You would think this lifestyle, moving from place to place, would become easier to describe the longer we live it. But, it seems, the more we dig in, the harder it becomes to offer sensible explanation.
“I hope you still enjoy what you’re doing.” People float this wish all the time and it never fails to make us smile. After three and a half years of perpetual travel, we have come to realize that what we’re doing is living our lives. We just happen to be doing so against an ever-changing backdrop, (but, not for nothing, we estimate the rotating set pieces have included about 350+ different mattress and pillow combos along the way – hello, bed-hoppers).
Blur of accommodations aside, is nomadic life what we thought it would be? Turns out, I can’t answer that question. We didn’t have many expectations when we set out. How could we? We knew it would be amazingly fun, yet, challenging, at times. We knew our lives would forever change, as would our relationship to each other, friends and family. And, we knew something inside of us wouldn’t let us NOT do this. Other than that, it was all into the unknown.
What I can tell you is how it feels to live nomadically.
Nomadic life. Here’s a glimpse of how it feels.
Some days you can’t imagine the lifestyle you were living before. Wrapped up in careers, working crazy hours for crazy people, spending too much money, accumulating pretty, meaningless stuff. Some mornings, you gaze up from your laptop – always with a different window’s view onto a different city – and wonder who that person was who went to the same office on a university campus, with the same view, for 15 years. Was that really me?
Some days, you say “Hvala” (Croatian for “thanks”) to the check-out lady at the market, then realize you are in England. Croatia was last week. No matter how many times you check your wallet or pockets on the way out of a country’s door, somehow coins of different currencies end up in the mix, adding absurdity to what would be ‘normal’ exchanges and purchases at home. About every third day, your bank shuts down your cards due to “suspicious activity” and you are left scrambling to pay for essentials like food, tampons and wine.
“I’d rather be naked than put on that same black skirt, again,” you think. But, you do pull on that same workhorse skirt, because…you must. Friends have dubbed your bag “the magic backpack” for the range of outfits it produces; yet, you long for anything other than practical mix-and-match pieces. (A wrinkle-prone dress that kisses the floor and pair of stilettos, please?). You see women on the street who appear so fashionable and pulled-together and you can’t remember the last time you felt “together.” Your life is so unsettled on most days, you consider wearing matching socks a great achievement.
Even after spending months in a country, the simplest activity like going to the post office can be fraught with cultural disaster and leave you feeling like an idiot. In fact, most days, “idiot” is your first name. Language, currency and the-way-things-are-done-here differences can be counted on to turn any given intention upside down. Challenge is at the root of each interaction and you are never really certain if you understand the full meaning or context of what’s happening. Did I say “yes” to what I think I said yes to?
Just this week, I heard Matt say “no” to a question from a local here in Rovinj. “What did you say no to?” I asked. He had no idea, he said, but it seemed smarter than agreeing. Me, I would have said “yes,” I always say “yes!”
Language isn’t the only barrier. Sometimes, even in predominately English-speaking countries, the culture divide is so wide that we end up falling short when taking a leap.
Matt and I often laugh about the time we were invited to a couple’s house in England. Neighbors of the home where we were housesitting, the husband knocked on our door, introduced himself and asked if we would like to come over at noon on Tuesday. “Sure,” we said, even though that odd time totally messes with the structure we attempt to maintain amid this unstructured life. At noon on Tuesday, normally, I’m in prime writing zone and Matt’s pedal-deep in training. Still, it’s important to be neighborly, right?
Come Tuesday, we put on our finest clothes – we had seen the house and it was a showstopper – and walked over for what we assumed would be lunch. They invited us in, served martinis, interrogated us like we were smuggled in by boat, then stood to thank us for coming. 12:15 and we were back on the sidewalk, bewildered. Did we fail some sort of test? Would lunch have been served had we answered questions differently? What in the world? All we could do was laugh. And, since we were all dressed up, we walked our martini-buzzed selves down to the village for a boozy lunch (no writing or cycling that Tuesday).
But, that’s how it feels, some days. You realize how little you understand and how easy it is to misunderstand the intention of others. You learn to accept mysteries, big and small.
You can spend days researching how to reach the grocery store via public bus, only to be left stranded by the roadside because that tiny ∇ symbol on the schedule (which is always outdated) turns out to mean “Not on Saturdays, idiot.”
We have “idiot-meets-bus” stories for days. One of my favorites is during a long-haul bus trip to Montenegro (or, was it Albania?), our bus skidded into a gas station. The driver made an announcement, naturally, in a language we didn’t understand and everyone got off. We assumed there was time for coffee and bathroom. But, as soon as the driver finished smoking a cigarette, he started the engine and everyone boarded. Except Matt, who was still in the bathroom. I’m frantic, trying to ask the driver to wait and wondering what in the world I will do if he keeps rolling. It’s not like I can jump off with our bags and bike under the carriage. Thankfully, before we merged back onto the highway, Matt ran out and I could feel my heartbeat again.
