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Being a Nomad – The Magnificent, the Good, the Uncomfortable, and the Ugly

My mom claims my DNA has some “hunter-gatherer” genetic code that just popped up in me from centuries ago. I don’t know much about DNA “markers,” if that is what they are called, but I do know that, from childhood, while other kids were reading Judy Blume and Captain Underpants, I was pouring over National Geographic magazines in the school library and that my favorite Christmas gift of all time was a subscription. (Well, maybe the iPad was, because then I had the digital National Geographic subscription). The point is, I was a born nomad, and there was no way for anyone to convince me otherwise.

Illustration for article titled Being a Nomad – The Magnificent, the Good, the Uncomfortable, and the Ugly

Preparing for the Life

While other students looked for college majors that would get them promising careers, I looked for those that would let me travel. I settled on communications with a minor in journalism.


During college, I began to write for money – website content, blog posts, articles, essays and papers for my peers (shhh – don’t tell anyone) – just to develop skills and promote creativity. It was fun and the money was enough to be able to start a “travel” fund. My goal, of course, was to become a “location independent” freelancer, landing wherever I wanted and making money at the same time.

Living the Dream

My plans and goals have all come to be. Today, my laptop, tablet, phone and I go wherever the “travel muse” takes us, because my work is held in those devices.


There are huge benefits to this lifestyle, especially for a single person. I have spent New Years’ Eves in Moscow and Bangkok; I have had two safaris – in Kenya and South Africa; I have seen the “new and improved” Vietnam, the Great Wall of China, and spent a month in a seaside villa on the Mediterranean. I have climbed mountains, explored coral reefs and been immersed in native Indian cultures in the Andes. Exotic is how some would describe this existence. And yes, it is. There have been and will continue to be experiences that will go to the grave with me.

The Bad and the Ugly

If you are thinking that this is a lifestyle you want to embrace, dear reader, let me give you some perspective – perspective that I did not have when I embarked on this path and that you need to understand before making that leap. Here are some not so great things about the nomadic lifestyle you may be coveting.


1. You Don’t Have Roots

No matter what type of wanderlust may be in a human’s blood, there is also a human desire for roots. We need connections with a community, a place to call “home,” where we are loved and where we can feel emotionally safe. Of course, I have a “home.” It is where my family lives. But understand that you will not be there for events of celebration and sorrow that families and friends are experiencing back home. Emails, phone calls, and Skype are a poor second for physical presence.


My solution is to return home for 4-6 weeks every years. Re-connecting with family and friends is important to my spirit. It gives me time to breathe and exist in that comfort zone of security.

2. It Can be Expensive

While I travel as cheaply as possible and take advantage of every travel offer, all of the free miles, find moderately to low-priced lodging (and there are some horror tales there, too), eat or buy groceries at the least expensive places, it is still expensive. It will be really important during times of high work flow and good income to set money aside to make it through those dry spells. On more than one occasion, I have been reduced to beer and peanuts while waiting for a deposit to show up from a client.


Do not start out on this path without savings. There will be dry spells.

3. Internet Connectivity Can Rule Your Daily Existence

There will be the inevitable issues. You cannot get a connection, and you have a deadline – freaked out stress. So, when you plan your travel, always in the back of your mind is connectivity. While it’s not like punching a time clock back home, it is a factor that controls where you land and stay and how much time you can spend exploring the wilderness (which I love to do). Your solution? You have to plan your work days, perhaps 3-4 a week, and those days you will need to stay where the connection is reliable. If clients know your schedule, they can plan accordingly too. And you have 3-4 days for those nomadic sojourns.


4. You Can Become Inefficient

It’s so easy, particularly when just landing in a new place, to procrastinate and give in to the temptations of seeing the sights and exploring. Then you are holed up in a crappy room hammering out the work that you could have been doing in small chunks all along.


The only antidote for this is to develop a schedule and stick to it. You and your clients will both be happier.

5. You Can Do Damage to Your Body

Even if you park yourself in one spot for a month or two (which I recommend), the temptation is always there to forego the grocery shopping and just grab junk while you are out and about. I fell into this habit early on, gained 15 pounds, and was huffing and puffing while walking up the stairs to my 3rd floor flat. Big mistake. Without healthy eating and a decent amount of exercise, you will not enjoy what each place has to offer. And the experiences of shopping in markets is glorious. So is a run on the beach. Walk more and use cabs and trains less.


6. You Will Feel Isolation

Particularly when you arrive at a new destination, there will be a loneliness that envelops you. You don’t know anyone; your command of the language is mediocre at best; you eat alone and sit in front of your laptop working on the latest project. You walk and shop by yourself. If you are someone for whom human connection is a daily need, then you need to think twice. Fortunately, I am comfortable being alone, at least for short chunks of time, but many others are not. And again, phone calls and Skype only go so far.


The best antidote for this is to travel slowly. Land in a place. Stay in a hotel while you search for a flat or room in a good location. For me, a good location is walking distance to stores, event locations, entertainment, food, and such. Once you settle in, you will have time to meet your neighbors, to frequent the same eating places, etc. and to develop those human connections (and some great friendships, I might add). These roots won’t be permanent, but they will be fulfilling. Often you will meet expatriates from you own country, and they will be wonderful sources of connections.

7. You Won’t Grow Your Business as Fast

You want enough business to sustain you and to provide income that will allow you to be comfortable and enjoy a few luxuries. But accept the fact that you will not grow your business by leaps and bounds like you might back on your “own soil.” You are trading that for this lifestyle right now, so you need to be certain that being a nomad is more important than money at this time in your life. Be certain that you are not going to regret losing some of your big earning time that your friends may be enjoying right now.


Incredible Highs and Lowly Lows

Yes, both of these are shared by us nomads. Nothing can compare to that camel ride and those pyramids in Egypt. I still can conjure up the beauty of an outdoor wedding in a mountaintop village in Nepal. But I can also remember the incredible lows of seeing some very “seedy” sides of existence and the heartbreak of little hands reaching out for food or a coin. I can also remember the lows of feeling utterly isolated in a crappy hotel room I shared with more than one roach or lizards copulating on the walls.


But this is in my blood right now, and until it is no longer, every “high” beats out 100 “lows.” And someday I’ll probably say “enough” and return to my roots – that will be glorious too.

If you choose the life a nomad, you must be prepared for it all. Hopefully, you are a bit closer to your decision now.

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