From Digital Nomad to Something New

I won’t lie, a part of me felt like I was giving up. Cashing in the glamorous nomadic lifestyle for a lease, furniture and a gym membership. What a sell out.

“How long are you planning to stay in Seattle”, other travelers would ask me, (“a year?”).

“I don’t know. Maybe forever?” I would reply and their eyes would widen with a mix of surprise, confusion and (maybe?) envy. I work in an industry where people strive to become more mobile, less attached, where freedom is the ultimate destination. Yet here I was, daydreaming about decorating schemes and my own desk.

I live a 20 minute walk from this

So how did I come full circle, from a girl who wanted to never slow down to where I am today? I have a theory:

Back when I was working full time in DC, I felt trapped and stifled. I wasn’t crazy about where I was in my life on a variety of levels, but most importantly, I felt that I couldn’t really be my true self unless I was traveling. It was only with the freedom of the open road that I felt confident, capable, relaxed and more myself.

So I managed to loosen my bonds and travel full time. It was that mindset that led me to meet the man who is now my husband, that led me to build my career, that led me across continents, to place I’d never even dreamed of visiting. It was fantastic.

I know pretty early on that it wasn’t going to be forever. It took about 6 months before I started to feel the stress of constant travel . I spent a couple months stationary in China and was ready to keep going, but the feeling hit Mike and I again a year later in Argentina. We decided that constant travel wasn’t compatible with working full time, and instead decided to spend 3-6 months in certain places, using them as a home base as we traveled. That worked for awhile too, but by the time we reached Mexico last year, we knew we needed a new solution.

Working outside on a sunny January day (it was 65 degrees!)

While travel had at first opened me up to what felt like my “true self,” constant motion now felt stifling. I started thinking about all the other sections of my personality that were withering because I was constantly abroad: my new-found love of cooking (hard to do without steady access to a kitchen), my need for creature comforts and maybe most importantly, my need for community, friends and a social life.

All of a sudden I felt like I was living half a life.

Luckily Mike felt the same way. He was tired of working odd hours for little money, of being constantly on the computer and not having friends or hobbies to call his own. He wanted to join a gym and get in shape, to get back into playing video games. We both wanted to have our own social lives and not depend on each other for literally everything.

My dad came to visit me in Seattle!

We wanted a home. We didn’t know where, or how, and we knew we would have a lot of explaining to do to so many people who idealized our lives. I worried about how I would explain myself on the blog, so I never really did, until now.

I see now that it wasn’t about giving up. It was about evolving and finding the way in this world to be our most authentic selves.

Maybe us travel bloggers have had our sales pitch wrong the whole time. Leaving everything behind to travel is fantastic, if that is what you want, but what’s more important are the lessons and transformations we experience as a result of travel. If you can take a year or more to travel the world, that is wonderful and such a good experience, but if you can only manage a couple of weeks a year, there is a lot of good in that too.

Similarly, there is a lot to be said for working remotely, and having the freedom to travel and live everywhere. Some people can do this indefinitely, but not everyone has to or even wants to. Technically, Mike and I still have that freedom, we’re just using it in short bursts instead of long ones.

The move wasn’t about giving up travel completely either. Since we moved to Seattle six months ago, I’ve been on over a dozen plane rides, to places near (Vegas) and far (Sri Lanka). I’ve got potential travel plans out the wazoo for 2015. If anything, it’s way easier for me to travel now than it was when I was living in Mexico, or Argentina and constrained by our low income and the high price of plane tickets.

Where we celebrated our 6 month Seattle-versary (on the beach in Maui)

For Christmas, Mike got met something I’d been wanting badly. A really nice map to go above our couch, the kind with little pushpins to indicate where you’ve been. You won’t be surprised to hear we almost immediately ran out of pushpins and had to order two more boxes. We’ve done a lot of travel, but we also have a lot of travel left in us. It’s ingrained in us, an important part of our lives that we can’t simply abandon.

We’ll always be travelers, but for now we’re trying to be other things too.

50 thoughts on “From Digital Nomad to Something New”

  1. This is so inspiring. It is hard to make such big changes, either direction. However, it seems like you really had a great time traveling, you have no regrets, you learned a lot. Now I am happy to see that you are settling down and trying something new. Life itself is an adventure, and I hope this next leg turns out to be the most exciting and rewarding one ever.

