6 Months a Nomad: My Life on the Road

frolic nomad

It’s been just over six months since I left my home in Portland for a nomadic life on the road. What sticks out in my memory the most are the good, kind souls I’ve met, particularly awesome, strong women who I really look up to. Most people in this world are good is what I’ve learned. I honestly didn’t think all that much of leaving and traveling for a year. That said, it was tougher than I thought to physically and mentally leave my life in Portland. However, I do get peppered with questions as people learn about my journey, to some I guess, it is unusual. And thinking back on it, if I’d met someone doing this a few years ago, I’d probably be peppering them with the same questions. I hope it’s not presumptuous to answer them here. But I guess if you happen to be curious, here you go:

How can you afford to travel all the time? 

I sold everything I own. I don’t own a car or a home. I am a freelancer who juggles quite a few things. I am a prop stylist, and most of my other freelance work is Internet-based. I left most of my prop styling work behind me when I left Portland. For most of my trip I’ve been doing farm stays, volunteering in exchange for my room and board. You can read more about it in a blog post I wrote here. I’ve also done housesitting. Any money I’ve spent on hotels, Airbnb’s, or other places, for in between trips or farm breaks has been less per month than I spent on rent in Portland It’s actually cheaper for me to live as a nomad than it is to live in Portland (one of the cheaper places to live in the US). And here’s the thing. I am traveling but usually just every 6 weeks or so. I make temporary homes, as I am a big fan of slow travel (I actually don’t enjoy flitting around city to city every few days ). Once you are in Europe it’s super cheap to travel from country to country. A ticket from Paris to Lisbon will cost you around 25 Euros, for example.

Does it get annoying traveling all the time and not having a home?

I try not to travel more than once every 4-6 weeks. I practice slow travel! I set up a temporary home wherever I go. I find it the most rewarding way to travel. Of course I miss my family and friends but that’s the beauty of Face Time + What’s App! I enjoy acclimating to new situations every few months and having new experiences. I am kind of addicted and don’t feel ready to settle into one spot yet.

How could you bear to part with all of your things? Did you really sell everything? 

Maybe it’s because I worked as a prop stylist (basically buying things for a living!), but apart from a few family heirlooms and old photos, I don’t feel attached to possessions or stuff. It was really sweet actually. Before I left home, I had a big tag sale with two of my dear friends. Friends, readers, and strangers showed up and bought all my stuff. Maybe it’s because I come from a big family, but I love sharing things! It was super sweet to see all my favorite things leave with some of my favorite people. From time to time, I see my kitchen towels, a piece of pottery, or a party streamer show up on Instagram and it makes me smile! I have two boxes at my parents house of a few special things and I travel with a medium size backpack and a tote bag. Which leads to the next question.

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How do you pack for a never-ending journey? How on earth can you live from that backpack?

I have three outfits packed with a few different options. Everywhere I stay tends to have laundry facilities. I donate pieces of clothing along the way when I need to buy something else to suit weather conditions. I am usually living in someone else’s home or a self-catering flat and they usually have everything else I need there. Sometimes I yearn for a cute outfit and I am trying to re-think the packing a little bit to have outfits I like a little more but I brought my favorite Hetterson sweater and my favorite Elizabeth Dye dress. Pieces that are really well made and last well. To fill in the gaps, I shop vintage, wear things to death and then donate them and swap for new pieces. And, frankly, I am not really high maintenance when it comes to my appearance ( I probably should be more so). I am ok being a little ragamuffin most of the time.

When are you coming home? Where are you going next?

I have no idea! I told myself I’d like to be gone for at least a year. I just take a month at a time. I plan one month-6 weeks at a time.

Aren’t you scared to travel the world alone as a woman?

Things can happen anywhere. Most people are good. That said, I use common sense. I don’t walk in dark alleys alone at night and I don’t Instagram from where I actually am at the time. Often I feel safer in Europe than I do in the US. That said, it can be scary to be in a city where you don’t speak the language and suddenly have a police announcement come on over the subway. I try to follow the news in English through sites like The Local or UK newspapers.

Does your trip have a point? It seems like you are aimlessly wandering around?

Seeing the world enlightens me. This trip was about facing the nagging wanderlust that had been bugging me for years and getting back to gardening, hence the farm stays. I have a blurry picture of what it is I want to do at the end of this and am figuring it out along the way. I’ve told myself it’s ok not to be overly ambitious right now. I keep busy with work, creative projects, and soaking up my environment but it’s definitely a slower pace than I lived at home and I think that’s ok for me right now. Slowly but surely this vision is getting clearer. I have days when I feel like I am going backwards and I should be climbing the career ladder, but that’s usually when I am comparing myself to other people. For me, this is right, right now.

Is there anything that surprised you about being a nomad?

