The Travelling Programmer
May 5, 2013 3:57 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to travel the world for a few years and work on some iOS app ideas at the same time, with the hope that if one of 'em makes enough money I can keep doing it forever! However, I reckon hostels probably aren't the most productive places in the world. Have any of you ever done something like this? What's the best approach for getting in the zone and being productive when you're on the go and surrounded by people? Are coffeehouse programmers as common in Europe as they are in the Silicon Valley? What about work-life balance -- is it possible to maintain a healthy hostel social life while also getting stuff done? Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'll speak from the perspective of traveling in a lot of hostels in Europe. If you stick to more chain hostels, they tend to cost a little more but tend to have really good wifi and space to work.

Perhaps look into longer term airbnbs and couch surfing for the social aspect?
posted by raccoon409 at 5:07 PM on May 5, 2013

I've traveled and programmed, and I personally have only been productive when locking myself in my room and putting my head down. Too much distracting fun stuff outside in the world. Having a deadline also helps (gotta release this app before the next town).

But that's just me. Europe is famous for its hackerspaces/hacklabs, some of which have living quarters -- maybe some of those are worth looking into.

Work-life balance when working on your own apps for primary income? Does not compute. Of course you're your own boss, you can take off whenever you want.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:27 PM on May 5, 2013

My experience is that it can be done! I actually stayed at a hostel/inn on Vacouver Island when I had a deadline and needed to be distracted from the parties / domestic tasks at home in Portland. They had monthly rates (including meals when I was there) and I was able to just hole up and write. It made me nostalgic for when writers used to live in hotels in order to be able to focus on creative projects. I did another solo retreat there when I was writing a novel.

It seems like moving around frequently would be the tricky part. Seconding Airbnb for longer term and more stable accommodations (infinitely more likely to offer private rooms and wifi). Most of the hostels where I stayed in Europe had bunk beds and weren't anything other than a place to lay your head.
posted by sweltering at 5:47 PM on May 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have stayed in several hostels in the USA.

Roughly half the hostels I have stayed at have a decent "coffeehouse" type atmosphere where I found I could do work. That number goes slightly higher if you count actual coffeehouses right nearby.

Generally I found the more involved the owner was the better it could work out long term. I prefer hostels with involved owners, but it comes with sometimes significant quirky. Be warned. In a good way.
posted by Folk at 6:35 PM on May 5, 2013

You can always duck into a public library.
posted by Michele in California at 8:33 PM on May 5, 2013

Perhaps you could try house sitting. Might be more economical and have less distractions.
posted by Dansaman at 9:11 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to drive over on the other side of the road for a bit:

Despite the rumors of hordes of hip programmers starting million-dollar businesses from their kitchen tables, only a small minority of developers actually make a living by creating their own apps, according to surveys and experts....

[One survey] indicated what many people had suspected: the app world is an ecology weighted heavily toward a few winners. A quarter of the respondents said they had made less than $200 in lifetime revenue from Apple. A quarter had made more than $30,000, and 4 percent had made over $1 million. -- NYT

posted by dhartung at 9:44 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know a lot of americans and europeans in Buenos Aires who have or are doing this. There are some pretty cheap coworking spaces near hostels. BA is VERY cheap right now if you have any dollars due to the bizarre dual-currency conversion policy. Its easy to find places to work and people to hang out with.
posted by carlodio at 6:50 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you thought of short-term apartment subletting at market rates in slightly rural or otherwise economically depressed areas in neat countries?

The per-day cost would approach reasonableness. A $500 per month apartment, which would be private and way nicer than a hostel, works out to about $17 per day. Get the apartment somewhere in rural France, Spain, or urban Costa Rica, and as long as there is wifi and a grocery store in walking distance, you're made in the shade.

12 months @ $500 per = $6,000 for shelter, plus maybe $200 per month for food and entertainment, gives you a year of travel (minus transportation) for $8,400, which you may be able to save up in no time at all. If you stick to Europe, cheap flights with a single carry on bag mean you can hop from country to country for less than $100 per trip.

You could also check out air b&b and see if anyone there would do a long-term rental to you for a reduced and reasonable price. I probably would be willing to offer a steep discount for guaranteed occupancy, were I running such a place.

Finally, there is something called the Caretaker's Gazette. If lists caretaker opportunities that generally require a small number of hours doing handyman work in return for free room and board and/or a stipend. Some of the offers are clearly a bad deal (a cheap property owner looking for free labor), others require that you have your own RV, etc., but there is a broad spectrum and occasionally you see one that just looks perfect: a rich person wants someone to live in their summer home and make sure the mailbox doesn't fill up and the cat gets fed, for example, while they go skiiing in the alps for a month. Or they need someone to live on their yacht docked in some exotic port during the Summer months and scare off the monkeys.
posted by jsturgill at 8:49 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, I know a couple who did exactly that. They typically did longer term stays, like a month in each place. One of their iPhone apps did hit it big... real big. They ended up settling into a nice beach town after a year+ of wandering around.

I can't speak to development type stuff, but I move every 1-3 months or so and travel quite a bit and manage to keep a business afloat. So I can tell you tricks of the trade to keep yourself working and balance life while on the move. And how to make the most of it. Feel free to PM me with specific questions or to just make a likeminded contact.
posted by letahl at 9:19 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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