  2. Really enjoyed this, Steph– I can definitely relate! I realized pretty early on that the constant traveling wasn’t quite my jam–I also like having a kitchen and a gym and pretty solid routine–but that I still love to travel. I try to incorporate as much travel and as much of an attitude of travel into my everyday life in NYC. Still trying to figure out the balance of work and play, routine and travel that makes me feel the most free, confident and in control of my destiny–but slowly getting there 🙂

  3. Hi there.. I’m new to your site but loved your insight. I good friend of ours has been on the road for 3 years and is now dreaming of a home base, air conditioning and clean toilets. We traveled for 14mths in 2007-2008 and feel constrained at home, eager to hit the road again this year to drive the PanAm to Patagonia. I think the best thing we can ALL learn from our experiences is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can change our minds, leave again, come back again, try something new. Good luck now beginning the next phase with a home base and see what life brings next.

  4. I’ve been reading a lot of posts like this lately! I think a lot of travelers, once they start hitting the mid-late 20s range, start feeling like they need a place of their own. Constant travel is tiring and you end up just craving the familiar and mundane of back home. It’s great to see that, while we end up going ‘home’, the travel doesn’t have to stop!

  5. I’ve been saying this for ages!.. and this is exactly why long term (semi permanent?) travel is not for me. I need a home and a kitchen… I am not all about leaving everything behind, selling all my worldly possessions and quitting my job. Stability is a wonderful thing, and travel on top of that is even more wonderful. Why can’t we have it all? I mean… why not?

  6. I really like that you shared this. It’s true, the constantly traveling lifestyle can definitely be idealized, but it’s important to remember that it can be rough. I find myself wishing and dreaming about traveling the world for long periods of time, and I still might, but I know that it could never be my forever thing – there is too much that I am not willing to give up to have it, so it obviously isn’t my truest, deepest desire.

  7. I really, really, REALLY get this. For two years I moved constantly and got a bit tired, then planted in Berlin and it really feels like home. Then the travel bug bit and I needed to move again and now it’s very clear to me that working full time and moving around full time are mutually exclusive, at least for me. So tough when as a traveler (and especially travel writer) you just want to be in one place for a while. I feel like a sell-out too, but, the routine becomes precious again, the gym membership appealing, and the thought of cooking your own meals delightful.

    I totally, fully get you.

  8. I love, love, love what you wrote but my favorite part is this: “I felt trapped and stifled. I wasn’t crazy about where I was in my life on a variety of levels, but most importantly, I felt that I couldn’t really be my true self unless I was traveling. It was only with the freedom of the open road that I felt confident, capable, relaxed and more myself.”

    I recently had this same realization…that once I pursued travel because I needed to. I traveled because I wanted to change and be changed. Much of what I was seeking I’ve now found in a home base, and though I still love to travel, I now pursue it out of want not need. (Which I’ve also found to be less than I expected.)

    1. It feels different too, traveling out of want and not need, right? After 3+ years of near constant travel everything started to feel like a huge blur. Now with shorter trips I feel I am more conscious of my surroundings and appreciate things more.

  9. YES. YES. YES. 100% yes. My husband and I have decided to go home after 3 years on the road, not because we have to but because we want to. I miss community, family, friends. I miss having a home. I agree, traveling has become a bit of a half-life for me. I want it all, home and travel, but more than anything right now I want home. Kudos for you for following your heart. And Seattle is a lovely place to land.

  10. Great post! For a while I felt that because I work full-time and don’t travel for a living that I wasn’t up to par but recently I’ve embraced that I travel when I can with the vacation time that I have and make the most of it and also enjoy explore my own backyard.

  11. This! I’ll admit I was a bit bummed to be moving back to the US, but now I’ve learned to love it. I’m still my own boss, I can cook, I go to the gym, and I feel like I’m traveling more than ever (who knew most FAM trips wanted to fly you from the US?)

    While I’m not particularly happy with Chicago (stupid snow and cold!) and we may move again in a couple years, I’ve come to realize that settling down, and having a base in the US was the best decision for us.

    Glad it’s been working out for you and Mike as well! Might just have to make a trip out to Seattle soon 🙂

  12. Wow. This is really an deep and inspiring one. I think the learning and finding our inner selfs can be ultimate purpose of traveling (with satisfying the desire for travel of course) as long as you don’t get stiffled. It’s perfectly normal to get tired, nostalgic, and want to have a home. And just like you said, you can have both a home and traveling.

  13. I love this! Travel is such a big part of my identity but I know that I am not meant for long term constant travel. There is so much to be said for community and routine. It’s wonderful that you have found such a great balance!

  14. Great post! Out of all the little things that slowly wear you down while long-term travelling, we’re finding that lack of community is one of the hardest. It’s difficult to keep up with friends back “at home”, and no matter how much you enjoy spending time with your significant other, it’s so essential to have at least a few people you can hang out with (more than once so you don’t have to keep doing self introductions!!) and create a social circle with. Friendly, familiar faces are such a valuable thing!

  15. I love this. Just like people making the grand decision to sell everything and travel long term, it’s a big decision to flip from that to a steady home base.

