What I Learned from Being a Nomad

what it's like to be a nomad
 
Next week, I will move to a new city and settle into a home for a while. It will mark the end of living on the road for a little over a year. In case you are just tuning in, in June of 2014, I sold everything I owned, quit my work as a freelance prop stylist, and packed up a small backpack with three outfits, a laptop, and a camera, to begin a year long journey as a digital nomad/farm volunteer for a year. I have had a few realizations from this time that I wanted to share. I included part of this essay in a talk I gave at The Hive last spring but I am publishing it here now for those who weren’t there. For the actual logistics of how my trip worked, you can read this post.

Sometimes I find it tough to talk about travel. In fact, I had hoped not to share that much about the trip publicly, but in the end I found it more therapeutic, overall to do so. Writing about travel can have a self-righteous tone at times. It seems to induce envy. But the thing is, not everyone wants to travel and some people want to but life circumstances prevent it (you can say, “Just do it!” But obviously there really are circumstances that prevent such a lifestyle). People have an idea that travel is expensive when in reality, if done in a certain way, is actually cheaper than living in one place. But because of these perceptions, I sometimes feel the need to justify or explain the realities of of my trip. I’ve had a lot of times in my life where I wasn’t able to travel for various reasons. But I reached a point where I could, though it was challenging to take the leap. As a sort of disclaimer, I want to say that I know this sort of life isn’t for everyone. I am one who grew up in a somewhat nomadic family so I know there is fullfillment in settling in one place. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live someplace for a lifetime. I am sure there’s a super interesting perspective in that lifestyle as well. The point is, there is more than one way to live life, more than one way to work, more than one way to do just about anything. This is the way that works for me and I understand the privilege I have to even make this decision.


 
As I slowly, but surely, approach 40, I find myself less ambitious, wanting to just enjoy the simple experiences of life and focus on what fulfills me. An Internet friend, Christine, recently called it the Anti-Hustle. A couple of years ago, my friend, Kelly, interviewed me for her magazine, Liner, and asked what my dream life looked like, I said something like “I want to live by the sea with special people, cook my own food, dance, garden, and hopefully contribute something good to the world” Sounds cheesy, but it’s honestly all I want. I don’t care about dream projects and making a lot of money because in a few years time a photo I styled that I thought was so great will now look dated. I want something more fulfilling.

My trip was the result of a desire for a lifestyle change. After an eight year career in prop styling. I reached a point where I longed for more work/life balance. At the end of the day, instead of being a stylist who set up fantasies, I wanted to live life. Instead of styling a pretty picnic in the forest, I wanted to be there with friends, eating sandwiches and drinking cider. My work didn’t satisfy me any longer, I wanted more real life, and less of a life online. I was ready for a change. A change that wasn’t yet defined. I knew I wanted to go far away from home- the travel bug had been eating at me for years, I knew I wanted to be closer to the earth, and live at a simpler, slower pace. But it was all really blury. There was no concrete plan. And it took making this jump and getting out my busy life to see things clearly.
 
portugal
 
That said, my trip wasn’t always profound, or always perfectly fulfilling. The thing about travel is that it never enables you to run away from real problems or issues in your life, in fact those issues usually become more magnified. There were times that felt empty, boring, extremely lonely, but in those moments that felt a little happier, a little fuller, I realized what I needed. After traveling alone through France, England, Sweden, Portugal, and Montenegro for ten months with a backpack, working on farms, I’ve been able to step back. Everything was stripped away from me. My career. My family. My community. My possessions. And after months of living like this, I was finally able to see what was important from the view of this pared back life. Seven things became clear- here’s what I needed in addition to the very basic human needs of food and shelter. I can’t live without:

-Connection
-Community
-Family
-Photography
-Flowers
-Gardening
-Cooking

This is all I need. I don’t need 15 pairs of shoes (I’ve been wearing the same pair everyday since December, and for me that’s all I need for now, though I am sure I’ll buy another pair soon). These are the things that bring me happiness (maybe for you, it is the 15 pairs of shoes!). Maybe the specifics will change at some point and maybe most people don’t need to go on a trip to realize it, but for me, this was the biggest learning experience of my time on the road and getting away from the intensity of a settled in life.
 
