If you have questions of your own, please ask them in the comments. I’ll be pulling together a more comprehensive Q&A blog page over the next months and will gladly include them.
As always, bon voyage.
6.) How do you and Pat not kill each other when you spend so much time together?
Great question! Especially since our current home has no place to hide.
Most important, when we are living someplace, we act as though we are living there (not vacationing there). Pat has his hobbies, and I have mine. He is in a photo club in Paris. I go to the coffee shop every morning to write. When I leave, I say, “I’m leaving for work.” I need that structure in my daily life, the feeling that each day I have something I must accomplish. While I’m gone, he edits photos. Neither of us get paid much, but we treat it with the dedication of a job. It gives us unique hobbies and alone time.
I’m home by lunch and make a big deal out of meals—and yes, we always eat together. In the afternoon, we might do one new thing: Stop inside a church. Explore a park or a museum. Walk a new street or neighborhood. With enough alone time, we also love our time together. (If you have an unhappy marriage, becoming nomadic will not fix that!)
I’m a bit more of an introvert, so I might go off by myself for a few days (or for an afternoon). Recently, I rented a tiny room in the south of France and hiked every day. Pat went to Ireland and hung out with friends in the small village that has become a second home. He was happy to engage with the community. I was happy to recharge by myself.
In general, we try to make our day-to-day life feel like a normal life. For us, building a non-vacation mind-set has been key to making this sustainable, and to finding our individual–non-homicidal–happiness.
7.) It can be so hard to work your way into a new community, especially when you don’t speak the language. How do you make friends with locals (or otherwise keep from getting lonely)?
One thing we haven’t done is to engage in expat communities.
If I think of my pre-nomadic life, the people who had the biggest impact on my day-to-day happiness were the folks I saw each day in the coffee shop or the grocery store. They became casual friends as we caught up for a few minutes over a transaction. And we do that now. I don’t sample the myriad of Paris coffee shops but rather stick with my coffee shop and become a regular. Same with grocery stores, wine stores, and bakeries. This makes a new community feel like home.
As for deeper friendships, the first person in our new life was Igor, a music shop owner in Bratislava. We agreed to his offer of coffee and talked for an hour. Every few weeks after that first meeting, we stopped by to see him. Over time, we built up a long-term friendship that has grown to include his family, along with joint vacations and holidays. In Budapest, we became close with neighbors in our building and again, they are still friends that we keep in touch with and occasionally visit. Lesson one: Say ‘yes’ when a local offers you into their life!
We have also met various American nomads like ourselves and meet up fairly frequently. And of course, living in Paris for the moment, it’s not hard to convince people to visit.
Lastly, we seek friends with a shared interest (beyond merely being expats). I just joined a book club at the American Library in Paris. Pat is a member of a photo club that has frequent outings. While there are some expats in these clubs, our common interests are what bonds us.
8.) What is a typical day in your life when you first get to a new place? One week in? Three weeks in?
The first week is for settling in. Day one, we buy all our toiletries (since we don’t pack these things) and staples. Week one, we shop for those handful of items that are important to us. I find my favorite coffee shop. We figure out our preferred markets, casual restaurants, and shops. If we have moved through several time zones, we get used to our new time. We learn the public transportation routes and decide if we need a monthly pass. In that first week, I will start to research the tourist attractions we want to see and maybe take a city tour.
After the first week, we start to live. I begin to write again. Pat heads out looking for photos. We plug-in the tourist things that we want to do into our calendar, but I limit us to one each day.
The last week, I grow restless, begin to manage our food down and pull out our suitcases. We dash off to any last-minute sites still on our list.
Move day is always the most stressful day, especially if we’re going to a place far away that we’ve never visited, especially one where we need to learn the public transportation to get to our apartment. But I know by the end of that first week, the new place will begin to feel like home. And when move day becomes overwhelming, I remind myself of this.
9.) What have been the biggest surprises of becoming an eternal nomad? Challenges or rewards?
I think the biggest surprise is how little I miss my things (and the inverse. When we accumulate too much, I start to feel unsettled). In fact, not owning things is so incredibly liberating, my goal is to never own much again.
We’ve also learned how connected the world is—while simultaneously so different. Guatemala was unlike anyplace I’d ever been, but one morning a man climbed into our ferry-boat holding his very ill son wrapped in a blanket. He was worried, like I would have been. And I realized how much I could empathize with this Mayan man who lived a very different life from my own.
And most people are good. No matter where we are in the world, when things go awry (we can’t figure out the train system or understand a single word on the menu) someone steps forward to help. Sometimes, they sit down and talk for a while. And that brief spark of friendship makes everything worthwhile.
10.) What’s your #1 piece of advice for new nomads?
Purge. Purge. Purge. Think twice about that storage unit! In the early days, stay nimble. Don’t book too far out. Tinker with what you like and don’t like and make corrections. If you want to live nomadically for a long time, build out a structure where it feels like life, not travel. And more than anything, if you want this life, get started!
BONUS: What’s your favorite place you’ve been yet and why?
For me, no place compares to Paris. It’s in the hall of fame.
Beyond that, we loved our time in Central Europe. 20th century history comes alive there. Along with a love of classical music and an architecture reminiscent of its role in an empire.
For Pat, I’d say Guatemala. It’s where he found his groove. Every day, he went up to the barrio and photographed life. People invited them into their homes, and he left there with a breath-taking body of work. I think it’s where we learned we could live almost anywhere. He did so much better than me, and since this life started as my idea, that made me happy.
Categories: How To