“Where are you from?” the waiter asked in Spanish. We were inside of a small cafe overlooking a quiet, sunny plaza in the village of Ciutadella de Menorca, the least developed of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, where everyday life moves slowly and flying to Barcelona is a long trip for a local. I watched his look of curiosity turn to astonishment. “California is very, very far away,” he said uneasily as if I should be concerned, as if he was concerned for me. “Yes, yes, I know, it’s very far away,” I responded with ease.
I’ve become so familiar with navigating new places that it feels more natural than sitting still in the same place I already know. While California was my most recent home base, my “home” has been redefined over and over again. I’ve been practicing detachment from places for the past decade as I’ve packed, purged and reset each time I moved around the U.S. and the world. And now, for the first time in my life there isn’t one particular place that feels like home, not even San Francisco where my dearest friends and possessions live. Perhaps it is why, as I begin this new chapter of my life, I’ve chosen the most comfortable setting I know – being far, far away.
Where The Travel Bug Began
I left the country for the first time at 15 when I traveled to Israel with a large group from my summer camp. The camp had arranged everything for our 6-week stay, making my first trip abroad feel as seamless as if we were spending the summer in Waco, Texas, allowing us to focus entirely on eating falafel, hiking in the desert and visiting the historic sites of our motherland. It was life-changing to say the least, to learn firsthand about food, culture and language by being in a country rather than reading about it in a book. That trip planted the seed for the desire to see more, especially after realizing traveling was as easy as getting on a plane to reach the other side of the world. I was so moved by the richness of the culture and surprised by how easy it felt to be away that for a brief moment I considered finishing high school in Israel, my first itch to live abroad.
Alas I finished high school in Texas and stayed for college too. I was able to travel abroad a few more times during college and worked my way up to solo travel, starting with visiting the beach towns of Mexico with friends, to a winter abroad with a language school in Costa Rica and eventually on a solo trip back to Israel to study Hebrew. These experiences only added fuel to the travel-bug-fire.
Traveling became my number one priority after graduating. After years of studying Spanish, I was eager to explore South America. I saved what I guessed was enough to last 2 months with little awareness of what the real costs would be but with the confidence and resourcefulness to know that I’d make it work.
The Nomadic Trip 10 Years Ago
We only booked flights into Lima, Peru and 9 weeks later out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with a blank itinerary in-between. We were 22, both of us backpacking for the first time with no set plan. We chose each destination as we went, reading our guide books along the way and getting tips from other travelers we met in passing, making due with what was in our backpacks and bank accounts.
It was thrilling and satisfied me more than I had imagined. It wasn’t just the locations that were eye-opening. It was also discovering that people could travel for months or years, not only for days or weeks. I loved the stories they shared, their mindset, their carefree independence and that they were brave, curious and lacked attachment to a traditional corporate career. Their priority was life, not work. I had never heard of this being an acceptable lifestyle and certainly had never met an American who lived this way.
Inspired by these encounters, I decided not to move to NYC as planned and instead, on the credit card I had barely used since opening it in college, I bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand to follow my departure from Brazil. I didn’t have any more money to spend on traveling, just the small amount I had saved to get started in New York. I was going to travel alone to Auckland, knowing no one there, with no plan for when I arrived, just with the work visa I had received online and the desire to work and live in this new exotic land. I didn’t have much, but I had confidence in navigating new places, finding the right jobs at the right time, stretching a dollar and being comfortable far from home. I read the entire Lonely Planet book cover-to-cover on my 13-hour flight to Auckland and formed my arrival plan on the way there.
I made my plans day-by-day and ended up staying in New Zealand for 4 months. With two friends I met early on, we bought a van together; the van, which we named Berta, became our home. Together, we found odd jobs, we went surfing, scuba diving and hiking, we sang off-key while driving on the left side of the road, and we stayed up late discussing our dreams. At one point a wine vineyard was our backyard and at another point it was an apple orchard. I ate PB&J sandwiches like they were the only thing that existed. All of my possessions were organized inside of an empty banana box. This was what home looked like then.
In all, I spent 6 months in 6 countries exploring Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, New Zealand and Australia. I started the journey without a plan, yet so much was possible without needing one and most of what I did experience wouldn’t have been possible had I made one. All I had was a crystal clear priority for travel, confidence in my skills and determination to make it work.
10 Years Later, Here I Am Again
It’s been exactly 10 years since that trip ended in April 2007, when I stood with the structure of school behind me and the promise of career before me. I’m now standing on what was the distant horizon and have gone from being unsure of how to take the first step on the career ladder to climbing down to take a break.
However, I don’t feel the same pressure to rush back to “what I should be doing” like I did before. I feel the support of a massive network telling me it’s possible to continue this lifestyle abroad. The internet has made that possible – both with the social networks that have emerged to connect travelers and the online jobs that enable working remotely. This nomadic lifestyle doesn’t feel temporary, it feels right, one that supports my habitual changes – it’s less rigid, less stressful, where life comes before work and you don’t need a lot, you just need enough.
Where I Go From Here
Somehow along the way of life, I went from being a kid with little money and a lot of drive to a young adult with enough money and a lot of drive to an adult with a lot of money and little drive. I reached a burn out from working, from pouring myself into things I wasn’t sure really mattered, to realizing how extravagant my life was becoming and seeing that all the money was going into my own lifestyle. The one thing I had that I didn’t ever want to change – my marriage – eventually changed too. And now I’m back here, back to where I left off 10 years ago – single, abroad with a fixed amount of money, no set plan, and with both the pressure and the promise of my profession on the horizon.
But although I’m doing a similar indefinite trip, I’m not exactly where I left off. The last decade has hosted enough experience, heartbreak and celebration for an entire life time. In the last 10+ years I’ve traveled to 22 countries and 25 U.S. states, I’ve worked for 10 companies, I’ve lived in many apartments in many time zones. I’ve built an entire career identity and a priceless network of colleagues. I’ve been married. And soon I’ll be divorced.
10 years ago I was at the beginning of something completely unknown and what unfolded was extraordinary. I’m at the edge of the same incoming wave with a brand new focus and mindset. This time I know who I am, my ego is gone, my interests are clear. I don’t want to hustle or live in a stress bubble. This time my priorities are different.
How I Define Home Now
The concept of home has changed for me – from a rooted nest full of objects to anywhere I unpack my suitcase. Home can be a place to share with others, even with people I’m not related to. Home is anywhere I have a key, a bed and a moka espresso maker. Home is anywhere I feel safe. Home is made possible by others willing to take the journey with me even if it’s as simple as opening their door, or their heart. Home isn’t just a house, it’s a relationship to what’s around me which can be created anywhere I go.
“California is very, very far away,” he said. “Yes, yes, I know, it’s very far away,” I responded with ease.