On Being a Nomad

One of the joys of being retired is that I have the time and luxury of thinking deeply about things. It’s not that I didn’t think about things before, but I have the time now to stop in the middle of the day to relax, empty my mind and focus on something without feeling rushed or pressured.

Lately I’ve been thinking quite a bit about why I feel such joy whenever I think about us becoming nomads again. Why, beyond seeing new places, and having new experiences, did it make us so happy before? It certainly wasn’t a perfect lifestyle, by any stretch of the imagination, and yet it was a very good fit for us.

Brett and I have always been “restless people,” probably stemming from our time in the navy where we moved every two and a half years or so. Although the parameters of Brett’s job basically remained the same, moving to a new location was always an adventure, especially since we knew it wasn’t permanent. We had a limited time to explore the areas we lived in, try new foods, and get to know about the place. There were some locations we enjoyed more than others, but on the whole we always found something to like about every place we lived, whether that was the central valley of California, southern Maryland, Key West, or Japan.

When I think about embracing a nomadic life once again, I realize that the aspects we liked about of our previous semi-nomadic navy life are what continue to appeal to us now.

Our nomadic life cost less. During our navy days we had to live within our means, and live minimally because the navy was only going to do a certain amount for us; there were always limits imposed. Any purchase, from groceries to household items, had to be carefully weighed against a fixed income, and we learned not to accumulate things because of household goods weight limits when it was time to move. Those skills were put to good use when we traveled, especially living within our means and not accumulating more than would fit into our suitcases (as well as keeping them under a set weight limit). The goal was always to get all we could from and make the most of what we had.

Being a nomad meant freedom from things. We were tied only to what we could carry in our suitcases. Returning to a settled life has made us realize we no longer enjoy owning a lot of things. We also liked being free from the chores and maintenance of home ownership or even renting when we were on the road, and from things like utility payments. Yes, we had to pay for our lodgings, but utilities and maintenance were included and we always tried to choose places where the furnishings and decor fit our preferences. We still kept our lodgings clean and tidy wherever we were, fixed or repaired on our own what we could as necessary, but the burdens and responsibilities of ownership belonged to someone else.

A life on the road allowed us to experience the world in all its beauty . . . and ugliness. Meeting new and different people and experiencing a variety of cultures was an obvious benefit, but seeing both the good and the bad, from stunning architectural, historical wonders, and eating mouthwatering foods, to oppressive poverty, urban ugliness, and extremely crowded conditions went a long way toward helping us to reassess and balance our world views. We were always grateful for the chances we were given to see life through a different lens than our own, even if we sometimes felt we were taking and not giving back.

Even as seniors, our nomadic life strengthened character. Things went wrong and weren’t perfect. Our lodging sometimes wasn’t what we expected, or transportation fell apart. We got sick. The pandemic had us making decisions and changes without a lot of time for thought. However, having to leave the safe bubble of American life and our comfort zone gave us loads of opportunities learn what we were capable of. We sometimes had to push ourselves to new extremes to accomplish goals or get where we needed to be under less than idea circumstances, but the hard parts made the good ones so much better.

We off course missed family and friends while we traveled, but technology kept us connected, and we found we worked harder at making sure we did get together once or twice a year, or in the case of our son and family in Japan, for longer stays than we would have otherwise been able to do. Since we’ve settled back on Kaua’i, we’ve come to see that it was actually easier for us to arrange reunions when we were on the road than it is now that we’re located very far away from everyone.

The best part of being a nomad is that travel changes us; we are never again who we were before we set out. That’s what excites us and brings us joy: we still want to continue to grow and learn about the world and travel provides that for us and more. We’re still not ready to settle down and accumulate all the stuff that goes along with living in one place. Instead, we’re looking forward to embracing the nomadic life once again and whatever it brings us, challenges and all.

11 thoughts on “On Being a Nomad

  1. How beautifully said! It sounds like this lifestyle fits both of you like a glove. You two are so fortunate to share the same vision of life.
    I too believe that traveling changes perspective on things and broadens the understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of. Although I love exploring other places and cultures, I am not nomadic. But I admire your authenticity and adventurous spirit! Keep on traveling as Rick Steves would say!

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    1. We were surprised by how much we missed the nomadic life after we settled down. We had assumed we wouldn’t miss it, especially Brett, but it was a very good fit for us for all the reasons mentioned in the post, and we’re eager to get going again. We want to travel as long as we possibly can, which is why we’re so committed to staying in shape now and keeping our health in tip-top shape.

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  2. I love reading about your travels, and I can really relate to moving as something that becomes ‘normal.’ When we sold our last home, I realized it was the longest I had lived anywhere. DH says I should have been a realtor, because I love looking at different homes and places and imagining living there/moving. Every vacation trip is a little fantasy of “should we move here?” for me. There is something exciting about a new home, but I don’t think I could travel as much as you two. That said, I LOVE reading about the places you see and you are great at describing the experiences. Thanks for taking us along!

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    1. I think all those moves in the navy really did a number on us. Plenty of people hated those moves; we always looked forward to them.

      I am a “house voyeur” as well – love looking at homes, locations, etc. I also do the “could we live here?” thing, and am a bit surprised that only one or two places were a yes (Strasbourg and our village in England. And of course Japan).

      We can’t wait to hit the road again. There’s lots of work still to be done, but lots of time as well, for which we’re grateful. We want to do it better next time.

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  3. I love reading about your travels and it gives me ideas about places I might like to visit. I’m actually starting to plan a trip (a cruise through Asia) for late 2022. Hopefully, COVID won’t mess that up. Speaking of owning too many things, I’m loading up my car right after I post this and donating a lot of stuff I don’t need to a donation drive happening today. It’s so liberating!

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    1. What the COVID status will be in 2023 is the big unknown right now, but we’re hoping we’ve given ourselves enough time that it will be under control worldwide.

      Where does your Asian cruise go? Southeast Asia is high on our list of places to visit, but we couldn’t fit it in this time without shortening stays everywhere else, and we didn’t want to do that.

      I am ready NOW to start downsizing, but am making myself wait until next year. It is very liberating to get rid of things, but I’m finding it’s also liberating to discover what I am willing get rid of this time. I know list will continue to grow this year so I’m willing to wait.

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      1. At the moment, I’m not feeling too hopeful that COVID will be over by late 2022, but I’m just doing the research now and won’t actually book anything until maybe a year from now. The cruise goes to Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia. The friend I travel with is from the Philippines and I’ve always wanted to go, so we agreed this would be a fun way for me to see where she is from plus visit the other countries that we both want to see.

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      2. We’ve got our fingers crossed on both hands that COVID will be under control by 2023, but are hopeful we will be able to get to Japan in the fall of 2022. We could go right now, but would have to self-quarantine there for 14 days, and we cannot see going all the way there just to sit in an (expensive) apartment for two weeks. We can wait.

        The cruise sounds fantastic! We are considering doing a tour in SE Asia versus trying to do it on our own, but the tours go quickly and can be exhausting (as we discovered on our India tour).

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