I have been to 40 countries on six continents and lived in seven. In between my world travels, I moved homes 17 times. Number 18 is coming up in April. I estimated the entire time I spent outside my country of birth Germany and where my family still resides to be about ten to twelve years (I’m 28).
Many people I meet are always quite amazed when they are hear about my long nomadic life. And I don’t blame them. It’s been awesome.
The real meaning of the nomad’s ife
Being a nomad means independence and freedom. It means continuously gaining new experiences. It means full-time education. It means making connections. It means having opportunities. It means doing self-experiments. And it’s all that, all in one. Massive, isn’t it? Yes.
Vagabonding the world and living in foreign countries has opened my mind and challenged my soul. It’s part of my system, my blood, not something I can turn on and off when I want to.
But I’m not even just talking about the constant state of movement when I talk about the nomadic freedom lifestyle. Above all, being a nomad is a mindset.
The longest time i stayed in one place in the last 13 years were three years studying at university in Salzburg, Austria. The whole time, travel was on my mind and I saved every single penny to explore the world whenever I could (and even when I couldn’t).
By the end of those three years, I was so over-ready to pack up my stuff and move again. So I did.
The nomadic life also has a flipside
But being a lifelong nomad is not just fun and games. It also means giving up on the so-called certainties of this world, especially the western ones. But it comes with many valuable benefits (see above).
So how do I do it? How have lived a nomadic existence for the last 13 years? I will reveal the secrets shortly.
But be warned:
Most of the points that follow below might not sound very fun or attractive to many people.
But it’s all about knowing your priorities and knowing how much you want something.
Priorities or sacrifices?
For me, travelling and leading a nomadic lifestyle have been my highest priorities for a very long time. I don’t mind ‘sacrificing’ things or other possible lifestyles. It doesn’t feel like sacrifice. Why? Because I know how much my top priorities – travel the world, live anywhere I please, be free with no long-term commitments – mean to me (the world, literally) and I know how much they enrich my life.
While a vagabonding life might entail those seemingly big sacrifices, these sacrifices aren’t for everyone.
What would you give up?
So before you read on, sit down and do the following:
If you want to figure out how much something that you don’t have yet, but really want, means to you – imagine having it. Imagine how it makes you feel, what the new possibilities are. Now ask yourself what you would be prepared to give up for it to keep it forever, every day. What’s your answer?
Being a vagabond on a budget is challenging at times, but it’s as close to the perfect lifestyle as it can get (to me and many other people anyway – for you too?).
The nomad lifestyle can be a love story for life
It’s like being madly in love, possibly for life. For me, travelling (and diving!) was love at first sight. I feel something comparable to love sickness when I’m too static. And we all know what we would give up for love, or already have in the past. There you go. And on top of that, vagabonding is highly addictive (love can be too).
The nomad life begins the second you stop making excuses, start saving up money and make tangible plans. It means aligning your life, you plans, your attitudes, your jobs and your financial situation.
The advice I give you is not about escaping your real life, but about living your real life.
And if any doubts or demotivating questions come up, trust me when I say: Being a full-time, lifelong nomad is absolutely possible. The only catch: You really, really, really have to want it.
This is me working on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, last year:
THE NO-BS GUIDE TO LIVING A NOMAD’S LIFE
My best advice, when you’re working an anti-sabbatical job or saving up for your nomad’s life, is to live frugally. It allows you to spend less than you earn, and use the difference to keep moving and travelling. Living frugally means restraining yourself in the shopping department, living on and consuming little, looking for cheap when you do spend money, restraining from going out and partying too much. It helps to take on a simplistic or even minimalist mindset – can make a frugal life much more enjoyable. To me, being able to travel or move to a new place, is more important than buying a new pair of jeans or a better TV (oops, I don’t even own one).
This comes with living frugally, but the reason behind is quite straight forward: Travel demands simplicity. You can’t pack your whole life in a bag, it just doesn’t work. As a nomad, you will own little, because you just can’t always take everything with you to the next place. I find, the best things in life aren’t things anyway, but experiences, people and nature. Owning little enables you to move anywhere anytime. It’s pure freedom and it feels awesome, trust me.
Travel on a shoestring
Life as a nomad usually doesn’t take place in five star hotels. But rather in hostels, cheap guesthouses or very affordable shared accommodation. Transport doesn’t mean (rental) cars, but local transport options (trains and buses). Simple travel usually takes you much closer to local people and their culture, which is a much more authentic experience anyway.
Do your own thing
I’ve met some long-term nomadic couples or families, but most real vagabonds were by themselves. This doesn’t mean alone forever and always, as friends can be made anywhere, but you have got to want to do your own thing – possibly on your own. If you always depend on your partner or friends for orientation and making decisions, you will get stuck, procrastinate and not live the real freedom a nomadic lifestyle usually entails.
