8 things we still haven’t figured out about nomadic life

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Today, I thought of 7 things we still haven’t figured out about nomadic life, despite three-ish years under our belts. We may not have to worry about a dog who won’t stop digging up the yard or a driveway that’s impossibly icy in the winter, or any of the headaches ordinary people learn to live with. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own unique list of pain-in-the-butt realities. Every lifestyle’s got one.  Here’s ours.

8 pain-in-the-butt realities about nomadic life

 

1. Fraud alerts

Surprisingly enough, we almost never set off fraud alerts on our credit cards, (unless they’re brand new). Ages ago when I actually did call a bank or two to notify them of our “upcoming travels” and was asked to list the countries we’d be going to, I said “Uh…it could honestly be anywhere.”  Whether that helped or not, the credit cards are almost never the issue.

It’s online stuff. Like PayPal or even Gmail. Drew spent a good hour and a half on the phone with PayPal yesterday because apparently accessing the site from Egypt sets off a MEGA fraud alert and no level of verifications could grant him access to the services. Not even our VPN system (Tunnel Bear) could remedy the situation.

When your IP address changes every time you switch hotels, you get a lot of “was that you?” emails from Yahoo too.

 

2. Laundry

When we first began traveling in Asia, laundry seemed easy because we were in popular backpacking spots where there are lots of people offering laundry services for super cheap.

But we soon discovered that straying from popular backpacking circuits in cheap countries means no more cheap laundry.

The problem is that many places either don’t have any sort of non-dry-cleaning laundry businesses, or the laundromats that do exist are in residential areas way outside of town and far from where the hotels are.

And the problem with hand-washing in the shower is that, unless you’re lucky enough to have a balcony and good weather, there’s no good way to dry more than a few small items at a time. So all the socks and underwear get prioritized over shirts and pants. I even stood in the bathroom for an hour using a hair-dryer to dry a few items one winter in Budapest.

The struggle is real.

 

3. Stomach bugs

A friend was traveling with us a few weeks ago and he made a comment about how strong our immune systems must be by now. I laughed and corrected him, saying that we just get sick a lot.

I don’t want to be misleading though. The real terrible kinds of ailments like viruses and food poisoning don’t happen any more than when I worked in child care. Less often, in fact. (I’ve never gotten so sick so often, (with no sick days) as when I worked in childcare.)

Nowadays I probably get actual food-poisoning about once or twice a year. Less often for Drew. But mild little stomach bugs happen pretty frequently for both of us.

First world problems though, and ultimately, pretty easy to ignore. More of a mild irritant than a pain-in-the-butt reality I guess.

 

4. Internet gaps

Theoretically we can have internet all the time because we stay in hotels that come with free wifi and we have the T-mobile Simple Choice plan that offers decent data coverage in many international countries.

Theoretically.

But the unavoidable reality is that there are a so many random things that get in the way. Primarily, a lot of places that advertise internet don’t actually seem to have it, or have such slow internet that you sit for five minutes waiting for an email to load. For instance any time a bus advertises internet, unless I’m in HongKong or something, I pretty much assume that internet is not going to work.

At hotels I assume the internet WILL work, and sometimes it doesn’t. Or sometimes it works for some hours, and then goes out. Or sometimes it works for only one or two devices, (meaning we can’t use the wifi-powered calls from our phone plan), or sometimes the power goes out. Or sometimes you find out there’s only wifi in public areas.

Every time we check into a new hotel, it’s a guessing game as to what kind of internet we’ll be dealing with. For awhile it seemed like every Club Carlson hotel had internet that shut down for a chunk of the time during the day. And that was in the States.

 

5. Mail

The convenience of online shopping is only convenient to those with an address…where they actually are. For instance I joined this online thrift store called ThredUp (use my referral link for a $20 credit) and, much as I love love love the site, my $20 credit has just been sitting there waiting for me to use whenever I am in the States and can be somewhere long enough to wait for mail. So…this winter maybe?

Because some online stores won’t ship internationally at all, and those that do, do so at steep shipping prices.

And even something as simple as applying for a new credit card requires a friend or family member who is willing to either mail that card to you, or help you activate/spend with it, etc.

