Living the Nomadic Lifestyle
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Issue 8 of Holl & Lane Magazine.
Interview by Sarah Hartley // Words and images by Linda Murphy
Q: In 2015 you started traveling the world. Why did you decide to travel? How long do you plan to spend abroad? Did you have to give up a job or apartment or your belongings before leaving?
The wheels of full-time travel were set in motion years ago, when Tyler and I first met. We had both grown up traveling and were eager to spend our lives exploring the world. Besides just having an innate curiosity about the diversity of beauty on this planet, we also believe traveling connects you with humanity and pushes you to further levels of self-development. However, we had very different visions of how a life devoted to travel would play out. Tyler wanted to spend a few years in each place: settling in, getting a job, establishing a community. I wanted to have an intense period of time where the primary focus was immersing myself in the travel experience. It was an expat versus backpacker mindset. As we approached our first anniversary in 2014, we settled on a good compromise. We would set aside a few of the remaining years in our twenties to travel around the world, one year in each place. Besides the savings we’d accrued through careful planning, and the sale of most of our belongings and our beloved first home, we planned to get jobs in each place. We resolved to work only jobs we truly enjoyed, and just enough to support ourselves as we traveled.
Q: How long have you been traveling now and where have you gone?
That summer of 2014, we packed all the stuff we had left and drove to Anchorage, Alaska for our first year of travel. While this wasn’t technically out of the country, it was an adventure all its own. We spent a year there both working part-time at bakeries and exploring as much of the wild Last Frontier as possible. The next summer, we repeated the selling, packing, and driving across the country and ended up in Philadelphia, boarding a plane for our first international leg of our journey.
By this time, we’d abandoned the idea of staying in one place for a whole year, opting instead to try a slighter faster style of travel for year two. We spent about five months in Europe visiting Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, England, and Ireland. This January, we left Europe and headed around the globe to SE Asia, landing in Malaysia where we’ve been thoroughly enjoying life ever since.
Q: While traveling, you often house sit in the cities. How do you find these opportunities? How long do you usually stay? How does this work?
Housesitting is one of the most curiosity-provoking aspects about our lives, and it never fails to start conversations wherever we go! People are fascinated with the idea that Tyler and I stay for free during most of our travels abroad. In short, we belong to a website community of house sitters and homeowners. We pay for a membership and have a profile and list of references. When a homeowner posts a job that looks attractive, we apply— along with dozens of others— and hope to be selected. We go through a selection process including an interview. We have chosen to apply for longer housesits because we enjoy getting settled in and getting to know a community. Our housesits have ranged from one week to two months, but on average we stay 3-5 weeks. We’ve watched over a myriad of animals from cats to laying hens, and we’ve enjoyed a variety of home settings from an old English cottage to a modern townhouse. While a small minority of housesits pay in monetary compensation, we have only chosen jobs with free housing and consider this a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Q: You posted on your blog about having just “One Friend” while traveling. What is the most difficult part of traveling to new places with just your husband for company? How do you keep it from becoming a problem or getting on one another’s nerves?
Having only “One Friend” while traveling has certainly been the biggest challenge. Back home, we were a very social couple and we loved hosting dinner parties at home or going out on adventures with friends. We’ve really missed having a community to gather around, engage with, and support us. While this has been a really trying year for us relationally, I have seen growth like never before in our communication and patience with one another. Honestly, I think it will be difficult when we settle somewhere again and I’m separated from Tyler during the day! We do everything together and I have grown really accustomed to having him around 24/7. I think we manage this because we have always been good friends above anything else, we share in each other’s interests as much as possible, and we make sure to vary our schedules to make room for both our preferences.
Q: Often when we think of traveling the globe, we see dollar signs. How did you prepare for such a long, and seemingly pricey, trip?
We think it’s absolutely possible to afford any dream, it just takes prioritizing and a lot of work. We are both really passionate about personal financial freedom and management. Tyler was lucky enough to make it through university without debt, and I paid off $30,000 of student loans in the year and a half before we were married. After we were at a zero debt sum— not counting our mortgage— we began setting aside travel savings every month during our first year of marriage. Eventually, we also sold our house, both our cars, and most of our belongings in order to take the big leap abroad. We are willing to live on less because seeing new places is the goal, not living luxuriously. To give you an idea of what that actually means, we spent less than $5,500 total for five months of travel to and in Europe. That is about $20/day for each person! We worked for free housing during most of our trip, we cooked at home instead of eating out about half the time, and I cut my shopping habit out completely. Although there have been some tough days - I would say it’s been totally worth it in the end. We’ve had an amazing time.
