Tips for Nomadic Living
“Follow your dreams” is a mantra that has been pounded into the psyche of my generation of Americans. When we try to heed this advice, we each translate it into our own complex path. Some of my peers got scholarships for their talents, attended good universities, and landed their dream jobs right out of college. And then there are people like me, who keep uprooting from one place to the next in pursuit of dreams that are not so straightforward. I am a part of a whimsical, stubborn group of people that has not let many millennia of successfully domesticated ancestry taint our collective free spirit. Others of my ilk may travel because they are in the military, or because their jobs require it, or because they follow academic fellowships. Whatever the reason for that transitory streak in our lifestyles, “follow your dreams” is an extremely complicated endeavor for us.
Anyone who has made even one big move in their adult lifetime can tell you that the promise of a fresh start is not without its pitfalls. Here are some situations that nomads may experience:
Doubt may be your most consistent travel companion. Up until the minute you sign a lease or step on a plane, you may find yourself second-guessing your decision. Or, if you are particularly confident at the outset, you might second-guess your choices after you have already moved. You may feel guilty about leaving family behind, or experience trepidation about what is in store for you. If you move to another country, you will almost certainly deal with culture shock. The solution is to be patient, both with yourself and your surroundings. It takes time to acclimate, to meet people, and to feel competent in your new reality. Do your research thoroughly (but not obsessively) to find out things like: what you can do in your free time, where you can meet new people, or whether your new occupation offers a mentor.
Loneliness and boredom will likely visit you. (If you travel for work, loneliness or boredom can plague you on every trip.) Apart from staying in touch with friends and family via your preferred technology (Skype, Google+, WhatsApp, texting, phone calls, email, etc.), you will have to get used to putting yourself out there. Join a social website like Meetup and explore the groups you find interesting. Look up events going on in your destination city for specific dates that work for you. If you’re staying put and you have the energy, resources, and ability to commit, consider getting a dog – they’re instant icebreakers that require lots of walks outside, which encourages you to stay active and meet new people. Beyond that, do what you used to do in your own hometown: invite people out for drinks, start a group activity, join a club, or take a class for fun.
You may struggle to find the motivation to eat well, manage your time, or deal with other problems involved in establishing a new routine. The best strategy for these issues is to pinpoint the source. If you’re always late to work because you have to get up earlier to take a new mode of transportation, plan your day (and lay out your clothes) the night before. If you always rely on take-out to get you through back-to-back seminars, research your healthiest options before you travel. If you’re burning out because your new lifestyle is faster-paced, plan for short breaks to work out or socialize. If you feel restless because your new lifestyle is moves more slowly, you just discovered time to develop a new hobby or skill. Decide what daily, weekly, and monthly activities are priorities, and try to find a time for everything you want and need to do. Creating a new routine is one of the most difficult things about moving, but can also be one of the most rewarding!
You may have trouble adjusting to the cost of living in your new spot, making it hard to stick to a budget. Cost of living and budgeting issues can be ameliorated by cost of living calculators from CNN Money or NerdWallet, or MIT’s Living Wage Calculator in the US. For other countries, try cost of living calculators from Numbeo or Expatistan, or Good World Solutions’ Fair Wage Guide.
Regardless of whether you are moving permanently or visiting temporarily, you should also look up the information on local restaurant, movie theatre, supermarket, and public transportation prices. Adjusting to a new salary, company budget, or currency can be tricky, so invest some time into understanding your impending financial situation.
The logistics of organizing life necessities like insurance, housing, healthcare, etc. may or may not be taken care of for you. Even if your school or your employer will be arranging these things for you, it is important to be informed, for your own peace of mind. (I would have felt much more confident in Japan, for example, if I had familiarized myself with the language of insurance forms and medical documents.) Many nomads have to arrange all necessities for themselves each and every time they move. Take the time to make a list of everything you need to take care of before, during, and after your move. Become knowledgeable about alternative options. Again, wherever possible, don’t settle for relying on others – be informed and know your options!
Travel will change your life, but it won’t fix all your problems for you. Yes, you might have made a rewarding career move, or you might love the change of scenery that week-long trips for work bring. But you are still you. You might still have relationship hang-ups, no matter how many flings you have in Paris. You won’t lose weight in South Korea unless you change your eating habits. Being on the road for weeks at a time won’t absolve you of your obligations to fix your marriage or your credit. Allow yourself to follow your dreams, but remember that your reality is part of the package.
A few other tips:
- No matter what anyone says, learn some language basics before you leave for a foreign country. Even if English is prevalent, you will a) demonstrate to your new friends that you’ve put some effort into understanding your new home and b) potentially help yourself navigate situations in which there aren’t any English speakers around. And learn some slang words – it’ll do wonders for your comprehension.
- Be willing to look silly. You definitely will.
- Have an emergency contact and a plan in case you find yourself in trouble. Know how to call the police or an ambulance, and learn about what you can expect from local law officials (depending on where you are, they may not always be on your side).
- Know where to find an internet café or a library if you won’t have internet access on your own terms.
- Google Maps is helpful when you look up directions for how to get somewhere – you can usually view things from street level. And if you’re wandering sans data plan, you can save maps to Google Maps’ offline mode for later use. (Most of the time, just moving Maps around so that you can actually see the areas you’ll be in will make them show up when you’re offline as well.)
- If you can, keep an emergency credit card on hand.
- Research the climate and seasonal weather; pack and dress appropriately.
In short: be informed, be friendly, and be excited about your new prospects. Bon Voyage!