How to be a nomad: Introduction

how to be a nomad

One of the things that makes Drew and I a little bit unique is our nomadic lifestyle.  We travel year round, without a home.  In a way, this is kind of a nomadic lifestyle blog just as much as it is a miles and points blog and I’ve been directing it more and more that way because, (not only am I really interested in that kind of content, but) it seems that many of my readers have or aspire for a kind of nomadic lifestyle as well.

how to be a nomad

This series will hopefully be able to provide kind of resource for someone thinking of taking the leap into the nomadic life.  There are, after all, so many weird things you need to think about when you don’t have a home.  So many weird details you need to sort out.

Just to give you an idea of the kinds of questions I want to address, here are some of the things I thought I’d go over in the series.  (And of course, please comment below with any suggestions, or any questions you would have about nomadic life.)

Some questions we’ll try to address in the “How to be a nomad” series:nomad questions

1.) How much savings do you need before you leave?

2.) What do you bring with you, and what do you do with the stuff you leave behind?

3.) How much tech gear do you bring with you, and do you have an international phone plan?

4.) What do you do about mail, and how do you do credit card applications, or receive new credit cards from abroad?

5.) How do you stay healthy?  And what do you do about doctor’s appointments, eye-care needs like glasses and contacts, dental needs,  etc?


Let’s address the first question right here in the introduction post…

1.) How much savings do you need before you leave?

There are quite a few people who have asked me this, but it’s a difficult question to answer for someone else.  Even so, I think there are two ways to approach financial preparation for nomadic life.  You can either A.) acquire a savings of money and miles or B.) acquire a location independent income that makes at least what you will spend per month.

Both of these require having an idea of what your expenses will be…

nomad statsAnd that is, in part why we set up our “Stats Page”.  Our stats page tracks all of our travel expenses and gives a great idea of how much it costs for a person to be nomadic while using miles and points strategies.  Or, visit the “totals by month” category to see more of an overview.

After tracking these expenses for more than a year now, I can now predict that Drew and I tend to spend $1,500-$2,000 per month, depending on where we are.  And by looking at my stats page or the new chart below, I can say specifically we spend $1,952.83 per month, on average.  That is what works for us but keep in mind that we don’t spend on things that others might want to.  For instance there are many tourist-type attractions we decide not to spend the money on.  And we never ever buy souvenirs.  It’s just not what we value.  And…let’s be honest we have nowhere to put souvenirs and we’re definitely not keeping them in our packs.

All this to say, your expenses might be very different from ours.  But the chart below will at least give you an idea of what our expenses are and in that way, what is possible for a couple traveling with the help of miles and points.

Aug. '13$2,092.90$559.86$581.15$138.89Average Totals:
Sept. '13$1,930.54$575.95$194.62$532.67Average Food/Bev:
Oct. '13$2,170.93$475.02$215.52$579.60Average Airfare:
Nov. '13$2,709.32$413.55$442$819.63Average Hotels:
Dec. '13$1,815.48$303.45$5$838.35
Jan. '14$743.52$488.17$0$0
Feb. '14$3,071.89$924.67$527.14$493.04
March '14$2,186.40$363.33$147.88$1,059.75
April '14$1,785$407.26$675.79$377.92
May '14$2,859 $374.20$972.17$1,156.68
June '14$1,130.49$118.80$357.21$272.59
July '14$1,633.03$837.58$0$126
Aug. '14$934.46$600.27$0$150
Sept. '14$2,303.65$835.79$11.20$642.77

A bit of discussion about location-independent income…

In my “confessions” post, I discussed our story about how we became more location independent.

Our story may be different than yours and there are many different types of location independent jobs.  Some of you will find a way to do your corporate jobs all online, and others of you may be building up your own entrepreneurial incomes.

If you aren’t far enough in that process to know what options you have for income on the go, visit and browse through the jobs others are doing online.  Elance is a site that connects freelancers with employers needing their skills.  While it’s not a secure source of consistent income, it can be a good way for a person to make a connection that eventually turns into something more substantial.  People advertise skills from programming to editing to designing and on and on.

But how much money should your online “side job” be making before you go?

The thing is, you don’t have to wait to leave for your trip until you’ve reached your goal income via your blog, website, freelance work, or whatever other location independent job you’ve secured for yourself.  You only need to wait until you’re making the minimum.

There are two reasons I’m saying this.

1.) You can live with less than you think.

nomad on the goIf you look over our stats, there are months we spent far less than others.  And I know that we definitely could have brought down our monthly average a lot just by being more budget conscious with our food choices, or choosing to take long bus trips instead of short flights in Asia.  The thing is, people are like goldfish when it comes to expenses.  This is practically a fact.  I can’t remember the specific statistic, but apparently there was a survey asking people what their ideal income was, and people consistently answered somewhere around %15 more of their current income.

