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Your Independence Day: How to live a nomadic life

by Michael on July 4, 2014

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We’ve been on the road for almost two years now with no home and no fixed address. Whenever we meet people they are surprised that we are true nomads. The first question we often get is, “How do you live a nomadic life?” Here are some tips for wandering the world.

How to live a nomadic life

how to live a nomadic life bedouin camp

1)      Give it up — If you have a house, sell it: if you have stuff, get rid of it; if you have an office-based job, leave it. If you’re going to wander the world, you don’t want to be weighed down by things back home.

2)      Put yourself in a box — Life sometimes intrudes on the fantasy of chucking it all. You’ll need a place to receive the occasional mail. Set up a P.O. box or use a trusted friend or relative’s address.

3)      You can bank on it — The Internet that is. Set up banking and paying all your bills online. The good thing about a nomadic life though, there are many less bills to pay. No cable, WiFi, mortgage/rent, home insurance, real  estate taxes, utilities; well you get my drift, it’s a lot cheaper to be  a nomad.

4)      To store or not to store? — That really is the question. Although we got rid of most of our possessions before leaving, we still had enough junk left over to fill a 10’ by 10’ storage unit. We thought it was stuff we’d still need or want. Guess what? We were wrong.  After returning to the U.S. we got rid of the remaining items.

5)      The telephone game — I got rid of my cell phone before leaving in August, 2011 and have lived without one ever since. It’s remarkably freeing. Set up a Skype account so you can still keep in touch with those you want to call. Think of all the time you just freed up by not checking voice mail or texting all day.

6)      Book it — Libraries are a wonderful resource on the road. Almost every town has one, they offer free Wifi and are quiet, air-conditioned places to hang out. We skim through the used book rack to buy $1 books. If we stay someplace for a month we apply for a library card so we can check out books and DVDs for free.

7)      Playing doctor — We weren’t worried about changes in health care in the U.S. since we’ve paid for our own health insurance for years. If you are on an employer plan you’ll need to buy your own health insurance if you leave your job. As we found out, it may be cheaper than you expected.

8)      The world is flat — Skip the hotels and rent flats or apartments. They are a cheaper option for long-term travel. Also consider house sitting.  In return for watching pets or watering plants, we’ve received free housing in different parts of the country we had never visited. We’ve done this a few times with mixed results but you should see if it’s right for you. See our tips for long-term apartment rentals.

9)      Go the extra mile — When we were traveling around the world we rented a car where we needed one. Back in the U.S. that got expensive so we bought a car. You’ll put on many miles as a nomad so skip the gas guzzler and get a car with great gas mileage.

10)    Take a break — Constantly moving from place to place can get tiring. We try to stay a minimum of a week anywhere. We’ll also set up firebreaks where we’ll stay at least a month to recharge our batteries. When that happens Larissa even makes the investment of buying a bottle of ketchup. I’m concerned though that it could be a gateway condiment and the next thing I know she’ll be buying mustard and relish.

Bonus tip: Don’t worry, be flexible — Every place you stay may not be as comfortable or as nice as you like. We’ve had relatively good luck in this department, mostly due to Larissa’s thorough vetting of our rentals. But the beauty of living a nomadic life is that if you don’t like an area, you’ll soon be moving on. And if you do like it, then you can stay longer.

Any questions you have or tips you’d like to share?

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures July 4, 2013 at 8:46 am

I totally agree with you re: everything minus healthcare! I am my own employee and the cheapest health insurance I can find for myself is $600/month. :(

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Michael July 4, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Andi,

You should look around. We pay less than that for 2 people in their 50s. We go with a very high deductible which helps.

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Beth July 4, 2013 at 9:08 am

It sounds lovely, but what are your plans for when you are in your late 70′s and 80′s?

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Michael July 4, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Beth,
I don’t usually know where I’ll be a month from now so my 70s or 80s seems a bit abstract to ponder.

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Try New Things July 4, 2013 at 9:28 am

I am retired early but I need to keep a residence still even though I am travelling because I have two sons in University, who return home regularly. But perhaps after they are finished, I will sell it and give this a try. Still enjoying be retired and I freelance on the road so it offsets my bills a little. It is a good life!

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Michael July 4, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Gee, when I went off to college my mom turned my room into a sewing room.

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Cat of Sunshine and Siestas July 24, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I moved to Spain six years ago (college, 10), and my mom wouldn’t dare!

