First off, what is a nomad?
Nomad: ˈnəʊmad/: a member of a people that travels from place to place to find fresh pasture for its animals and has no permanent home.
Well, I don’t have animals which need fresh pasture but I do travel from place to place to find new experiences for my soul and I have no permanent home. So I’ve made an executive decision and changed the definition of nomad to my definition. Someone call Mr. Webster please.
But now that we’ve gotten that figured out, today marks 1 year I’ve been a nomad. I have not had a permanent home to call my own since June 1st, 2014. And what a year it has been. My life has changed dramatically since then. On June 1st, I was moving out of my apartment in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and finishing up my contract as a 2nd grade teacher. I was planning on moving to South Korea to continue teaching and exploring Asia. That day I was super excited to start the next step in my travel life.
Where am I now? I’m in Porto, Portugal at a Wine Hostel, getting ready to go taste a bunch of local wine. I’m 29 years old, a travel blogger, freelance writer and have recently finished my MBA. My life is much more fluid and flexible and I’ve never been happier. I have no set destination in my head of where my life is going. It’s been an interesting journey. What have I learned, you ask? Well, see for yourself.
It’s been an interesting journey. What have I learned, you ask? Well, see for yourself.
52 Lessons from 52 Weeks as a Nomad
- Nothing is permanent – almost every decision you make can be unmade so don’t be afraid to take a step forward. You can take a step backwards if you really need to.
- Say yes – Some of my best travel experiences have happened because I said yes, even when I didn’t feel like it. Say yes to a dinner with a bunch of Greek locals, it may turn out to be your favorite day ever.
- Carry toilet paper – You never know when you’ll be stuck on a 12 hour bus ride (which turns into 24 hours) and the only toilet is a bush on the side of a Cambodian road.
- Learn local phrases – A few well-placed words in the local language will make all the difference. Locals will respect you and show you what real hospitality is.
- Travel isn’t expensive – I’ve spent less money traveling for a year than I did living in Seattle for a year.
- Less expensive doesn’t equal cheap – I may travel in a budget manner but that doesn’t mean that I eat pasta and peanut butter all the time. I spend money where it makes sense and have had some of the best experiences of my life, all while spending less than $20,000 in one year.
- Travelers are a special breed of people – I love my family and friends back in Seattle but I feel like ‘my people’ are those that I meet on the road. There isn’t jealousy when I speak about where I’ve been or where I’m going. They have a zest for life and have been bitten by the wanderlust bug, just as I have.
- Outward beauty is relative – I was called fat in Cambodia which was one of the highest compliments that I could be given by a local. My pale skin and curves were the epitome of Asia beauty while I was seen as average in the US.
- Inward beauty is forever – Your inner light will cross every language boundary. Be a true and genuine person and you’ll never have any major problems.
- Smile all the time – It doesn’t matter what country I’ve been in, a smile makes everything better and people much more willing to help you.
- Sunscreen is your friend – A burned back, face, shoulders or feet make for a grumpy travel experience.
- You can buy what you need – There is nothing you’ll need while traveling you won’t be able to find on the road. Pack less and pick up your necessities as you travel.
- Siestas are a necessity – Taking a daily nap will increase your happiness level tenfold and make you much more productive in your life.
- Only have one local drink – Most countries have a local spirit they are extremely proud of and you should definitely try it. But only have one. It will knock you on your ass and you’ll regret having more.
- Don’t look too closely at your food – I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the amount of amazing food I’ve had around the world. I’ve also found myself eating ant soup, tarantulas and a variety of other non-traditional food. Sometimes it’s better not knowing.
- Call home regularly – While you don’t have to check in every day like I do (Love you Mom), you need to keep yourself grounded while traveling. Take the time to call home and keep in touch with those you love. You never know when something might happen and you won’t have the option anymore.
- Sing karaoke – Have a go to song you know all the words to and you’ll be the star of the show, every time. Or at least you’ll make a lot of friends. Either way, it’s a good thing.
- Be open to short term romances – There is nothing wrong with finding love on the road. Even if it’s only for a night, a few days, weeks or a few months. You’ll never regret it. Just be safe!
- Ask for food recommendations – When you can’t read a single word on the menu, just ask the server what they like to eat. More times than not, you’ll end up with a nice spread of local food. Or you’ll end up with fish eyes. The 50/50 chance is what makes it an adventure.
- Leave something for your next visit – If you see everything there is to see in one city, you’ll never have an excuse to come back. Leave something important out so you’ll be able to come back and still experience the wonder of something new.
- Use up all your local money – Exchanging money is the best way to lose it. I’ve lost hundreds of dollars due to bad exchange rates and getting scammed. Try to only take out what you need for the next few days.
- Plan for no plans – Sometimes it’s nice to just go with the flow. If you plan out every day or city, you’ll miss out on some spontaneous fun.
- Have a good pair of walking shoes – This is one thing you cannot skimp out on. Make sure your shoes are very comfortable and replace them as soon as they start wearing out. You’ll save your back and your feet.
