It’s been almost three years since Nick Doiron has signed a lease.
As an app developer, Doiron, 26, can afford the insane rents in San Francisco, California. But he prefers the lifestyle of a modern-day nomad—no landlord, no furniture, no strings.
Most of the time, he relies on home-rental site Airbnb, where he’s booked 46 stays since 2012, and on Craigslist, but there’s the occasional hostel, Best Western, and sleeper train, too.
Doiron last committed to long-term living in Chicago when he signed a year-long lease on an “adorable carriage house” in November 2013. He moved out and broke the lease eight months later after the house turned out to be not so adorable.
The home was difficult to heat, the floors were always cold. The pipes froze, too. “This is partly the issue with having a carriage house, and partly an issue of me trying to be thrifty or not knowing how to maintain the place,” he says. “What I tell people is: I’ve tried renting my own apartment. I can’t recommend it.”
Determined to not take on the responsibility of maintaining a home, he’s jumped from place to place, sometimes for days, weeks, or a month at a time—once in an apartment without reliable indoor plumbing, once having to share a bathroom with a dog, twice in a docked boat.
Not settling down comes with its perks. There’s none of the usual headaches of buying or moving furniture, setting up utilities, waiting for the cable guy, changing light bulbs, or even taking out the trash.
For Doiron, it’s also been cheaper, at least in New York City and San Francisco. He sets a monthly budget of roughly $1,400 to $1,500 for the Bay Area and meets it. In February, the median rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in San Francisco was $3,500, the highest in the country, according to apartment-listing site Zumper.
Having spent six of the last 12 months traveling for work, Doiron says he’s “saving a lot more than I expected.” With no place of his own, he’s also not tempted to accumulate frivolous gadgets or toys. ”When I see some kind of advertisement, I feel I’ve transcended that,” he says. He doesn’t own a car, relying on public transit and sometimes cabs when he’s abroad.
But the main appeal is the adventure of living in various environments. “For two weeks, you can try almost anything,” he says. Since dropping out of Carnegie Mellon University five years ago, Doiron has worked on the One Laptop Per Child program in Haiti and the Marshall Islands, been a fellow at Code for America in San Francisco, and worked as a web developer for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As an app developer now for the Asia Foundation since June, he’s been dispatched to far-flung destinations—Thailand, Myanmar, Mongolia, India—to work on civic, open-source projects, such as helping create a candidate database for elections in Myanmar. He’s due back in Mongolia in early April.
He has lived in all five boroughs of New York City, plus parts of New Jersey, from 2014 to 2015. He spent a week in Staten Island—he left because the commute was too taxing—and lived on Roosevelt Island, the narrow strip of land between Manhattan and Queens, because the idea of commuting via an aerial tramway seemed romantic. He also spent a night on the Cape Race, a polar research vessel, when it docked in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
In the Bay Area, he stayed in a sailboat docked on Berkeley’s marina for two weeks. There was WiFi, one of his requirements, and a key to the marina’s shower, another must-have. During this period, he signed off his emails with:
The Pacific Ocean
Doiron grew up in Hudson, New Hampshire, a somewhat isolated town of less than 25,000 that borders Massachusetts. His upbringing gave him a longing for exploration, and while his lifestyle can make it hard to maintain long-term relationships, it also allows him to meet lots of new people.
When Doiron visited Adam Holt, a close friend who was the global communications manager for One Laptop Per Child, in Haiti in 2011, he had no qualms about chatting with locals or venturing off into the countryside in search for a spectacular waterfall. “Maybe his French was terrible and his Creole was even worse, but he would talk to Haitians on the street,” says Holt.
Of course, it’s not all romance. Some homes have been dirty or cramped. Dynamics get awkward when roommates or couples fight.
In one instance, thin walls got paired with a loud next-door neighbor rehearsing “Pirate King” from the opera The Pirates of Penzance. But he tolerated the accommodations, which he found on Airbnb, “considering it was $1,100” a month in New York City.
He once had to share a bathroom with a dog when he rented a room in Oakland, California. The “cat-sized dog” was litter-box trained, but “sometimes it would screw up.”
When his work with the One Laptop Per Child program took him to the Marshall Islands, he lived in an apartment arranged by his employer that shut the water off every day during work hours. To keep water in reserve, the landlord provided him with a “giant man-sized bucket” in the bathroom. He used the bucket when the building lacked running water for several days.
To accommodate his itinerant ways, Doiron uses his office or his mother’s home in Concord, Massachusetts as a back-up. He stashes a blazer and dress shoes at the Asia Foundation office in San Francisco and uses the office address as his mailing address. When he’s applied for jobs, he’s used the address of a recent Airbnb rental. His bank account uses his mom’s address and he keeps a winter coat, a bag of clothes, and a few electronic kits, including Arduino micro controllers he’s toyed around with, at her home.
He pays for his rentals and most bills with a debit or credit card, and his employer deposits his paychecks directly into his bank account. When he needs checks, he’ll go to a local Chase branch, where a teller will print a sheet of them for him.
If his rental includes a kitchen—a nice-to-have, not a must-have—he’ll make simple meals, like pasta for dinner and cereal for breakfast. But Doiron usually eats at local restaurants or orders takeout.
Entertaining, though, can be a challenge. He once snuck an overnight guest into the small room he was renting in New York City’s Chinatown without clearing it by the host. But he typically avoids inviting people over when he’s staying at an Airbnb. A few times, he’s simultaneously booked a second Airbnb rental for a few days to accommodate visitors.
Packing light is also essential.
He carries an orange backpack and a hybrid duffle-roller bag that holds about 30 pounds, downsized from the 50-pound roller bag he had until February.
Its contents include:
- Motorola Droid smartphone (on a family plan, which he contributes to)
- About a dozen changes of clothes
- Macbook Air
- Wad of paper (useful for writing down the combination for electric locks, which many Airbnb hosts use)
- Waterproof glowstick-flashlight hybrid
- Laundry detergent pods
- Southeast Asian language phrasebook
- A Sarubobo charm from a high school field trip to Japan
- Full-size bottle of shampoo
Generally, Doiron rarely mentions his living accommodations to co-workers. “When you tell people you work with, it becomes a concern,” he says. Often, coworkers ask if he needs a place to stay.
Of course many people don’t understand his lifestyle. “When are you going to do it—settle down now? You’re six months into the your job now,” he recalls a colleague asking him.
He sees his nomadic ways as a sort of performance art and will put down roots if needed. But barring some “medical thing, like a broken leg,” he’s happy to keep traveling light.
“You know that movie Up in the Air with George Clooney?” he asks me after our first meeting. In the film, George Clooney plays an HR consultant who’s constantly on the road. That lifestyle comes to an end—because, well, love. ”He had it made,” Doiron says about Clooney’s character, “and they ruined everything by making him fall in love with a married woman?”
Not for him—at least, not yet. “I’m not sure what my end game is.”