We both contemplated a nomadic lifestyle for many years before we actually started our journey. One factor is that we both have had the experience, early on in our lives, of changing countries and living in different countries.
(Peta from South Africa to Israel, to South Africa to North America) and (Ben from France to North America to Japan to North America.)
Both of us see travel and discovery of different cultures as core to our nature, so primordial, that neither of us can or want to imagine life in which travel and different cultures is not a core aspect of who we are.
There is a core difference between how we approach a nomadic lifestyle. Peta is always eager to move on and cross borders into new countries, while I (Ben), enjoy the slow linger in a country.
And therefore the right solution for US, is to LIVE SEQUENTIALLY, with full emersion into our new homes, combined with the knowledge that our stay is ephemeral, much like life itself.
Whilst raising four teenage boys (this being before we moved to Nicaragua) we would plan and think about how our lives would unfold once the boys left home. We were hyper conscious of shaping our lives in a direction that was exciting and made sense to us.
As we pause temporarily in Chicago, catching our breath, reconnecting with family…. we are offering up some tips to other empty nesters who might be contemplating a nomadic lifestyle.
Tip #1: This way of life is not for everyone ~
Dip your toes into the waters before you jump.
Try to build up a realistic sense of whether a nomadic lifestyle is compatible not only with your “dream” but also with the reality of who you are today both as individuals and as a couple.
Take a few extended trips (beyond the normal “vacation”), and see how you fare… At the end of 2 or 3 months, are you eager for more? Or are you wanting the comfort of being back “at home”.
Tip #2: Simplify ~
Get rid of as much “stuff” as possible, the sooner you reduce your attachment to material possessions, the happier you will be as a nomad.
Tip #3: Select your starting point carefully ~
Much about your upcoming travels will depend on how successful your first move is. Choose a place that has less risks of being challenging for you – for example, Thailand is “easier” than Viet Nam or India, because the system is well oiled for global travelers.
If you have any language capability, it may make sense for you to start in a country where you speak some of the language (at the same time, recognize that language is not such a critical requirement to a successful nomadic lifestyle – 90% of communication is non verbal!).
Consider the impact of weather – i.e. avoid starting your travels and arriving in a new land at the height of heat in their summer or the icy cold of their winter.
Tip #4: Trust that things will have a way of working out ~
It is not necessary to lock in on return flights, or to structure multi-point travel etc… Nor is it necessary to reserve hotels ahead of time, unless you arrive late at night or at the height of a festival or tourist season.
Successful nomadic lifestyle requires the flexibility to change course based on weather, suggestions from fellow travelers you meet along the way, upcoming festivals etc… Less worry, more flow. “The universe provides…”
Tip #5: Organize basic important papers and information, both hard copy and digital ~
Birth certificates, bank statements, passports, credit card info etc…
Tip #6: Research Visa requirements ~
Visa requirements vary wildly from country to country and failure to do this homework can result in quite a few surprises and unexpected costs and delays. Do your research ahead of time and have plenty of extra passport photos in your wallet, so you are not scrambling at the last minute
Tip #7: Pack light ~
You need way less on the road than you think. If there is anything you absolutely need (e.g. prescription medicine), then make sure you have that packed. Almost everything else you can get on the road as needed (and getting it is part of the experience and fun which gets you to interact with locals and to feel local).
The less you pack, the lighter you will feel. The lighter your suitcases will be and the less hassle buses, trains and airports become. Free yourself up from excess unnecessary stuff. We both traveled for almost two years with 2 pairs of shoes each for example, and bought sandals when we needed them.
The smaller your camera, the less “touristy” you will be to locals (and the more approachable). Leave expensive jewelry, watches etc behind. It’s preferable not to attract attention or stick out as a result of your belongings.
Tip #8: Take the “off season” approach ~
The less swarms of tourists there are in a place, the more the experience you have will be authentic.
Try to avoid peak season when vacationers swamp popular places. (For example, if you visit Granada, Nicaragua during poetry season in May, the small city is at capacity and although there is a terrific multicultural feeling of people from all over the world, this experience will be very different to being there in October during the slow season, when the streets are full of locals and few tourists.
