How to Plan a Month-Long Stay in a Foreign City

Views of Lisbon from the Castelo do São Jorge

Have you ever dreamed of living abroad for a month or more? About two years ago, my spouse and I came up with a life plan. He’s a teacher with 2 months off in July-August, while I work remote and can work from anywhere. We decided that we needed to take advantage of this by living abroad over the summer and that we would go to a different country every year. Last summer, we made our dream a reality by spending four full weeks in Lisbon, Portugal. While we both have traveled extensively, visiting more than 50 countries between us, we had never done this type of extended short-term stay. Here’s how we did it and tips for you to spend a full month abroad.

Choose Your Location

You’ll need to think about where you want to be – country, city, and then neighborhood. Here are some of the questions you can use to decide:

  • Is there a country or city you’ve always wanted to visit for an extended time?
  • Is the city accessible to the places you’d like to visit during your stay (i.e., weekend trips)? Does it have an airport, trains, or buses to other locations of interest?
  • If you’re working remote, what’s the WiFi situation like? Are there co-working spaces nearby?
  • What’s the weather for the time of year you are going?
  • Is it safe to be there for an extended time and move around freely?
  • Can this place hold your interest for a month? Are there enough activities or are you worried about getting bored? (this is especially important if one person is working and the other isn’t!)
  • Are you looking for activity-packed and exciting, or calm and peaceful?
  • Can you afford to stay in this place for one month?
  • Are there sufficient amenities – laundry, medical, grocery stores, etc?
  • Language – will you be able to get by in daily life with the language skills you have?

We decided on Lisbon because it met all our criteria. We had always wanted to go there and it was easy to travel from Lisbon to other cities like Porto, Lagos, and Sintra. Within Lisbon, we decided to look for apartments around Baixa, Alfama, Chiado, Bairro Alto, or Bica because they were close to the city center and we figured that we could see tourist attractions during the weekdays without having to go far. We ended up in a tiny studio in Bica, but the proximity to restaurants, attractions, and nightlife was worth it. The WiFi in the apartment we rented was also great and, with a significant digital nomad population, there were also coworking spaces. The weather was pleasant in the summer – warm but not scorching, mostly sunny, and no rain. Lisbon was super safe with lots of activities to do and restaurants to explore. It’s also an affordable European city if you’re coming from the US. Finally, I have learned some Portuguese and thought it was a great opportunity to practice, and most people in the larger cities and tourist centers speak English.

Lisbon is filled with stairways just like this one. It’s hilly, so be prepared to walk uphill a lot.

Find a Monthly Rental

Once you narrow down the country and city you’re interested in, you’ll want to look for a monthly rental in your neighborhood of choice. You certainly don’t want to pay hotel prices for one month! For Lisbon, we had the best luck with apartments on AirBnb. Many AirBnbs will discount the price significantly if you’re booking for a longer-term stay (more than 28 nights).

Research Rental Amenities & Services

When planning a month-long stay, you’re going to want to do more daily life activities than if you were only going to visit for a week so consider what amenities you’ll want. For example, it’s likely you’re going to want to cook sometimes rather than eat out the whole month. I didn’t think about the kitchen in the rental, and on arrival I realized it had only a microwave, toaster, and two burners with limited tools. While you can certainly manage and get creative – or make lots and lots of toast like I did – it’s good to think about these things in advance. We also thought there was plentiful closet space in the rental, only to find out on arrival that most of the closets were locked and we had to figure out where to store our large suitcases for a whole month. Finally, consider laundry (if it’s not in your rental, is there a place within walking distance?), access to a pharmacy (bonus if it’s 24 hours!), and gym or fitness classes nearby. I found a drop off laundry two blocks away (but it was expensive!!), several pharmacies, and some yoga classes that I attended a few times.

Lisbon’s Time Out market with food from around the world

Take Care of Your Permanent Residence

Assuming you have a permanent residence elsewhere, you’ll need to figure out what to do with it while you’re gone. This could be anything from ensuring your mail gets delivered to turning the gas and lights off to finding someone to water your plants or care for a pet. You might even decide to rent your place out while you’re gone to offset the price of your trip. I didn’t, but I did have to find help watering the plants (I ended up leaving them with a friend) and making sure the gas was off and everything was unplugged.

Don’t Be A Tourist the Whole Time

If you travel like I do, you pack as much action as you can into your trip. I always say that I didn’t fly halfway around the world for lazy days lounging, I can do that at home! This can work for 1-2 weeks but if you do it for a full month or more, you will burn out. My advice, which I barely followed myself, is to think about what you normally do on a daily basis and those in your schedule. This could be watching TV after a long day, ordering takeout, sleeping in, cooking at home, going to the gym, or grocery shopping. You’ll need some time to relax and rest so you aren’t completely burned out by the end. Although I didn’t really follow this advice so yes I was completely exhausted and burned out by the time I got home BUT I also had the time of my life so it was worth it.

The Praza do Comercio at night

Enjoy the Rest!

I’ve offered tips above on the planning you can do, but it’s likely you’ll run into surprises. I didn’t expect that my Lisbon apartment would be in an alley that was regularly covered in poo, cigarettes, or trash. I didn’t expect that we couldn’t use the closets and we’d have to stuff all of our clothes into one cabinet. I didn’t expect that the cleaning crew would keep turning our WiFi off by accident. It’s all about your attitude. Sure, you can choose to be upset about these things or you can accept them as part of the experience of living in a new place. Whatever the challenge, you will figure it out! And it’ll make you a stronger, more flexible, and more resourceful person at the end of it.

If you’re planning an extended trip, I hope these tips help you. Have any other questions? Did you find this helpful? Let me know in the comments below.

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