The Ups and Downs of a Nomadic Lifestyle

Posted on June 1, 2009 by

As we drove, for the last time, past the bay area of Singapore, I turned back to see the shimmering night lights of the glitzy city fading behind me. Like time, the city has come and passed. It’s the end of yet another sojourn in the country I call home. Time to hit the road again.

Yet, I am hit by a sense of bittersweet string of emotions. Memories flashed across my mind like an old movie rerunning backwards, black and white, images of laughter and tears. At the same time, I feel a powerful pressing force that urges me to leave. To leave that comfort zone I’d once again built around myself. To explore something new and something that makes me go wow.

Travelling Nomad         Photo by robinvanmourik

It’s exactly how my life has been for the past 5 years. An endless series of sojourns, most of them lasting for a year or so. The first of which was Miami. I remember when I left, I was a wreck. I could barely imagine my life away from the paradise.  Life thereafter changed completely. We’ve packed up and gone to live in several different places since. I knew a nomadic life like this, was what I needed to keep me sane and happy.

Granted, we’ve had our fair share of misadventures – from cheating death while driving up to Machame Falls (Tanzania), to hiking up the mountains of Kakadu (Australia) and having a semi-asthma attack, we still loved living life on the edge.

On a personal note, these are what I consider the Ups of being a nomad, and what keeps us moving.

Everyday on the road is refreshingly exciting. One day you might be lost in the Amazon Jungle, while another, dancing tango along the streets of Buenos Aires. Colorful, unpredictable and topsy-turvy life – an excitement in life that’s hard to get by.

Life on the road is absolutely care-free. Besides the bugging question of where to have your next tantalizing meal, or which funky hostel to stay at, there’s really not much to worry about. Call me an escapist, but who really needs to be bogged down by bills and a stressful career?

You get to live your dreams, and that of many others. Who doesn’t like to travel? Everybody does! OK Some might not like the idea of being away from home, but most of them secretly live their fantasies through your vagabonding lifestyle.

Immersing yourself in a different culture and surrounding makes your learn. so much about the world and how vast it is. It could be visiting a village to see their simple lifestyle, or going on a boat ride with a local fisherman. You could learn more being there physically, than flipping through encyclopedias or websites.

I learn something about myself constantly. It might be something new, or something you already knew but want to improve on. Life is a journey of self-discovery, and I believe by putting yourself out there, you find more of yourself. I know what I want in life, who I am as a being, and I love to uncover more as I go along.

Of course, nothing is perfect. So here goes my Downs of being a nomad.

A friend said that each time she saw me, she felt my sentimental old self slipped away bit by bit. I was becoming less sentimental, and after giving it some thoughts, I shuddered at the thought that she might be right. Perhaps it’s because through these years of traveling, I’ve made so many new friends along the way, that I’ve somehow forgotten how important old friends and family ties can be.

At times, being away from my family especially makes me question the purpose of my nomadic lifestyle. Watching my parents age each time I see them, I yearn to spend more time by their sides and laugh like we always used to.

Financially, I’m far from becoming the next millionaire. Spending all my savings on the next big trip never got me close to buying a house, a car or anything near there. We have no assets of our own, posing quite a bleak prospect being a couple in our late 20s.

While we move from 1 city to the next, I settle for odd jobs and travel on every cent I make. Although I don’t envy my friends who are climbing up the corporate ladder (I’ve experienced 9-to-5 jobs, and I swear never do it again), I do sometimes ponder how it would be like if I’d taken that conventional path and pursued a high-flying career.

We don’t even have a fixed address! A little exaggerating, but yes, we never had a place to call our own. We had been sharing apartment with flatmates or staying with people, and changing mobile phone numbers and rental contracts constantly definitely made us hard to reach!

I guess I just needed to rant, but trust me, it’s all worth it. Seeing the smiles of some foreign faces, and the camaraderie with fellow travel mates, and the amazing journey that life takes us through – that’s priceless!

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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

19 Responses to “The Ups and Downs of a Nomadic Lifestyle”

  1. Lilliy May 31, 2009 10:12 pm

    A very bitter sweet post. I think what we have to say to our selves always ( no matter which life style you choose) are you happy! I never lived a nomadic life but then I always dream of travel and try to do it as much as I can. I look at the people who are doing it full time and all I feel is admiration and envy that you are out there seeing the world while I am at home reading about it. believe me a steady home, steady income, one place to be in I think for any couple or person comes at one point or the other. Once you settled the cravings and saturated them you will be able to choose the place where you will finally be happy to call home. I say go and live your dreams, learn from it all, become who you should be and when its time or may be this could become your carrier and you would have one base camp to rest in from time to time you never know. Since you are able to do this now, do it! some of us are already stuck with too many responsibilities to the point we cant live out our dreams.