    And seriously, think of how awesome it will be to travel and actually be able to buy souvenirs for your house? I’m already imagining rugs, tapestries, various textiles, and I’ve just started the process of selling everything to finally start traveling long term!

  16. I think I could have written this post. I think I have said most of this on my own [neglected] blog in the past. There was definitely a turning point for me I think after our last big, several month, trip when I just realized I was living in Sydney but not really living in Sydney. I had no other hobbies or passions besides travel (life became very 1-dimensional), and to top it off, I just missed a lot of events and connecting with people because I was gone. It’s like, I could have very rich travel experiences but still feel very poor inside. There was too much dichotomy between my travel and home life, and I needed balance.

    It’s taken a lot of time and effort, but I feel very happy and content despite having no travel plans on the table. I guess when you’re comfortable in your place, surrounded by good friends, have an adorable furbaby, and pursuing a business that makes you excited and provides real money, well… the need to escape isn’t so strong.

    Welcome to the “something new” crew. Now come visit us in Oz already 😉

    1. “living in Sydney but not living in Sydney,” pretty much sums up how it felt when we were living in DC last year. We were there physically but not any other way, and it didn’t make us super happy.

      I will def come back to Oz eventually (I want to meet Sherlock Bunz)… but I might do New Zealand first!

  17. This is so timely! Thank you for your honesty. My partner and I have been on the road for six months and while we’ve really enjoyed the experience, we’re both finding it extremely hard to work efficiently while doing so. I sometimes wonder if it would have been better had we just taken six months out and not worked at all, as we put way too much pressure on ourselves.

    We’ve also realised that we miss having a base and a routine – I miss cooking and my friends, he misses the gym. I miss having an apartment and some homely things. We’re now in the process of making some decisions on our future, but I know whatever happens that travel has to be a constant part of my life, even if it just means taking many shorter trips throughout the year.

  18. Oh, gosh! I can totally relate to this, Steph! I felt a lot of the same concerns (in hindsight unnecessary ones) about basing ourselves somewhere, but I really need a place to call home in between trips now and to be able to process everything/have time to write. Everyone is different, as you say, but I’m glad to hear you’ve ended up exactly where you and Mike need to be right now. Sounds like a happy place and that map is awesome, by the way!

  19. YES! Andy and I have tried being nomadic several times with different approaches and different lengths of time, and it just doesn’t work for us. I *love* to travel, but I also really love and need my home comforts and routines. I need friends, which are hard to make when I’m gone so often. I need other things in my life besides just travel and work, and honestly, the two don’t go well together, at least not for either of us. Like you, I want to cook, and it’s difficult to impossible to do on the road.

    We recently decided to move to Berlin. Freiburg, where we live now, is a great little city, but it’s too small. Berlin has more contract opportunities for Andy, and possibly even me if I can find writing gigs in English there, there are more people to make friends with, plus more people who understand our not-so-traditional life, more activities, and we just like being in a bigger city. We’ll still travel, and hopefully we can save up for bigger trips where we don’t have to work at the same time, but I think our days of working and traveling at the same time are over.

    Good for you guys for following what feels right. You can still have a wonderful travel life while having a home base and some stability. And Seattle is a great city! One of my best friends lives there, so I’ve visited several times, and I love it.

  20. I think you found what you were looking for when you first left DC. Not the freedom to travel but the freedom to live your life according to your own rules. And that’s a great thing.

  21. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head! The goal isn’t to travel, it’s to create opportunity and have options, so that you can follow what makes you happiest. Sounds like you’re doing just that. Brilliant.

  22. I love this post. I have always wanted to travel but I know that I won’t always do this. I love gardening and being with my family too much to ever want to just abandon that. I agree with what you said about being true to yourself. Plus you post such good info on this blog that I think we’ll all keep reading it regardless

  23. Great post. I don’t think you ave to travel constantly to be a digital nomad. It definitely takes its toll after a while. I m happy to send the summer in England, pfftttt who am I kidding, we don’t have a summer. Lets say ‘the less winter 6 months’ in England and the rest of the time exploring!
    ps. I love the map too!

  24. Julia and I have had a very parallel experience and do doubt had some of the exact same feelings, especially the feeling that at times towards the end it didn’t really feel like “travelling” as much as just “surviving somewhere that wasn’t home”. Now we have been settled in Amsterdam for almost a year and finding it just as or more rewarding. Just like you guys, we still have our freedom, and put it to use on nearly a daily basis. The fact that we have all CHOSEN to settle makes it still feels like doing what we wanted with our lives, and that is the most important part!

    1. “it didn’t really feel like “travelling” as much as just “surviving somewhere that wasn’t home”.”
      Man I wish I’d come up with that line.

