How to Make a Temporary House Feel Like Home

Feb 12, 2013    /    digital nomads + full-time travel, travel how-tos

Step one: add a snuggly puppy.

As our travels stretch quietly past their 8-month mark, I’ve become even more of a slow traveler. Or not even a slow traveler. Instead, someone who settles in and lives in a new place—albeit for just a month or six weeks at a time. And part of that routine, part of having a real life on the road, is making every space I rent feel homey, comfortable, and inspiring.

Last year, I didn’t always do a great job of this and often felt, when it came to housing, like a traveler, a stranger, someone passing through. I did my best to settle into places like a local, dive into the culture, find the hidden places and identify the cultural faux pas. But when it came to housing, I almost always opted for the cheapest option and I didn’t always do a great job of making those spaces feel like home.

This year, I want to feel like each space is my home, temporary though it may be. And so I decided to spend a little more money and put a little more focus into finding spaces that are beautiful and comfortable. Spaces where I can rest or work. Spaces where I can feel inspired.

And I’ve found that not only is it important to choose the right space, but it’s also important for me to make it my home. So on day one in each new space, I make homey-ness my mission. And I do things like…

1. Unpack my bags.

I met some travelers on the train a few days ago and they told me they were so tired of living out of their bags. They couldn’t wait to get home to their closets.

I get that.

Even though I travel full-time, I also hate living out of a bag. Not because I need more stuff. I don’t. But because constantly sifting through your bag for that elusive scarf or having to take everything out and put it back in again in order to get to the curling iron just feels like a waste of time and energy—and it feels unsettled.

That’s why I don’t live out of my bag. I can fit everything I own into my bag, but as soon as I’m “home” it all comes out. I fold my clothes and store them in the dresser or on some shelves or in the closet. I set up my toiletries where I can find them. I leave my boots beside the door.

2. Set up a beautiful, uncluttered office.

Since I spend much of my week working on client projects, articles, and other business-y type things, it’s really important that I have a comfortable, clear workspace where I can get things done.

3. Stock the kitchen.

One of the only trips I make outside the apartment on my first day is a trip to the markets. For a space to feel like home to me, it should, at minimum, have tea bags, honey, milk, bread, and something to eat with the bread (spreads, cheese, etc.).

I often stock the kitchen first and make myself a cup of tea to enjoy while I unpack. For some reason, tea always makes me slow down and take my time, enjoying the simple tasks of unpacking and organizing.

4. Spread out.

For a space to feel like home, I have to treat it like home. I write reminders and inspirations on sticky notes sometimes, sticking them on mirrors and windows. I put my shoes by the door. I find a place to hang the keys and Luna’s leash. And I get comfortable.

5. Break out the bubbly.

Finally, I try to have a mini celebration in each new location. Here in France, I bought a bottle of seven-year-old wine and invited my expat friends over for some wine, cheese, and baguettes covered in Italian spreads. Dinner parties or even a slow, quiet meal in my new space go a long way toward making me feel at home.

When you travel, what do you do to make a rental or hotel room feel comfortable and lived in?

[UPDATE: There are some amazing suggestions down in the comments. So if you are looking for more tips, do scroll down! Radka suggests adding flowers and Maria notes that you can rearrange the furniture if you want. Brilliant stuff, guys.]

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33 Comments
  • Bev Genevish
    February 12, 2013

    Love this article! For whatever reason, I found myself walking with you to put the boots by the door, make the tea, hang the clothes. I was so there! The photo of your laptop made me think, if you haven’t already, set up a slide show of family, friends, and other treasured photos to add to the homey feel.

    Husband and I have been planning to move to Italy after he retires, but, because of you and the MWL pair, we are giving serious thought to taking the first year or so and traveling around (on a budget!) to different places we are interested in Europe. Today’s post really helps move past the “living out of a bag” hang up. Very cool! Keep ’em coming!

    • gigigriffis
      February 12, 2013

      So glad to hear it + thanks!

