Hurry Up and Wait: My Working Nomad Story
Some people fly by the seat of their pants. They are risk takers. They are the people who up and quit their job to travel the world without a plan.
I’m not one of those people.
If I’m honest, I’m around 4 years into my 7-year plan. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I have lots of reasons for this but at this point, I plan to move abroad in around three years to become a working nomad. Here’s my story.
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My One Regret
I’m not a person who lives life in the rearview mirror and I usually don’t waste my time on regrets. There’s nothing I can do about my past—I can only affect my future. But if I were to have one regret, it’s that I didn’t do a semester abroad when I was in college.
That may sound silly to some people, but let me explain. I have been working since I was 13. I worked at a paper goods store, and a bunch of other retail jobs including a department store, a grocery store, and some others.
In college, I worked at my university publishing company. Then I graduated and immediately (after one week off) started a job at an insurance company. With only one or two exceptions, my career has been in healthcare and healthcare technology and I have worked almost consistently during that time. (I was a “lady of leisure” for brief periods following layoffs).
I have moved around a bit with different companies and for the last 15 or so years, dreamed of moving abroad to become a working nomad. And as much as I wanted to, if I’m honest, I was scared.
What Might Have Been
Back in college, I had a friend who did a semester abroad and had the time of her life. I wanted to do that so badly but felt that I couldn’t. You see, I paid my own way through college. Loading up on inexpensive ramen noodles and working almost full time to get through didn’t exactly allow me the luxury of doing a semester abroad.
Even though tuition would be the same, I couldn’t swing the travel expenses. And I was scared to accumulate too much debt. So I waited, thinking I would do it someday. Then, life happened and I got caught in the trappings of things and my career.
The Spark for My Love for Travel
When I was 23 or so, I went on my first international trip. Well, I did drive to Niagara Falls when I was 22, but this was my first international flight. I went to Jamaica with a friend. It was amazing and eye-opening all at once. We stayed at a luxury all-inclusive resort for a long weekend but driving to the resort and on our way to other destinations, we saw how the locals lived. You know—not the ones in the palatial white villas, but the small tin-roof shacks.
Having been poor in college and living on earnings well under $10k a year, but in a very contained and surprisingly manageable way, I was wide-eyed. I found the disparities shocking and honestly, I didn’t know what to make of it. Did I feel guilty for my privilege? Curious? Shocked? It was a long time ago now, but likely all of the above.
Those drives in Jamaica have always stuck with me. I was still growing and expanding as a human and forming my core morality while taking it all in. But I knew I wanted to see more—more around the world and the people in it. How other people live and what life is like for them. The art, the food, the architecture, the scenery. That first trip sparked my curiosity to see the world and it was intoxicating.
Part 2 of My Travel Story
Fast forward to around 20 years ago, I started traveling abroad more. In my 20s and early 30s, I went on a number of domestic U.S. trips and went to the Caribbean a number of times. I went to Mexico and Canada as well. I visited Europe in my late 20s, going to England, Ireland, and Italy. The more I saw, the more I wanted to see.
I went on one international trip a year on a budget and mostly to Europe or to the Caribbean. Then I went to Peru. Oh, how I fell in love with Peru. The country is magical and the entire trip was amazing from our visit to Cusco for the overwhelming and fascinating Inti Raymi Festival, the Festival of the Sun.
We saw a small town with cobblestone streets and an amazing ruin called Ollantaytambo, and of course, the epic Machu Picchu. There were other fun stops along our way through the Sacred Valley.
Peru was different from any place I had been until then and it really fueled my appetite for more. I started slowly increasing the pace of my travel, making a more concerted effort to see new places.
Ten years ago, I went to southeast Asia for the first time. We visited Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam, Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Seoul, South Korea. Again, it widened my eyes further to what the world has to offer. And that no matter how different we are, we have so many similarities as well.
In the last ten years, I have been to over 20 countries. I started taking two international trips a year when I could afford to and created a separate savings account just for my travels. Any raises or bonuses or unexpected windfalls went to travel as well as saving for the future.
For the last few years of that, I use every vacation day I get for travel and actively manages my time to see as much as I can. As some of my friends were buying bigger homes, second homes, or fancy cars, I was exploring the world.