I didn’t really have any set notions of what this trip would be. It was only planned part way when I left. This is probably common sense to most people, I didn’t realize how much time I would spend constantly looking for a place to live. Haha! Duh! I spend about a week a month researching my next location- where to live or farm stay, getting the best rates, and figuring out visa stuff. It also can be tough to balance my farm stay work with my own work, projects, and adventures.

How do you deal with the language barrier?

Oh how I wish I was gifted with languages. I study up on basics and I try my best but usually fail dismally. Most people speak English. In the small towns not so much, It can be overwhelming coming to a place where you don’t speak the language. Given the context, you can usually figure out quite a lot and people like it when you try. If you travel, you have to be ok making an idiot of yourself quite often! I do that in normal life anyways:)

OK, feel free to ask any questions if you want to in the comments. If any of you have done this nomad thing, I’d love to hear your tips and experiences too! Dish!

More travel posts + tips:

10 Ways to Trim Your Travel Budget for Europe!

Pressed Flowers + Their Stories

Adventures on an English Flower Farm

Tour a French Vegetable Garden

On Slow Travel

How I Travel: Tips for Traveling on a Shoestring Budget!

Snaps taken by me on my Instagram. If you want my daily update (probably more often than you want), check it out on my Instagram.

16 Comments

  1. This is definitely my dream come true. I do love being married and my little girl but there was a time right after college and before I met my future hubby to be that the road was calling my name. Now I get to live vicariously through you! Thank you for the lovely posts.

  2. Hi!
    If you ever go thru or visit Skåne in Sweden, please stop by Lund. Would be fun to have coffee with you and talk about gardening and travel.

    I have a small garden (plot in a community garden) in Lund, about 400 square meters.

    Sincerely,
    Michael

  3. you are a brave soul! inspiring indeed even if i can’t see myself doing this, for practical reasons and because i do love my house, home and cats:) i hope the nomading takes you back to stockholm soon so we can have that meetup!

  4. Bravo!

    Wish I had that freedom — as I think many people do. My mother lived the way you are for years and loved it, settling for a while in Bath, in Lima, in New Mexico, in Mexico…I’m writing this from Paris, at the end of a month’s break from my life freelance writing in NY and will be very sorry to leave Europe, where I feel much more at home. People who have never slow-traveled have no idea what great pleasures it offers.

    The only ladder that matters is the one in your heart. I’ve been a huge fan of your blog for years and know how much you enjoy life — it’s infectious.

    If of interest, the best-read posts on my blog are the ones I wrote about traveling alone as a woman (which I am doing now; my husband went home 3 weeks ago.) It’s much more fun!

    https://broadsideblog.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/twelve-tips-for-women-traveling-alone/

  5. Great to read about your travels Chelsea; and you should get sponsorship from Visit England – your instagram from a countryside doubledecker bus even made our dodgy public transport look appealing). Doing a similar thing myself in Sweden your words about comparing and career ladders rang true. But it’s good to face down the illusion of the security of hearth and home and freefall into something unexpected (at least that’s what I keep telling myself!). Ha en bra resa – Sid.

  6. Thank you for sharing your adventure and experience with all of us, Chelsea. Your Instagram posts are always such a highlight in my day. My husband and I occasionally talk about doing something like this but get hung up on the sustained income piece. He can do web-based work, but I wonder how my work would translate internationally. I wonder, too, how it works with visas, earning money overseas? If I were to free-lance as a floral or event assistant is that allowed? Or is it not allowed to earn EU income at all in the EU? I’d be very interested if you could ever share your experience, but these are also very specific and personal questions, so no pressure to answer!

  7. Hi Rachel, Great questions! Yes, you do potentially have to pay EU tax on that income but you’d really need to talk to an accountant. I am not an expert and it totally depends on your work and situation. It also depends on the country. My work is all web based and I have an accountant that helps me with all of that! I don’t do actual freelance work that is located here.

    And yes, it’s great to have an income, for me making it happen really meant getting rid of large expenses like a car and rent. I live very simply and that makes a big difference.

    I am sure you could work it out. It just depends on what you are looking for I guess! Thanks for the comment! Keep me posted on how it goes!

  8. Thanks for all the comments you guys! So inspiring to hear your experiences and thoughts! Caitlin, I’d love to hear more about your mother’s journey and your own! And, Sid I’d love to hear about your Swedish experience!Thanks for the link, Sarah! And, yes Michael, if I come through that way, it’d be a pleasure to meet!

  9. I love your journey and am so inspired to travel Europe the way you are now. I did a 6 week backpack journey across 9 countries in the EU last year, and all I do is dream about going back to experience everything more slowly. I am wondering if you have a work visa, or how you’ve managed to stay longer than the allowed 90 days? Do you have a EU passport? I understand you’re probably busy, but if you could give me any advice/tips on how you’ve done it I’d greatly appreciate it 🙂 xx

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