Tip #9: Get comfortable with ethnicity ~
Find different cultures and ethnicities within your own current city and spend time walking, eating and talking to people in the neighborhood. For example, in Chicago, Ben and I often hang out in Chinatown, Korean and Indian, and Latino neighborhoods.
Tip #10: Put fear aside ~
We all have fears of varying levels. The world though is way safer than many people think or imagine it to be.
Tip # 11: Don’t judge ~
The concept of efficiency does not usually “export” well. If you want everything to run smoothly, the way it does “at home”, then a nomadic lifestyle may be challenging to you. This is not about comfort, it’s about adventure and experience.
Tip # 12: Don’t rush! ~
It’s okay to change plans….The beauty of a nomadic lifestyle is that you get to experience life as a local, sequentially. Over scheduling and pre-planned flights are opportunity killers. A good rule of thumb: don’t move on just because you think there might be something “better” around the corner. If you like where you are, stay there…
Tip #13: Leave space for serendipity ~
We see many opportunities lost when travelers are “locked into” a schedule ~ either due to pre-booked flights, or even just because that’s “the original plan”.
Plans are only meant to provide you with some guideline, but are worthless if they become a constraint against real life spontaneity and opportunities that arise unpredictably
Tip # 14: Do a “lessons learned” ~
Every time you are about to move on, be honest and explicit about pros and cons of the current destination ~ Learn from real experience what turns out to be a big plus or a big shortcoming and use this intelligence to adjust your plans accordingly.
Example: we found out along the way that access to hot water was a valued priority for one of us, something we had not considered at the outset.
Tip # 15: Spend less! ~
The quality of your experience is directly and inversely proportional to how much you integrate yourself with locals. If the only experience you have with locals is when you spend money, i.e. buy stuff, then you are short changing your experience. Resorts and tourist restaurants are to be avoided if you want a real experience and a lower cost.
Often by walking away from the main “tourist routes” (even in the most visited towns and destinations), you will find around the corner, a few blocks away, great authentic food which costs less and gives you a richer overall experience.
Tip #16: Take risks ~
The more risks you take, the more comfortable you will be with seizing opportunities as they arise. We are not talking about jumping off mountains here, just about getting out of your comfort zone. Accept invitations by locals. Give rides to locals if you have a vehicle. Start conversations.
Tip # 17: Get involved ~
Find out early about ways to get involved / contribute to local projects. No matter your background, there is ALWAYS something you can do to become part of a community activity by offering your skills. This is the best way to transition from tourist, to traveller, to “temporary” local.
Tip # 18: Educate yourself ~
Part of the joy of travel is the huge learning curve in countries and cultures that are new to you. It is not necessary to get a guide to get a gist of history and culture to make your experience richer. Whatever country you are in, do some reading about the government, the religion, the history, the culture, before hand and along the way.
Buy a book in a bookstore when you arrive with a first account biography – it may not be a comprehensive wikipedia-type summary of the country, but first hand life stories have a way of making the surrounding context come alive.
Read travel blogs to get an idea of the experience of others in the selected country.
Learn at least a few basic phrases no matter where you are…Locals appreciate the effort.
Tip # 19 ~ Be mindful of your own cultural bias ~
Adjust to your environment. Take cues from the locals. For example, don’t wear shorts when the local culture calls for modesty!
Tone down the decibels – Americans tend to “project” their voices and talk louder than most cultures.
Try to fit in and be alert and respectful to cultural differences. When in Rome… start to adjust your clothing to the extent possible by purchasing a few local items that will allow you to “blend in” more easily. People usually respond favorably to your attempts and effort at integration.
Tip # 20: Don’t compare and don’t lecture ~
Nothing is more distance-creating than Americans constantly comparing and contrasting with “the American way” (often with a tinge of criticism).
You may think that your way is better, but remember that in reality, it’s just different.
You are not there to “fix them”, a huge cultural habit of traveling Americans.
The sooner you stop comparing (or worse, offering guidance for locals to “improve their service”), the quicker you’ll adjust to different cultures and to your changing environment.
It’s more about embracing the differences.