- Daniel George was working remotely as a VP at JPMorgan in 2020 because of the pandemic.
- He began traveling around the US and then further afield, working and living in hotels.
- Daniel splits room costs with his partner and maximizes points systems to reduce costs.
My wife and I have been digital nomads living in hotels for three years while working remotely.
We’ve traveled to 25 countries, have spent less than we did living in San Francisco and New York, and haven’t changed our bedsheets or taken out the trash in years.
The swap to remote work allowed us to travel
My partner and I are computer scientists working on artificial-intelligence applications. I was a vice president and machine-learning scientist at JPMorgan from September 2020 to August 2023. Before that, I’d been at Google’s X as an AI-research scientist since 2018. We started working remotely in early 2020 because of the pandemic.
Halfway through 2020, we moved from San Francisco to New York City. By the end of the year, we were tired of being trapped in our apartment and our lease was about to end.
We could work from anywhere, so we began traveling around the US in early 2021. We thought we’d travel for a few months and then settle down in another city apartment. Traveling was more fun and less exhausting than we’d thought, and we started booking international trips.
Over the past three years, we have traveled all over the US, as well as to England, Scotland, Italy, France, Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland, Spain, Iceland, Portugal, Mexico, Morocco, Turkey, Colombia, Peru, Dubai, India, Sri Lanka, Iceland, and Japan.
By the end of 2022, we missed our friends and coworkers. After nearly two years on the move, we got an apartment with a rolling lease in New York. We were bored within two months and set off again.
Booking a hotel and flight every few weeks was our new normal. After years on the move, we no longer found travel stressful. The plan is to keep traveling before we start a family.
We work New York hours while traveling
We work New York hours during weekdays and explore the cities on weekends and in the evenings or mornings, depending on the time zone. We travel or move hotels only during weekends or holidays.
In places such as Europe and Morocco, we work from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Places in Latin America, including Mexico, are pretty much in the same time zone as New York.
If we choose somewhere with an extreme time-zone difference, such as Japan, we use our vacation days for those trips. When we went to Japan, we took three weeks of vacation because we would have had to start working in the middle of the night.
We had issues in the beginning with WiFi at Airbnbs. One of the reasons we decided to stay at large hotel brands — besides credit-card points — was that they had better facilities for work.
We don’t plan more than booking a one-way flight
We don’t plan our trips. We just snap up the best deals we can get for business-class flights using points. We then choose the places we’re interested in visiting, book one-way tickets and a hotel for the first couple of weeks, and go from there. We spend two to three weeks in each place so we can enjoy our surroundings.
We return to the US once a year, from Thanksgiving to the Christmas holidays.
We have member status at Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and IHG. There’s usually at least one of these hotel chains in every city we’ve visited. If not, we use Booking.com or Airbnb.
Costs of living in a hotel versus renting full time
Before we started traveling constantly, we spent about $36,000 on rent a year — $1,500 a month per person. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area from 2018 to mid-2020 and New York City until early 2021. We would spend about $200 on utilities each month. On top of rent, we’d have to pay for hotels when we went on vacation.
Staying in hotels has cost us on average less than $150 a night over the past three years. In expensive cities, we sometimes pay up to $300, while in cheaper cities, it could be less than $100 a night.
The average expenses per person a month work out to roughly $1,500 for hotel fees, $1,000 for food, and about $420 for things such as Uber rides, shopping, phone bills, and tours.
The food costs and other expenses are similar to what we spent before we started traveling. Neither of us cooked, so we used to eat out or order Uber Eats a lot.
We’ve earned the highest-tier hotel statuses with Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton. We get free upgrades to luxury suites, free daily breakfast, and access to lounges with snacks and drinks, along with the normal housekeeping, gyms, pools, saunas, and spas. We haven’t had to clean rooms, change bedsheets, or take out the trash in years.
In 2022, I spent 333 days abroad and became a nonresident. This meant I wasn’t liable to pay capital-gains taxes because I’d been in the US fewer than 31 days that year.
Points systems make hotel living cheaper
We earn roughly 16% of our accommodation costs directly from hotel points. For example, because we have a Titanium Marriott membership, we earn 17.5 points for every dollar we spend — each point is worth about $0.01.
We also get 6% to 8% back in credit-card points when we book hotels.
For example, Amex Green offers triple points, with each point worth $0.02. Marriott credit cards offer six times the points when booking a hotel with each point worth $0.01, and Hyatt credit cards offer four times the points, worth $0.02 each. Rakuten’s booking portal offers 3% back in Amex points for every hotel booking made through its site.
These methods add up to roughly 25% back per dollar spent on hotels.
Using these points systems, we pay for eight months of hotel fees and get about two months free. We don’t have to pay rent for the remaining two months each year since we spend up to four weeks at work conferences and about six weeks visiting our families.
Our total cost for accommodation for a year is about $36,000.
We maximize credit cards’ sign-up bonuses
Also, we earn an extra 100,000 points every couple of months by opening new credit cards. We charge the cost of our hotels on these cards to meet the spending criteria.
We mostly use sign-up points to fly business class on all the long-haul flights or hotel rooms.
We earned about 170,000 points after signing up for two Hyatt credit cards with combined annual fees of $300. We redeemed the points for a week’s stay at the Andaz Mayakoba hotel in Mexico in a $400-a-night room. We were upgraded to a $700-a-night suite because of our Hyatt Globalist status.
Similarly, a 150,000 sign-up bonus from an Amex Platinum Card paid for our business-class flights to Japan, worth over $8,000.
We downgrade each card to a free version without annual fees after exactly one year, instead of canceling it, so that it doesn’t affect our credit score much.
Even after opening 10 credit cards each in the past three years, we have credit scores above 780. As long as you pay off your entire balance every month, your credit score should increase in the long run.
A lot of these credit cards come with free travel insurance.
How we manage our home address and taxes
Our only legal permanent residential address is my wife’s parents’ home. It’s where we spend a month of our year during the holidays, store some of our belongings, and have our mail and bills sent.
We don’t stay anywhere longer than a month or two to avoid personal tax liabilities. We get digital-nomad visas when possible, which exempt local taxes. We don’t spend enough time in any other US state to establish residency there.
I quit my job to be a founder and continue to travel
I left my job at JPMorgan in August to launch an AI startup. I had saved enough to reach financial independence earlier this year.
My partner and I will continue to travel while I run this new endeavor.