Life Lessons Nomadic Living

9 Stages of Becoming a Nomad

Next week I’ll be celebrating one year since I left the U.S. to live nomadically around the world. In the beginning, I couldn’t fathom sustaining this lifestyle long-term. Now, I can’t imagine returning to the life I had before.

After 10 years working in corporate office environments, I craved escaping the confinement of a desk and the rigidity of a fixed schedule. I left San Francisco on a quest to balance life, work and travel. I wanted to spend every day getting a glimpse outside of my career bubble, to change my scenery to accommodate my mood, and to experience just as much personal growth as professional development.

I found resources to help me get started on this journey and through trial and error have discovered the environments where I thrive, the people who are my greatest support system and the types of work opportunities to sustain me.

Each lesson learned was a unique stage in the process of changing my life.

1: The Eureka Moment

My first introduction to this lifestyle was reading about a former coworker who was traveling with a program called Remote Year. I was amazed by the program, but even more so that someone with my same profession, one that is team-based and collaborative, was able to work remotely. My eyes lit up as I read about her experience. Soon I was following a trail of links related to what I had stumbled upon. Within weeks, I went from knowing nothing about the nomad lifestyle to feeling as though I had struck gold discovering it.

Although I was curious, it didn’t seem like a realistic opportunity for me. I had a full-time job, a serious relationship and an apartment full of things that I cherished. But in my mind, the seed had been planted.

2: Questioning Everything

In the month following my discovery, a surprising turn of events took place including losing my job and my relationship. These hits were devastating, yet there was a silver lining. By losing so much all at once, I had been set free. I felt both awe and fear when actually considering a nomadic life for myself. I wasn’t ready to commit to a year away, to throw all comforts out the window or to walk straight forward into uncertainty.

Rather than jumping into decisions, I started by asking questions. How did I feel about my city, my apartment, my possessions, my career and my relationships? I considered how I would change my life if I had the choice. Then, I soon realized – I did have the choice. What did I want do every day? Who did I want to surround myself with? What location would make me feel most alive? What was stopping me?

Somehow it felt like I was asking myself these questions for the first time. I didn’t answer in the ways I thought I should. Instead I answered in the ways that made my heart sing.

3: Resetting Priorities

Most people will get stuck at this stage out of indecision or fear, but I learned that you must reset your priorities in order to dramatically change your life. If you hold onto the same ideals, the alternate lifestyle that you desire will remain impossible. Eventually I decided that traveling was my number one priority and I was ready to give it precedence over everything else. This shift allowed me to detach from viewing my career through the same lens as I always had. Moving forward, work would be a means for living rather than the focus of my life.

Through this mindset, my job hunt formed and I sought the same position I always had, with one change – I’d only be available for freelance work, remotely. With confidence, I set my terms and made them clear. I didn’t ask for permission, I simply asked for what I wanted. Lo and behold, it worked, and I was graced with my first opportunity to combine work and travel.

4: Taking the Leap

When I finally had the opportunity to take the leap, fear stepped in the way and I thought about all of the things I should be doing instead. I was weighing the known – a corporate career, secure salary, and the city that felt like home – against a life completely unknown. I now know that this is totally normal – that at the moment before change, we hesitate and talk ourselves into staying where it’s comfortable rather than remembering why we wanted change in the first place.

When this happens, the only ones holding us back are ourselves. I got out of my way and accepted the opportunity to join GlobeKick for what would be a three month introduction to my new life.

5: Hand-holding

Prior to this trip, I was a seasoned traveler, a pro at packing light, and I had even lived abroad before. I had debated whether I’d need a nomad program like GlobeKick when I could figure out the logistics on my own. But taking my professional responsibilities on the road was new and overwhelming. I had been trusted to perform my job just as well remotely and I felt incredible pressure not to fail.

It turned out it wasn’t just having the logistics planned that made GlobeKick my necessary starting point, it was also the built-in support system which continually gave me the encouragement to succeed. The twenty people in my group became my cheerleaders for taking risks, for getting out of my comfort zone and for doing what I wanted to do rather than what I should do. When you find a community of people who inspire you and are inspired by you – they will echo your dreams, not your fears.

6: Trial and Error

Honestly, working remotely wasn’t easy to dive into. I experienced the familiar feeling of being on vacation, yet I wasn’t. My senses had to adjust to working despite the surroundings which signaled otherwise, and I had to get used to the daily ritual of stepping from a charming street into an office space. It took me one whole month to get into a groove.

Through trial and error, I discovered a workflow, how wonderful it is to reserve daylight hours for myself, that working on a laptop outdoors isn’t actually productive or meaningful, that everything I need day-to-day fits into one suitcase, that I must find as much alone time as I do social activity and that staying in touch with people from afar is equally important and complicated.

7: Realizing Baseline Needs

One of the greatest lessons I have learned this past year is that just because you can travel anywhere doesn’t mean you will thrive everywhere. I’d traveled through enough countries to understand and respect many different living conditions around the world. But that perspective was as a tourist passing through, not as someone attempting to assimilate for longer. However basic our needs may be, we’re conditioned by the environment we grew up in, in ways we won’t even realize until we experience their absence.

I realized that when choosing places to live, I needed to look for different characteristics than when choosing places to travel. The living environments where I thrive are small developed cities, filled with greenery and warm weather, where I can speak the language and a wellness community exists. I expect that these needs will evolve, but for now these are the places I know I will be happy and productive.

8: Manifesting Utopia

The advanced stage of the nomadic lifestyle happens when you’ve learned enough about the environments in which you thrive and found enough balance between work and life to navigate the world with ease and fearlessness. You will discover your favorite places to live, you will figure out how to make a remote income and you will know how to find your people wherever you go.

I’ve become comfortable with working less, earning less and living more. I’ve transitioned from being a digital nomad to simply being a nomad – someone who can live and work in any location but isn’t tied to working online. I have finally let go of attachment to my former career. These days I work as a photographer and a yoga teacher, finding fulfillment in this much deeper sense of human connection. 

It’s taken me one full year to get here and I’m still figuring out how I want to fill my days. Even if I don’t have all the answers, I’m thankful that I have the freedom to experiment. Ultimately, this freedom has stemmed from letting go of the idea that a successful life looks a certain way.

9: Questioning Everything, All Over Again

As soon as it all feels so easy, you will begin to question your lifestyle all over again. This is the stage when you realize that there’s no stopping point. You will have figured out how to live as a nomad indefinitely and you will weigh your new utopia against the life you left behind.

No matter what lifestyle you’re living, in which country and with which job, it’s valuable to pause to ask ourselves why we’re choosing to live the lifestyle we are.

What do you choose?

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