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Sam July 4, 2013 at 12:51 pm

These are some great tips. It sounds like the hardest part is taking that first step in #1, giving it all up.

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Michael July 4, 2013 at 2:28 pm

The first step is a doozy but it’s all downhill from there. (I mean that in a good way.)

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amber July 11, 2013 at 1:58 am

great tips! we are newbie nomads in the states, with a job (which husband loves) but leaves us unemployed 4 months out of the year…the universe is practically telling us to go travel! we’ve yet to go international but doing the research now and obviously stumbled upon your blog. i hope to learn much from you two wanderers!

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Michael July 11, 2013 at 9:36 am

Hi Amber,
Congratulations on making the decision to take off and travel. Keep in touch with any travel questions you may have. Learn from our mistakes.

Cheers, Michael

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amber July 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm

thanks! we are trying to plan mexico for the winter. seems as if we are stuck at the ‘making money’ part while we are gone. As soon as we figure that out we’re outta here!

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Michael July 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Ah, income. For us it wasn’t as much of an issue since we had no home back home to still pay expenses for.

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Lynn July 14, 2013 at 8:56 pm

I love your blog and you give great info. We hope to do some of what you all are doing next year after the dad retires for good. My question – you never rent a car? Amid where was the first place you went when you left Philly?
Thanks keep up the great writing. Maybe we will find you along the way.
Cheers

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Michael July 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm

We rented a car in various places around the world for road trips including Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Namibia, Dubai and Scotland.

Our first stop after leaving Philly was China.

Thanks for writing.

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wanderingeducators July 22, 2013 at 11:52 am

Great tips – especially about keeping stuff. We all have too much!

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Michael July 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm

You’re right about having too much stuff. Yet when we let it go we don’t miss it.

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Jennifer Miller July 22, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Love it!! We’re into our sixth year full time and I can attest that this is all GREAT advice!! Dive in!

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Val-This Way To Paradise July 23, 2013 at 12:24 am

Perfect timing for this article since I’m currently in the process of becoming a full time nomad myself. Love this advice!!

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Jennifer July 24, 2013 at 7:49 pm

The hardest part for me would be getting rid of all my stuff.

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Bethaney - Flashpacker Family July 25, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Great tips!!! We boxed everything up and have been on the road for almost two months. We still haven’t managed to rent our house out yet but once that’s done we’ll be sorted. :)

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Kate July 25, 2013 at 11:28 pm

I am down with all of this except ditching the cell, lol. Funnily, one of the things I love about travel is that cell use is so much cheaper overseas than in New Zealand. At home I never use my cell for calls or call cell numbers. I love how in the US it’s just like a regular phone call.

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Try New Things July 28, 2013 at 12:11 pm

You make it sound so simple and it actually is simple….it is us that makes it difficult. Hard to part with the stuff and the old ways of doing and living. I loved this post and I will reference and link it in my blog.

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Mary @ Green Global Travel July 28, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Thanks for the great tips on the nomadic life. We’re currently living a double life with one leg in each world; traveling and being responsible for a child, dog, house, and car at home. However, we’re slowing starting to prepare for a transition to a more nomadic life once the kiddo goes to college in 6 yrs. I’ve changed my career to be location independent and we’re starting to sell off our stuff to make room for more flexibility. It is incredibly expensive to support both lifestyles. I’m glad you’re enjoying the nomadic life!

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Wade December 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Hey there,
I just recently had a life altering event that has left me without an address. No big deal I have always wanted to travel the US.I work in Alaska and have a 2 week on and and 2 week off schedule. I will continue to fly back and forth every 2 weeks therefore I keep my income and insurance and while at work room and board is included.
I am thinking of getting a truck with a topper and a small motorcycle and trailer. Travel from one airport to another maybe 500 miles within12 days. Stopping at motels and campsites and explore the area with my motorcycle a few days at a time. Then store said truck and bike and go back to work…do it again in 2 weeks. What do you think?
Wade
Ramblinman:-)

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Michael December 29, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Hi Wade,

That sounds like a cool plan but might be exhausting. Maybe do that every other time you have 2 weeks off and then chill the other time.

Good luck!

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Candice January 18, 2014 at 5:18 pm

How do you fund your trips? Also, would you recommend a woman to travel alone? If so, are there any good tips for that?

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Larissa January 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm

We funded our trip by selling our house, cars, and lots of stuff that we no longer need. Since we have no permanent “home” we are not paying rent/mortgage/utility bills, back home while we are traveling.

