The Secret Life of a Nomad
“You’re living my dream!” “So jealous of your adventures!” I occasionally get comments like these on Instagram when I share something about our travels and they always give me a bittersweet feeling. Part of me feels so grateful because I know that I’m lucky to do and see things that many never get the chance to. But another part of me feels guilty that there are people out there wishing they had my life when they don’t see what it’s really like beyond my Instagram photos.
That guilt weighs on me because I never want to give others a fake, sugarcoated version of this journey. Everything that we’re going through, both the exciting parts and the really tough parts, they’re all worth sharing! That’s why I felt compelled to write this post and share both aspects to this crazy, complicated, wonderful life of ours. This is life as a traveling entrepreneur, no filters, no editing certain things out, just the real joys and pains.
First, the not-so-pretty stuff
Hardly a 24/7 Vacation
One of the common misconceptions about traveling full-time is that your life is a constant vacation. That you’re always out adventuring, exploring new cities, having all these crazy experiences. Gosh, I wish it was really like that! Even though we travel, we only move because of Tanner’s job, so he’s working all the time. And I’m always working too since I’m self-employed. So, just like everyone else, any adventures that we go on are a rare treat. Honestly, most days I only leave our apartment to go to the grocery store down the road. Sad, I know, but true.
Half Tourist, Half Local – An Awkward Mix
It’s a little difficult to find your identity or a sense of belonging as a nomad sometimes. We stay in each place for 7-10 months, which is a pretty long time compared to other travelers. We’re in this awkward place between “just visiting” and becoming a citizen. Typically, the first few months in each place do feel like an exciting adventure, but that fades and we’re left with the realization of ‘Oh, we have to actually learn how to live here and make it feel like home for the next few months, then pack up and do it all over again.” We aren’t tourists, but we don’t exactly feel like we belong either. There’s always an underlying feeling that we’re still strangers here, which can suck sometimes when you want something familiar and comfortable. Here in France, the language barrier makes this especially hard. We’ve been living here for over 2 months, we know our way around, we have regular stores that we shop at and we recognize people in public, but we still can’t fully interact with anyone. Our French lessons have helped so much, but our vocabulary is still pretty much like a child’s, so of course that isolates us a bit. For example, I have a friend who I see at all of Tanner’s games, who has brought me pastries as gifts and is so sweet to me, but I can’t actually hold a conversation with her without Google Translate. That makes connecting and building relationships tough.
Being an immigrant can be scary
Probably one of the biggest cons of this lifestyle that is rarely shared about is the fact that we have to apply for visas, jump through hoops, and navigate foreign governments to do what we do. We’re lucky that with my husband’s job, most of that stuff is typically taken care of for us, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t run into problems. Just a few weeks ago, we thought we were going to get deported from France because we didn’t know if the immigration office was going to accept the scan of our marriage license that was needed for our extended visas. We sat in a waiting room for over 3 hours thinking we were going to have to immediately pack our things and hop on the next plane back to the U.S. Fortunately everything worked out, but it’s scary how easily things can go wrong. Even if we do get our visas, that country’s laws could change and just like that, we’d have to leave. There’s a lot of uncertainty and that can be scary sometimes.
Healthcare isn’t always a guarantee
Going to the doctor can be a little tricky as well. We always have to do some research to figure out if we’ll both have healthcare coverage wherever we’re living. Tanner gets his through his job and in some countries that extends to me, but others it doesn’t. I haven’t had any major health issues so it hasn’t been too much of a problem, but I did have a couple struggles early on with birth control. Many countries only allow you to bring 3 months worth of birth control with you and even if the country has universal healthcare, you still might not be able to get more if you aren’t a citizen. I learned this firsthand and actually had to go off my birth control in Denmark because of it. So some quick advice if you’re a woman who relies on birth control and are thinking about traveling full time – look into getting an IUD. They’re perfect for nomads and have taken so much weight off my shoulders as someone who would prefer not to have an unexpected pregnancy in a foreign country. (Because that’s so much to ask for, right? haha)
And now, the great stuff that makes it all worth it
There’s freedom in the uncertainty
As uncomfortable and uncertain as this lifestyle can be, I’m so so grateful for the craziness. It’s pretty freeing to have no idea where you’ll be living next year or the year after that, to have no solid plan in place. When we thought we were going to be deported from France, we were worried about it, but at the same time we were completely ok with whatever happened. So much is out of our control and it’s nice to have no other choice but to lean on that sometimes.
Being immersed in a different culture is a form of education that everyone needs
By far one of the most valuable things about this experience is that we get to not just visit, but truly live in these different places and learn by adapting to their ways of life. Tanner and I both grew up in small towns in West Virginia. A beautiful, wonderful place, but a little lacking in diversity. So the culture changes that we’ve went through with our travels have been huge and really opened our eyes. It’s been so interesting to learn how other parts of the world raise their children, what values they instill, and the traditions that they celebrate. It’s made me realize more than ever that there are millions of ‘right’ ways to do things, all influenced by the type of environment that you live in. I could write an entirely separate post about this, but I’ll just say that I wish everyone could have this experience to better understand people different from themselves. It’s so important.
One day, we’re going to come back home better for all of this.
Who knows when we’ll be coming back home for good, or if we ever will, but when we do, I know that we’ll be so much better for everything that we’ve learned. Each experience that we share with our friends and family just spreads the impact that traveling has had on us. I feel proud when I think about all the things we’ll be able to teach our kids one day. I want them to be as fascinated by the world as we are right now. I want them to embrace all the diversity and beauty that it has to offer. And I hope they feel like nothing can stop them from getting out and exploring it, searching each corner until they find a place to do what they love, just as we have.
So if you’ve ever wondered what being a nomad is really like, I hope this post has given you a clearer vision of all the ups and downs that come with this lifestyle. It’s not easy, it’s not always glamorous, sometimes it’s down right scary, but it’s worth it. It would be easy for me to only share the pretty parts with you, to make you believe that we are always out doing amazing things, living this this extravagant, exciting life. And of course, parts of our life is exciting, but sometimes the truly exciting parts look less like climbing the Eiffel Tower and more like finally understanding what the cashier means when they say “Avez-vous une carte de magasin?” (Do you have a store card?) Seriously, we just figured out what that meant. For 2 months we’ve been terrified every time we check out at the store because we didn’t know what they were asking us. That’s real life, that’s what I want to be sharing more of with you and I’m excited to write many more posts like this one as our adventure continues.