      • gigigriffis
        February 12, 2013

        Also, the slide show idea is a great one. I have a folder called “Favorites” on my computer and that’s my screen saver usually…it’s got lots of different stuff in it, including people I love (as well as places and views that made me feel alive).

  • Radka
    February 12, 2013

    As my husband and I living out of a bags right now, I love your ideas on all those little thinks that make HOME. It is somewhat difficult when staying in the hotel room. More
    challenging (but better), in a private room with kitchen privilegies. And it feels homey in a rental appartment. I like to buy the flowers and some nice smelling candles for each “home”.

    • gigigriffis
      February 12, 2013

      Oh, I love the flowers idea! I’m totally going to steal that one. I used to do that in New York anytime I had a bad week and it just brightened everything right up.

  • Rebeca
    February 12, 2013

    Thanks and well the next time I travel those are some great tips for an extended stay. For what I do to make a hotel feel more at home I usually tell the front desk not to change the sheets or the linen everyday especially if I will only be there for a few days. I will unpack my bathroom stuff that I need for those few days. It just seems to help me feel more centered.
    Rebeca recently posted…Top 10My Profile

    • gigigriffis
      February 12, 2013

      For sure. Bathroom stuff is a must. Going through all the tiny lotions and shampoos and soaps is so much easier if they’re all out and nicely displayed. :)

  • Kathryn
    February 12, 2013

    Starting my day by reading this was like having a cup of tea and a mini celebration too! Although currently at home (vs. travelling), I feel and understand what you’re talking about Gigi.

    • gigigriffis
      February 12, 2013

      Wonderful! I’m so glad.

  • Maria
    February 12, 2013

    Great tips! I too unpack but I go a little further and rearrange the furniture regardless of whether it’s a one week or one month stay. Makes for a more relaxing space during the hours you are there.
    Maria recently posted…Your Breath at My EarMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      February 12, 2013

      Now that’s an interesting one. I never thought about rearranging the furniture. Do you just move things around until it feels homey to you or is there a system/feng shui?

  • Sherri
    February 12, 2013

    Wherever I can bring my dogs becomes my home. “A house is not a home without a dog”

    • gigigriffis
      February 12, 2013

      I totally agree! Luna grounds me.

  • Gillian @OneGiantStep
    February 13, 2013

    I love making a not-my-home my home. I need to be able to make coffee, cobble together some breakfast, and make a late afternoon cocktail as well as unpack my bags. It’s not much really, but it does feel like home.

    • gigigriffis
      February 13, 2013

      If it’s much to you, I think it is much. Sometimes the simple things have the biggest impact on our happiness.

  • Footloose
    February 13, 2013

    I second the flowers suggestion. If I’m going to be somewhere for a month or longer I may instead by a small potted plant for the desk.
    I also have a small metal votive candle holder with a snap on lid. When the original candle was used up I just popped a replacement in. Home is wherever I smell vanilla candles, and in a really perfect world there will also be pink tulips and a good cup of coffee.

    • gigigriffis
      February 13, 2013

      The potted plant idea is a nice one. You could even gift it to a local friend when you leave. Great idea.

  • Ali
    February 20, 2013

    So far we haven’t stayed anywhere long enough to really do this. Closest we’ve come is 4 days in Barcelona last August. We had an apartment, which helped, and we went to the market in the morning to buy stuff for lunch. Then we spent the hot hours of the afternoon working at the kitchen table, and at the end of the day we wandered around the city a little and found dinner and a local bar. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to do more local living and stay somewhere long enough to unpack the bags!
    Ali recently posted…Simple Australia ItineraryMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      February 20, 2013

      Having an apartment is definitely a big help. :) I’m excited for you and Andy to do some long-stay traveling. It’ll be interesting to get your take on this stuff.

