Nomad?

As I prepare to move to a new country for the second time, I take a moment to address the drive behind the rise in the popularity ‘nomadic’ lifestyles among non-nomadic people.

Nomad: a lone figure dressed in black walks through a white desert.

Long term travel – what’s not to like?


A nomad is officially described as “a member of a people that travels from place to place to find fresh pasture for its animals and has no permanent home.” Nomadism is often a matter of heritage – if you are Roma (or at least partly, like me), Mongolian or Bedu for example, you’ll likely have grown up with a background rich in the narrative of your mobile ancestors. But what of the rise of the ‘digital nomad?’ An entire generation of workers are waking up to the realisation that they’d rather see the world than commit to a mortgage or ‘conventional’ office job.

While ‘true’ nomadism is a matter of heritage, the brand of nomadism most common in Western populations today is more of an ‘extended break from outdated ideas of conventional adult lifestyles.’ Example? You hate your job, you like to travel, and so you make travel your job. This brand of nomadism is far less nuanced and a tangible possibility for a large number of people whose ancestors may or may not have lived for aeons in red-brick semi in Milton Keynes.

Allow me to offer a brief roundup of the pros and cons of a life not lived in one geographical location:

Great!


  • You get to try new food frequently.
  • You can meet new and interesting people every few months.
  • You can explore the diverse, ancient architectural history of world civilisations.
  • You can broaden your mind by learning multiple new languages.
  • You can get your hands on overseas goods that nobody in your home country can get. Resale value much?
  • Your Instagram feed is lit.
  • You can date so many interesting, free spirited people.
  • It’s just great to be away from regular life at home!

Not great!


  • You didn’t choose to develop that fatal peanut/seafood/sesame allergy. Goodbye, all of Asia.
  • You want to make inside jokes with your mates from back home. But they’re back home, making inside jokes without you.
  • Have you ever been stuck in a pitch black, bat-filled tomb? I have. It was my fault for ‘exploring.’ 3/10 experience.
  • You don’t want to ride a ‘burro’ in Italy or eat some ‘burro’ in Spain. Or do you? You don’t remember.
  • Your rare finds and potential eBay earnings are confiscated at border security. Turns out they were illegal in your home country, which is why nobody has any.
  • You’ve been solo traveling for three years and Instagram is the only friend you have.
  • Interesting, free spirited people are usually immature, self-centred and tedious.
  • You miss regular life at home.
A catholic nun walks the inner hallways of Nanzenji temple in Kyoto.
A Japanese Catholic nun visits the Buddhist temple of Nanzenji, in Kyoto.

Which sexy and exciting extreme should I choose?!


While ‘vagabonding’, ‘long term travel’ and ‘nomadism’ are immensely popular, the realities of these lifestyles can have different implications throughout a single lifetime. You may choose to spend your early twenties ‘finding yourself’ (waking up in a puddle of your own rainbow-tinted ayahuasca vomit) in the verdant expanse of South America, or gathering a rich bouquet of bogan venereal diseases in Bali, before slinking back to a nine-to-five admin job in your hometown because you didn’t make it as an ‘influencer.’ Dreams, like tans, eventually fade.

You could go down the route of being a generic, sexy and immensely driven ‘entrepreneur’ who will retire at forty and live it up in later life. It takes a lot of false starts for most entrepreneurs to realise that a parental bankroll that afford high levels of delusional self confidence can’t usually be ‘hustled’ from nowhere.

Or you could be an average Joe or Joelle who quite likes to travel and quite likes to put some hard work in when needed and is capable of being reasonably sensible with money and who decides, as I did, to follow the Middle Way. Ah yes, I’ve hijacked more Buddhist terminology. It really just fits so well.

The Middle Way?


There is absolutely nothing new about ‘middle way’ thinking. I’ve found that life moves very much like a pendulum. If you swing in an extreme arc in one direction, there will quite often be an equal swing in an opposite direction. Jump from that cliff! Extremely alive! Miss the plunge pool! Very dead.

Eventually, the pendulum succumbs to a slower and less extreme swing, before swaying to a static resolve somewhere in the middle. There is no wrong way to live the one life you have – you can do all extreme, all the time, or you can do safety and comfort from start to finish. The point I’d like to make is that it is not audacious to want a little of both. How does this work in real terms, though?