 

6. Consistent productivity

It’s really hard trying to be productive on transit days, even when the “transit” is as minimal as crossing town and checking into a new hotel. Somehow switching hotels can quickly eat up multiple hours. SOMEHOW.

This baffles us all the time, because it only really takes half an hour to pack up our things. But by the time you’re actually checked out and on your way, that can add another 20 minutes. Let’s say your next hotel is just a ten minute taxi ride away. Then assume it takes another 20 minutes to check in, unpack our laptops and get them successfully signed online. Another hour can be added if the internet isn’t working (see above point), or if we never managed to grab lunch before checking out of our previous hotel (as tends to be the case,) and now we have to explore a bit to find a cheap lunch spot.

All these little details add up. Not to mention that it’s harder to be productive with multiple small chunks of time than it is with one large chunk of time. So I don’t tend to even start my big projects when I know I’ll have to close up shop and check out in an hour. So that means I won’t start my real work until well into afternoon.

And that’s just on a day of ten minutes’ worth of actual transit. On days where we have flights or long bus rides, pretty much NO work gets done whatsoever.

This is probably one of our biggest pain in the but realities. The longer we stay somewhere, the more efficient it is for our productivity. And yet…our longest stays are generally not any longer than two weeks.

 

7. Data back-up

As you know, we’re working really hard on developing a Youtube channel. This means we have somewhere around 4 Terabytes of video files and it also means we haul a few little hard drives around with us.

And…we DO have a back up system….but it’s not ideal. Most places we go do not have strong enough internet for us to be able to rely on cloud storage. So for now…we just back up our hard drives on a big hard drive at my sister’s house whenever we’re there. But…we visit there around twice a year, so months go by without a good system for backing up our footage.

Risky, I know. I don’t love it. But it’s better than nothing.

 

8. Absence of real relationships

This is the biggest pain in the butt reality about our nomadic lifestyle, in my opinion.

And…there are many facets to this particular reality. I’ll see if I can sum it up into two general ideas.

1.) It’s tough not being part of a community. There’s no group of people whose lives are regularly impacted by my physical presence. Drew and I are both very social. So when we did have a house, it was an open-door kind of house. Friends were always coming over and we rarely ate an evening meal without someone joining us, without us joining them, or without everyone going out together.

Those were really fun days. Hanging out with people who know you well.

And it’s hard sometimes to miss out on that.

2.) The interactions that exist in place of a community are a challenge in themselves.

It’s not like we never interact with other people. We interact with other people all the time. But in so many of our conversations, there’s a disingenuous nature to it- an agenda. And this is…understandable. People are doing their jobs, I get that. If you’re the perfume shop guy, you need to sell perfume. If you’re the camel-ride guy, you need to sell camel rides. I get that. But it feels wearying to accumulate conversation after conversation whose ultimate target is “Why don’t you step into my shop?” Sometimes we don’t even realize there’s a sales pitch until we’ve been talking for awhile. We ultimately turn down the sales pitch, and then the tone changes and we realize the agenda was the driving force behind the conversation.

And even when there is no sales pitch, there can still be a repetitiveness to the conversations we happen upon. There is something amusing and wonderful and mutually stimulating about two people from very different cultures informing one another about their ways of life. That’s great and I love that. But the thing I think most of us find most rewarding and sustainable in relationships is the ability to get to a place of knowing. With the people you consider friends, you talk about anything and everything. When you are a foreigner speaking with a local, the conversation can tend to follow a track.

For instance I have had many exchanges that went simply, “Hello, where are you from?” “America, how about you?” “America? Obama!”

I want to be clear that I’m not unappreciative of the fascinating and eye-opening conversations I’ve gotten to have with people around the world. But when these surface-level conversations make up the bulk of your social interactions, well that’s tough for an extravert like me. It’s not “socializing” in the sense that being in a community that knows you is.

 

Having said all of that, there are also a few things that everyone THINKS would be a pain-in-the-butt reality of traveling, that just aren’t. So here are just a few.

