How To Take a More Responsible Work Vacation

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A woman sitting near the window seat in an aeroplane
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Dry fruit market

Calm, leaf-lined streets. Exposed brick and pink neon and tall walls of foreign plants. Mexico City’s remote working hubs only faintly resemble the city itself, its coworking hubs and communal brainstorming spaces could be lifted from any popular digital nomad hotspot. The city is one of the most historic and characterful in the Americas, a unique metropolis perfect for remote workers intrigued by Mexican culture, food, art, and history. All over the world, as the pandemic has made remote working increasingly accessible, a number of cities and some neighborhoods have grown increasingly hostile towards this new expat subgroup. The Mexican capital poses a particularly egregious example of remote working’s social ramifications in action, a warning for socially responsible workers moving into the remote space. The best way for us to prevent hostilities towards our community of remote workers is to head into our new cities with social responsibility at the front of our minds. 

Moving to less economically advantaged countries in order to capitalize on the high standard of living and low price tag has been touted as one of the main perks of remote working. Those of us fortunate enough to hold remote positions finally have a means of controlling how and where we spend our money. Now, we have to grapple with what that means for our new communities and how we can make our impact a positive one.  Here are some insights as to how to become a more socially responsible remote worker.

Know the Reality of Remote Work’s Effect in Your Destination

Before you travel somewhere, try to understand what the perception of remote workers is in the area. For example, travelers and digital nomads in Mexico City find the city magical, but meanwhile, 55% of residents struggle every month to pay their rent or their mortgage. Judicial evictions have risen by 27% in the last year. Said evictions have turned violent in remote working havens like the Roma Norte neighborhood and the “touristification” linked to the rapid increase of remote workers has forced residents and business owners out of the area, displaced to make more space for luxury apartments and apart-hotels. Many of these public developments are funded by Mexican taxpayers, in order to facilitate workers who do not pay their taxes in Mexico

The Mexican minimum wage is 172.87 MXP per day, or roughly $8 USD. In neighborhoods like Roma Norte and Condesa, apartments sell for millions of dollars. Prices in the popular neighborhoods are now geared towards foreigners, CDMX resident Carmen Artigas commented to Vox. She noted that workers who service the areas popular with remote workers are forced to commute for two to three hours a day, forced to live further and further away from work as prices soar. 58% of Mexico City residents work in the central four districts, 19% of them live there. These pose some of the many factors that digital nomads must consider when choosing to move to a new city or a new country. However, awareness of these issues can help you make more informed decisions that can actually support the local community.

Frequent Local Businesses 

When you can, forego the Starbucks, the coworking conglomerate, the Walmart. When we inhabit a new neighborhood, a new city, or a new country, it is important that we do not damage the established social fabric of our new home and that our money stays within our new community, rather than the pockets of foreign investors. Take your recommendations from new local friends, or simply follow the crowds that head to street food stands and hole-in-the-wall bodegas. Han Talbot, Mexico-based host of the Remote Life podcast, suggests skipping the shops or bars or restaurants that are all over Instagram. “Try the spots around the corner instead!”, she advises.

Rent Long-Term When You Can

Vacation rental services are not newcomers to controversy. Airbnb has long been accused of exacerbating rent gaps in popular tourist cities, and of inciting “invasions” of remote workers in rural communities, the short term renting service has supported the shift towards remote working. Their monthly rentals prove a safe, easy, and affordable way for digital nomads to find a home in their chosen city with little fuss. Increasingly, to satiate remote workers’ rapidly growing appetite for longer-term accommodation, homes in popular areas are being bought or built for the sole purpose of renting on Airbnb. 

The owners make more money, the remote workers still get a cheaper deal than they would at home, but the local people are priced out of their homes and their neighborhoods. By avoiding services like Airbnb for longer-term rentals abroad, remote workers can dispel the rising hostility to outsiders that has accompanied the company’s rise in cities like Florence, or Barcelona.  If you are planning a long enough trip, the best thing to do is to rent within the local real estate market and figure out what services locals are using to find apartments. Alternatively, if you aren’t planning to stay too long, look for a serviced aparthotel like Casa Moctezuma in Coyoacán or City Anzures in Polanco, which can provide similar amenities without impacting housing allocation. 

Choose Your New Neighborhood Wisely

Internet speeds, monthly expenses, quality of life, weather, safety, and language. There are a huge number of factors to consider when choosing a remote work spot, and naturally, we gravitate towards those spots that excel in each category. However, as the number of remote workers rapidly increases, we have a new element to factor in. Consider the reactions of local people to the increasing numbers of remote workers and listen to your prospective community. Consider the rate at which hostilities are rising, and whether your presence is actually desired. There are many cities in the world that welcome remote workers, ones with protections installed for local workers and renters. Ones where an influx of foreigners making significantly higher wages than the current locale won’t decimate the socioeconomic infrastructure of the given neighborhood. When selecting your next new home, prioritize places where you can feel wanted and welcomed, where your presence won’t risk more harm than good.

One of the best perks of remote working is that we get to create our own communities, all over the world. That we get to free ourselves of the massively overpriced cities that kept us working paycheck to paycheck, while working 40 hour weeks. However, using this advantage to adversely affect those not fortunate enough to be in the same position is grossly irresponsible. In order to stem the rising hostility towards remote workers in popular neighborhoods, we must consider our own impact. We must do better to be more socially responsible, to be a better neighbor in our new remote world. There are lots of destinations actively seeking remote workers, where your social impact will be positive from the get-go. Check out the digital nomad visas being issued by Estonia, and enjoy the tech capital of Tallinn, or the working hubs in coastal Costa Rica.

SJ Armstrong
September 6, 2022
5.0
min read

SJ Armstrong is a freelance travel writer from London. Her work has featured in publications like Fodor’s, Bradt Guides, Culture Trip...

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