My domestic travel has shifted to be more around catching up with friends and family though I do try to explore new places at least once a year. But I live for my international travel.
I have now added Africa to my list of travel when I visited Morocco. I have plans in the next couple of years (well, pre-worldwide pandemic) to see Egypt and Jordan as well as to go on an African safari, two bucket list adventures for me.
My Slow Shift Towards Becoming a Working Nomad
A few years ago, I acknowledged that I wanted to move again. I was itching for something new and was considering moving to another area of the U.S. But when I gave it some serious thought, something stopped me. And I realized what that was—I wanted to move abroad.
I want to live outside the US and to have a lifestyle where I can travel more. I don’t want to be restricted to 20 or 25 days a year, but be able to create a life that allows me to travel and see the world. To become a working nomad.
Honestly, this scared the crap out of me and it still does. All I have known is the U.S. (thus my one regret). Though I have some friends who live abroad, the overly analytical part of my brain started to churn out a long list of reasons why not. Excuses, really, but it clogged my brain and I wasn’t able to move past it.
What About My Pets?
And of course, I’m a huge animal lover and at the time, I had four dogs and two cats. That’s a lot of animals to manage for a move and that means I can’t travel around as a working nomad, but it would be a move. I have an amazing pet sitter here who is like family and loves them as much as I do. So, how could I move somewhere else and lose her? Would I get trapped in my new home unable to travel?
I tried to convince myself that I was ok traveling for a few weeks out of the year. Eventually, I acknowledged that I’m not. And that realization was around four years ago.
Why a 7-Year Plan?
Simply—my youngest dog was around 7 years old at the time. I made a commitment to him: forever. I will honor that. And when I lose him, I’m outta here! It feels a little morbid and honestly, I hope he outlives my expectation and I get stuck here longer. I’ll be ok with that. He’s a great dog and I will stay by his side as long as he’s got fight in him.
Now that I’ve made the decision, I feel I’m stuck in limbo a bit. It’s such a strange feeling as I can’t really plan for the next chapter of my life not knowing when it will happen. And of course, it will likely be a few years yet. But I’m a planner and I knew I had to at least have the bones of a plan as well as a goal to achieve. It’s not easy living a life I know I’m not happy with but I have found some ways to cope.
One is my travel, and I am strategic about it aiming to visit at least one or two new places a year and plan out every precious vacation day. And I also do a bit of volunteering as well, which I’ll share in a moment.
I work on this blog, which has been a blessing and a curse in ways I never expected. I love the writing aspect and reliving my travel adventures, but there is a technical side that doesn’t come easy to me. And to do it well, it takes a lot of time. I also have a side hustle, which I’ll share in a moment as well.
Stuck in the Now
The global pandemic hasn’t helped that feeling of being stuck, and honestly, it has been incredibly difficult. Travel was my pressure valve keeping me sane in a life that no longer fits me. And now that I can’t travel, it shines a harsh light on all that I’m not satisfied with.
Perhaps surprisingly, I do feel some guilt with that as well because my life isn’t so bad. I have a well-paying job and though I don’t love the work I do, I do a good job at it. I enjoy some of the people I work with, too.
Before our world turned upside down in early 2020, I had friends I enjoyed seeing and hobbies I love. My dog and I, and my cat and I, do pet therapy with a local hospice organization and with another organization that works with kids at risk. We all love this work. The frustrating part about this pandemic is that it stripped my top joy from me, as well as my second. I can no longer do my volunteering either during this tough time.
I also have a side hustle doing copywriting, social media marketing, and SEO (search engine optimization – think Google ranking). It’s work I love and it’s a natural fit and extension of my blogging work. It all keeps me incredibly busy which is a good thing and a nice distraction.
My Go-Forward Working Nomad Plan
I started my side hustle because it occurred to me that in a few years, I’m going to quit my job and travel the world. This is partly why I started my blog as well, with this in mind. I won’t be ready to fully retire at that point and will need some income, thus the working nomad title. I’m expecting to have a modest lifestyle going forward and expect I’ll live in places that generally don’t require a lot of money to live.