Living and working overseas. This could mean working as you travel, allowing you to travel indefinitely through many countries. It could also mean relocating to one country and settling there for a number of years, maintaining a line of work that provides you with the legal right to reside, allowing you to explore at a more relaxed pace. I’ll reiterate that there is no wrong way to travel and work, but there are ways that provide you with a stronger foundation for your career trajectory and for the potential to build your own local and global community. I’ll tell you in no uncertain terms: community and earning ability are the dual stars of a life of greater happiness and comfort. If you’re young, you may not have learned this yet – this is fine. This is as it should be. There will be people to whom this doesn’t apply – realistically, you’re not one of them. Neither am I – however much my younger self thought otherwise.

Kumano Hongu Taisha in Wakayama Japan.
A couple visits the famous Kumano Hongu Taisha in Wakayama, Japan.

Okay, so… I can have it all?


Nap. Sorry. Didn’t mean to mislead you. You can’t have it all. But if you learn to yearn for less (hello, existential minimalism), you will be able to have a lot. Likely more than your parents or grandparents ever did. Certainly more than the vast majority of earth’s population. If you have access to healthcare, a job and enough money to feed and house yourself, you already have considerably more than a large slice of the human pie. Sit with that for a moment.

What are the upsides of the Middle Way?


There are many. Here are a selection, as personally experienced by me:

  • You can engage in-depth with a new language, country and culture.
  • You can learn a new language fully. Teamed with your native language(s), you become more employable.
  • You’ll be able to make longer-term friends and build a more stable community of both fellow migrants and local people. This type of community is a blessing and a micro-scale version of a co-existential utopia. Seriously.
  • You’ll be living in a destination. Every weekend or holiday that you spend exploring will be a travel experience. You can also use your new homeland as a base to visit other nearby countries. Every tiny trip is foreign travel.
  • Friends and family from home can come and visit – you can offer them a place to stay and show them around. A win-win situation.
  • You can build actual, valuable career experience. You don’t have to arrive at the age of thirty with a list of beach bars and hostels as your previous employers. Gaining experience in a niche industry in a second language is interesting and makes you hugely employable further down the line.
  • You might meet someone local to your new country or a fellow migrant from a totally different walk of life and embark on a romance unlike any you’d be able to experience in your home country.

Surely there are downsides, though?


Sadly, yes. The downsides are not always enriching experiences, either.

  • Long term habitation in a new culture means long term culture shock. This applies more if you’re in a new location that is vastly different from your country of origin. Do not take culture shock lightly – it can lead to extreme and severe problems, such as social isolation, dependency and depression. It is often hard to identify, and has no one-size-fits-all solution.
  • Learning a new language while immersed is ideal, but not if you have no access to life in your first language. If you cannot communicate in an emergency (to the police, medics, co-workers), you will face very measurable problems.
  • Your longer term friends, if they are other migrants, will likely leave at some point. Befriending other foreigners who are new to the country is challenging on many levels. To your local friends, you may always be seen simply as ‘the foreigner.’
  • If your destination experiences natural disasters or economic collapse, it feels less like a holiday. It is also highly possible that you will face gender discrimination in the workplace if you are a woman, and racial discrimination in the workplace if you are not ethnically homogenous. (The cruellest twist is that people of colour will still face more racial discrimination than white people in most parts of the ‘non-White’ world. Being Korean in Japan or African in China is infinitely more challenging than being White in either).
  • Friends and family from home may not have the economic circumstances to visit you. You may not have the economic circumstances to bring them to you or to visit them. Living like this on a long term basis, if you have a good relationship with your family, can re-define the meaning of despair.
  • Your idea of what you want from your career may change over time. You may spend years working your way up an industry that turns out to be wrong for you. This being said, laying solid working foundations is never a poor decision if you learn from your experiences.
  • You may meet someone who you truly feel you’ve connected with – who you would consider spending the rest of your life with. They could then be deported or need to leave the country for any number of reasons. Believe me when I tell you that this hurts. Additionally, a relationship with somebody who wishes to harm you hurts even more when living overseas. Without first-language support networks (family, social workers, police), they may be able to continue hurting you. Global romance is a minefield.
A blurry shot taken by one of my students while I was teaching English in Nepal.

I created this post to introduce you to the possibility of living and working overseas as a balanced solution to some of the traveling, experiencing and growing you may feel you want to do with your life. Take some time to think about it and all the ways in which it may solve some of the problems that become apparent in funding long-term travel or building career credibility while seeing the world. If you’re still young enough (under 30 in most cases), working holiday visas are an even better first step to take when deciding if a nomadic life may suit you more than a whole life spent in your home country.

Future posts on the topic will cover practicalities such as job hunting, securing initial working visas and how to find a country that may be a good fit for you. Any questions about something mentioned in this post? Leave a comment, or comment on the ‘Nomad’ post on my Instagram.