The 23rd June 2020 will mark a significant milestone for me: Five years living a nomadic life.
Traveling through 20 countries, not paying rent anywhere, and never in one place for more than a couple of months at most – being nomadic is an exciting life of true freedom. Although it isn’t always easy, it makes me feel alive every day.
I know a lot of you may be reading this and thinking why the hell would you willingly choose to be homeless? Don’t you miss being surrounded by mountains of your own stuff? Having your own bed/routines/a constant friend group etc?
Well, not really. Not enough to stop anyway.
I understand that living a nomadic lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Hell, it’s not for most people. But this life is for me, for now at least. I don’t want to stop living this nomadic life any time soon, at least not completely. Being a Digital Nomad really suits me.
But in saying that, there are aspects of everyday life that I do miss, and I relish when I get to dip into that life again for a week, two weeks, a couple of months at a time. Normalcy is a novelty to me now, and in that context I really quite enjoy it.
But I know that if I re-enter that world for too long then it will become my norm again, and those feelings of anxiety, depression and being trapped will most probably raise their ugly heads: That is what has happened in the past.
One day we do want our own place. A tiny home in the mountains of Colorado and a piece of land in my home country of New Zealand is the dream. And I do believe it is an attainable one. It is a dream we have already started working towards.
But even in this more ‘stable’ dream of a future life, we would only plan to live in our tiny dream home for around half the year, traveling or living overseas for the other half.
I don’t want what’s normal in society to become my normal, it’s better for me if it stays a novelty. That way I won’t come to hate it.
Maybe you have toyed around with giving this life a try too? For those of you out there that are thinking that the carefree life of a nomad sounds right up your alley, read on to find out what this life is really like: The good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Truth About Living a Nomadic Lifestyle
The Good of Living a Nomadic Life
I don’t want to scare you off so I am going to start with the good things that come with this lifestyle.
The most obvious positive point of living a nomadic lifestyle is the sheer freedom you have. The countless possibilities of where you can go and what you can do can be overwhelming – but I think in a good way. The world truly is your oyster.
Knowing that I am not chained down to one place by a mortgage, car payments, a career, or even kids, is the best feeling for me. It excites me. I feel excited to wake up everyday. I get a deep sense of connection with the world as a whole from travel and a big part of that is the freedom it gives me.
Disclaimer: I do understand that some people live nomadic or semi-nomadic lives with a career, a mortgage and kids, but it is certainly easier when you have nothing holding you back.
You may be surprised to hear that living a nomadic lifestyle can actually be much cheaper than living a regular life in one place.
What I was paying just for rent for my half of a two-bedroom apartment in Sydney, is the same as my total living costs on most months these days. And that was just my rent! No bills, transport costs, food shopping, money for entertainment….
There are a number of ways we choose to travel cheaply some small and some large – like house sitting, staying in affordable Airbnbs, motels and hostels, sleeping in our van (when we are in the US), staying with generous family and friends, traveling through cheaper countries, living within our means in regards to food and drink, traveling with a re-usable water bottle with a built-in filter so we don’t have to buy bottled water in countries where you can’t drink from the tap, not spending like crazy on gadgets, clothing, shoes etc.
We are minimalists and don’t have or want a lot of stuff. And we also try to travel as eco-consciously as possible.
Honestly, I don’t need a lot of money or things to be happy – just having my freedom and the ability to go out and enjoy life is priceless.
Experiencing the World
I have learnt so much about people and different cultures through my 14 years of traveling and living abroad – and these experiences have been even more ramped up since I started living a nomadic way of life.
Being exposed to different countries and their cultures has made me a more empathetic and open person, it has made me see that most people are good and that we are all essentially the same.
So much of the hate that is put out into the world is from ignorant people who are scared of anyone and anything that is different – if they went out into the world and really experienced it, I believe that a lot of hateful views would be changed.
Getting to travel the world, experiencing its natural beauty and its affronting poverty, the good and the bad, it changes you. I am a different person than I was before I started traveling and I like myself so much better now.
It Builds Character
You face a lot of challenges living a nomadic lifestyle – challenges you wouldn’t necessarily face if you are living in a bubble of work/home/sleep repeat.
