Inside Nomadtopia: The First 3,288 Days

September 10, 2013 | , , , ,

To commemorate my 9th nomadiversary (I left my home in San Francisco and officially became a nomad on September 10, 2004), I wanted to write a post about lessons learned over the years. But I was struggling with it, perhaps because I wrote a very similar post last year!

So I put out a call for questions on my Facebook page, and a handful showed up that I think are a perfect way to celebrate nine years of location independence and share some of what I’ve figured out along the way.

What part of the journey was the toughest? Did you ever have moments when you felt like you needed or wanted to stop?

There have been a lot of difficult moments where I wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I wanted to stop entirely (which to me would mean getting a “regular” job again), but there have been times where I’ve slowed down to figure out what’s next or just to take a break from moving around so much.

Eventually, I’m able to regroup, identify what I want and what needs to change (if anything), and head off in that direction. Through it all, I stay focused on my core value of creating (and maintaining) freedom in my life, which has guided every decision.

One of the toughest times was in 2006. After my round-the-world trip I moved to LA for a relationship, and when that didn’t work out, I had no idea where to go or what to do. I knew I wanted to leave the country again, but I didn’t have the money, so I ended up selling almost everything I had left and driving across the country, figuring I’d regroup closer to family while I plotted my next move.

On the way, I got in an accident and my car was totaled, so I ended up at my parents’ house in semi-rural New Jersey with no car and little money. I stayed with them for six months while I worked on my business, then I got antsy and moved to Philadelphia, where I had to get a part-time job to pay the rent, so I could save my freelance income for my move abroad.

While living in Philadelphia, I became even more determined to leave the country, because I was (mostly) surrounded by people who didn’t get why I wanted to do something crazy like move to Argentina. I’ve certainly found myself in other places I didn’t want to be (like a smaller town in Argentina, where I realized I preferred the big city), but staying flexible has always allowed me to make a change when things weren’t going the way I’d like.

Were there ever emergencies where you needed help?

I think all my “emergencies” have been financial, and I’m lucky that my parents have been my biggest supporters all the way through. There have been a couple times when money has been tight and they’ve helped me out in one way or another. And, as I mentioned above, when I ended up at their house with no car and no plans, they were happy to have me stay with them for several months. (They’ve always been big on self-reliance, too, though, so I had to contribute to food and utilities while I was there!)

I certainly never expected to end up living with my parents in my thirties, but it was a good place to land, and I know that I still have that as a back-up option should I ever need it again.

Believe me, I am far, far from a trust-fund kid or anything like that; I support myself financially 100 percent, but it means a lot to have family who support me and can loan me a couple hundred bucks if things get tight!

Are there any people who have opposed your lifestyle choice?

As you may have guessed by now, my immediate family is totally supportive of my lifestyle. I’m not sure all of my extended family understand it as well, but there aren’t any outspoken detractors, at least! I do have a few friends who’d rather I lived closer and give me a hard time sometimes, but in the end I think they’re able to just be happy that I’m happy.

What have you learned about how “solid” your business needs to be, or how “secure” your financial situation needs to be, in order to go nomadic?

When I first jumped ship in 2004, it was after spending 2.5 years saving money; at that point, having a secure financial situation was really important to me, so I waited to quit my job until I had about $12,000 in the bank.

To some people, this actually might not sound like that much money, but I had crunched some numbers and determined that this would allow me to travel for about nine months without working. It did, and I even came home with enough money left to buy my first laptop and tide me over while I set up my first business.

When I started my business, I didn’t have any other source of income, so it was pretty sink-or-swim from day one. And luckily, I’ve been swimming in one way or another ever since!

I did have a part-time job for the six months I lived in Philadelphia, and I took on some contract work in Buenos Aires one year, but other than that, my businesses have completely supported me since I started working for myself in 2005. I spent almost two years saving money and building my editing business to a point where I was sure I could keep things going from abroad, and off I went in 2007.

So to answer the question about how solid your business needs to be, or how secure your financial situation, I’d say it really depends on your risk tolerance!

For example, I did not want to be scrounging for money or worried about how I’d pay for a flight home while I was on my round-the-world trip, so I took the time to save enough so I could be confident that wouldn’t happen.

I was determined to not go into debt because of my move to Argentina, so again, I saved up a couple months’ cushion before I left.

Over time, though, it seems my risk tolerance has increased: After staying put (more or less) in Buenos Aires for quite a few years, my husband and I took off for Southeast Asia (where we are now) with much less of a financial cushion than I’m used to having, and after a few big months of travel expenses and less income than usual, there’s some credit card debt looming for the first time in a while. Knowing that I can make money along the way makes a big difference, but I’d still like to have more money in the bank.

I have yet to make more working for myself than I ever did as an employee, which might make the lifestyle sound less feasible, but I’ve been able to make it work by keeping my fixed expenses low; this makes my financial situation a lot more secure. I am always wary about adding new recurring expenses to my business or life until I’m sure I can afford it, because I don’t want to be stressed about paying for it every month.

I know how much money I need to cover my basic expenses every month, and I do what I can to make sure there’s at least that much money coming in (or already in the bank).

There have been ups and downs over the years, but I always manage to keep my head above water. 

And through it all, I’ve had enough money to continue to travel, invest in additional training and professional development, have lots of cool experiences, and even get married without going into debt.

Another factor in whether your business is solid enough to go nomadic is what “go nomadic” means to you. I’ve found that the more you move around, the more money you’ll spend and the harder it is to stay focused on work, so if you want to move around a lot, you’ll be better off having a more established business and more money in the bank.

Was there a turning point where you knew this would be a stable lifestyle for you?

“Stability” is a nebulous concept… I would say my lifestyle is sustainable, because I’ve been doing it for nine years, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s stable! To me, each year I am able to support myself is additional confirmation that this lifestyle is doable.

As I described above, I continue to have ups and downs in income and financial stability. I know that I can handle whatever comes my way, but I’m also working to increase my income (and, therefore, that sense of stability). I do feel stable in the sense that I have more control over my destiny (where I am, how much I earn and how, and how I spend my time) than I ever did in my “old” life. In terms of the “nomad” part of it, I can make things as stable or unstable as I choose, and I love having the freedom to make that choice.

Thanks to Jesicka and Rebecca for the questions! I hope my answers give you some more insight into what things are like in my own Nomadtopia and how things might unfold on your nomadic journey (of course, your choices and experience might be completely different!).

Photo credit: Ceiling dome at the Museum of Islamic Arts in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo by Amy Scott, all rights reserved.

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