How Did I Get Here?: From Periodic Traveler to Full-Time Nomad

“What is a Wanderess? Bound by no boundaries, contained by no countries, tamed by no time, she is the force of nature’s course.”

Roman Payne, The Wanderess

Last week, in my latest blog series, “How Did I Get Here?” I told you: I’ve always been a writer… the page my canvas, the written word my medium. 

But, did I ever dream of nomadism? Nope. That later came to me as a complete surprise. 

Like many of you, I went on lots of vacations, both domestic and abroad… and over the years, each trip nourished my soul and whetted my appetite for more.

Childhood to early 20s: Momma didn’t raise no nomad

I’ve often said wanderlust — the urge to travel, roam, and experience uniqueness and unfamiliarity — is part of one’s nature vs. something that’s “nurtured.” I say this because, in short, momma didn’t raise no nomad.

I didn’t grow up going on faraway, exotic, or frequent vacations. My parents didn’t have passports, and never left (or wanted to leave) the country. They weren’t interested in cultural or historical trips, or anything too “strange” — the most foreign vacation we ever had was spending a day at Disneyworld’s EPCOT Park and its international pavilions. 

It might have had something to do with finances, but it had more to do with my parents’ disinterest: we still went on vacations, but they were a certain kind of vacation — with waterparks, roller coasters, and warm weather, an escape from the bleak Minnesota winters I grew up in.  

It wasn’t until age 17 — when I could make a decision of my own — that I left the United States with a youth group and went to Tijuana, Mexico. During the daytime, the group of us built a house for a poor Mexican family — a house the size of an American garage, for a family of four — and during the evenings, we camped at the orphanage, playing with the kids and helping out. It was a humbling experience, and that was when and where I first held Mexico in my heart. 

In the months after Mexico, I went to Hawaii on a high school choir trip. I went on college spring break vacations with friends. At age 19, I went on a study abroad trip to Poland with some classmates, and at 20, I went on my first *solo* trip, from Minnesota to Los Angeles. I would later meet up with my journalism classmates for an event, but I wanted to go early to experience Hollywood on my own for a few days. 

And I fell in love — not with California, and not with a man — but with traveling solo.

Read: Solo Travel is a Gateway Drug (An Autobiography)»

My 20s and early 30s: So little vacation time, so little money

In my 20s and early 30s, I operated under the following assumptions — that international travel would be almost too difficult for someone early in her career with little vacation time, and that international travel was expensive. 

Back when I worked in my second TV newsroom, vacation days (for the entire year!) had to be submitted and approved at the end of the previous year. So I saved and I planned super far ahead for my dream trip and my dream destination: Greece, in 2011.

I would later join a tour group, but I came into Greece early to try my hand again at solo travel. From the Athens airport, I found my way to Piraeus port, and I hopped a ferry to Hydra, a small, idyllic island. I checked into a simple little hotel room, I walked the cobbled streets, and I went to dinner by myself, making conversation with a Canadian couple at the table next to me. Later, I watched a Greek balladier sing at a restaurant, and he later approached me and we shared a carafe of wine and a kiss. I had done it. I had planned and navigated and booked, and I was fine on my own — not just fine, I was victorious!! 

I soon picked up with the group in Athens, where we traveled on to the mainland and several islands, including Mykonos, Santorini, Patmos, and later, Ephesus, Turkey. Even with triple occupancy, the trip was expensive on my salary at the time. I knew I could do it for far cheaper on my own, but that meant I would have to be wholly, fully, self-sufficient.

A completely solo trip would be my next challenge, but it was a while coming — not until 2016. (In the meantime, I went on lots of domestic trips — wine tasting in Temecula, CA, sightseeing in New York City and Boston, vacationing in Cabo San Lucas and Sarasota, FL, and exploring in Colorado Springs, CO… most of them with my boyfriend/s at the time. The trips were not very long, and I was always with accompaniment — so it was not the same.) 

Then, in 2016, after my third serious relationship failed, I decided to go to Costa Rica solo. I enlisted my cousin, who lived in Costa Rica, to help me plan. I was so concerned with doing all the “best” and “right” things, and I was terrified of overspending — because I had just gotten my finances under control. But I knew it was now or never — something I had to do.

Well, Costa Rica was incredible. I went whitewater rafting on the Pacuare River. I hiked the intimidating Cerro Chato Volcano in Arenal National Park, and swam in a crater lake. I relaxed in Baldi Hot Springs, and enjoyed the buffet dinner. I learned all about cacao — how it’s grown, made and processed — and taste-tasted ALL the chocolate. I ziplined above the canopies and frolicked on the beach among monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park. And I took in the most beautiful sunsets I had seen in awhile, my heart healed, my soul refreshed. The entire trip, minus airfare, cost me about $600. The experience uplifted me and opened me up. 

I was determined to do it again, farther and longer. Well, I got my wish a year and a half later, when I was laid off from my dream job.

2017-2020: Life is either an epic adventure, or nothing at all

This part of the story is going to look a lot like a list of countries, but that’s actually kinda how it went down. I was actually doing it — SOLO TRAVEL!!