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The other thing that became very clear, especially as a woman traveling alone (which seems to scare people, and oddly scares me, whenever another woman tells me she’s taking a similar journey), was that most people in this world are good, nice, and kind. So many people showed kindness to me. There were times that perhaps I should have been frightened to get in a car with a stranger, but I went with my gut, and it always brought me an amazing connection, a beautiful story, or a new perspective on life. The only time I felt scared was stuck in Paris during a terrorist attack. But every other moment I followed my gut, used common sense, and ended up meeting so many incredible souls which really was the most joyous element of this journey and something I’ve realized is essential for me.
 
What does your life look like when you strip everything away?

If you’d like to hear more about my trip, you can listen to a podcast about it here, with my childhood friend, Sean.

You might also enjoy:

How I Travel: Tips for Traveling on a Shoestring

Slow Travel

10 Ways to Trim Your European Travel Budget

6 Months a Nomad: My Life on the Road

How to do a Farm Stay

Photos by Chelsea Fuss. Top photo- Brixton, London. 2: Grand Fougeray, France, 3: Eating in Alentejo, Portugal. 4: My friend Sara, about to hitchhike with some French grannies in the Brittany countryside.

21 Comments

  1. So incredibly courageous to do what you did! Travelling is one thing, but being a nomad for almost a year is something else entirely. And it seems like you took away exactly what you needed from the experience: a more focused approach, stripped down of all the noise and fluff that surrounds us in our regular lives. Good luck in the next stage of your journey!

  2. Intersting…as I’ve hit my middle 60s, it does seem that the ambitions we think are so important, and that are pounded into our every breathing moment by society, aren’t really.

    Lifting your consciousness so early in your life is such a blessing for you and for the entire planet. You give us a gift by writing about how life can be for all of us.

  3. you rock Chelsea! great story and definitely an inspiring year for us all! I ended up following your steps and I’m about to close my year as a nomad too. hope to see you again soon! xx

  4. when does your memoir about this time come out, Chelsea?? 🙂 🙂 🙂 I’d read it, ha. Ok, off to listen to that podcast because I’m so fascinated by this beautiful insight…

  5. Bravo, lady. What a wonderful r e f r e s h i n g post. I found myself nodding after every sentence! I also grew up nomadic and feel most comfortable in that skin. In fact, whenever I worry about my worst fears coming true, I imagine strapping on a backpack and heading out. My life these days is happily rooted, but I love that you are following your best self. And obviously so happy to live vicariously through your adventures!

  6. Chelsea, I loved your talk at the Hive and I love it even more here in this post. I think it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in our day to day and not ask ourselves what we really want and care about most. For that, I really came away thinking from your talk and I send lots of thanks!

  7. Beautiful and honest post. It was a joy following your travels on Instagram.

    A few years ago we got rid of all our stuff and moved abroad (from Iceland) with our 3 kids. I think I will never be able to describe the liberating feeling I felt inside on our way to the airport with only 5 suitcases.

  8. I love this post! I’m an aspiring stylist and have followed you for years… I’m drawn to your work because there is a realness and timelessness to your almost folk style that that transcends current trends. I don’t consider even your earliest work dated at all… it is endless inspiration to me. I just thought you’d like to know that you have definitely contributed real inspiration for this fledging stylist to aspire to. That said, I feel the same about wanting to live out the beauty instead of just creating fantasies. I hope this new place and home of yours is everything you’re hoping for!

  9. Chelsea, As you know, I am so inspired by you and your lifestyle. Loved this article — what a blessing to be able to see so clearly what you truly care about in life. I’m really looking forward to my extended trip next fall… Hopefully I’ll get to run into you one of these days. xo

  10. I am not very blog savy but follow ur blog / posts as I love ur pics and had no idea of yr nomad adventure.. We have very similar goals live by sea eat dance cook ..does this place exist ?? How close did you get to that ideal village , town ,city ?? Charlene

  11. Somehow this is my first time on your blog. I will be back. This post says everything I’ve had swimming around in my head about travel and haven’t quite been able to articulate. Wonderful read.

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