The nomad life was once a rarity. But with the pandemic, living as a nomad has become mainstream, and now, more people than ever are considering experimenting with the nomad life… researching whether the nomad life is for them.
So you wanna be a nomad and travel the world?
Take it from me, as someone who’s been “nomading” across North America, Europe, and soon-to-be South America for three years now… here are my top pieces of advice, the biggest surprises, and the things I wish I knew earlier — from a nomad, to a nomad.
#1: Identify what attracts you to nomad life, and what you want out of it
The first piece of advice I have for wannabe nomads is to ask yourself what you really want, why you’re attracted to nomad life, and if you’re realistic about what you’re getting into.
- Can you afford it? Have you done the cost-of-living research? Can you handle variability or volatility in your budget?
- Do you like being alone? How comfortable are you meeting people and making friends? What about leaving people behind or watching them leave, as nomads inevitably will?
- How often do you like to change environments, or do you crave routine?
- How comfortable are you with not knowing what’s coming?
- Are you interested because it’s trendy, or because it’s a lifestyle that is calling you?
If you have no idea how to answer these questions, first, you should probably experiment. Try out the nomad life on a small scale and see if you like it — go somewhere for a few weeks and work out the kinks. (This is what I did in the years before becoming a full-time nomad.) All those experiences made me sure that it was a lifestyle I could commit to… and my 1-year nomad life “experiment” has turned into three, and counting.
#2: Don’t underestimate the “start-up costs”
We all know that the decision-making and carrying-out process to become nomadic (offloading your belongings, renting or selling your house/letting go of your apartment, and all the other details) is an absolutely HUGE undertaking. But keep in mind, the effort doesn’t stop there… it’s ongoing.
As you move around from place to place, the mental energy it takes to get your basic needs met — where to sleep, where to eat, how to get around — is no small matter. It is downright EXHAUSTING!
Researching, routing, calculating, configuring — nomads always have to think one step ahead. Not only is it time-consuming, it takes a lot of mental energy. I try to reject this time-suck as much as possible so I make a lot of snap decisions — but sometimes, I wish I would’ve done a little more research or asked a few more questions.
While this constant juggling and navigating is part of what drives personal growth, it also generates decision fatigue. Perhaps understandably, it’s why I vacillate between periods of intense or frequent travel and “slow-mading.” Mexico City is one such example of this — by the time this year is up, I will have spent a total of six months in CDMX during nomad life. That’s the LONGEST period I’ve spent in any one place since I sold my house!
#3: Understand where your discontentment with the status quo is stemming from
When I share that I’m a nomad, some people ask me “What are you running from?” — which implies something went wrong in my life or something horrible happened, causing me to deviate from the cultural norm as if there was no other way to live.
Well, there was no awful breakup, no brush with death, or health scare — nothing momentous to speak of. I wanted a change of pace and a break from complacency — an adventure, a challenge, personal growth, and to satisfy my curiosity about the world around me.
I’m not running or escaping… if anything, I’m running towards the life I’m actively building for myself!
Nomad life has been glamorized by influencers, but it’s not a magic pill. People can change their surroundings, they can change their habits, and they can change the company they keep… but the common denominator is themselves. If that’s where your discontentment stems from, living nomadically will probably make things worse, not better — it’s not for the faint of heart.
#4: You can plan and prepare, but nomad life is “learning on the job”
I share a lot of advice on my blog and social media about what works for me on the nomad life, and I know it helps a lot of people. But nomadism is personal — and I’ve only found my special formula and discovered my secret sauce because I’ve been at this for a while. How I manage it may not work for everyone.
Plus, there are a lot of ways to be a nomad. Perhaps you like to plan and schedule everything out to a tee, while I’m fairly spontaneous. Maybe you want to stay one week in a city, while I generally like to spend a longer period of time in one place.
Bottom line, all the advice in the world is not going to compare to your lived experience. You can subscribe to my blog, download my eBook, talk to me 1:1, and join any number of nomadic Facebook groups, but the best thing to do to learn how to be a nomad is to get out into the world and live the lifestyle!