But first, this layoff was probably the biggest LESSON and biggest BLESSING of my life. Was it a BLESSON? I mean, let’s coin that right here and now.

Getting let go of that gig and how I subsequently spent my unintentional 5-month sabbatical completely changed my outlook on life. (Read my prior entry for more deets on that gig.) When else in my life will I have months of paid-for vacation time (because of my severance package)? I gotta take advantage of this! I convinced myself. Even though I was terrified of overspending (again), I didn’t know when or if I’d ever see this opportunity — so I cashed in my frequent flier miles on a one-way flight to Madrid.

I planned my entire trip to a T, and of course, my plans went off track — but for the first time, that was ok. I was going with the flow. I was living in the moment. I was being spontaneous and leaving room for love and surprises. (You just can’t “pencil” those in.)

I went to Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Belgium, and the UK… in four weeks. I lived out of a backpack, I did my own laundry, and I lived (and THRIVED) with less. 

Read: Lessons from an Expert International Traveler: Sharing the Early Mistakes I Made (So You Don’t Make Them Too)»

When I got back to the states, I soon got another job — and I hatched a plan. I was NOT letting vacation time or money stop me from traveling internationally as much as I could.  (I got serious about saving and minimizing, which I share here.)

I went to Ecuador in October. I went to Paris in March. Alaska in July, Ireland in October, and Berlin in November. In 2019, I went to Colombia in March. Toronto in July. Portugal and the Netherlands in November. Most of these trips abroad were vacations (IE: I took PTO), but when I traveled the U.S., I would work remotely from my destinations and explore on weeknights/weekends. (Like the time I went to New Orleans for Christmas, just me and my dog.) This brings us to 2020…

Read: Why I DON’T Plan My Trips Abroad»

2020: My footsteps, since embarking on nomad life

Even though “nomad life” officially started on September 4, 2020, when the sale of my house closed and I drove away with all my belongings and my dog in my SUV… I feel like this journey actually started much earlier. But, just in short bursts, like I alluded to above — traveling to this or that city, working-from-anywhere, and dealing with travel and time zones.

In fact, I was traveling in New Mexico and Texas when the pandemic hit, in March 2020, and I had rented out my house. 

Read: How I Turned My Primary Residence Into a Vacation Rental (And Tested Out Nomad Life)»

March 2020 was a scary time with all the news coverage, the closures, and the isolation, and at the time, all I wanted to do was be home. But when I got back home, to Phoenix, at the end of the month… it was only a matter of days until all I wanted was to be back on the road.

In June, I road-tripped and car-camped, to Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, Minnesota, and South Dakota solo. During that trip, I decided — I would sell my house and become a nomad vagabond, traveling 24-7.

And this is a short list of some of the incredible things I’ve been blessed to experience since nomad life “officially” began:

  • Visiting nine U.S. national parks (Zion, Arches, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Everglades, Mammoth Cave, New River Gorge, Acadia) and Saguenay National Park in Canada 
  • Hiking my farthest hike ever: 17.2 miles on Highline Trail in Glacier National Park
  • Living on a moored catamaran in Miami for two and a half weeks
  • Seeing the Blue Hole of Belize by small airplane and snorkeling with whale sharks
  • Following the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and wine tasting all around the world
  • Going bouldering for the first time (what a rush!)
  • Ocean kayaking in Maine
  • Exploring gorgeous Quebec City and Mont-Tremblant in Canada
  • Attending a fútbol game at legendary soccer stadium Estadio Azteca
  • Sampling fried grasshoppers and artisanal mezcal in Oaxaca
  • Waterfall jumping and whitewater rafting in Huasteca Potosina, a jungle region of Mexico
  • Visiting Disney-inspired Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul 
  • Sailing the Turquoise Coast of Turkey, on the Marmaris Peninsula, with a group of four friends
  • Visiting 13 countries in Europe in 16 weeks: Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia
  • Driving 12,000 kilometers (to date) in Mexico, spanning half the country, and becoming a Mexican temporary resident in 2023

And I’ve been asked, “What’s the most extraordinary thing you’ve seen while traveling?”

My answer? The most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen — I haven’t seen yet… because I haven’t seen it all (and I plan to). But I’ll let you know when I do.  ❤️ 

Them: “What’s the most extraordinary thing you’ve seen while traveling?” Me: “I haven’t seen it yet, because I’m still going.” #nomadlife #solotravel

The moral of the story? I’ve always had this “nature” inside me, but I never thought a lifestyle like this was possible, until I opened my mind. And now, I’m here to open your mind and be that role model that an alternative lifestyle is POSSIBLE, FULFILLING and ATTAINABLE. If you dream it, you can do it. Take it from me: sometimes whetting your wanderlust fuels the fire instead of smothering it.

The nomad life is not without its challenges, it’s rarely as glamorous as it looks, and I still need to be highly conscious of my spending… but I wouldn’t be living my life any other way. 😘 

To be continued with Chapter 3 next week ❤️

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