  • Suzy
    February 24, 2013

    I enjoy traveling this way too, setting up in one place called home for several weeks. I think unpacking is key. I learned that tip from my Mom. She always unpacks, even in hotels.
    Suzy recently posted…From Woodshop to Homerun Hero, Exploring The Louisville Slugger MuseumMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      February 24, 2013

      Your mom is a smart lady. I wish someone had told me sooner. My first few trips were spent rummaging through backpacks every day. It’s so much nicer this way. :)

  • Montecristo Travels (Sonja)
    February 25, 2013

    puppy? check
    unpack? check
    office space? check
    rotating photo on iPad/laptop? check
    local market foods? check
    make tea? check

    yep … you pretty much covered it!

    It may sound insane but we have 2-3 small kitchen items we love to cook with. So we tend to bring them along. We are juicers and you can’t pack a juicer but we have a manual one. So that first morning… we love going to the local market, choosing the vegetables to juice and then making it …. sitting down to the table … yeah … feels awesome.

    I also have a lovely travel pashmina that I often use as a runner in the centre of a table with fresh flowers on top…. makes things feel less sterile and more familiar.

    I also remove any decor I don’t like. Be it a painting, calendar or pillow case in a colour or pattern I can’t stand. :)
    Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted…Travel and the Perfect Canine HarnessMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      February 25, 2013

      Yes! I actually used to travel with a kitchen item or two myself (specifically: corkscrew). I love wine and had several times where I had to buy a corkscrew because places didn’t have them. But I ditched the corkscrew during one of my re-packing projects as I’ve lately (knock on wood) had great luck with places already having them. I think apartment rentals are much better then hotels when it comes to that stuff.

  • The GypsyNesters
    February 28, 2013

    We’re split on the unpacking issue. David NEVER does – if I have the luxury of more that a week in a place, I seriously settle in. We’ve become experts at in hotel room food as well – we love hitting markets in new places and have learned what keeps without a fridge (to a point!). Great tips! -Veronica
    The GypsyNesters recently posted…GypsyNesting in Your Own BackyardMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      March 8, 2013

      Ooh, I would be interested in your fridge-less shopping tips. I’ve had one or two no-fridge nights and I feel like I’m always guessing at whether things will keep.

  • Jonathan Look, Jr.
    March 8, 2013

    What great ideas! I tend to stay in places for quite some time and you tips will be helpful. It is good to have a home, even if home is the world.
    Jonathan Look, Jr. recently posted…Top 12 Photos of 2012My Profile

    • gigigriffis
      March 8, 2013

      Thanks! It’s definitely nice to stay a little longer and feel a little more at home, particularly when you’re traveling full-time (which, from your website, it looks like you are as well).

      Cheers!

  • Elle
    March 18, 2013

    Another great post! I am just in this phase now and I happy for the advice. Thanks!
    Elle recently posted…World Beverages Part 7: Guinness and an Irish Pub NightMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      March 18, 2013

      So glad to be helpful! :)

  • nour soleil
    March 24, 2013

    I actually moved to my new studio in Paris 2 months ago, I tried to do everything mentioned, but the flowers and candle thing, and I still hate it when I come back home.
    I tried to buy new colored sheets for the bed, hang family photos on the wall and all and it doesn’t work…
    maybe cause I feel like I must move out in few month…

    but it was a pleasure reading the article to know that I might still have hope :D

  • Cassie
    March 17, 2015

    I print off art prints at the local print store (for like 25 cents each), and then either use bright coloured washi tape to put them up on the walls, or frame them. If framed, I usually source cheap ones at a dollar store or antique market, and that way I can just leave them behind when it’s time to pack and move again!
    I also always travel with my favourite Diptyque candle, so I can burn a familiar scent no matter where I am temporarily housed.
    Cassie recently posted…Monday’s MoodMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      March 17, 2015

      Love that!

  • Melannie S
    October 13, 2015

    Your tips are exactly what I needed. I recently moved into a one room apartment and it will be probably for 2 months tops. This post will help me a lot in making it more comfy. Thanks for sharing! <3

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