, typically at the 28- or 30-day mark.”

For example, Joy recently stayed at a vacation rental in Snowshoe, West Virginia, between the summer and ski seasons. Her 31-day stay cost her around $1200—that’s $600 cheaper than her mortgage, taxes and utilities.

She also recently stayed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for 35 nights and paid just $1,360.

Joy’s new life as a digital nomad started when things began to open up in the waning days of the COVID pandemic, and she felt the itch to “revenge” travel. Since then, she’s paid off her home in Texas and has no plans to return to living her old lifestyle anytime soon. She looks forward to living in vacation rentals in affordable international tourist destinations such as Thailand, Indonesia, Croatia and Portugal.

“Being nomadic and hopping from rental to rental may not suit everyone, but my lifestyle and schedule are flexible, so it allows me to combine housing and travel costs into one expense and experience living in different places,” she wrote.

But she hopes her travels inspire others to leave their comfort zones and see the world. “It's time to make your dreams happen,” she wrote on Instagram. “Don't put it off until or wait for someone else to do it for you. You are capable of creating a life you love on your own.”

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