#5: Life isn’t necessarily built for nomads
I’ve already shared that the nomad life is not an easy one. From the minor inconvenience to extremely frustrating B.S., here are some of the issues I’ve encountered since becoming a nomad (in no particular order)…
- RECEIVING MAIL:
- My vote wasn’t counted in the 2020 election because the postal service wouldn’t deliver my absentee ballot — TWICE — while I was in Montana
- Now that I’m in Mexico, I can’t really receive packages from the U.S. (or at least, as I’m told, good luck with it actually arriving!), so my friends have to “mule” important things in — while most of what I might need I can buy in Mexico, this year, I had a few debit and credit cards expire and I needed replacement cards, which my mom had to mail to a friend who planned to visit from NYC — PLUS, I’m entrusting another friend to bring me my car registration renewal sticker that expires in October
- While there are electronic mail services that can help (in some situations), I am lucky to have my mom to rely on!
- SERVICES AND MEMBERSHIPS:
- Early on in the nomad life while I was cruising around the U.S., I had an auto insurer (Progressive) cancel my insurance policy on me because I and my vehicle were driving around “too much” instead of staying in one place, which is apparently against the terms and conditions (driving in many different out-of-state environments would actually make me a better driver, but whatever)
- I had T-Mobile threaten to shut down my mobile phone account because I used my data primarily outside of the U.S. — while international coverage is a key service they advertise (thankfully, it hasn’t happened yet, but now I do supplement with Mexican data)
- I had to cancel a number of memberships that don’t work or aren’t honored outside the U.S.
- There are websites I can’t access from a foreign IP, so I either have to pay for a VPN or “fuhgeddaboudit”
This is definitely not an exhaustive list, but hopefully, it just gives you an idea of just some of the little things that you’ll have to adjust to and deal with when you become nomadic and/or leave your home country. But hey, it’s a great exercise in becoming a problem-solver!
#6: The things you miss aren’t what you expect
A week ago, I was having lunch with my friend, who recently signed a 1-year lease and moved into a different apartment in Mexico City. “How are you liking it?” I asked her. Lisa proceeded to tell me about the loud neighbors and non-soundproof walls, the tiny garage, and the inconvenient courtyard placement — and her likely plan to move again, when the year was up.
It made me think about my requirements for finding a short-term place to live, as a nomad — the only questions I care to ask are: “Is there parking, is it dog-friendly, what’s the price, is it available to rent in the time frame I want it, and is it within a half hour walk of the places I want to go to?”
When you’re a nomad, life is much more simple. It’s not about whether it’s ideal or perfect, it’s about what WORKS. For example, my current sublet doesn’t have an oven, a TV, or a washing machine — and I totally forgot to ask. No biggie. I have a roof over my head, the price was reasonable, and the time frame perfect — I can deal with going to the laundromat for a few months and watching movies on my iPad. You can deal with anything for a short while, and nomad life is a bunch of short whiles!
For me, nomad life means going back to basics — making due without all the conveniences, luxuries, and things we Americans have come to expect and look for. The things I thought I once really wanted or needed to be happy in my surroundings (vaulted ceilings, a dishwasher, and a walk-in closet) are forgotten.
So, I don’t really miss anything — but I do miss people. Not because we’re no longer physically close to each other, but mainly because the people that I love that I’ve lost touch with are in a much different place than me ideologically vs. geographically. And those rifts got deeper in year two and three, exacerbated by distance and our differing lifestyles.
#7: What I wish I knew earlier about going nomadic
This one’s a bit of a trick, I’ll admit — because everything I’ve learned and experienced on the journey would not change any of the decisions I made or the timing in which I made them. I wouldn’t have started nomad life earlier, because I did it at exactly the right time for me. I wouldn’t have kept my house — even though I would’ve earned rental income, I would have had the unwanted responsibility of owning property. Every mistake or “missed opportunity” has informed me (and you, the reader, who consumes my posts and blogs online) for the future. But maybe, just maybe, I wish I would’ve taken more videos for the ‘gram in those early days!
In love, in money, and career, I’ve not been perfect — but I’ve done my best with the information I had at the time, and I’m so thankful for the growth that this traveling lifestyle, the amazing experiences, and humbling interactions, has afforded me.
If you’re considering nomadism, let me know what’s on your mind, or what’s holding you back — and if you’ve explored nomadism, what else would you add to my list?