More often than you think should be possible, you accidently book a local apartment or room that turns out not to be located where you thought. No one knows what Uber is, taxis don’t even exist in many of these places, so you walk two miles, in the rain, from the train or bus station, cursing that damn magic backpack all the way, just to reach the crummy apartment. Inside, you don’t bother to dry off, because you’re starving. So, it’s out into the rain again in search of food and supplies. “We’ve got to get better at this,” you think, though this has been three years.
In the depths of your bag, you find a faded wrapper containing what appears to be gum. Did I buy this in Bulgaria? You hesitate, after all, that was nearly two years ago. You shrug and pop it into your mouth anyway. You’ve become fairly fearless about what you eat and drink.
You convince yourself to do things you would never have done before. Hitchhiking roads you don’t know, staying in homes of complete strangers, climbing mountains while clutching shaky cables. You realize you’ve become fairly fearless, in general.
Some days, you miss your friends back home so much it hurts. Then, your phone dings with a silly text from one of those friends and your heart swells. Or, even better, your friend mentions coming to visit and you do a happy-dance.
Sometimes you meet a fellow traveler who instantly seems like a lifelong best friend. You realize the number of people out there who understand what you’re doing is limited. When you find them, you want to embrace it, fully.
You lose someone dear to you and you wonder if you could have had more time together. But, you know, they would tell you not to waste a single day. Life is too short for regrets. You realize you owe it to them to keep chasing your dreams.
Phone calls with family, once part of your weekly routine, take on immense significance and become golden. You realize the distance has given you new depths to discuss and dissect. Your appreciation for them has grown with the years and distance.
Nearly nightly, you bang your shin, hip or face into some random piece of furniture or – damn it, where did that wall come from? – on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Many mornings, when your eyes open, it takes seconds to register where you are. You’re actually surprised when this doesn’t happen.
Some mornings, you wake up with fire in your belly to write and work only to pop open the laptop and realize the WiFi (which people, in every country, always claim works like a dream) has dropped out of existence. You spend the next two hours, frantically searching for a café with internet access. By the time you find a quiet spot, the ever-fickle writing mood has vanished. Every deadline you ever have seems to fall on one of these days.
Other mornings, especially on rainy days in a new place, you can’t muster the energy to go out. You think about how much of your time and attention is spent dialing in a place, creating and maintaining new relationships. To do this successfully, you’ve gotta be “on,” always. You see a TV in the corner and think about rainy days in your previous life when you would snuggle up and watch stupid TV shows all afternoon. You’re tempted to pick up that remote and get lost for a bit. But, then you remember, time spent flipping channels is time not spent studying a language, researching possible destinations and applying for housesits. And, as it has for most of these years, that screen remains dark.
It seems at least once every couple of weeks, panic rises. One of you is late coming home or meeting up and, though we’re not prone to keep tabs on each other, when you’re out in the world “alone” together, you worry. What if something happens to him while he’s cycling? How will I know? Who would I call? Do we even know where an ER is?
Yet, in general, you feel safer traveling the world than you ever felt at home. In most places, you’re completely comfortable walking all over town late into the night – and, goodness knows, you do walk all over, every town, late into the night. You make no apologies for staying up late and sleeping in. You worked to make your dream schedule happen.
You enjoy telling people, “It’s not all champagne and sunsets,” but, you know on some level, it is. And, you wouldn’t trade it, not for anything. And, you realize there are people who hate you for living a different life than the one everyone thinks you should be living. You’re breaking some rules and that makes many people uncomfortable, at best; resentful, at worst.
You wonder if you should share as much as you do about the journey. When a friend accuses you of sharing only the “good stuff,” you wonder if that friend – or anyone – understands you. Do they realize I share the fun and funny things because that’s who I am? I would do the same if we ran into each other at a cocktail party in our hometown, after all.
You wonder how long you can keep traveling. Can we do this forever? Yet, you can’t imagine staying in one place. How long would it be before my feet itch?
You realize there are still so many places in the world you haven’t traveled, but checking must-see’s off a bucket list has never been your motivation. You realize you are content with a slow and immersive pace, even if that means not covering every inch of this amazing planet.
Some days you feel so connected with the planet, like boundaries don’t exist and we are all one. You feel your best “you.” Everything’s jiving, your smiles are met with smiles, trains seem to glide on your schedule. Then, the next day – more accurately, often the next minute – everything goes to shit, every connection is missed and it seems no one understands what’s happening with you.
Then, you look over at your partner in this journey and realize, one person understands. You think about how your marriage has morphed and evolved during the journey. How can you possibly spend so much time with this person? Could any relationship sustain this level of constant change? Still, yours does. And, the bond grows deeper as those roots spread out in directions you never imagined.
Then, with all these thoughts and questions in constant rotation in your head, you look up and out again to that stunningly new view and longing swells.
You wish that everyone you know and love in your life could see this place. You want to experience and share it all, it’s that simple. And, then you know, the adventure continues and the stories continue, because that’s the whole point of the journey. At least, that’s how it feels for me.
Thanks for following the journey, y’all! There’s so much more to come.
Have a question about nomadic life? Ask away, we’re happy to share any and all information.
We hope today finds you chasing a few dreams of your own!