Here I sit, at a hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland as lost as ever. Am I lost or does it just feel like it because I don’t have any certainties in my future? I think this is often what gives me the feeling of being lost…and ultimately leads to general anxiety or panic attacks. I wanted freedom in my life, and in a way I’ve gotten exactly that. However, my freedom comes with a cost. There’s a certain aspect of freedom which we can only attain if we have NO fear…financially, for example…where we will go, how we will eat and live, how we can travel from place to place…these are all aspects that haven’t disappeared from my experience…as free as it may seem. In fact, in order to have even the slightest ability to deal with some of these aspects, I teach English online. It’s certainly not glorious and it doesn’t make a significant income. Some days it’s enough to live by and sometimes it’s not. In SE Asia it was enough to live on but the internet service was poor and unpredictable. In Europe the wifi is generally good enough, but the cost of living is much higher.
This is why I’ve been supplementing with housesitting. It pays nothing, but allows me to live in someone else’s home for days or weeks without paying for accommodation while I temporarily assume the life (and pets) of the owners who have left town. Even this has its drawbacks. On the one hand, I get to live locally, free of accommodation cost, often much more comfortably, have furry companions, get some quiet and privacy, have better internet connection and see more of the local landscape than if I were confined only to hostels. However, I miss out on the social aspects of hostels. I don’t meet people easily because it’s much more difficult as a traveler to meet locals or fellow travelers when you’re not in that environment where they’re looking to meet and talk to you, like only a hostel can provide. The forced mingling can be both positive and negative, depending on the situation…but again, everything has it’s good and bad aspects…even when you’re traveling and “living the dream”.
This is “living the dream” to me, but it’s still a constant battle to find balance in life. I think most people, including me before I left, have a misconception about living the dream…whatever that dream may be. I think we expect “the dream” to be simple, easy and constantly rewarding. Maybe this is just my experience, but I don’t think that’s possible. It’s true, I have never looked back and regretted my decision to leave and do things the way I am…but it has and does come at a cost Every. Single. Day.
I must admit, when I get messages from friends or family saying something similar to: “You’re so lucky you get to take so many trips.” or “How can you afford to take so many trips. I work full-time and it takes me a year to save up for 1 vacation.” The statements vary only slightly and the idea is always the same. Again, these are misconceptions and misunderstanding about what I’m doing, how I’m living and all of the sacrifices I have made and continue to make every day to be where I am. This is what bothers me about these statements: they completely belittle all of the work, struggle and sacrifice that I experience on a regular basis. So let me set the record straight.
What do you see? You see the pictures and videos I’m posting from the highlights of my life. Yes, I can post more than most because I’m living in countries and places that are foreign to you. They’re beautiful and exotic places that seem completely magical when you’re visiting on vacation. However, when you live locally…there is a different side to life. This is the life you don’t see me living, so let me explain it to you.
I am NOT taking trips or vacation. I am not a full-time traveler (no responsibilities, just travel). I am a nomadic expat. I live and work wherever I am sleeping that night. When someone asks me, “When are you coming/going home?” they are assuming I have a home to go back to and that assumption is inaccurate. I am 100% homeless. I have no “home” to go back to. I have no where I consider “home”. My family lives around the US and in different parts of the world, but that’s where they live, not where I live. That’s home for them. Places I’ve lived in the past were places I considered “home” in the past, but those places aren’t home for me either. Wherever I am right now…this is my home. I’m making this distinction because there is a big difference between taking international trips all the time and actually LIVING internationally as a nomad. I’m not buying plane tickets to cross oceans…most of the time.
Another very specific distinction is this: I’m not staying in 5-star hotels and resorts, eating out at expensive restaurants for every meal, spending money on tourist attractions and activities and shopping every moment I have the chance. As previously mentioned, I housesit and live in hostels. There are some disadvantages to these kinds of living situations which I’m willing to accept because I need the financial break that they provide me. This is a wise financial decision as well as a lifestyle choice. I like to live closer to the local life and get to know people, which I don’t think is possible staying at resorts and in hotels. It’s true, I occasionally post about eating or doing something really cool…but more often than not, they’re not expensive or don’t cost anything at all! Every once in a while I splurge a little, but this is very limited. I don’t even do all of the touristy things because a lot of them cost more money than I can or am willing to spend with my limited budget.
When it comes down to it, there’s so much you can do without spending much money…but when you’re taking a vacation you’re looking to spend, whereas I’m looking to spend as little as possible. Oh, and I NEVER shop. I carry everything I own on my back…and since I’m not just on a temporary vacation I need to carry essentials with me for every season and situation. When you have to carry all of your belongings with you every day, you quickly learn how to live simply. An extra 35-45 lbs/16-20 kgs makes a huge difference when taking public transportation and walking around town trying to get from place to place!
So what am I sacrificing every day? Beyond what I’ve already mentioned…I’m sacrificing luxuries of every kind, things that make life “comfortable”, a job that pays enough to plan for the future or have a savings, long-lasting friendships and relationships with people who live close (all of my family and friends live around the world, so we don’t get to see each other regularly), certainty, predictability, routine, Amazon Prime (I really do miss the luxury of 2-day delivery :), convenient laundry services, joining my family and friends for special occasions and sleep (ALWAYS a sacrifice!). I’m sure there’s more, but these are just the ones at the top of my head.
What else might I be stressing about regularly while living the ultimate life? Safety, health, longevity and sustainability, what my future looks like and what I’m working towards (believe me, I still have ambitions and dreams that I’m not sure how to realize yet), the health and safety of my family and friends, missing my nephews and nieces growing up, never really finding my footing in life or finding a balance, natural disasters, planning for the next move/transition, reliable wifi, sleeping in past my alarm clock (I start teaching at 4am in my current time zone), never getting married…and many more things which may come up in different situations.
I’m able to live all around the world because I’m willing to give up so many parts of life that seem like necessities to others. To me, while some of these things are truly a sacrifice, they’re things I’m willing to give up right now because of what I’m getting in return.
What you don’t see in my posts: intimate conversations with people from all over the world talking about their hopes, dreams, traumas, experiences, cultures, schooling, religion, wars, and all of the unique parts of life that I can’t see without their openness. As travelers, we’re easier to open up to. We’re less confining in our behaviors and beliefs because we’re constantly being challenged and seeing different sides. With all of the people I’m meeting I’m constantly learning more than I could ever learn in a book, at school or through my own experiences. I’m understanding more and more about the intricacies that make each individual unique, but also what ties us all together…those distinct human stressors that we’re all facing regularly. I’m learning about connection and disconnection. I’m learning to see things in a completely different light. I’ve come to understand just how small I am in this great big Universe of ours and how much is possible when we dream big.
Moral of the Story: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Before you make a judgement about someone else’s life and what it seems like to you, consider that they’re likely showing you only the best highlights. Every life comes with choices and sacrifices, but what one person values is different from the values of another. It doesn’t minimize the difficulties involved, it’s just a difference of choice. We’re all working as hard as we can and doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Our journeys are unique and different but we’re all looking for happiness any way we can.