Q: What is the first thing you do when you get to a new city? How do you determine what to see and do while you’re in a new place? Do you ever have days where you just stay in and watch TV or are you constantly on the go to soak up every possible minute?
I’m going to play it straight and let you in on the not-so-secret truth: we stay in and watch TV all the time and aren’t even ashamed of it! But I’ll start at the beginning. The first thing we do in a new city is settle in at our new house. Tyler and I have coined the term “homebody traveler”. We truly enjoy jet-setting off to new countries and exploring different cultures, but most of the time, we like to live quiet, normal lives. We like to wake up and make our own cup of coffee, sit on the porch for breakfast, walk down the street to the neighborhood grocer, come home to cook dinner in our own kitchen, and close the day on the couch binge-watching our newest TV obsession. So everywhere we go, we try to be locals as much as possible, and that begins with getting settled from the very start. But after that, I would say our first stop is generally food. The more authentic, the better. We prefer to wander around by foot and happen across interesting things— as opposed to seeking them out— but we’re not above packing in a day of very touristy sight-seeing as well!
Q: How do you keep from feeling homesick?
We don’t! Feeling homesick is part of the travel lifestyle. For some people, it’s a constant nagging feeling that can easily dampen the mood daily. For other people, like ourselves, homesickness comes and goes and is both triggered and appeased by things you run into that remind you of home. Here in Malaysia, seeing dark-skinned, mustached men— even if they’re Asian— makes me think of my Latino father. And that usually makes me sad. But then the tropical foliage and cement buildings remind me of childhood trips to Peru, and that somehow brings a comforting familiarity. I think the things that have helped us proactively deal with homesickness the most are: acknowledging to each other from the start of the trip that there would be hard isolating moments ahead and keeping in touch via FaceTime with our parents and some siblings and friends.
Q: What has been your favorite city so far and why?
I’m so glad you asked “why” because I think each traveler prioritizes something different when ranking favorites. For me, it’s “where could I feel at home living long term?” and London definitely hit the mark for me. From the old architecture to the parks everywhere, I loved it! For Tyler, finding something totally unique is the most important factor. Prague was his favorite city; it looked like it had been lifted out of a fairy tale painting!
Q: In your travels, you must’ve seen some amazing things- tell us three of your very favorites.
From the beginning, Alaska blew us away for sure. The word “vast” doesn’t even come close to describing it. It was stunning in the winter, but going out backpacking, fishing, and exploring in the summer was where we really fell hard for this remote state. This fall, we started our trip in Switzerland and going to the small mountain town of Adelboden was like being transported to another reality. Finally, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia may not be a spectacular sight, but we have had some of the best food of our trip here. It is such a melting pot of Asian cultures that you can have Indian food for breakfast, Malaysian food for lunch, and one of the greatest American burgers of your life for dinner. Plus a Nutella milkshake.
Q: After your travels abroad are over, what’s next? Will you have jobs to come home to?
From the start, we planned to travel for three to four years. We are about halfway through year two of travel now, and next year we intend to return to our original form of travel by staying and working in one city for the entirety of year three. The current plan is to stay somewhere here in Asia where I can finally use my Bachelor’s degree in TESOL. After that, we are totally open. We think we’ll probably be ready to stop the nomad life after three years of travel, returning to the States to look for a warm, internationally diverse place to live. We don’t have jobs lined up for when we return, but we are each pursuing fields that we really love even while traveling. For me, that is writing (and hopefully teaching next year), and for Tyler it’s financial planning and investing.
Q: What three pieces of advice would you give to someone looking to do this same thing?
1. It’s totally doable; it’s all about priorities. Determine your life priorities. If travel is one of those priorities, some other things may need to be reordered to allow travel to be the focus. You might have to pick the cheaper lease on the condo without a pool. On the flip side, you might have to get out of your comfort zone and go to a meet-up of expats in your city. In the end, it’s all about priorities.
2. Be honest about your feelings. Research and ask questions of people who have already done the type of traveling you desire to do. Be honest with yourself— and if traveling with a partner, definitely with them!— about what your expectations are for your trip. This will help guide and ground you. You might decide you want to pack in ten experiences each day, or you might find you like taking it slow and sleeping in ‘til ten each morning. You travel, check in often to ask if your expectations are being met, if they’re reasonable, if you need to make any changes.
3. Be flexible and creative. Plans will change, and spirits can stay high if you just learn to roll with it. Along with that, be creative about how you travel. You might have only ever stayed at a hotel, but be flexible and consider an AirBnB. Or, get really creative and look up other options… it might lead to something like housesitting! You’ll be glad you started from an open-minded place, and this creativity may even save you some dollars!