24 Life Lessons From 24 Months of Being a Nomad

I’m unsure about a lot of things. I’m not sure if I’m a full-time traveler or a nomad or an expat. I abhor labels. But words are labels and we have to use words to communicate (I haven’t quite mastered the telepathy thing yet). I do know that I’ve learned a lot. And many of these lessons are applicable to life in general (not just travel).

I left home over two years ago. I didn’t have a long-term plan. I still don’t. In the two years, I have bounced around to 9 different countries but stayed the longest in 3. That’s not much compared to many ‘digital nomads’ who eat countries like skittles. But that’s not my style. Which brings us to #1 on the list.

  1. You create your own style of travel, your own style of life.

Some like it fast. Some like it slow. I’m with the fuddy-duddy slow crowd. Maybe it’s my age (36). Maybe it’s my personality. But packing up every weekend is nauseating to even think about. I do well with a few short trips here and there, but couldn’t make that my full-time style of living. Instead, I take it slow.

  1. Don’t force yourself to do what seems trendy/cool/world-saving.

For me, this applies to learning languages. I don’t like learning languages half as much as I thought I did. I loved the idea. Not the process. So, I’ve stopped forcing myself. Yes, learning languages is valuable. But so is my happiness. I haven’t completely abandoned language learning. I’m just not forcing it. When it feels like I’m struggling and spending way more hours complaining about the process, than being engaged in it, I stop.

  1. Keep in touch with people.

My memories often feel like a carousel of distant people and countries. Most of which are part of the past with no connection to the present. Sometimes I feel uneasy just thinking about this. So, now, if I’ve made a genuine connection with someone, I make an effort to keep in touch, to foster the connection, and participate in  growing that relationship.

  1. Wherever HOME is for you, go there whenever needed.

For some, home is the blank canvas, a place to write, a meditation corner, a prayer mat or something else. For others it’s a physical place that’s comforting and familiar.

Home is a place to take off your uncomfortable shoes, strip bare, recharge, and release.

I have a few homes which include physical and spiritual places. When I’m feeling exhausted, I don’t hesitate to wander home and stay for as long as I need.

  1. Pay attention to your health.

When we get busy or stressed (or both), we tend to sacrifice healthy habits first with a barrage of excuses. Don’t do it. You’ll always regret it. Always.

  1. Tarzan isn’t the king of the jungle, Wifi is.

The internet is the tool I use to continue to fund my travels. My life. Whatever tool you use (even if that’s a job), don’t take it for granted. It’s a necessity for you right  now. There have been times when my own poor planning messed me up royally (like the time I booked an apartment in Mallorca, Spain that I knew didn’t have internet or the time I jumped into a cab leaving Berlin airport with no cash on hand). And other times when it was unexpected (the time I booked an airbnb in Barcelona, Spain and was assured of WiFi, but got there and the WiFi wasn’t working)

  1. There are times you will feel like EVERYTHING is going wrong.

Yes, everything. Like the time I had my credit card electronically hacked and then dropped and cracked my smartphone rendering it inoperable. Learning to cope with these unwanted occurrences is part of our growth. One piece of advice: make preparation your best friend. She comes with benefits.

Preparation is a boring, nerdy noun, but it will save your ass time and again. Do all the geeky prep before you leave. If I had been better prepared when my phone dropped, I wouldn’t have been so devastated. I do have a smart phone now, but I also have a small old school analog phone that I buy local sim cards for. Those phones are like cockroaches. They’re invincible. They don’t need much charge (there are no apps draining the battery) and they are rock-solid-tough (I’ve dropped it 10,673,982 times. Yes, I’ve counted).

  1. Smile.

I’ve learnt that when you are lost, frustrated, and exhausted, a smile can go a long way. People are always more open to help.

I think people don’t smile much anymore. Maybe this is just my theory. Of course, this changes based on location. It’s funny how some cities are more smiley than others. Some days I count how many people smile back at me when I smile at them; it’s one of the weird games I play in my head.

  1. Do you know what matters most for you?

Places? Relationships? Food? Language? Money? Your spirituality? Helping others?

What matters most in your life? Figure it out and make that thing -those things- your TOP priority. Be selfish if you have to. Ignore haters (hate that word), but don’t stray from your priorities (unless it’s an emergency).

  1. Be open

There are people and places that are outside of your ‘what’s-normal-and-acceptable-zone’ (like the temple in India filled with rats). Get over it. The more negative energy you spend focusing on things that are out of your norm, the less energy you have for your life priorities (see #9 above).

  1. Connecting with many people is not the same as deeply connecting with a few.

You know the saying, quality of quantity? I think it was coined referring to relationships.

  1. Movement doesn’t always mean freedom.

The digital nomad community is filled with freedom talk. Be free, travel the world.  It’s inspiring, and I get it. In fact, all that talk was part inspiration for my own leap. But this is not my idea of freedom. In fact, when I am struggling to find fast WiFi, I don’t feel free at all. This is just my chosen lifestyle, for now. I may settle somewhere and feel free in that one place. Don’t get movement confused with idealistic slogans and ideas.

