Nomad Life is NOT for the Faint of Heart

Is the nomad life for you?

A lot of jobs have gone fully remote. More and more people are considering full-time, work-from-anywhere travel, vagabonding, or work-cationing. But nomad life is NOT, I repeat, NOT for the faint of heart.

I’ve been at this life for over one year in the U.S. (and now Canada!), and it suits me. It really suits me! But I’ve made a point to be honest with you guys. I see people on the web glamorizing this life. And it’s not for everyone. It’s not one-size-fits-all.

I’m telling you this because I’m hearing from people say they’ve come to the painful conclusion their nomad life is not what it’s cracked up to be. It can be a struggle and it has its frustrating moments. Even for me, some days it suits, and other days… it’s exhausting and everything is going wrong. Overall, I think it’s important for a wannabe-nomad to have as many facts as they can — and be fully transparent with themselves.

Here are some truths you need to face if you want to be a nomad!

  1. CAN YOU AFFORD IT?

When you live traditionally with rent or a mortgage, your bills every month are more or less the same. This is not true for nomads who stay in hotels and airbnbs in different cities with varying cost of living. You can have every intention to sticking to a budget — but your expenses vary pretty wildly. If you don’t have an extra cushion and you have an up month, you’ll have to scale way down on extraneous or miscellaneous spending. Can you handle that?

Also, think of all the times you’ve been traveling and something goes wrong — your airbnb cancels on you, you get a flat tire, you lose your wallet — and times that by I-TRAVEL-FULL-TIME. Unexpected costs will come up. Unexpected emotions will come along for the ride.

I have months where my budget is out of control, but I try to take a laissez-faire approach: it’s only money; I’ll make more. If you can’t hack it, if you don’t have wiggle room in your budget, if you’re going to fall apart if you get a big bill, if you need to split costs otherwise you’ll go broke, it’s very possible full-time nomad life is not for you. (Or you need to nomad in a lower-cost-of-living country… like I’m doing at the moment!)

  1. DO YOU LIKE BEING ALONE?

How much do you want or need to lean on friends or travel partners… is it a lot?

How comfortable are you interacting with and trusting strangers… is it a little?

Are you ok doing things — perhaps “risky” things — alone: taking public transportation, going hiking, walking at night in a city you don’t know, meeting up with people on the internet…? 

I don’t think any of these things are inherently risky, but I know some people do. And that’s fine — we’re talking about being honest with ourselves, aren’t we? I travel alone, but I am not always alone. It’s important to me to meet people and make connections on my travels, and I see my existing friends and family a few times a year. But the nomad life, by definition, is largely lived alone. I’m at it alone, with my dog Penny, people mixed in here and there. And that’s perfectly ok with me!

If you can’t fathom the idea of being alone most of the time, maybe the nomad life isn’t for you. Or… maybe try to fathom being alone; try being out alone and doing things alone. Be honest with yourself. Is it dislike, or is it fear?

  1. HOW OFTEN DO YOU LIKE TO CHANGE ENVIRONMENTS? OR DO YOU NEED ROUTINE?

Nomads are on the move a lot. I change cities and “home bases” fairly often… typically every few weeks or so. I never get to settle down, really. I unpack, but then I’m packing up again soon. This can get repetitive, and I think I will slow down in the coming months, but largely, I like the idea of being able to up and go. If you can’t stomach this, if you need comfort and routine and stability, the nomad life may not be for you. (At least at this speed.)

No night is ever the same, sure; but the nomad life is not an endless vacation or party. There are activities and socializing as well as down time where I decompress, read, write, and watch television. There’s adulting: laundry, haircuts, paying bills online. I go to bed early some nights. I’ve struck a balance that’s right for me. What is right for you? What do you really need and why?

  1. HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU WITH VOLATILITY? NOT KNOWING WHAT’S COMING?

Before you decide to be a full-blown nomad, you should experiment with it — that’s what I did, periodically, for several years. I did a ton of traveling, domestic and international, alone and with my dog, by car and by plane, for short and long lengths of time, in hotels and airbnbs and at friends’ houses and even car camping. I experimented a lot so that I knew my temperament and my style. The only way for me to work this out was through EXPERIMENTATION!

But even now, even as an “expert nomad,” I sometimes feel like my life is out of control. I don’t know what to do next or where I’m sleeping or what direction I’ll drive in. At the time of this writing I don’t even know where I’ll be in one week. And while I briefly feel a bit stressed, things always work out, I always figure it out, and sometimes the mystery and drama of how it all unfolds even makes for a good story. (And by the way, this is where number one can prove especially helpful… being able to afford the unexpected, although not all challenges can be sorted out with $!)

In conclusion…

Let me leave you with this quote by the writer Doris Mortman: “Until you make peace with who you are you’ll never be content with what you have” … and perhaps add, if I may be so bold: “or where you are.”

To me, this means: the things you struggle with at home, you’ll also struggle with on the road. You’ll have to nip those at the source. The nomad life itself is not going to solve for my seasonal affective disorder (SAD), unless I constantly chase the sunny locales. The nomad life may allow me to meet more men as a single, traveling woman, but I’m still on my own, making decisions wholly by myself, until my circumstances change. The days I feel in a slump are a product of my mood and external stressors, and they are what they are.

People can change their surroundings, they can change their habits, they can change the company they keep, but the common denominator is themselves. And if your discontent is in any way with yourself… nomadism is not the magic cure. It actually brings a few extra struggles.

My suggestion for aspiring nomads?

  1. Ask yourself what you really want, why you’re attracted to nomad life, and if you’re realistic about what you’re getting into
  2. Experiment and prep; try it out on a small scale first
  3. Always know you can reverse, update, or change course

Happy (and honest) nomading! 😘

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