Take your life in your own hands, by taking control of your own circumstances. Nothing will happen if you wait around passively for fate to come around to do it for you. Fate won’t come. So if you want to live, study or work abroad, go and start organising your plan. Executing it might be a lot of work, but no one is going to do it for you. Becoming and being a nomad takes effort.
Become a Professional Risk Taker
The decision to leave everything behind at home (job, possessions, family, friends…) means you’re taking risks. Going to live in a place you have never been is a risk. Taking on a new job you’ve never done is a risk. But over time, risk-taking will get easier. And then, one day, you take them and don’t even notice anymore. That’s when you’ve become a professional risk taker.
Get used to letting go and untethering
Every time you move on or change places as a nomad you have to let go. Especially of people. But also of places. Even living in one place for a few weeks or months can make it hard to leave. But you will have to, because you’re a nomad. So you better get used to saying goodbyes.
This one might sound obvious, but I think the nomadic lifestyle is romantisized a lot without thinking about the implications. Being a nomad really actually means moving regularly. It can be anywhere from a few weeks to several months or a year, but the move is always in sight and on the radar. So if packing up and leaving to go and start in a new place is not your thing, don’t bother. I love moving. I love leaving a place and I love arriving in a new place. I love changes and making new starts. The nomadic life is just right for me.
Be ok doing shit-kicking jobs
Unless you’re a rich kid, you have to make a living as a nomad. There are countless ways to work and travel around the world. Not all of them are fancy or glamorous. But when the purpose is the goal, they suffice, because they provide travel cash. I went to university and all, but I’ve worked in factories and shitty bars in exchange for incredible trips around the world. Other travellers clean hostel rooms or wash dishes. Sometimes you just have to bite through and think about the job afterlife. Sometimes, that’s the price you pay for living abroad.
Get a nomadic job or training in a nomadic job
If doing shit-kicking jobs is not for you at all, you can look a bit further and check out nomadic jobs. These are jobs that make a nomadic life possible by being able to work in many different countries around the world. I decided to become a scuba dive instructor because I knew it would let me live in the most beautiful places doing what I love and make a living off it. Perfect! Other nomadic jobs include ESL teacher, tour guide, cruise ship or yacht crew, travel writer, international school teacher and various instructing jobs (ski/snowboard, surfing, yoga etc.).
Be prepared to work for little or for free
Chances of vagabonds ever becoming millionaires are pretty slim. Many travel jobs, especially in the non-western world, won’t pay you big bucks. But that’s not what you should be in for anyway. Some jobs might not even pay you in money but only in exchange for room and board (see Wwoofing) – but hey, that’s something (including an experience!).
Save every penny you work for
A lot of times, being a nomad means living with the uncertainty when money will hit the bank again. So when you’re working an anti-sabbatical job, make sure to stash away as much extra money as you can. Figure out how much you need to live on and the rest goes into savings. Even in the preparation phase to becoming a nomad, you will have to stock up on funds before taking off, so that’s good practice – get used to it! I don’t mind saving instead of spending, as I know that my benefits are long-term and come with awesome places, interesting people and new experiences.
Get used to financial insecurity and job uncertainty
A nomad keeps moving. So you’re not going to keep a ‘nomadic job’ for long, that would be a against the point of being a nomad! In all honesty, I have never maintained a steady job. The sole intention for the jobs I ever took was to fund my nomadic life, another trip, another flight. Before taking on a job, I always knew it was going to be a short-term solution for a limited period of time and quitting day loomed from day one. No extras. It means that job hunts become a rather frequent hobby. Not saving money for your pension or whatever life investment could be an issue for some folks. It’s a risk you take as a nomad. Or you’re responsible enough and make arrangements for that. Your call.
Focus on travelling and living in developing countries
Western money goes a lot further in countries like Indonesia or Honduras than, say, in Finland or Australia. I can easily live on $500 in Asia, but trying to do the same in Europe or North America would be a big challenge. This means that you can stretch out the non-working phases if you chose the right countries.
The Freest Nomad is the Digital Nomad
The optimal nomadic situation is being a digital nomad. It means being location independent with the way you make a living by working over the Internet. It enables you to kick those shit-kicking jobs and it might eventually even let you take your standard of living up a notch. In order to be elegible for this sort of money making option, a few skills can be of advantage: web or graphic design, programming, online writer… Check out this list for 50 different ways to make a living online. As a digital nomad you work from around the world.
(This is my next step starting in a few weeks.)
As Seth Godin would say now: “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you ought to set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” The nomad life is high on the list from the ones you might never ever want to escape from. It gets addictive.
A few more photos from my life as a nomad:
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