Lessons I have learned from Being a Nomad for 4 years
‘Stuff’ will never, ever, ever replace ‘experiences’
I’ve swam with dolphins in the wild, hiked up active volcanos, eaten with the Masai people in villages of Kenya. I’ve walked with lions, and flown in hot air balloons, and touched waterfalls in hidden jungles few have ever explored. My office has been hundreds of beaches around the world, and my suitcase deserves its own passport. No amount of clothing, or cars, or fancy houses could ever compare to the moments I’ve been blessed with on my travels. Night diving with manta rays and kissing under the stars in the middle of the Pacific Ocean while mammals hum their lullaby’s is one of a few thousand memories that will forever be etched into my heart.
Banking can be a nightmare + cost a small fortune
International banking fees. Need I say more? But honestly, I have accounts in five different currencies. Transferring money, paying bills, and replacing lost or stolen credit cards is a nightmare. So much so that banking deserves its own moment on this list.
Holidays can be the hardest
When you’re home, holidays represent freebie days off work and special hangs with loved ones. On the road, it means a very poignant reminder of just how far away from home you are. It’s easy to feel lonely on these days and disconnected from the people you care most about. I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving or my birthday in YEARS, and I’ve definitely shed a few tears on these days.
You still need somewhat of a routine
Even though life is really never the same from day to day, it’s still important to have structure because otherwise hours blend into days and days blend into weeks and it’s easy to be unproductive. Working out, eating healthy meals, getting decent sleep, and having boundaries around remote work + play time are critical to enjoying life on the road.
It never gets old
Four years later, I still have moments where I wake up in a beautiful new country, and say “Is this seriously my life?”. I’ve been to so many countries but there are SO, SO, SO many more to still explore.
Sometimes the most unexpected places provide the greatest experiences
As with most things in life, putting destinations on a pedestal can sometimes result in some disappointment. And on the flip side, destinations that you travel through en route to your final destination, can sometimes be filled with the most magic. On our Italian road trip this summer, we stopped for lunch in a little village we had never heard of, and had the best meal of our entire summer.
It’s normal to miss having one home base but the feeling really does pass
Living out of a suitcase can get to you. Visiting friends and family who have stability, and security, and structure can sometimes get you to question your lifestyle choice. Being able to have a full pantry, and a normal routine, and block parties with the neighbours can start to sound nostalgic. When this happens, we extend our stays in Canada with our family, and after about six weeks we realize we are ready to hit the travel path again.
It’s really, really, really hard to walk away from a life of non stop adventure
Having a baby has forced us to consider what our future plans are: where will she go to school, where will we have a regular paediatrician and her vaccinations done, where can we start putting her in social activities? These questions have led us down the journey of figuring out if there is one place in this world we could be happy long, long term, where would it be? We circle the drain on about three cities, and then that’s about where it ends. Committing to one place is paralyzing. After so much flexibility and spontaneity and freedom, it’s going to be an adjustment to hand in our wings for some roots.
There are tough days
On the other hand, setting up roots in one place would make some aspects of life SO MUCH EASIER. One bank, one doctor, one mailing address, one drivers license, one daycare, one school etc. AND WHOLEFOODS! I kiss the ground of that grocery store every time I get to one… access to kombucha and healthy treats and smoothie bars are luxuries after many of the places of this world we explore. So much of our time and energy is spent on co-ordinating logistics, planning flights and hotels, expediting important documents to destinations before we leave for the next, co-ordinating dates with special occasions in Canada. It is literally a full time job to plan our year’s trips and most of our trips are planned a year in advance. Although, there is always room for lots of changes within those places. Our hardest days have us hitting our heads against the wall wondering why the hell we continue to put ourselves through unnecessary, complicated situations. But then after hitting the dusty trail and watching the sun rise over an untouched natural wonder, we are reminded about why it’s worth all the headaches.
Your heart will forever be in multiple places simultaneously, You are never not missing someone
This is probably the hardest one for me. I have a baby brother who is 12 and I have never gone longer than 6 weeks without seeing him- that is my non negotiable. I either fly home for a quick stay or he comes to a cool destination to meet us. We also struggle with the guilt of keeping our baby away from her grandparents and uncles and aunts and other baby friends. And after living in so many amazing cities in the world, you realize nowhere on Earth is perfect and you are always comparing the different reasons other places are calling your name. Whether it’s a favourite restaurant, a friend, a cultural norm, or the language, it’s easy to feel pulled in multiple directions.