- Be excellent at charades – When you have to explain the rash you have on your arm to a backwater Cambodian pharmacists, you’ll appreciate this skill.
- Laugh often – Be happy! You are alive and experiencing the world. Don’t be afraid to laugh when you’re happy, cry when you’re sad and feel the emotions you have. Just make sure you’re living in a way that makes you laugh more often than cry.
- Actively check off your bucket list – From skydiving to wine tasting to earning my MBA, I am always working towards another bucket list item and it keeps the thrill and excitement of achievement alive.
- Invite people to hang out – Always invite others to join you. You’ll meet some great people this way and you’ll appreciate it when others reciprocate the gesture.
- Drink water – Keep your body hydrated. You’ll appreciate it. With so many new internal bugs in each country, water will help keep you feeling healthy and refreshed. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, drink your damn water!
- Document your travels – Whether it’s a journal, a travel blog, napkins from each restaurant you eat in, video or whatever. You’ll appreciate having a reminder of the amazing things you’ve done, especially since you’ll have great things happening to you every day.
- Don’t count countries – If you get into checking off the number of places you’ve been, you’ll be more focused on the goal and forget to actually experience the place you’re in. That being said, in the last year I managed to touch ground in 18 countries and that feels like too many.
- Not all Parisians are rude – There is a perception that the French, particularly Parisians, are really rude. Some are, but so are some Americans, Germans, Cambodians, Moroccans and Australians. It’s the individual people, not the country. Except Canadians. They are always nice.
- Embrace your mistakes – When you miss your train, forget to check in for a flight and have to pay $60 to do it at the airport, leave money in your hotel and it gets stolen, book a bus to the wrong destination or ask for bull balls instead of a steak, just use it as a learning experience. Getting angry at someone or even yourself will kill your experience.
- Don’t be afraid of not speaking the language – I’ve talked to people who refuse to travel to places they don’t speak the local language and I think they’re missing out on so much! Even if you have to play charades the whole time, you’ll be experiencing a whole new way of life and gain respect for those who speak multiple languages.
- Gain weight – You’ll be trying some great food as you travel. Don’t be afraid to over indulge on that French cheese, Moroccan couscous or Thai noodles. It will make up for the times you can’t keep anything down because you’ve caught a stomach bug.
- Turn your electronics off – When you are surrounded by ruins of places thousands of years old, turn your damn cell phone off. Put your camera away. Just experience all there is to see and do around you.
- Get a local haircut or color – Sometimes it’s nice to end up with neon yellow hair, right? At least it makes for a great story.
- Go hiking in new countries – There is something magical about connecting with nature. Make sure you are actively seeking out that magic in each new place you explore.
- Physical things don’t matter much – Most of what I own fits into my two travel backpacks. I spent years gathering things, when living in Seattle, to make a home and make me ‘happy.’ I have no idea where those things are anymore but I do know that now I have much less, I’m a million times happier.
- For Ladies: Learn how to squat – Believe me, you’ll need it when you have to use bushes as bathrooms. There’s a very specific technique and I suggest practicing.
- Solo travel is amazing – Being by yourself is the best way to learn about who you are and what you want. You’ll be surprised at how rarely you are solo though, I meet many more people when I’m on my own than when I’m traveling with someone.
- Everyone should go skydiving – It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, make sure you try it at least one. Just try not to pee your pants.
- Travel doesn’t have to be international – Exploring your home city, the surrounding areas or even the next state or providence over can be just as exciting as a new country. It’s all in your frame of mind.
- Dancing is the international language – You don’t need to speak a common language to communicate through dance. Don’t be afraid to shake your booty and make some new friends.
- There is no one way to do things – Just as no two people have the same fingerprints, no two people have the same path in life. Don’t let others expectations dictate how your live your life.
- Learn to drive a moto and stick shift – Most of the world uses manual cars and moto’s. Learn to drive both. You never know when they’ll come in handy.
- Travel can be a way of life – Travel doesn’t have to be something you do once a year for 2 weeks at a time. If you want to make travel your main priority in life, it’s a possibility. You just have to figure out how to make it work for you.
- Stay away from Cambodian dogs – From random rashes to potential rabies, you never know what you might encounter. Just stay away from them. Consider yourself warned.
- Fear is in your mind – The fear of the unknown is what stops many people from doing what they truly wish. You’ll never know how far you can go if you don’t push the limits. Step outside your comfort zone and reach for what you really want.
- Don’t get drunk in new places – Having a few drinks is fine but make sure you’re being smart, especially if you’re traveling by yourself.
- Get lost – Purposely get lost in a new city and see what you can find. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
- Go skinny dipping – It’s a liberating experience and everyone should try it. At least once. Just make sure it’s warm water. Getting hypothermia isn’t the goal of this lesson.
- People are the same – Mom’s will be moms, kids all act the same and Grandpa’s always think they know what’s best, regardless of what country they are from. Remember that you’re all part of the human race and treat each other accordingly.
Well, that’s a smidgen of what I’ve learned during the last year. What about you? What are some travel lessons you care to share?