By the end of this year I’ll have spent significant time in 4 different countries, and nearly 20 different cities. I think I can officially call myself a global nomad.
I started the year in Thailand holidaying and visiting old circus friends… spent 3 months in Adelaide training with the Australian Beach Volleyball program (and travelled Australia playing the Beach Volleyball National Tour)… worked full-time for 2 months in Sydney whilst training for the CrossFit Pacific Regional Championships… spent 6 months in the USA (including trips to New York, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Seattle, Yosemite, San Francisco, San Diego and a large chunk of time in Hermosa Beach – the birthplace of beach volleyball)… will shortly be heading to Bali for 3 weeks holiday… and will round out the year in Melbourne.
Whew, it’s been quite the year.
When you pack your life into a suitcase, and leave the familiar world of job security and regular housing behind, you anticipate adventure. You are ready to jump into exploring the world. Absolute freedom seems like the most exciting thing possible.
But I’ve learnt a few surprising things on my travels. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. But for anyone about to leap into the unknown, there are a few contradictions to living a nomadic life style that you may not have considered.
1) I don’t want to be tied down… but it’s scary leaving everything behind
I’m a Generation Y’er. And an Australian. Combined that pretty much makes me a travel addict. However, what people don’t tell you when you set out to see the world is that it’s daunting to leave everything familiar, everything that you count on, behind.
You no longer have a steady routine of training and work. You no longer have the peace of mind of a recurring paycheck. You can’t drop by a close friend’s house or go by your parent’s place for Sunday brunch. Every support system, and everything familiar, is gone.
Not that we want to admit it, but it can be a little daunting.
How do you find the courage to completely uproot yourself with no real plan for the future? In my case I simply plotted out what the worst that could happen was. If I ran out of money, got too lonely, or simply lost my sense of wanderlust the answer was simple. I could come home at any time.
Once you realize what the worst is, it becomes easy to focus on the best parts that await. Those ties you chafed at – the 9-5 job, the expectations of family or the busyness of your schedule – they’ll all still be there when you get back. For now, enjoy the freedom of loosening all those ties.
2) It’s freeing having minimal stuff… but I miss having my own space
Sometimes I catch myself wandering through homeware stores picturing where I’d put that piece of furniture, or that pretty artwork, in my home. Then I have to remind myself that I don’t actually have a home.
I have a few boxes of winter and work clothes back in Australia (won’t be needing those anytime soon!), and other than that my life now fits in a suitcase. Granted it’s a big suitcase (I am a girl after all), but a suitcase nonetheless.
There’s definitely something to be said for the minimalist approach to life. I can pack up and move in the space of an hour. I never agonize over what to wear since I don’t have that many choices anyway. I can crash on someone’s couch with all my worldly possessions in tow without having to bring a moving truck behind me.
Plus there’s the mental shift that occurs with downsizing your life into a suitcase. When you have less, you become more grateful for what you do have. The materialistic things in life become less significant for you and you begin to value experiences far more.
However, I miss having my own space. Privacy is something we take for granted in Australia. Having you own room or house is typically a given for most people. While I’m incredibly grateful for the people that let me stay with them I will always be a guest or a traveller. And while I’ve stayed in some pretty amazing locations, I miss the sense of ownership that comes from having your own four walls. Your space is an extension of who you are and I miss having a space that is purely mine.
3) I love where I am… but I miss where I am not
Home has become a very fluid concept for me. When you’re out with friends anywhere in the world and say “I’m going home”, home is the bed that you are sleeping in that night. When you Skype with your family on the other side of the world and they ask “when are you coming home?” then home is where you grew up. When people say “home is where the heart is” then I’m torn in different directions as I love many parts of the world, and many different people around the world.
I am lucky enough to travel and live in amazing places around the world. As I write this I’m in southern California where it is always sunny and I spend every morning on the beach playing volleyball. But at the same time I miss Australia, and the family and friends I left behind there.
I don’t say that I miss home, because I’m not sure where that is anymore. But I always miss the places and the people where I’m not.
Home has become where I am now, where I’m going next, and where I came from. There will always be somewhere to miss.
4) The things you never thought about back home… can become a big deal overseas
Recently the Australian dollar dropped significantly. When I’m in Australia a dollar is a dollar. Currently I’m in the USA and suddenly a dollar is now only 70 cents. Ouch.
All the day-to-day things that make life run smoothly in your home country can become major efforts overseas. Ever tried to set up a bank account overseas? Transfer money across continents? How about visit a doctor without having health insurance? What about set up a meeting with someone? Using your phone for directions when you don’t have local cell service? Or even a phone call to a close friend who is now in a time zone 18 hours different to you?
Basically the simple things in life become difficult while travelling. Sometimes I feel like an international spy with 50 stamps in my passport, 8 different bank accounts around the world, an unknown number of addresses and a hard time remembering which phone number I’m using this week.
5) My network has exploded… but it’s harder to stay in touch
I look through my Facebook friends and often can’t remember where I met people, or how I know them. When you’re a global nomad you make connections with a lot of people, but their time in your life is usually fleeting.
My friends can be divided into three groups:
- ‘Facebook friends’. The people that you share brief experiences with as you pass through a place. You may see each other again if circumstances align, but in all likelihood you’ll never meet again. But you’ll remain friends on Facebook.
- ‘Boomerang friends’. The people that you connect instantly with, and build a deep and meaningful connection to each other in the short time you have together. These are the people that you know you will defiantly see again – it may be years between meetings but the friendship will be just as strong despite the time. They are boomerang friends as you will keep going back to them.
- ‘Forever friends’. The people you’ve shared your whole life with – from the mundane to the exciting. These people sometimes come with you on your travels, or if not are willing to put up with your nomadic ways and welcome you home every single time. I don’t have many friends like this but they will all be forever.
While my circle of friends has become exponentially bigger the more I travel, it has also become exponentially more difficult to stay in touch with those friends.
‘Likes’ on each other’s social media posts, a Skype call in the early hours of the morning from the other side of the world, a Facetime drop in to a birthday party, a postcard that arrives weeks after it was sent from a tiny island, and long emails painstakingly describing the wonders of your travels that sign off with the inadequate words of “I miss you”.
Face to face contact with friends becomes a precious commodity. You might get to spend just two days with someone you haven’t seen in two years. Constant travel forces you to work at your friendships, and to value them beyond measure.
6) You’ll make some incredible memories… and you’ll miss some special moments
Travelling is incredible. I have seen some truly awe-inspiring things in my time and I know there are many things still to see. I
have lived a life many would be jealous of. I’ve seen the sun set in over 30 countries and I have an overflowing photo album of memories and a thousand stories of adventure to tell.
But I’ve missed my mum’s last three birthdays. I haven’t gotten to know my brother’s girlfriend – they’ve been dating for two years. A close friend from high school got married and I didn’t go. My friends in Australia have had countless birthdays, and celebrations and catch-ups that I wasn’t even invited to because they are so used to me being gone. And this year my grandmother died and I wasn’t there.
The memories I’ve made as a nomad have been amazing, but never forget that there’s a trade off. Life back home goes on without you and you will miss some of those special moments.
Being a global nomad and chasing summer around the world… quite frankly it is everything you’ve dreamed of and more. From zip lining in the mountains of Thailand, to attending world sporting events, to hiking the most beautiful national parks in the world to waking up knowing that the only place you have to be today is the beach. The world is amazing. But there’s a flip side to everything, and the contradictions above are worth thinking through before you transfer your life to a suitcase and get on a plane. You have to decide what you value most, and if the associated affects are worth it for you. I hope you decide to experience at least a little of the nomad life.
Gotta go… the beach is calling.