Extended travel: How the Great Resignation sparked a flexible-living boom

Christopher Elliott
Special to USA TODAY

Extended travel wasn't on Emma Fallone's mind when she found a studio apartment through a company called Landing. She was just going through some unexpected life changes, something all too common during the pandemic.

"I decided I needed to make a move but wasn't sure where to move to or how long I would want to stay," says Fallone, a program manager at a tech company in New York.

But did something like that even exist, offering the flexibility of a hotel but the amenities of a fully furnished apartment? Fallone set out to find it, starting a journey that many travelers have taken during the pandemic. And they're discovering that during the Great Resignation, the very definition of travel is shifting.

"There's a new generation of consumers who want flexibility in how they live, work, and travel," says Jon Slavet, CEO of Sentral, a flexible-living provider. "It's a modern population that lives, works, and travels on their own terms and are not tethered to one location." 

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The Great Resignation:   Why this trend is here to stay

A recent study by Prudential found that of Americans working remotely during the pandemic, 87% want to continue working remotely at least one day a week once the pandemic subsides. But some people are untethering completely. They're selling their homes, unloading their personal belongings and hitting the road permanently.

The extended travel trend is evolving faster than anyone could have imagined. Often, travelers hear about the best options from friends or fellow global nomads. There's a short list of choices for accommodations too, and experts have reached a consensus on the best way to plan an extended trip.

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How do you find flexible living options?

Fallone heard about Landing, one of the largest flexible living companies, through a friend. Her $199 annual membership fee gave her access to a network of more than 35,000 apartments. Landing didn't charge application fees or security deposits either. Rents for a one-bedroom apartment started at around $1,800 per month, just a fraction of what she was paying in New York. 

"It was everything I was looking for," says Fallone.

Peter Wilczynski, a product manager who now lives in Denver, heard about another flexible living option called Kasa through a friend. So when his company announced it was moving its headquarters from San Francisco to Denver, he decided to give it a try.

"My girlfriend and I were trying to figure out if we wanted to move to Colorado, and so it was a great opportunity to get a real feel for the city before committing to a full lease," he says. 

Wilczynski found an apartment near Denver's Union Station, close to grocery stores and parks. Best of all, the unit came with a full kitchen, spacious living room and a washer and dryer. 

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The pandemic has taken us 20 years into the future in just two years when it comes to accommodations. Travel isn't just a leisure activity anymore. For some, it's a lifestyle.

What kind of flexible living options are out there?

Flexible living options come in various flavors. 

There are traditional fractional ownership residences, such as Wyndham Destinations, which operates 230 timeshare resorts. Earlier this year, the company reported a 10% increase in length of stay across all properties as the extended stay or long-term accommodations trend continues across the company’s portfolio of apartment-style suites.  

For more flexibility, you can try a site like Blueground, which offers a six- or 12-month pass that you can use at any of its 5,000 properties around the world. The company has record demand for flexible rentals, with 25% of its guests characterizing themselves as remote workers – about five times more than pre-pandemic. "There's a rise in demand from global nomads and those that can work from anywhere," says Alex Chatzieleftheriou, Blueground's CEO.

Some extended-stay properties are more trendy and tech-forward. For example, Mint House, which has more than 20 locations in large metropolitan areas in the United States, emphasizes its concierge app and tech-enabled service – appealing to the global nomads. Its kitchens come pre-stocked with groceries you shop for in advance of your arrival. 

Mint House isn't alone; companies like Sonder, which specialize in short-term rentals, have paved the way for accommodations that replace a hotel's front desk with an app. They've also set the bar high in other ways, such as standards for amenities.

Looking for an extended stay? Here's what to do next

If you're planning to be on the road for a month or more, these flexible living options could be right for you. Each one has its target demographic, from the hyperconnected Mint House guest to the "bleisure" travelers who are likely to visit a Club Wyndham property. Careful research will show which accommodation type will work for you. Since these are young companies, they are generally eager to please. You won't find the legacy customer service problems that you might have with an established hotel. 

But these aren't your only choices. Some travelers say, for stays of about a month, sites like Airbnb and Vrbo work well too. When Steven Rothberg, who runs a job search site in Edina, Minnesota, needed a rental for four weeks in Ruidoso, New Mexico, he turned to Airbnb. The home he found offered a steep discount for monthly tenants, "so we basically stayed at half the normal rate," he says. 

But there's a trick to finding the right rental through traditional sites – you have to be flexible, and often you'll need to reach out directly to the owner to negotiate. The new extended-stay options eliminate the need for all that, plus they offer a more standardized experience.

The pandemic has taken us 20 years into the future in just two years when it comes to accommodations. Travel isn't just a leisure activity anymore. For some, it's a lifestyle. 

The Great Resignation and the extended travel trend probably wouldn't have happened for a few more decades without COVID-19. But now it's here – and it's time for us to catch up.

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Expert advice for finding a long-term rental

Plan ahead. That's the advice of Diane Lam, an entrepreneurial consultant who has spent the last year living nomadically. "In larger cities especially, it's harder to find a great stay on short notice, so plan on looking earlier to make sure you can book a great spot for the duration you want."

But not too early! Chatzieleftheriou, Blueground's CEO, says the sweet spot for his rentals is 30 to 45 days in advance. "That will show you all available options to be able to book the best places before the masses," he says. 

Have a plan B. Make that Airbnb. If you're searching one to two weeks before your arrival date and find a place that's available for the next month, you can safely assume the host will be in a negotiating mood. (I know because I've done it.) You may get 50% or more knocked off the rate, which could be less expensive than a hotel.