I decided to become a nomad. I’ve been more or less “homeless” since the end of July.
Like many nomads, I made this decision based on a love of travel. I moved abroad to Buenos Aires exactly one year ago. After six months in Buenos Aires, I moved to Rio for three. It took me a while, but I eventually realized that I had conflated the notions of living abroad and traveling abroad. I was living abroad but I wasn’t actually traveling. In the nine months between Buenos Aires and Rio, I had made one actual traveling vacation (a week in Bariloche). I had fallen victim to an odd mental fallacy. Because I was abroad I thought I was traveling.
One of my friends in Rio has been living there for two years. He mentioned one time he was hesitating to buy blinds. He’s only now starting to accept that he’s going to be there for a while. He has to get his mind there. He still has to convince himself he’s settled.
I haven't been in a comfortable position to buy blinds either. I asserted I was going to live abroad for some indefinite period. To settle in. But with nothing tying me down, I wasn’t actually committed. I kind of existed in a purgatory. This purgatory was inhibitive. I didn’t want to travel extensively because I had to stick around to plant roots. But I was hesitating to plant roots because I wasn’t committed to sticking around.
So one night I decided to leave. I decided to exit purgatory and start traveling again. Hop on a bus and see how it feels. I booked a ticket to São Paulo for the following morning.
On the bus, I felt liberated almost immediately. The pressure of “making it work” in Rio was instantly released. The excitement of travel loomed ahead. I'm a traveler, I thought. And I'm finally traveling again.
But shortly after my arrival at the first hostel I realized I was wrong. I’m not a traveler. I had a lot in common with these travelers and I enjoyed talking to them. But it was clear I am on a different journey than the traveler.
I separated people into three categories: the settled, the traveler, and the nomadic.
The settled is the most common type of person in the modern world. They enjoy a lot of luxuries that the traveler and the nomad do not. They have their proper spaces, lots of things, an unchanging commute, a clear and static map of the location of the nearby grocery stores and laundromats and coffeeshops. They have a fixed desk. Their rotary of friends. They (usually) get to use their native tongue everywhere.
The traveler is on vacation. Their motivations vary. Some are traveling to escape or relax or think, others to party or have particular experiences. Travel is most often a temporary departure from normal, day-to-day living as a settled. It can be a week to get away or a year’s journey.
The nomad isn’t tied to a particular location like the settled. But he isn’t on vacation like the traveler. The nomad is productive. Movement is ultimately in service to a lifestyle of producing.
As I’m finishing the book Sapiens, I can’t help but draw the parallel: Our migratory ancestors were extraordinarily productive in their travels. They completed daily chores like foraging and hunting, manufacturing weapons and clothing, setting up basic shelters. Movement was a means of thriving. Pushing into a new area meant an opportunity to tap into an abundance of untouched resources or to insert some distance between a neighboring tribe.
At first, the most difficult part about being a nomad was that I don’t really know any others. They’re out there. But I have so little familiarity with the “standard” lifestyle of a nomad. We’ve all had intimacy with being settled. We’ve had our experiences taking a break as travelers. But what does a nomad’s day-to-day look like? How long does he spend in each location? How does he manage rotating social scenes? How does he sustain an extended life on the road? How does he thrive?
This has become my favorite part. There are resources and stories from other nomads that have been at it for years. I’ve dabbled. But mostly, I enjoy being able to make it up as I go.
Central to my strategy is identifying tradeoffs. For everything you lose, there's almost always something you gain.
For instance: I forfeit the comforts and familiarity of the settled. But I get constant stimulation from the exotic. My morning runs almost always traverse some new territory. My walks are central to my mindfulness practice. If I enjoy a place, I can frequent it without worry of growing tired of it.
So long as the modern conception of a computer is still relevant, my career has destined me to be in front of one. Working from home means spending a lot of time in one place. Being a nomad means that place changes constantly. It keeps me stimulated.
Or for instance: The traveler can often see more of a place than I. I’m only a serious tourist on the weekends. If I’m around travelers, I have to say “no” a lot. But I often see parts of a place that most travelers do not. I integrate. Quickly planting is essential to thriving. I cook a lot, so I go to the supermarkets often to buy supplies. I go to the fairs and find what’s fresh. I go to the gym. I like staying with locals, as they can easily plug me into the city’s affairs. They point me towards exhibitions, shows, new restaurants, and old favorites.
I’m sure I’ll write a lot more about specific tactics. I’m only a few months in now. Who knows how long I’ll go on for. I focus on thriving and producing and it helps me enjoy everything so much more. I can avoid the guilt that hangs over an escape. I can easily feed the thirst for adventure. And I can sustain the nomad’s journey of indefinite duration.