  2. jen laceda June 1, 2009 12:39 am

    Oh I agree with Lilliy…so bittersweet is the life of a nomad. But I guess, we can't have everything all the time, can we? As a digital nomad, you've made your choice to live that life and I am certain that every morning that you wake up, you are happy that you are living the life you've envisioned and not tied down to a 9-to-5. Let me tell you…those assets you talk about (car, house, investment account, etc.)–aren't all that! I've met MANY people who work their 9-to-5 to pay off their cars, house, investments, etc. and guess what? In a paradoxical twist, their cars, house, investments end up owning them!! they stay at home mowing their lawns in the weekend and paying for $10,000 windows and all sorts of home reno, and they sacrifice vacations for these things. But hey, I am not judging them (that's what they prioritize). However, I'm sure that's NOT your priority. So, BRAVO! for following your dreams and living the life you want!

  3. Nellie June 1, 2009 5:37 pm

    hey Jen and Lilly, your words almost made my eyes water. You both hit the spot, I mean that's exactly why I pack up and go, leaving my life behind. There are so many sacrifices we have to make to lead this lifestyle, but I never regret a single moment of it. Living the life I dream of is so important, especially doing what I want right now, before it gets too late. Lilly, I too believe in reaching a point in life where one's travel cravings get saturated, who knows, my turn might come soon! Jen, yes there are many who are stuck with loans, debts and work. I'm glad I'm off these burden. Both your encouragement really meant alot to me, and I really appreciate that!

  4. Keith Jenkins June 3, 2009 10:55 pm

    Hi Nellie, that's an incredible post and I can definitely relate to the emotions attached to being a nomad. During my ten year career in banking, I always felt the need to get away from it all (every few months and good thing I earned enough to do it!). After a while, I realised that I was just trying to escape from a life that wasn't really me. I'm a lot happier now, doing something I love, and I owe all that to living like a nomad for five months. I will encourage and applaud anyone who chooses to follow their heart. It takes a lot of courage to leave it all behind and embark on a journey that may seem meaningless to many. I have deep respect for that. So, go on… enjoy your new adventures, and write about them so we can all enjoy and re-live those adventures like they were ours! :-)

  5. soultravelers3 September 11, 2009 2:28 pm

    sweet! i write this pecking as a lefty as i recover from surgery & broken humeris bone of my dominant arm (from bike wreck traveling Austria) as we begin our 4th year of nonstop world travel as a family. .All lives have up and downsides, but we too have found the world traveling one so rewarding on so many levels!

    Since we are at a different age, the only downside we share is missing parents & family altho free skype webcams help so much with that.

    It is important to follow your dreams & bliss! Often lives have many phases, so perhaps you can add a home someday if that becomes a new dream….. or not if it doesnt. Always if there is a will there is a way!

    Freedom is the greatest thing, but digital nomad is just one way to attain it. Every life & dream involves sacrifice,

    I had a brother who lived one of the most free lives on nothing,,,biking across countries, jumping trains, even stow away on ussr ship! Full of life but it was also good that he died when hit by a car at 40 because a long life in his case might have been hard as one tends to need more comforts & security later in old age.

    DO live for now, but also consider the distant future to some extent! ;) Maybe i'm misreading, but i hear longing & doubt in your many downsides & wonder if they need to be pondered & listened to more…. for ways to solve or lessen?

  6. @gotpassport September 12, 2009 4:45 am

    i enjoyed reading this post and all the comments I've read here. Truth is we've had the house, two of them, with all the trimmings in it to keep it all nice and presentable to keep up w/ the Joines because somewhere along the road we're taught to believe that's the thing to do. See my post about the Empty Lexus. Had a stable but a thankless job as well.. Reality is those material things just tied us down from being able to do what you are doing. Our new philosophy in life: LESS is MORE!

    I see this post is from January 2009 and I am just now reading it because I came across it from Twitter. But I'm glad I found it since we are headed towards Thailand in 2010 with our 6 yo.

    I admire your courage to follow your heart/dream to do what you feel is right for you to make you happy!

    I hope you are well Nellie, where ever you are now.

  7. Argentina travel December 17, 2009 10:20 pm

    In some ways, like being away from the people we love, it's a hard like but the good thing is all the amazing experiences,people and cultures we live, meet and know. Definitely a kind of like not for all.

  8. Michael Brown January 27, 2010 9:43 am

    Really well written article which definitely makes you think about how you always get stuck in one place and feel like you cannot leave. I did the same in Thailand a few years back, found a little island and was so sad to leave but it turned out the next island was even better!

    I especially like the comments about the different cultures as this in probably one of my favorite things about travelling. I love arriving at a new location and
    getting to know the locals as well as sampling the cuisine.

    I would like to ask Nellie a question. What has been you overall most enjoyable country so far?

  9. Shannon OD March 24, 2010 3:15 pm

    I've had so many of these same sentiments – it's such a trade off on the road because, on the one hand, you have this amazing opportunity right now to realize your dreams and explore other countries while you're young. But then on the other, I too miss my parents, and my niece and nephew grow by insane leaps and bounds every time I come home…and I miss seeing them grow up – everything in moderation though. I don't plan to ever stay gone a full year again becuase of so much of what you have pointed out.

    • admin March 25, 2010 5:37 pm

      Good to hear that you share the same sentiments Shannon! I haven’t been back home for a year now. But I think I’m getting the hang of being away from home now, especially after spending almost 5 years abroad (although I did spend a year back home last winter – it almost killed me thou). I actually really like my love-and-hate relationship with home now – I don’t get too sentimental and yet when I return, I love it.


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