  1. Be grateful where ever you are.

Enough said.

  1. Some things you will miss and never quite get over

There are some things you will miss. And nothing will fill that void. Family, close friends, your car, being able to express yourself without using a language translator, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and much more. Be flexible, adapt, keep smiling. There will always be things that are removed from your life -by choice or not by choice. Adapt. Then adapt some more.

  1. Different cultures have their own standards for courtesy/politeness.

If that bothers you, you’ll have a hard time on the road. You’ll also have a problem in most major cities where you (hopefully) interact with people of different cultures. The less you assume they ‘should’ behave a certain way, and the more you just accept them for how they are, the less angst you place on yourself. Again, this is wasted energy.

  1. Don’t book tickets (or make major life decisions) when you are feeling down/lonely/sad/etc.

There’s a funny thing that happens when you are emotionally down. That funny thing is a cloud of misjudgment and not-so-wise decisions. Give yourself as much time as needed to make these decisions so you avoid regrets later.

  1. Wherever you are, BE THERE!

This is another reason why I travel slow. Otherwise, my mind would always be wandering to thoughts of where’s next? You are where you are in the road. And in life. There is nowhere else you can be right now. Accept it and so much of life gets easier.

  1. Many people won’t get you. And that’s okay.

I meet people almost everyday who ask what I do and why I travel. Many are amazed. But many are not. In fact some ask me if I “actually like this lifestyle.” Er, yes. I chose it. I don’t get offended when people don’t get me / what I do/ things I write. I accept it and keep moving (pun intended).

  1. Don’t forget your other hobbies.

I love to travel, but it is far from my only joy. About a year into traveling, I realized that I had given up some hobbies that I was missing. Skating, being one of them. I finally got a pair of skates when I was living in Germany. It’s awkward as ever to travel with them but that’s just a sacrifice I’ve made. Skating is bliss for me. It’s my meditation on wheels. Remember the things you love. We get so caught up in the drama of life that we forget.

These things renew us and bring us joy. Don’t forget them.

  1. Travel/nomadism isn’t superior.

When you do something that most people don’t (like travel a lot or become a nomad), it’s easy to put on a mask of superiority. Newsflash: travel isn’t superior to any other habits or way of life. I don’t feel I’m living better than anyone. Just different. I hear conversations all the time with nomads snobbing people who aren’t location independent. This judgmental point of view is wasted energy. Again, drop it and life becomes easier.

  1. Learn to handle being uncomfortable.

When you’re in a new place, you will feel uncomfortable at some point. There have been times when I was lost, didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anyone, didn’t understand the menu, had no idea how to find the food/blankets/towels/shoes/kettle that I needed. The list goes on and on. I had to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. Push yourself to step outside of the zone of cushy-ness. Outside of that space where everything -and everyone – is known and familiar. Outside of that zone is where real growth happens.

  1. Be authentic.

Always be you. I’ve seen people on the road take on whole new personas. It’s easy to do. You’re in a new place and nobody knows you. But masks are heavy to wear, and they must come down at some point. Be yourself. Being yourself in life is true freedom.

  1. Nomadic living doesn’t bring happiness

Nothing outside of you does. If you have issues deep inside that keep you up at night or cause anxiety and sadness, those issues will be right there with you on the road. You’ll have a bunch of distractions to dull the pain, but they will not leave you. Get to the root of those issues within and never expect the outside world to be your happiness medicine.

  1. If you have something that you’re thinking of doing (becoming a nomad/traveling/writing a book), stop deliberating. Make a plan and GO!

I often wonder what took me so long to hit the road. Don’t be like me. Envision it. Create a basic plan (even if it is just short term). And go. Go where your heart calls you to. It’ll be scary and crazy and uncomfortable and AMAZING. No matter what happens, you’ll learn. I certainly have.



5 thoughts on “24 Life Lessons From 24 Months of Being a Nomad

  1. I love this list!!! I especially like tips #14 & 19. Finding balance when you’re in transition is a challenge, but definitely worth it. I’ve got to make more time for my hobbies. Also, the point about “some things you’ll always miss…” is a life lesson that anyone can benefit from. Don’t let the things you miss stop you from experiencing new things.

  2. This is an amazing post!

    So true about #12. After five years of expat-ing and the past year nomading, I’m realizing I feel best when I’m based in one place that I enjoy, with the freedom to take short trips whenever I want. Of course, the flip side is #14 – it’s hard to choose where to live when no one place “has it all”!

    I LOL’d at “eat countries like skittles.”

    1. Hey Shayna,

      YES! to having a home base and short trips here and there. Packing up often is just too draining on me. Glad you can relate. And I so agree that there’s no one place that has it all. At least, I haven’t found it yet. If you do, let me know. :)

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