Things that are surprisingly unproblematic with nomadic life

1. Working out

I tell Drew that living out of hotels (especially the 3 to 5 star hotels we live out of) is basically like living at the gym. 9 times out of ten, we have a gym in our building, which is more than a lot of people can say.

When we do work out, it’s ridiculously easy to fit into our schedule and when we don’t, we have absolutely no excuse.

2. Eating Healthy

We have also had no problem eating healthy as travelers. But I think when most people imagine our lifestyle, they think of their own travels. But you have to remember, while your travels may be vacations, ours are not. So maybe you will try to make each meal a special thing where you get to experience local cuisine and have a great atmosphere and everything. While we do care about experiencing local foods, we’re not trying to make extravagant experiences out of our meals. We’re just trying to get something healthy and affordable, so no unnecessary appetizers, no desserts, and no cocktails afterwords.

Also, eating out every meal does not mean eating junk food every meal. I mean…restaurants sell salads and stuff. Vegetables even! I know, right?

 

If any of the rest of  you are nomadic and want to add your own woes, or have questions about things you think would be hard about nomadic life, please do comment below! I love comments.

 

29 Comments on “8 things we still haven’t figured out about nomadic life

  1. Please have some kids and then let us know how to make the nomadic lifestyle work with them in tow. We are trying to figure that out ourselves, but it’s not easy.

    • OH goodness!! I have the utmost respect for people who travel with children! We don’t really picture having kids ourselves, but I can point you in the direction of a pro. 😀 My good friend Jenn Miller traveled nomadically with her 4 kids basically until the oldest ones reached college age. Something like 7 years of nomadic life with kids. I don’t know the specific number but they totally mastered it! Check out their blog! http://edventureproject.com/

  2. 2. Before leaving for my trip I invested in some quality quick dry and or travel clothing (that doesn’t look like nerdy travel wear). I bought some new (with lotsa discounts) but some thru ebay if that works for y’all. It makes me need less stuff, also everything doubles for hiking gear too.
    3. If you are starting to get a bug take some Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Tang (or San)- over the counter Chinese herbs in capsule, pill, or liquid vial form. A miracle for preventing food sickness or stomach flus. Also good for motion sickness if you get that.

  3. Are you finding any online communities? Some of my best friends are ones I’ve never met IRL. Sounds creepy, but is actually a life-saver

    • Doesn’t sound creepy at all! Actually I do have some great and valuable friends that I’ve only ever met online. Mostly other writers. But, maybe it’s my personality type, I really miss in-person socializing.

      Technology really has made staying in touch way easier than it was when my parents traveled back in the day.

      Still, for someone as extremely extraverted as myself, the Skyping and emailing and such is something that helps me feel more connected, but doesn’t serve as a 100% supplement to person to person interaction. Kind of like ingestible vitamins lol. It helps, but it’s not as great as the real, organic thing.

  4. I hear ya. I wonder if there’s a traveling expat community or something. I did a quick search and glanced at internations.org. Not sure if it’s exactly what I mean, but you can check it out. Also, maybe an international volunteer organization? Might give you something other than “Obama” to talk about. One last idea- I once met a full time travel,couple who had bumped into another full time travel couple, and they travelled together for some months. I wonder if there’s a way for you to find other full time travelers wherever you are.

    • Thanks for all the ideas! I especially like the last one. We have been lucky enough to have travel-buddies throughout the last few months- more than in the past. I bet there are other travelers out there wishing for this same thing. Thanks for the ideas and I’ll make sure to check out that website too!

  5. Marvelous post Carrie — nicely written, candid, thought-rich, funny and… poignant, as per usual from you. Laughed/winced on #1 — as it’s not just a travel thing, as we’re getting the same daily nonsense from Chase, even when not traveling — simply because I clean out my cache every day.
    Fortunate will be those to help you & Drew with #8, if not here in Hoo’ville, then perhaps out somewhere on the travel continuum. Have now several times followed in your travel footsteps…. perhaps “in time” we’ll get to compare notes at least.
    Speaking of which, hope we get to read about your extended recent time in Egypt…. via your keen eyes. (something other than complaints about the food, internet, or desperate sales pitches.)

