May 26th, 2021 · Nonfiction | Travel
The First Step Is to Start
From the outside, it might look like we made this decision suddenly and are jumping in head first. Or perhaps that covid shook us awake from a life we were droning through without living.
The reality is much more deliberate.
When I was in elementary school, my Uncle Chad went backpacking across Europe. I’m not sure how long he was gone, but it felt like half a lifetime to my seven-year-old self. When he returned, our family gathered at my Grandpa’s house where he shared pictures and stories of his travels.
There was the Italian woman that let him stay the night in her house when he was hiking, then packed him the best sandwich he’s ever had in a lunch bag the next day. The time his friend and travel partner abandoned him to run off with a girl from Spain. The sleepless night in an Amsterdam hostel he spent hugging his pack trying to ignore what was going on in his shared dorm room, the details of which I only recently learned because they were too R-rated for my ears at the time.
I used to spend countless hours on my Game Boy playing Pokemon, wishing I could go on adventures like Ash Ketchum in real life. The stories my uncle told us about the people he met, the places he saw, and all the interesting challenges he encountered made me realize that there is a whole world of adventures to explore outside of my Game Boy.
This was the birth of my lifelong obsession with travel.
My first order of business was learning about the destinations I would one day visit. For my birthday that year, I got an interactive globe (the Odyssey II) that quizzed me on the location of countries and cities around the world. I took it with me everywhere I went and soon could instantaneously point its electronic pen at any of the world’s ~190 countries.
I still have that globe and regard it as one of my prized treasures.
My parents and grandparents helped me dip my toes into the waters of travel. They didn't grow up traveling, but together we ventured from Colorado, to the coasts of the US, and eventually to lands beyond the seas. I built up a grandiose vision of travel in my head, but trip after trip, my expectations were exceeded. My desire to travel was like a snowball rolling down a mountain, building mass and momentum with each adventure.
I was in middle school when I first remember deciding that I wanted to become a nomad. There was something romantic about the minimalism of living out of a suitcase and getting to travel all the time that excited me. I also knew I’d need more than the typical two weeks vacation afforded by most US companies if I was going to make it to all the places on my list. I didn’t want to exclusively explore first-world, Western countries—no piece of Earth would go untrodden by my feet.
When I turned 13, my Grandma told me she'd take me on a trip as my birthday present. The only catch was that I had to plan it. I think she was a bit surprised when I presented a three-week journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, starting in St. Petersburg and making stops in Moscow to see the Kremlin, Lake Baikal to search for freshwater seals, Ulaanbaatar to meet an eagle hunter, and ending in Beijing, where we'd visit the Great Wall of China and Imperial Palace.
I read blogs and books about people who traveled the world indefinitely and knew it was something I wanted to do. This goal has influenced many of the important decisions I've made in my life. I studied computer science in college because I knew I'd need a good job to afford travel and that it could be done anywhere from a computer; I found a wife who shares my love of travel (or perhaps even exceeds it); and I scoured job postings after graduating from college until I found a position at a remote company. Travel obviously wasn't the only factor I considered when making these decisions, but the goal of becoming a nomad has been in the back of my mind for most of my life.
By 2015 I had accomplished what my young self spent years dreaming of achieving. I was engaged and had a remote job that paid enough for us to travel indefinitely. My wife and I talked about becoming nomads all the time. It wasn't a matter of “if,” it was a matter of “when.”
The timing never felt right, so we waited. We could feel the Colorado real estate market becoming increasingly expensive as more and more people were moving to the state, so we let ourselves get sucked into buying a condo. Then we adopted a dog into our family, which makes living nomadically in some places difficult, and most places impossible.
We don't regret these decisions. Our condo was a great home and investment for the last six years. And our fur baby, Skutull, means the world to us. I realize now that these weren't insurmountable obstacles to living the nomad life, but it felt like it at the time. When you combine those challenges with the fact that there are always weddings, birthdays, graduations, etc. for friends and family that you love, it feels like the timing to leave is never right.
And that's what I had to learn.
The timing will never be right.
The entire world is structured around each person having a primary residence. Work, school, taxes, vehicle registration, voter registration, health care, banking, credit cards, loans... They all assume and require that you declare a single place you live. Nomads face a constant barrage of waves pushing them back toward the beaches of normalcy.
We spent several years intricately planning how we’d navigate the choppy waters of indefinite travel. There were three or four times where we thought we had it figured out, but then a wave just off the beach would hit us in the face and we'd retreat.
If I’ve learned one thing from our adventure so far, it’s that living nomadically requires comfort with adaptation. You simply cannot plan as much of your life as you can when you’re settled. If you want to be a nomad, you have to swim against the currents of societal norms and deal with the challenges as they present themselves.
That's all part of the fun.
Once you break through into the open water, the vast ocean greets you, and you get to choose any adventure you like, just like in Pokemon.