5 Misconceptions of a Nomadic Lifestyle
I was nervous as hell the day I quit my job. Oddly, I wasn’t nervous about the 180-degree turn my life was about to take, but about speaking the words out loud to my boss. A meeting was set to discuss a plan for the next six-months for the company I ran. I chose this meeting to exhale my intentions to quit.
The requisite reschedule of busy men made the meeting more ominous. Finally, the day came and without preamble I blurted, “I’m quitting and Jen and I are moving to Costa Rica.”
The briefest of naked space was followed by my boss’s quip, “Well, I guess that’s my six-month plan now.”
That was six years and many adventures ago. During that time, my wife and I have shared our newfound lifestyle on social media – first so that friends and family could follow along and then with strangers who had similar leanings.
Our travels have taken us many places. We lived in Costa Rica for four years, thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, walked the Camino de Santiago (French route) and are now living in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
While our adventures have changed over the years, one thing has remained constant, misconceptions about the lifestyle we are living. Here are five things people say or get wrong about a nomadic lifestyle:
1. You Are So Lucky
This is probably the most frequently expressed sentiment when someone first stumbles upon what we are doing and it is frustrating to hear.
What we are doing is on purpose. Each adventure is thought out, planned for and budgeted before we execute it.
Thomas Jefferson said it well:
“I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
This lifestyle is not something that we lucked into. Instead it is an intentional modification of mindset. We have chosen to prioritize accumulating adventures and life changing experiences over amassing things and money.
2. You Must be Rich
Another common misconception is we must be independently wealthy or be trust fund recipients. That would be a big fat “no” to both assumptions. The reality is more mundane – we live simply.
There was a time where we had much more money. We were TINKS (two incomes, no kids) at the top of our careers. We had plenty of money, but no time to enjoy it.
Instead, we downsized and moved to Costa Rica. Many think living overseas is expensive, and it can be, but not the way we did it. We had no car and traveled on public transportation, we ate like the Costa Ricans buying mainly fruits, vegetables, and meats and leaving the processed, packaged, and specialty foods to gringos with thicker wallets.
Over those four years, our budget for living in paradise was just $1200 a month. After we left Central America we lived on the Appalachian Trail for six months then house sat in Michigan for six months. By not having a mortgage or rent we were able to keep our budget low and achievable.
So no, we are not rich and we don’t need to be as our focus is on living an adventurous lifestyle rather than having the latest model Mercedes or monstrous McMansion.
3. You Guys are Lazy
I agree, a case could be made that idleness is not a positive trait, it is the playground of the devil after all; however, prioritizing adventure, learning, fun, and living over work is admirable.
It was a pretty screwed up dynamic working in corporate America – we prided ourselves on how many hours we put in, how many late nights and weekends we worked, how many freaking vacation days we skipped or banked that year. And why? So we could keep up with the Joneses? Eat another steak dinner?
Instead of living to work, we now work to live. We work enough to fund our fun. And our life is richer because we have immersed ourselves into a different culture, learned a different language, lived in the forest for half a year, and walked 500 miles through medieval Europe.
Focusing on an active learning life that minimizes what many consider “real work”? Sure. Lazy? Not even close.
4. Your Life is All Play and No Work
An offshoot to the lazy misconception is that a nomadic life is all play and no work. Unless you are one of the aforementioned trust-fundies or independently wealthy, you have to work. Life costs money.
Every single person we know living a nomadic alternative lifestyle works extremely hard. The difference from normal life is this work is often done in conjunction with an adventure and the nomad is not constrained by structured working hours and days. Therefore, they are usually very efficient and doing work that (to sound corny) feeds their soul.
When my wife and I were saving for our Appalachian Trail thru-hike we added some duties to our normal life in Costa Rica. I was writing for International Living Magazine and Jen was selling handmade jewelry – these two things paid our bills. To save the money we needed for the AT, we added some things. I began pet and house sitting and working online doing micro-tasks (i.e., MTURK) and Jen attended art festivals and added to her jewelry designs.
Our main “job” is writing. We have written nine books between us – the bulk of those are Jen’s since I can be lazy. We have written about assimilating into life in Costa Rica, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and walking the Camino de Santiago, among other subjects.
Our basic strategy is to research an adventure, do the adventure, then write about all the things we learned that were not discovered during our research. We enjoy writing and helping others through our books, otherwise we would do something else to earn a buck.
So, we play and we work and the two are often intertwined.
5. This is a Young Person’s Game
The last misconception is that this is a ____________ person’s game. Fill the blank with young, single, married, childless, or rich person’s game. Whatever, it all boils down to an excuse. Having lived this alternative lifestyle for six years now, we have made friends with many nomads. Some are in their 20’s, some, like us, in their 40’s, some are recently retired. We have met single people, married people, gay people, straight people, and whole families, all carving out a life where learning and adventure are prioritized over accumulating wealth or material things. So, if you want it, do it.
This lifestyle is not for everyone. It wasn’t for us for a long time. For 22 years I couldn’t fathom the life I lead now. Over those 22 years I had built a career I was proud of. I had achieved the American Dream and I eventually found it wanting.
Just like I couldn’t imagine this life during my working life, I can’t imagine going back to the earn-more spend-more treadmill of the corporate lifestyle now.
Regardless of whether this lifestyle is right for you, I hope I gave you a glimpse into some of the realities of being a nomad, from my perspective. It’s not a perfect life but it sure as hell beats trying to fill up a 10-hour workday.