Photo: Piotr Młynarczyk
1. It’s expensive.
Full time traveling is much cheaper than my old life when I had a mortgage to pay plus utility bills, property taxes etc. The main trick to making it affordable is to carry minimal financial obligations. I do not have a permanent home or any debt, so I have very few recurring expenses. When I pay for accommodation, such as AirBnB, monthly rents in various parts of the world or camping, it is not incremental to my living expenses, it IS my living expense. Paying $900 for an AirBnB for a month in Thailand replaces what I would have paid in the past for a mortgage, property tax, condo fees etc. This is my life not an extended vacation and I don’t spend money like I am on vacation. See misunderstanding number 2.
2. You are always on vacation.
People think I am on perpetual holiday, but that isn’t what I’m doing, nor would I want it to be. Living like that would be exhausting. Full-time travel for me is a lifestyle. Many people who travel like me also work full-time. I don’t, so I would say life is more like a prolonged weekend than a vacation. If you think about a typical weekend, you have more leisure time than during the work week, but you also have tasks that you need to get done. It’s like that; a mixture of chores and fun.
As I’m not in vacation mode, I don’t put too much pressure on myself to always be visiting the “must see” local sites. This takes some discipline but honestly I would be exhausted and be over budget if I went to every place in the guidebook. I emphasize natural wonders over tourist attractions or museums, I rarely take organized tours or pay entrance fees, and I make sure I get down time where I stay home and just relax. I cook at home a lot, eating out all the time would be bad for the budget and my waistline.
3. You can’t combine work and long-term travel.
Internet connectivity has made working much easier than it used to be. Wi-Fi is plentiful in many places, and cellphone plans with large data allowances are much more affordable once you get outside the US. Being able to work remotely of course depends on what you do for a living. My full-time job before I started traveling was in healthcare marketing and I continued that same work as a freelance consultant. I work a lot less hours, so I earn a tiny fraction of my previous salary but because my living expenses have fallen so drastically it is not really noticeable. Many jobs such as graphic design and web development can be transferred to remote working, and I have met many people who have transformed what was a traditional cubicle job into a mobile career. There is always the chance to pick something new to do. I earn a little from my writing and there are some excellent books and articles describing ways to make money while traveling.
4. It’s always glamorous.
On my blog and social media accounts I post mostly pictures of beautiful scenery or interesting buildings from my travels. This isn’t because my life is one long National Geographic photoshoot. It’s because I don’t think people would be very interested in watching me do laundry, wash the dishes, or sitting on the couch bingeing on the latest series of House of Cards. Yeah I do a lot of boring stuff, just like non-nomadic people and I don’t talk about it a lot just like everyone else.
5. You can’t do it with kids.
My husband and I don’t have children and that has given us a lot of freedom, both time and financial, that has helped enable our traveling lifestyle. But I meet lots of people who do travel full-time with their family. I’ve seen children of all ages, from newborns to teenagers, traveling around the US in an RV, or around the world staying in a temporary home. As well as being formally educated, either through home-schooling or at a school in the country where they are currently living, they are receiving the best education any child could ask for. They are visiting national parks and world heritage sites. They are learning about history and the world we live in in a way that is far more memorable than could be delivered in a classroom setting. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t have wanted a childhood like that. The children I have encountered on the road are some of the most well-adjusted, confident, little people I have met. I don’t think traveling full-time with children is for the fainthearted, but it’s not impossible.
6. It’s an easy life.
As well as not being a vacation, you can’t expect full-time travel to be a breeze. There is something easy about living in the same place all the time. You know where the best coffee shop is, what time the parking meters are free, usually you speak the local language and you understand how everything works. That can’t be said about traveling full-time. I continually find myself confused and frustrated by my lack of local knowledge. Being less than fluent in the local language can make for pretty limited chit-chat with people. Dealing with stressful things like immigration or medical emergencies is not easy in a foreign land, challenges are plentiful. Simple things that you may never think about can be a hassle to a long-term traveler, whether it’s finding a place to do laundry, get some dental work done or have your hair cut. The rewards of full-time travel are numerous but no-one picks a nomadic existence to cruise through life.
7. You have to be brave.
When I sold my home and quit my job to travel many people described my decision as brave. But I don’t get it… I don’t think I’m doing anything dangerous that might detrimentally affect my health or well-being. The reality is that I am doing something different. Herd mentality says I should earn as much money as possible while I’m young enough to be employed. I should buy a house, a car and loads of other crap. To de-stress and enjoy myself I should go on vacation once or twice a year. Then if I make it to 65 and I am lucky enough to have savings I can stop working and retire. Of all the risks I’m willing to take, betting on future happiness in 20 years’ time is not one of them.
8. It’s not safe.
Our country’s obsession with safety has made many people stick close to home. I like to travel to Mexico, it’s one of my favorite places to visit. Whenever I go I always get the same reaction from many of my American friends: “Is it safe?… I would never go there it’s not safe… Why would you go; don’t you know it’s not safe?” I always ask them whether they have been there. Usually they say “no,” I say “well, I have and I have never felt unsafe.” What is interesting is that they rarely accept my word for it, someone who has actually been there. They would rather just perpetuate the last stereotype than listen to a contrary view. Of course when you are somewhere unfamiliar you have to take common sense precautions, like not being showy with your possessions (good practice anywhere) and knowing whether the area is prone to pickpockets or other crime. In most places I have visited I find that as long as I stay away from tourist traps most of the locals are too busy living their own lives to be interested in me.
I have learned a lot about traveling full-time since I hit the road, and have overcome my own misconceptions. It’s challenging, stimulating and I discover something new about myself and the places I travel to every day. The main thing I have learned is that for now, having no fixed abode suits me just fine, and although it may be hard to believe sometimes I still need a vacation!