There are times where I am constantly out of my comfort zone, like traveling through countries where I don’t speak the language, dealing with cultural differences, navigating an unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar country to name but a few.
You learn how to think on your feet, to stay calm in difficult situations, and to problem-solve like you have never problem solved before.
Sometimes it is tough, but it makes the sweet taste even sweeter. Living a nomadic lifestyle builds both character and confidence – both of which are so very important to any kind of lifestyle.
You Learn so Much
Being immersed in a place is an amazing way to learn about its history, but it’s also an amazing way to see how other people live: what’s important to them, what they hold true.
It is easier to learn a different language if you are surrounded by it every day, if you are interested in Parisian cuisine – then take cooking classes in Paris, if you want to know more about the wildlife of Africa – then do a safari in Tanzania or Kenya, if you want to learn how to salsa – then take lessons in Cali, Colombia, the salsa capital of the world.
The best place to learn about something is at its source, and if you are nomadic – you can go to a lot more places and learn a lot more than if you only have two weeks to travel a year.
Happiness. Some say this is the meaning of life and the purpose for our being here, at least the Dalai Lama and Aristotle think so. Who am I to disagree?
Living this life has made me happier than I ever could have imagined. I am not saying that my life is perfect – it certainly isn’t – but the fact that I am living a life that is true to myself means more to me than I can say.
I used to push against a nomadic lifestyle, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t really what I wanted, that just traveling for a few weeks a year would be enough, but for me, it isn’t.
I never thought a nomadic lifestyle would be possible for me as my ex wasn’t interested in living like this and that was the man I was going to marry.
Even though it hurt like hell, I freed us both and now we are both living the lives that we always dreamt of.
The Bad of Living a Nomadic Life
But the good always comes with the bad…
Bad internet connections so you can’t get your work done (a digital nomad horror story if there ever was one), horrible hotel rooms that looked lovely in the pictures, a client dropping you at the last-minute, being robbed in a faraway country, civil unrest in the country you are planning to visit next – there is so much uncertainty in a nomadic lifestyle, some things small and some not so much.
There will be anxiety and disappointment – maybe more so than in an everyday existence – and it can get you down sometimes.
I do think that the good does outweigh the bad in the end though, and you really need to learn quickly to just go with the flow and take things as they come.
Missing Friends and Family
One of the worst things about the nomadic lifestyle is the lack of community. If you are used to being surrounded by family and friends, then suddenly not having them right there will feel like a shock, and you will feel lonely at times.
While meeting people on the road is a lot of fun, sometimes you just want to see a person that knows you well and has been in your life for a long time. Luckily you can get around this by living a nomadic life only part of the time, or by making regular trips back home.
The fact that I have been prioritizing my time by spending a least a month of the year in New Zealand and another three months or so a year in Colorado where Toby’s family lives for the past few years has made this a nonissue for me, most of the time.
You Can’t Have Pets
One of the things I miss the most from having a more traditional life is having a cat. I am a cat-less crazy cat lady and it just ain’t right.
Luckily with all the housesitting we do, I do get a good dose of kitty (and doggy) love, but I am dreaming of the day when I can have my own kitty again.
Your Health Can Suffer
Exhaustion, weight gain, anxiety, depression, allergies – all kinds of health issues can crop up if you are moving too fast or for too long. I actually have a lot more issues with anxiety and depression when I am not on the road, but weight gain has been a very real problem for me.
A couple of years ago I was the heaviest I have been since I lived in London nearly ten years ago (damn Heathrow injection), and even though I know I wasn’t ‘fat’, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin.
There are good fitness apps and websites these days that help with keeping your health on track when you are traveling, and I am definitely keen to try them in the future.
I have since lost some of the weight I had been stockpiling but my weight is very up and down. It is difficult to maintain a healthy weight when you are traveling all the time – wanting to try new dishes and not finding the time to exercise.
And I love food – including lots of delicious things that are definitely not good for me – so it is a struggle to be good when you can’t click your brain off I’m on holiday! I can eat whatever I want! mode. The struggle is real.