  25. Monika_My Thousand Worlds

    I enjoyed the post! Everybody has different preferences and nomadic lifestyle surely isn´t for everyone – somebody enjoys it for the whole life, somebody only for a certain period of time…and somebody doesn´t at all. I personally prefer to travel from a home base. Though now I´ve been living abroad for seven months, I´m working here so I´m not hopping from one country to another. Once my job contract terminates in April, I plan to spend the rest of the year at home and take several trips abroad. I believe that would be more satisfying to me than living permanently on road…so thanks for this post. there are lots of people now who are discouraged from travelling just because they think it means they have to give up everything else – and that doesn´t have to suit everyone.

  26. I so identify with this post – thanks for writing it. We are going through the exact same thing right now. Trying to find a balance between having a place to call home and still wanting to travel a lot. It’s not an easy thing to figure out! We started to feel like we had just moved our old DC lives with us on the road, forever struggling to stay ahead. Being home for a few months, then traveling for a month or two feels so much better!

  27. I work online, and travel whenever I can. The best thing about my travels is that I have a place I look forward to going home to, with two cats that my neighbors take care of while I;m gone. I’m not the type of gal to travel forever too. Like you, I appreciate having a place I can really call my own, plus friends and routines that make me appreciate traveling all the more.

  28. “We’ll always be travelers, but for now we’re trying to be other things too.” I love this sentiment, and it fits pretty well with where my husband and I are now too. We’ve just become settled in Berlin, our new chosen home, one which we don’t plan to leave for…who knows how long? It’s a funny feeling, but it feels good. Good luck to you both!

  29. i love this.
    You haven’t failed. You’ve succeeded.
    You have carved out a life for yourself where you truly follow what your desires are.
    You met your husband, built your career and although there have been downs, you’ve experienced a variety of ups and life lessons too. Travel isn’t a competition for who can do it the longest – it’s just a community of those hopelessly in love with the world, and whether you do it for a week, a month, or a decade – you’re entwined with a community that understand the feelings of being metaphorically free. Plus it’s really nice to have a place where you can leave all of the trinkets you’ve collected from your travels. xx

  30. It sounds like the long term travel was something you needed to do to feel content to live in one place. If you love the place you are living and have other interests other than just travel then a stationary life (with shorter trips) can be very rewarding indeed 🙂

  31. Wow. WE LOVED THIS! That last line was so powerful.

    We all want different things at different times and traveling is part of that, just as much as comfort and settling down is. Do your thing gurlfriend!

    Fellow travel bloggers/vloggers,


  32. I love having a place to come home to after a trip, and routines to settle back in to. As an expat, those routines are an important part to feeling settled wherever you happen to be living. Yoga class, cooking and shopping for ingredients, lunches with friends, and even just watching TV on Hulu – whatever it takes to stay connected! And being able to host visitors is definitely a bonus. Glad you’re enjoying this next chapter in your life!

  33. The last line in this article is perfect – understand that feeling well. When people ask why we choose to base ourselves in Berlin instead of being completely nomadic, the first thing that I mention is wanting to have friends around (not that I have to schedule a skype call with) and a life that included things other than travel. There are “journeys” in life that don’t involve travel, and it’s been fun to start exploring those as well. Congrats to you both on listening to what you need and making the transition!

  34. I’ve been seeing you guys around in the blogsphere but this is the first time (I think) that I’ve made a comment LOL! What a good, well-explained post!
    I’ve been travelling in one form or the other since the 90’s and when I went to India, that actually became the deciding factor to slow down and make roots. And I did. I still wanted to travel so I lived in a few countries as an expat and finally settled on Berlin where I’m now happily married to a German, and we have a son LOL!

    However, as you say, it’s actually easier for me to travel now than ever before. Sometimes I travel with the family, sometimes I travel solo and since our son is almost a teenager, my husband loves the bonding time they get to share when I’m on the road. Also, because I have a corporate job in Europe, I’ve got the funds and I’ve got the time. In 2014, I went to 10 countries and 2015, is looking pretty much the same. Thanks very much for sharing. 🙂

  35. THIS! THIS! The most difficult part for me is “how will i tell this to my friends and relatives?”. While i was working in UK i could not speak about anything else then travelling and living on the road,but once you start the travelling lifestyle,your mindset is somehow changing and you want your own little place called home. I am currently in Southeast Asia but i feel that my time to settle down is coming(even if for few years only,i need to move on wherever i am) and i am really worry about the reactions of my friends as i don’t think they can understand our situations.
    By the way,your and Michael’s blogs where the first two i started read over 3years ago and you both gave me a loads of inspiration and articles that encouraged me to travel 🙂 Thanks a lot 😉

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