Airbnb Lifestyle: The Rise Of The Hipster Nomad

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Gillmor Gang LIVE 10.03.14

Editor’s note: Prerna Gupta is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor, currently working on a stealth project; she is also a nomad.

For the past year, I’ve lived exclusively in temporary housing I’ve found on sites like Airbnb.

I didn’t set out with this goal in mind, but it just sort of happened. And now that it’s happened, I’m starting to wonder whether I really want to go back to a pre-Airbnb life.

It all started about a year ago, when my husband and I got struck by a serious bout of travel lust and decided to step out of the Silicon Valley rat race for a while to wander the globe and explore what it was like to live in different parts of the world.

Over the past year, we have lived, for weeks or months at a time, in Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, India, and Crete. And all of this living has occurred in temp housing we found via the sharing economy.

The only possessions we’ve had with us during this time have fit in a suitcase and a couple of carry-on bags. Everything else – housing, furniture, cars, pots and pans – has been rented as and when it was needed.

Before we left for our vagabond adventure, my husband and I packed all of what we considered to be possessions we couldn’t live without into an embarrassingly large storage unit, which has cost us $160 per month. Possessions like a salvaged-wood dining table, an L-shaped sectional, fancy speakers and a projector screen, a hefty mattress, and a wide assortment of God only knows what else.

But we’ve found that we haven’t missed a single one of those possessions since we left. We simply haven’t needed them.

As our year of travels draws to an end, and I think about settling back down again, I can’t help but wonder – why settle down at all? Why not just continue living in temp rentals from Airbnb, and get up and go again when we want?

Trending Toward The Airbnb Lifestyle

If I could “borrow” most of my material possessions, leaving myself free to wander at will, I would do it in a heartbeat.

And I think this sharing-economy-driven nomadic lifestyle has a decent chance of becoming the dominant mode for younger generations.

Here are some trends that I believe will make the Airbnb lifestyle more common in Gen Y:

1. Ownership is a pain. I honestly can’t imagine ever wanting to own a house. Because I can’t stand the thought of having to deal with all the crap that comes with owning such a large and expensive thing. Renting is so much more convenient, and the fact is, I’m willing to pay for that convenience.

2. FOMO. Likewise, everyone knows Gen Y is allergic to commitment. I find the idea of committing to a specific place to live for years at a time depressing.

3. Freelancers are kings. Freelancing is becoming a way of life, too. I’ve been hearing from a lot of highly talented engineers, designers and product managers recently who are going freelance by choice. Work is becoming much more fluid, and workers have increasing control over when and where they work. This makes them less tied down.

4. The royal we. Families are getting smaller. Many of us may never have kids or get married at all. As family sizes shrink, there’s less incentive to settle down.

5. Democratization of style. There is a convergence happening in aesthetic style. We all basically like the same things, at approximately the same time. But, what we like changes relatively quickly, according to the latest hipster fashions. Ergo, borrowing is better for us than owning.

Outgrowing The Sharing Economy

Odds are that I won’t become a permanent nomad just yet, though, because it’s still tough for me to find things that sufficiently match my tastes on existing “sharing economy” sites.

This is because the sharing economy has mostly been thought of, up to this point, as a peer-to-peer rental economy, focused on allowing individual owners to monetize excess capacity on things they own.

As the Airbnb lifestyle becomes pervasive, however, the sharing economy will start to outgrow itself. Renting will start replacing buying across the board, which means there will no longer be enough owners to support peer-to-peer lending, and, in many cases, businesses will step in to pick up the slack.

We can see the very beginnings of this today, with startups like Le Tote and Rent the Runway, where you can borrow clothes, and Lumoid, where you can borrow high-end electronics.

It’s still early, though, and it seems likely that I’ll end up owning more than I’d like for a few more years to come.

But for me, at least, living an Airbnb lifestyle for the past year has led to a palpable change in my relationship with stuff. I am slowly beginning to think about material goods not in terms of possession, but in terms of my time.