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Scott! Yes it would be great to get together and compare notes. We are still here in Egypt, in the thick of our extended stay. So far it’s been a great place to get work done. Most of our rooms have come with little patios where we can sit in the evenings and watch the ocean. Hopefully we’ll get to visit the ‘Ville soon enough though!

  6. Re: mail, have you considered a forwarding service? I’ve been using one for a couple years, and will probably keep it forever. There are a bunch of them, some more focused on scanning and emailing you things and others more focused on mail forwarding, but most do both. The one I use is $150/yr plus postage when you mail stuff, which they get at good rates. Here’s a referral link for a month free: https://www.usglobalmail.com/personal/mail-package-forwarding/?referrer_id=20781
    And re: storage, flash storage is pretty incredibly cheap now. Either USB sticks (now up to 2T) or micro-SDXC cards (512GB) would work. Don’t use them to archive data forever, but they’re fine for a few years or more.

    • Whaaaaattt??? 2T USB sticks????? WHY don’t I have one of these????
      also I have vaguely heard of the mail services but at the time it sounded like a lot of money. Now $150 doesn’t sound too bad. Though I will say, most of our mail woes have to do with needing access to actual physical items rather than things that can be scanned. Does your mail service forward things to anywhere? If so, that’d be pretty cool.

  7. The 2T USB sticks are still expensive, but of course it means that smaller ones are getting super cheap. IIRC I bought a stack of 128GB USB sticks for like $40 each that I’m using for backup.
    And yeah, US Global will forward to anywhere — they market themselves, partially, as a solution for expats doing online shopping that requires a US address. They handle declarations and such. Repacking is cheap. I only use their scanning service for emergencies — it’s expensive. Other services are cheaper to scan and more expensive to mail.
    If you use such a service, I’d recommend using one in a state with no state taxes. I assure you that you do not want to get into an argument with, say, the state of California, about whether or not you actually live there and have to pay state taxes. US Global is in Houston, so no worries on that front.

  8. I never travel anywhere without the following clothes:
    Quick dry clothing try: Adventure Travel Khaki pants for men and women. Lightweight, comfortable with zipper security pockets.
    https://www.railriders.com/men-adventure-khaki-pant-p-877.html?cPath=104_110
    For shirts I use: Columbia Shirts for men and women Long sleeve as sleeves roll up: TAMIAMI™ II LONG SLEEVE SHIRT
    http://www.columbia.com/mens-pfg-tamiami-ii-long-sleeve-shirt-FM7253.html?dwvar_FM7253_variationColor=477#q=tamiami+long+sleeve+shirt&start=0
    I use Columbia underwear as well, quick drying.
    I use Scottevest for my vest and when in colder climate their fleece. So many pockets for gear and you just take the vest off an put in through the scanner at airport.
    As I am a lightweight fanatic when I travel keeping my bag with gear to no more than 15-16 pounds. All of these clothes are lightweight as well. If I need to layer I use lightweight base layer shirt from REI.
    I hope this helps…

    • Thanks for all the tips! I like having specific brand names- that way I can search for used versions on my various used clothing resources. How stain proof are these fabrics I wonder? I made the mistake of packing lots of white articles of clothing this time around and I’m realizing that was a stupid stupid idea lol.

  9. I’ve got one more for you — as you’re quite right, the laundry struggle is real. 😉
    I’m slowly switching all of my (non-dress) shirts and mid-layers to microfiber merino wool, usually merino/poly blends in the 50-70/50-30 range. The odor resistance is real. And amazing. An odor resistant full poly quick-dry shirt smells pretty rank after a use or two in my experience; these last 4 or 5 or more, and never smell nearly as bad. They don’t dry quite as fast, but they might be lighter in the thinnest weight. I’ve tried a couple of things from each of Ibex and Icebreaker, but my favorite right now is Patagonia. Just fantastic stuff, and in many cases priced similarly to synthetics. Their website has near-constant sales. Ministry of Supply is also worth a look for high-tech synthetics that are reasonably geared toward travelers. I like their socks for winter, especially. 🙂

    • Thanks for the tips! This might be TMI but I feel like the “odor resistance” is more important than the “quick dry”. So this is the perfect suggestion. We are pretty cheap but I’ll take a look through all these various suggestions and see if anything comes up on Ebay used. We ran into some travelers in Bali who were raving about merino wool as well. Gotta at least check it out!