Homemade food is gold
Eating out is not the treat it used to be. Especially with my vegan diet, we have found ourselves selecting destinations around food options more and more. In countries like Japan where vegan is completely unheard of, we never stay somewhere without a kitchen. It’s so important to ensure you are able to get all your nutrients in, no matter what!
Charades is an essential skill set when you cant speak the local language
It used to be my least favourite game ever, and now I am the QUEEN of it. I can communicate non-verbally with anyone and anything and get my point across. It’s amazing how much is communicated without speaking in this world: a hug, a smile, a beer cheers, a dance, an eye roll, a nod… there is so much going on without words being spoken.
Nothing beats face time
Yes, FaceTime is LIFE when you need to connect with your tribe back home, but it can never compare to the real deal. This is true especially for our friends…. our heart breaks over the parties we have missed, the dinners we can’t attend, the silly nights out we aren’t a part of. A quick coffee date isn’t the same as multiple moments spent together just doing life together. Although true friends can handle the distance, it never gets easier and it certainly is a very BIG price we pay for our lifestyle.
You can skip seasons altogether
Since we are sun bums, our prerogative is always to chase summer. We have forgotten what it’s like to spend months and months in rain and clouds and snow and sleet, and yearn for sunshine and pina coladas on a tropical island. We are totally spoilt with this and is definitely going to be one of the worst parts about anchoring down, especially if it’s in a Canadian city.
You learn to trust strangers and make quick friends but yearn for a deeply-rooted community
I have LOVED how travelling has exposed me to the best parts of humanity. We have been really lucky to have had such beautiful moments with so many diverse communities, and it’s a lesson I will always hold close to me. PEOPLE ARE GOOD. No matter their religion or race or language or historical context, MOST people BY FAR are truly wonderful. It’s easy to avoid the cliquey mannerisms of familiar friendship circles when you are constantly meeting so many interesting, phenomenal humans. It pushes you and stretches you and challenges you to disrupt your beliefs, and cement your values, and explore the unknown. However, the transient nature of these friendships mean that they are seasonal, and although that doesn’t diminish their value whatsoever (they can last a lifetime, even as distance between friends)… there is a lot to be said for nurturing relationships in one place with one community and growing within that space over a long period of time. Saying goodbye’s becomes the norm, but it never gets easier. So, being able to create friendships you know you’ll probably always have around you is really invaluable. When it comes to entrepreneurship and business development, this is especially critical. It’s hard to expand a business without having it anchored in a very focused, core community that supports it. One of my favourite quotes is “a tree can only grow as tall as it’s roots are deep”… and this definitely resonates with me in terms of our lifestyle and changing communities.
Your resume doesn't get you as far
Neither does your reputation, which can both work for or against you. You are a blank slate, a white canvas to everyone you meet. They don’t care what you’ve done, where you’ve worked, what school you went to. You get a few short minutes to reveal your human being-ness, they don’t care about your human doing-ness. Are you kind? Are you caring? Are you authentic? Are you easy to get along with? Are you a solid human? These things matter more than your network or your accomplishments, because chances are you’re from opposite corners of the world and they just don’t matter. It’s hard to grow in a place you’ve lived all your life if people are always judging you based on your past or your reputation; labels and identities can be damaging to pushing the envelope and blossoming into your true self. This is so, so, so much easier done away from home where you can experiment with who you are, what you like, who you surround yourself with. However, when the world is cruel, you can’t curl into your bestie and cry on her shoulder. You have to dig deep and really find that inner strength, really discover who you are outside of your childhood influence, and then be confident in that person moving forward.
Outside of the obvious demon of travel – jet lag, the nomadic lifestyle can be really tiring. Sleeping in different beds, on different mattresses, in airports, on red eye flights, and anywhere else you can squeeze in a snooze can be hard on your body. I’ve become such a sleep snob that I travel with my pillow now, so at least I know I won’t wake up with the dreaded neck pain of a bad mattress and pillow! This wasn’t an issue when I was 18 and travelling for summers, but now at 28 travelling full time I really do feel the difference of getting a great sleep. Navigating new cities and driving on opposite sides of the road, and questioning road signs in foreign languages also takes its toll. The thrill of this part of an adventure can get stale fast, and we have learnt not to confuse “travelling” with “vacationing”. We now allocate certain trips as purely vacation trips so that we just relax and everything is easy and there’s not much moving involved. It allows us the recovery time to be able to enjoy the travelling trips again; the ones where we don’t know where the hell we are, or where we are going, or what we are eating, or where we will be sleeping. It’s all about the balance!
