Did you ever play a game in your mind, maybe as a child, where you imagined being on a deserted island? You have to decide which favorite possessions, favorite books, or foods you would choose to have by your side during the long, solitary years ahead. The Collected Works of Charles Dickens. Avocados and sushi rolls. My dog.
Or did you play the Imaginary Dinner Party game and assemble a guest list of any three people, living or dead, with whom you'd like to spend the evening? Jane Austen, Nikola Tesla, and Shakespeare. Mata Hari, Einstein, and my great-great-grandmother.
It's fun to think about our highest priorities, what we value when the fluff of daily life is stripped away. Our choices reveal who we are. For example, do we see ourselves as practical, requesting a shipbuilder, a book on celestial navigation, and a compass, so we can sail away from Priority Island? Or do we aspire to spirituality, inviting Jesus, Gandhi, and Buddha to our dinner party? (We should leave the complicated question of what to serve this trio for another day!)
Choosing the nomad life means setting priorities and living with the results. To be clear, a modern nomad doesn't have a permanent home anywhere. This distinguishes the frequent traveler from the nomad. The nomad life isn't for everyone, and even for those who enjoy voluntary homelessness and full-time travel, not every season of life accommodates it.
Many people aren't interested or can't even imagine going to this extreme. But for many, full-time travel is affordable if you aren't also maintaining an empty house or apartment, and the taxes and insurance that go with it. For many people, a consistent space to call their own, where they can be surrounded by items valuable and beloved, is too fundamental to happiness to give up.
During my childhood, my family moved about every three years, following my Dad's employment to different cities and across several states. I hated moving and found it increasingly difficult to leave my friends and start over as the new girl in a strange school, especially once I became a self-conscious teenager. But this repeated process did detach me from the idea of home as a place. I moved cities and across states as an adult, too, though less frequently. Home is where the people I loved lived.
What about your job? Or an absorbing hobby that isn't portable, like sewing? Could you give those up for the adventure of full-time travel? Aside from the financial aspect of employment, many people find purpose and identity in their profession or leisure pursuits that they can't imagine losing.
People often tell us that they could never afford to travel full-time, so they must keep working. I'm sure they are sincere. However, the lifestyle they must continue working to afford is usually more extravagant than our nomad lifestyle. It's a tradeoff, to live as a frugal nomad rather than a more luxurious conventional life.
"Traveling is turning me into a weirdo!" I laughed recently to my sister on the phone. As we travel, I wear less makeup and fuss less with my hair. I took off my chipped toenail polish five months ago and haven't bothered to replace it. And my wardrobe is pretty limited, consisting of a few practical t-shirts, sweaters, and pants in the same color family, mostly dark neutrals, with a scarf or two for a bit of color. There's no room for more than this in my bags, though I usually feel like I have plenty to wear.
When we were in Zagreb and Vienna, I compared my minimal wardrobe with the gorgeous, stylish clothes of women around me and felt drab and dissatisfied for a couple of weeks. That was temporary, though. Pretty soon that negativity, probably a sort of ingratitude, dissipated, and I was back to focusing happily on the sights and sounds of these beautiful foreign cities and less to the stylish clothes.
It's been a dawning revelation that so much about what I do and say and how I present myself is about meeting the (imagined) expectations of the people around me. This begs the question, how much of me is actually me? And how much is me trying to measure up to what I think other people require?
Do you want to know what you're like, less bound by other people's expectations? Become a nomad. Although we frequently meet and interact with locals, and occasionally other nomads, in the places we go, those interactions, and the expectations that I imagine come with them, aren't sustained long enough to get into my psyche the way I allow them to do when we live in one place.
Choosing the nomad life also means jettisoning some of your cherished viewpoints. Maybe you even want to tear down some of your mental structure, if it's started feeling restrictive or even wrong, and replace it with new ideas and global perspectives. Even if you like the mental world you live in, you won't be able to stay there much longer if you choose to be a nomad. The more I experience the world, the more richly complicated I realize it is, and that knowledge chips away at the monoliths of my preconceived notions, shaping and changing them. By changing my ideas, being a nomad is also changing me.
So back to that island, or that dinner party, where you can choose just a few people as your companions. During Covid, you probably got to know your loved ones in new and surprising ways. Now, can you see spending all your time with this one person, or maybe this one person and your kiddos, and relatively little with other people? Does the idea of this intense and inescapable intimacy tantalize you, or do you want and need frequent interactions with many different people? Depending on your style of travel, you could have it either way, but you'll have to work at it. Whether you're single, finding meetups and making a network of new friends all over the world, or whether you travel as we do, settling in each new place for 2-3 months to live like locals and absorb the vibe by slow osmosis, you'll find that sometimes you're lonely, and sometimes you'd like to be a little more alone.
Which brings us to the last and most difficult decision: would you give up regular contact with friends and family to travel as a nomad? For some people, this choice isn't even a possibility. Elderly parents, relatives or friends with illnesses, and children who need special services, are important reasons to live in one place. For others, the choice to stay home to be around family and friends is automatic. Some grandchildren especially have the magic power to transform adventurous nomads into happy stay-at-home grandparents practically overnight. But for others, including us, their ages and stages of life offer a little window for the nomad life, when everyone is in good health and responsibilities are low.
We see our families once a year, in December. We spend that month back in the US, celebrate Christmas, re-tool our luggage or possessions as needed, and make the rounds to visit friends and family before heading out again in January. Otherwise, we keep in frequent touch via Facetime and texting. It's not the same, as we all learned during Covid lockdowns. Seeing the digitized face of your loved one and hearing their delayed voice is not the same as being with them, no matter what Zoom wants you to believe. Still, it's an acceptable substitute, at least for a while, if you want to travel full-time. This is a very personal decision, and the stakes are higher than imaginary dinner parties. We'll travel for a few years, but not indefinitely. I'd miss too much of the best part of my life by staying away too long. For now, though, when my children are busy adults without children, I'm grateful to choose the adventurous nomad life. I can settle down later if grandchildren come, or I'm needed back home.
More important than the choices you make, though, to become a nomad or invest in your local community, is to make a conscious choice about the way you want to live. We have unprecedented opportunities, and examples, to travel, work, and live in unique ways. The wealthiest kings and most privileged potentates in history didn't have nearly the varied opportunities that even modestly-situated people do today to experience life and the world. Choose your own adventure, pick love, decide to spread your wings or to nest contentedly. But don't just follow the crowd. Choose your life.