    • Plus-one to this! I’m a big fan of travel clothing, but I’ve learned the hard way to stay away from polyester. It may be quick-drying, but it is also quickly, pungently, and lastingly stinking.

      I’ve been converted to using wool and silk underwear and base layers, and while they were a larger initial investment they have been well worth it. Hanro’s Woolen Silk line (70% wool/30% silk) is a particular favorite – expensive but OMGsoft and durable. I have never worn a wool so comfortable. Zimmerli’s Silk Deluxe line (100% silk) is great for humid and/or hot climates. Very pricey, but quality 100% silk stuff is very hard to find.

      Wool also has the bonus of retaining its warming properties even when wet, so you can wear it wet in a pinch (or a downpour) without chilling your bones.

      • Sounds great! My first thought with wool though is whether or not it can be washed normally or if it needs to be dry-cleaned. I veer strongly away from anything that requires dry-cleaning. What are the washing instructions for this brand?

  10. I hear you on #6! We’re usually on the road for several weeks or months at a time, switching hotels every few days. The actual process of moving doesn’t take that much time, but it always throws me for a loop. I’ve gotten pretty good at working on trains and planes, though, if I open all the tabs I need ahead of time and work offline.

    For #1, have you tried using the same VPN everywhere? That’s helped me avoid the “suspicious sign-in” alerts, even when we’re moving from city to city pretty quickly.

    One more! For #2, we try to book a stay at a Holiday Inn Express or Garden Inn once in awhile to wash our own clothes in the self-service laundry room. It’s turned out to be a great option across Asia!

    • Oh wow that’s a good idea. We have not tried that, re: the VPN idea.
      Good idea with #2 also. We’ve not been super intentional about scheduling those sorts of stays as needed, but it’s a good idea. We should be more intentional about that.

      • One potential solution to both the backup issue and the VPN issue is to find a friend or family member in the US who is willing to host a NAS (network attached storage) device on their home network for you. You can use it as both your own personal cloud and your own personal VPN. I particularly recommend Synology Diskstations, which have a great user interface. They’re expensive new but routinely show up discounted on the used market. Happy to provide you with more detail on this if you want to email me!

        • awesome! Ya I heard of a version of this but didn’t understand it. So you use cloud to back it up to a physical device that you own, right? So it’s kind of like a cloud-accessible hard drive? I’ll email you for more details. Thanks!

  11. I’ve been using Earth Class Mail since 2008 to handle my mail back in the States. Mainly to scan business and personal mail, but also to forward physical items. It’s not cheap, but extremely reliable and has been a life saver when I need debit or credit cards sent overseas and my bank considers the country I’m too “high risk” to ship to.

    Constantly using points for hotel stays can limit your access to meaningful relationships overseas. Mix in private rooms in hostels or airbnbs to give you access to fellow traveler’s and also local people who operate these accommodations. The fellow traveler’s also then become local guides/hosts when you inevitably find yourself in their hometown.

    Comsider spending the time to use Couch Surfing or other online communities to organize meet ups with locals (or if you’re more adventurous stay with them). You’ll have off the beaten path experiences and quickly build up a massive world wide friend database. There won’t be a city you visit with someone you can have a meaningful conversation or local experience with.

    • Thanks for sharing all these thoughts!
      We’ve definitely had some great Airbnb experiences, some…interesting hostel experiences, and some AMAZING couch surfing experiences. So I can definitely get on board with that advice.

      Though that still provides a great “new friend” at best. The kind of thing I miss is the kind of thing that exists in the theme song of “Cheers.” Y’know…sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. 🙂

      I do think the advice of Couch Surfing and Airbnb is great for buffering that feeling though. It doesn’t quite quench the need for a community, but it certainly gives an extravert some energy to keep on keepin’ on.

      Thanks for sharing!

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