Many places will feel like home
The second hardest question you can ask me, is “where are you from?”. The short answer: Canada. The long answer… well it’s WAY too long. But then the #1 hardest question for me to answer is, “where is home for you?”. This question is not only hard for me to answer, it’s actually impossible. Is my home where I was born? Where I grew up? Where my old furniture is stored? Where our mortgage is? Where my family lives? Where I am studying my masters? Where my passport is from? Where I am considered a local? Where I currently pay rent? Where my soul feels happiest? Each of these answers points to a different place. South Africa, Germany, Canada, Hawaii, Vanuatu, Japan … I have decided that ‘home’ for me is not a geographical place, but it’s where my heart beats. And that is with my husband, B, and our daughter, Isla. Thus, home truly is wherever we are all together. Cliche perhaps, but it’s the purest answer I can come up with these days.
But you will still have a favourite
I have my favourite countries for different reasons: Mexico for happy memories with so many friends; Italy for our wedding and the food and the way it has healed me in so many ways; South Africa for my childhood and where my family lives and where I’ve dedicated so much of my heart; Canada because it’s where I grew up and have made the most of my friendships and I strongly identify with the culture; Greece for the island hopping and parties and once again, the drool worthy food, and all that gorgeous architecture; Malawi because the people are the most beautiful I have ever met and their generosity puts the rest of the worlds to shame; Saint Maarten because it’s where I fell in love with my husband and was my first time to the Caribbean all those years ago; London, England because it reminds me of my mom and my heritage; Vanuatu because I have never seen more beautiful beaches in my life; Thailand because it was the best New Years B and I have ever ever had and probably ever will have (ask me about it later, it’s one for the books!)… but then there is Hawaii.
I never grew up there, but I grew into myself there. I soothed my soul there. I found true joy there. I made lifelong friendships in seconds there. It is hands down the only place I have ever, ever, ever, ever truly without a doubt felt that I belonged and could commit to forever. It’s my souls home. We tied the knot there (legally), we nested there as a first time married couple, and we found out we were expecting our baby there. It truly is a serendipitous, sacred home for me. And for that reason it will always be my absolute favourite.
Returning to your original home can be the scariest thing of all
You may have picked up on the complexity of ‘home-ness’ and belonging, and the myriad ways in which nomadic life means your life’s tapestry is a collage of hundreds of people and places and moments around the globe. So what happens when you decide to hang up the travel boots and take a deep breath in one place and call it ‘home’? Well, I’ve heard it can be the most liberating thing you ever do. I have also heard, if that place happens to be where you are originally from it can be extremely difficult. Because going back to a place that hasn’t changed, while you are a completely new person, means you have to find your place anew within a place your comfort zone was a given. And that’s tough. It means letting go of old friendships, it means letting go of old social circles, it means letting go of old expectations. The thought of returning home for good and having to really establish my life once again in my old city is actually a lot more frightening than starting new in another city. Perhaps that means it’s just not my time yet, or that it was never meant to be my forever home, or that I’m a big scaredy cat for no reason. Whatever it is, four years later, I know that we have lived an epic life on the road. And no, it’s not perfect. It’s hard as hell a lot of the time. But my god, it feels good to feel ALIVE. To feel AWAKE. To feel AWE at nature and creation and the goodness of humans. To show my daughter that this world is bright and beautiful and although they say it’s small, it’s actually ENORMOUS. And most of all, it’s all hers for the taking.
My bones are starting to whisper that they’re ready for the next adventure soon, and I have an inkling that looks a lot like setting up camp in one place for the next little while. And I know I will soon be ready for that. I’m not ready to give up the adventure, or the no-monday monday’s, or the tantalizing buzz of exploring new places. But more and more I’m leaning into the idea that having a very strong anchor in one place, from which to travel from every now and then, might just be the perfect way to blend the best of both worlds.
Finally, if you’re wondering if its worth it to give it all up and take the risk to see the world? My answer is a resounding YES! Do it. For yourself, for our planet, for humanity. Because it’s impossible to see the world in all its glory and not to want to protect it, and not want to be kind to strangers, and not want to be a better human. Will it be easy? No way! It might be one of the hardest things you will ever do. But your life will be your own, and your energy will be spent in ways that feed your soul, and that exhilarating echo of being truly free from consumption and corporate greed and the rat race, will allow you to grow in ways you can’t even begin to comprehend.