Updated on September 4, 2016
Updated on September 4, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.