We travel as a couple, however we’ve got several women friends (of all ages) who travel solo. I would recommend checking out one (or all!) of these sites:

Sunshine and Siestas, Cat Gaa http://sunshineandsiestas.com/
Hole in the Donut, Barbara Weibel: http://holeinthedonut.com/
Solo Traveler, Janice Waugh: http://solotravelerblog.com/
Adventurous Kate: http://www.adventurouskate.com/
Ott’s World, Sherry Ott: http://www.ottsworld.com/
Breathe Dream Go, Mariellen Ward: http://breathedreamgo.com/
Backpacking Becki, Rebecca Enright http://www.backpackerbecki.com

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KAREN in AUSTRALIA March 18, 2014 at 12:12 am

Hello there
I am really enjoying your blog; i am no where near doing it myself, nor do I think i will ever be brave enough to ‘let go’ like you guys have, its amazing… :) …..I’m wondering roughly how much it costs a day to do this?
Thank you
Karen :)

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Michael March 18, 2014 at 1:36 am

Hi Karen,

The cost depends on where you visit. Australia was the most expensive place for us while Southeast Asia was the cheapest. In Australia simple lodging can cost $90 a night while in Vietnam a nice hotel can cost $22.

Cheers.

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Ruey September 3, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Hi Michael and Larissa,

This is Ruey. It was so nice to have found your blog when we were thinking about retiring (early) and living a nomadic life.
We are in the process of packing and preparing to sell the house we live in for 18 years…. God, I never thought it would be this emotionally difficult! Although we ARE excited about the new possibilities and new life, but selling the house is emotionally stressful, right? How did you deal with it? How did you detach from your house? I call it my house, not my home, because I am from elsewhere. But, after trying for 18 years to make myself “at home”, now I have hard time let go of it! How did you do it? Help!!

Thanks!! Where are you now? I lived in Philly for 2 years for school – it was my first “home” in the US. :-)

Ruey

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Larissa September 4, 2014 at 12:05 am

Hi Ruey, I’m glad you found our blog too. We actually made the transition to a nomadic life in stages. We sold our house in the suburbs and rented a much smaller townhouse in Center City Philly for a year while we planned our round-the-world trip. That helped, because even though we got rid of a lot of things during the move, we still had many familiar items so the new place felt like “home.” Also, we were so excited to finally live in the city and experience all the fun things right on our doorstep we didn’t miss our old suburban lifestyle.

Knowing we were only staying in the townhouse for a year made it easier to leave when the time came–and it was better for planning purposes because we knew we could just leave when the lease was up–it would have been way too stressful to try and plan a trip in the middle of selling a house! :P

Hope that’s helpful.

These days were driving around the US, exploring all the states we never visited before.

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Anonymous September 5, 2014 at 11:45 am

Thanks Larissa!

Yes, we are sort of in stages too. We are going to move to a different place, a different state later, and then, from there, maybe planning to live in Germany for few months a year. We have traveled a lot already, so we will be more like the true nomads – stay in one place for a period of time and move on to a different place, seasonally..

Your idea of storage was very helpful. We are going to do that.

Where do you register your new car? Everything requires an ADDRESS – is a problem. Where do you renew your driver’s license? All these “minor” details..

Thanks again! Although nomads don’t go to the same places, knowing others out there are already “wandering” around, it’s comforting.

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Michael September 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm

If you’ll send us your e-mail on the “Contact Us” page we can answer many of your questions directly.

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A.E.C. September 5, 2014 at 11:41 am

I have been debating on the nomadic lifestyle for years now. I have a wonderful partner who just isn’t into getting rid of their stuff, though. How do you go about convincing them that happiness can be on the open road rather than in a little box?

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Walter September 10, 2014 at 10:53 pm

This is something I would strongly consider. Unfortunately, I have a seizure disorder. As long as I stay medicated, I have about two grandmal seizures(the typical seizures that most people are aware of) each year. Without medication, I could have a seizure once a week(more or less). Is there anyway to leave this behind with all my material objects? Are there witch doctors out there or some type of chi healers that know how to deal with this?

Sorry if that was heavy. I guess I was just assuming you had been on an Odessy rather than a nomadic journey. I suppose they could both be the same. So that’s why I’ll still ask:

Is it possible for a person with a seizure disorder to be a nomad?

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Michael September 16, 2014 at 9:00 am

Sorry Walter for all that. We wouldn’t know about the specifics of your condition.

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