So, I knew I had to figure out an income stream in the meantime and found a great opportunity. It’s a huge win as it covers my travel expenses now, and it’s almost enough to cover my expected living expenses down the road.
Best of all, it’s work I love. Most of my work is for a person I really like and respect (and I really enjoy the other people I work with as well), and I have the ultimate flexibility. I have deadlines that I manage to and can work one-and-a-half days a week, or a couple of hours a day, whatever time I want. It’s ideal in its flexibility and I’m so grateful.
It’s not easy managing it with my full-time job, blog, volunteering, and life, but it sets me up to where I want to be and will enable me to become a working nomad when I’m ready to move abroad. Because of this experience, I have a couple of other smaller opportunities that have future potential to grow.
So, hopefully, by the time I’m ready to leave, I’ll have replaced enough income with this work and my blog. Pretty amazing. I think most people will agree that when we follow the right path for us, doors open. It may take a lot of hard work to get there, but the opportunity will present itself.
My Travel Plan as a Working Nomad
My determination is that I am NOT going to have a plan. The first thing people ask me when I say I want to move abroad to travel is where I want to go. And the truth is, I’m not sure. I have fallen in love with a number of countries but honestly, I want to see more of a world. And I don’t want to choose now where I want to move as in a few years, you never know what the situation will be like.
Many countries in Latin America are shifting and it’s hard to know which will be good candidates to live in in a few years in the future. So, I plan to continue visiting new places to see what I might like and to be open to the future.
I’m thinking I may travel solo for a few months through Europe, partly to explore the eastern part of the area that I haven’t seen and part scouting expedition. I’ll also plan to visit with a few friends if I can. I really love Europe but am unsure I can afford the cost of living in the western part of the continent. (Well, except for Portugal, which I loved passionately!)
Then I’ll go home, decide if I’m selling or renting my home, maybe visit some folks, pack up myself and my little dog-man, Jagger, and we are off! Yes, the only plan is that he will come with me, of course, if he wants to.
And here’s the great thing—I can always come back. I’m not sure yet if I’ll continue to move around (I don’t expect I’ll want to be traveling weekly and suspect after a short while, I start doing multiple months in a place at a minimum and use that location as a base for exploring).
But if it all goes sideways and isn’t the life I hoped, I can always move back to the United States. It’ll be here. So, I’m scared but truly, what’s the risk. I can come back and get another job. I’ll figure it out.
Becoming a Working Nomad
It’s funny as most of the working nomad/digital nomad stories I have read from other bloggers are very different. Generally, they seem to up and quit their job and their life and move abroad. They travel a bit then slowly start to figure things about how to make it sustainable.
That’s totally ok, but that’s not me. And for a long time, I thought if I didn’t do that, then it wasn’t going to happen for me. Maybe 15 years ago, I actually looked into language schools in Italy. I had enough saved for around six months of expenses so I was going to do it. But I decided that it didn’t make sense for me. I have never been that impulsive and I’d likely have to come home once the money ran out in a position where I had to find a job quickly.
I’m also not in my 20s (which is a broad generalization, of course, but it’s the age group most of the people I have read about when they make this leap. Absolutely not all, of course!) My story will be different, my flying leap, and it will be uniquely my own.
I’m not sure why I have been holding onto this. I have been writing weekly posts to this blog for over a year and a half now (crazy, right??) I have shared this with most of my friends and family, but haven’t written a post about it until now. Nothing beyond a short blurb in my bio. Maybe it’s because it’s becoming more real as time passes. Or maybe being locked indoors indefinitely is leaving me clinging to something in the future to look forward to.
Whatever the reason, I’m glad I shared it and will plan to continue doing so as things evolve. If there are places you loved visiting, I’d love to hear. My travel list is long but hey, it can always get a little longer!
So, in the meantime, once I’m able to travel again, I will. I’ll keep traveling as often as I can, exploring new places on my bucket list and new places I want to see that I may want to explore further down the road. And who knows? Maybe I’ll just decide to stay in one of them down the road. What an exciting thought.
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Loving your thoughts and courage!
Thank you, Kelly! I really appreciate it.