To many people, the life of a permanent nomad may appear to be nothing short of spectacular and wildly appealing. After all, almost everybody lists ‘travel’, in some shape or form, on their bucket lists, so what could be better than being able to explore the globe on a never-ending basis?
I certainly can see the attraction, which is exactly why I am one of the biggest advocates of a global, nomadic existence and why I am always more than happy to assist anyone who is thinking about embracing such a lifestyle.
But before everyone starts thinking that the life of a nomad consists only of pots of gold, rainbows and fluffy kittens, I must come out and set the record straight. Being a permanent nomad is not all good times. In fact, it is much tougher work than one might imagine, and I’m not just talking about the long bus journeys, uncomfortable hotel beds and hand-washing your clothes until your knuckles bleed.
The challenge lies in the effort required to carve your own path through life. Unlike the more traditional life paths, there are no guidelines or pre-fabricated goals to follow when you decide to wander the globe. You are on your own and have no choice but to make your own decisions. You must literally pull out the machete yourself and start whacking at the jungle in front of you before you can take another step. And while there are infinite rewards to be discovered as you proceed forward, there are also tigers in that jungle and a handful of cannibalistic tribes as well.
So for anyone thinking about living a nomadic lifestyle of global wandering, and while I still encourage such a decision with all of my heart, this post is about the less-talked about difficulties that you must be prepared to face…
- Lack of a permanent home: Being constantly on the road, I generally lack a ‘home base’ and must adjust to the idea of my home being wherever it is I happen to be living or traveling at the moment. I don’t have a permanent address or even a bedroom that I can call my own. And this can be tough, especially when I suddenly crave my own familiar space, one that I can return to whenever I need a comfortable, good night’s sleep or just a simple break from all of the traveling. For me, such a place just doesn’t exist.
- Being away from friends and family: This is of course a major challenge as I sometimes don’t see my closest friends and family for over a year or more. And even though most of these bonds have not weakened over the years, thanks to email and Skype, I often wish I could just sit down for a beer with my friends or attend a spontaneous weekend family gathering. But I can’t.
- Forgetting how to speak English: My English suffers greatly from all of this traveling and every year it seems to get worse and worse. The problem is that I am rarely in an English-speaking country and so I’m either learning, or stumbling through, a new language or communicating in broken English with others who don’t speak English very well. As a result, I often forget words, I take an absurdly long time to get my point across and my sentences sometimes seem to be missing some key ingredients. It’s probably not very noticeable to others and I’m sure I don’t sound like a bumbling idiot, but I definitely notice a difference myself. I also run into the problem of mixing languages and suddenly spitting out a sentence that is part Spanish, part Hindi and part Thai, which nobody, including myself can understand.
- Living out of a backpack: While I’m perfectly happy with the amount of ‘stuff’ I currently own, all of which fits into my one backpack, I do wonder from time to time what it would be like to have a couple of more t-shirts and perhaps an extra pair of shorts. It might be nice to even use a dresser and closet every now and then instead of sifting through a pile of clothes all jumbled up on the floor. However, due to my strict adherence to this rule, I won’t be going on a shopping spree any time soon.
- I’m a BUM: Being labeled a bum or as someone who is wasting their life does indeed get old. And I have a strong feeling that most of the people who criticize my decisions probably aren’t so happy with the path they have chosen, and so they choose to condemn my lifestyle in order to make themselves feel a little better. At least most of the people I meet out on the road are more than supportive of such a nomadic lifestyle, although it still seems that not more than two weeks go by without some form of criticism being thrown in my direction.
- Out of touch: After so much traveling, it often becomes difficult for me to speak with other people. The main reason is that due to the vast differences in life experiences between myself and whomever it is I may be talking to, I am simply unable to find a common ground to build a decent conversation upon. Try talking to me about mortgages, television programs or even the latest news being discussed on every media outlet and chances are that I’ll answer with a blank stare. And similarly, most people reply with silence when I mention the latest hike in visa fees to enter Chile or the fact that mango season is in full swing here in Mexico.
- Always on the look-out: While I don’t walk around grasping my backpack tightly to my chest and shooing away everyone that approaches me, I do find it wise to maintain a certain awareness at all times, especially when I’m in unfamiliar places. I’m constantly thinking about the safety of my laptop, my passport and my backpack in general. At this point, it has almost become second nature, such as when I suddenly felt the urge to turn around while walking one day in Mumbai only to discover a man with his hand extended about to try and open my backpack. However, trying to ensure that all of your possessions are as safe as possible at all times, on buses, trains, in hotel rooms, etc. can be quite exhausting.
- Decision making: Great, so I’m finally free. I can travel here or I can travel there, or I can even travel somewhere else if I so choose. But here’s the dilemma – how do you decide where to go next when you can go anywhere? There are countries that I love so much that I wish I could return to them every few months, yet there’s dozens of countries that I can’t wait to explore as well. And so every time I feel the need to pack up my backpack and seek out a new adventure, I must try to choose one place out of the 200+ countries and territories on this planet. And that ain’t easy. On more than one occasion I’ve reverted to the ever-reliable flipping of a coin.
- Being unattached to people and places: One thing I realized early on was that a permanent nomad will not be a happy permanent nomad if they’re not able to embrace constant change. And this involves being able to maintain a certain level of detachment to both the amazing people that I meet along the way and the destinations themselves, both of which affect my life to different degrees depending on my experiences. I won’t lie and say it’s easy. It’s unbelievably difficult at times to say goodbye and move on to that next destination, leaving behind new friends and locations that I’ve grown so fond of. But if I was unable to actually say farewell each time, I’d never be able to meet the next group of people or learn from the next place I visit as I continue wandering around the globe.
- What to do with the knowledge learned: Perhaps the biggest challenge of being a permanent nomad is trying to determine exactly what I should do with the knowledge I learn throughout my travels. Not a day passes that I don’t ask myself: How do I share this education with the world? How can it benefit others? And truthfully, trying to figure out the answers has often left me confused, frustrated and struggling to understand what steps I should take in order to share my discoveries with as many interested people as possible. This is actually such a major challenge that it deserves an entire post of its own and I plan to do just that in the near future.
Of course, even with all of those challenges that I face on a near daily basis, I wouldn’t still be wandering around if I didn’t feel that the positive aspects of such a lifestyle far outweigh the negatives. All it takes is one realization of how fortunate I am to be experiencing so much of the world to make me forget about any of the above. But I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong impression as in the end, my travels have without a doubt been the most difficult adventure of my life.
Have I missed any challenges that you may have experienced? And can anyone confirm that I’m not insane and that being a nomad is still worth it in the end??!!