Exhaustion is definitely another health issue that has reared its ugly head at times when I having been moving too fast, and I have had a couple of mini breakdowns because of it.
I’m starting to learn that I can only do fast trips for short amounts of time otherwise it will not be fun for anyone (poor Toby has been known to take the brunt of my frustrations in the past – luckily he is the most chilled guy ever).
The biggest worry in my life since becoming a nomad has been money – although it seems like that is a lot of people’s biggest worry, nomadic or not.
Over the past five years, I have made my money from working as a Virtual Assistant, and doing short-term contracts when I was back home in New Zealand or in the U.S. once I got my Green Card, as well as a small and sporadic income from this blog.
I never know how much I am going to receive each month so it does worry me that I will run out of money and have to sleep in my van down by the river – oh wait, I’m already living that lifestyle. Nevermind.
It Can Feel Like you are Always Taking
I hate feeling like I am not giving back as much as I am taking, and that’s how it feels sometimes when we stay with friends and family.
Both Toby and I are very lucky to have such incredible families that are so supportive of our lifestyles, and I love that we get to spend a lot of quality time with these special people by staying with them, but I am also looking forward to when we can give back.
Once we build it, the door to our tiny home will always be open to visitors, especially to the people who have done so much for us.
The Ugly of a Nomadic Life
You May Never Want to go Back to an Ordinary Life
OK, so I couldn’t think of anything really ugly about this lifestyle so I copped out. It’s true though, if you really take to this lifestyle, it will be hard to slot back into a regular life. Once you know what is out there, how can you turn your back on the whole world and just live in one small part of it?
I know a lot of travelers will disagree with me here and that’s fine – to each their own. One day I may want to settle down but I sincerely doubt that will be in a full-time capacity – although part-time would be just fine.
I plan to travel for the rest of my life. It is my reason for living, my one true passion, my calling and my everything. There is more in my life than just travel, but it is a massive part of who I am and I won’t apologize for that.
Some people feel the need and the want to have babies, or to work hard climbing the corporate ladder, or to own ten cars and a gigantic house – my need and want is to continue traveling, learning, and experiencing the world itself. I don’t care if I am broke forever, this lifestyle is worth so much more than money.
And living like this – nothing makes me happier.
So do you think a nomadic lifestyle would be a good fit for you?
My Digital Nomad Packing List
I highly recommend the Osprey Fairview or Farpoint 40L packs – they are the perfect carry-on size, are comfortable and durable, and have lots of pockets to organize your stuff. Use packing cubes for further organization.
I love my Birkenstocks, which are great for walking long distances as they have great foot support, and they look stylish.
Another must-have for me when I am traveling through countries where I can’t drink the tap water, is this GRAYL Re-usable Water Bottle with Built-in Filter. It will end up saving you so much money and it is better for the planet.
I also swear by these silicone earplugs which are a million times better than any other earplugs I have ever tried, and if you have small ear canals like me, you can pull them apart easily to make them the perfect size for you.
For more ideas for what I pack for this lifestyle, check out my Sri Lanka Packing Post and these tips for carry-on stylish travel.
The Best Travel Insurance for Digital Nomads
If you are a Digital Nomad, it is so important to get travel and health insurance that will suit your needs.
Safety Wing is my go-to and they are cheap, easy to claim with, cover COVID, and it auto-renews every month so you don’t have to think about it. I love that I didn’t have to pay a giant lump sum at the start of my travels for a policy, and that I didn’t have to try and figure out how long I would need it for – the auto-renewal is so great!
Safety Wing also allows you to sign up when you are already traveling, unlike a lot of other travel insurance providers.
If you are planning to live in other countries for more than a couple of months and want more comprehensive medical insurance, then Safety Wing just launched a Remote Health plan that is perfect for nomads and remote workers.
There is also full coverage in your home country (at an extra cost for the US and a couple of other countries), and no exclusions for pandemics.
If you liked this post, check out my yearly recap posts to find out what my nomadic life looks like, and what it costs:
- Digital Nomad Life: 2017 in Review
- Digital Nomad Life: 2018 in Review
- Digital Nomad Life: 2019 in Review