My point is not to just be risky like we were and leave before you’ve got the secure funds to do so, but rather to remind you that you can probably live with less than you think.  If you are making %15 less than your ideal income, then you can be %15 more budget conscious.  Or %15 less inclined to say yes to the things that aren’t necessary.

2.) Sometimes you won’t get the rest of the way to your independent goals until you quit giving time to all the other stuff.

Sometimes your “side-job” income won’t become enough to live off of until you give it that full 40-80 hours a week.  This may sound like an exaggeration, (I wish it was) but it’s not.

Now of course, different folks may have different plans for their location independent incomes.  Not all of those plans are going to be self-employment-type jobs or freelance jobs.

But for the income you build yourself, it takes so much time and hard work that you might have to be risky.  Quit the day job before your “side-job” has replaced it 100%.

However, do not quite your day job before there has been some validation that people want what your side-job is offering.



Yes.  Being a nomad is pretty much the opposite of having security.

But only in the material sense.

I for one feel very secure because I know that no matter what happens, Drew and I can be happy.  If we are broke or stranded or lost or all of the above, it’s ok.  We’ve learned to live with a lack of security, and thus, have been somewhat freed from that need.

Isn’t it great to realize that some needs are optional?

There was a day I realized I didn’t need TV anymore.  And another day I realized I didn’t need a full wardrobe anymore.  And another day I realized I didn’t need so many plans.

If you can free yourself of a need, do it.


What I need from you:

Since the premise of this series was initiated from questions people had about the nomadic life, let’s build this series together!  In the comments below, tell me your own experiences of making an income online or saving up funds for your travels.

AND, please share your questions too.  What other things would you like to know about the nitty gritty of nomadic life?

10 Comments on “How to be a nomad: Introduction

  1. My husband and I moved out of our apartment and sold our stuff to serve with the Peace Corps for 2 years. Since our term of service ended in April of this year, we have been attempting a nomadic life. We have some savings from our previous jobs, but we try not to dip into that and keep it instead as a “cushion” for emergencies. We rely heavily on simple living and keeping costs low through house-sitting, help exchanges, and the hospitality of friends and family. We are piecing together work on social media projects, website help, and odd jobs for the time being.

    I always appreciate reading tips about the practical details of nomadic life- international phone plans, receiving mail, and healthcare options.

    • Always neat to hear from other nomadic folks! Definitely hitting on a good point mentioning the significance of simple-living. And house-sitting is something I’ve not yet done, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on that!

  2. Thanks for this post Carrie. I am about to quit my “good” job and become a nomad (at least for a year, but hopefully more). I have spent the entire year saving money and acquiring miles/points. My $ threshold for leaving is to have a certain amount of savings/financial assets that would remain untouched while I am away plus my budget for the year of travel. I am still toying with whether I want to work at all as a contractor while I am traveling to prolong the journey or just enjoy the finite year.

    I am two months away from Q-Day (Quitting Day) AND I am completely overwhelmed and anxious about it. I feel like there is so much to do and so many logistics to get in order. I have all these points/miles and obsessing about the best ways to book pieces of the trip and where I want to go that I haven’t booked anything! So I would definitely like to hear your thoughts on the transition from having roots to being a nomad.

    P.S. I regret that I didn’t meet you at the Chicago Seminars. I got a chance to talk to Drew, but not you.

    • KC, we will have to make sure we get to meet at the next one!

      Yes I’m glad you brought these thoughts up because they’re really valid pieces of the experience. For instance I could do a whole post on the difference between traveling to travel (like we did our first year) and traveling sustainably, while working (like we do now.) They are such different experiences. Both good, but I am really really glad that we got to experience travel without the pressure to work for the year that we did. There are obviously pros to each version of travel, and cons as well, but perhaps that’s why it would make an interesting post!

      Also glad you brought up the transition from rooted life to nomadic life. When we left for our non-working travel the first time, I was working three different part time jobs in the hometown where I grew up. The second time we left for the working-travel we do now, I was working a full-time job a few states away from the home where I grew up and I have to say it felt different leaving one than the other.

      Both times there was something about it that felt natural, even if scary. And I always kept the thought in the back of my mind “I can always visit home if I start to feel panicky about this.” Like…I gave myself secret permission to call “uncle” if I felt i couldn’t do it. But I never even came close to needing to do that in the end.

      And not having plans yet is a wonderful way to start out! I used to say that “available” was my favorite thing to be (and I don’t mean in the romantic sense of course!!) I meant that my favorite times were times I had no plans and could say “yes” to whatever adventure appealed to me most.

  3. Yes we will have to meet at the next one!

    Great point about the different types of travel. I think once I am out there, I am not going to want to work. LOL. And you know, your comment about not having plans is how I usually travel. I mean I book the to/from, but the in between is usually dictated by locals and other travelers. Good reminder that I need to stay true to that as much as I can.

    Looking forward to future posts!

    • Yep! Just enjoy for now! Worry about work when it starts to feel like it would make you more free, not less free, if that makes any sense.

  4. That’s so interesting and kind of scary about people always thinking that 15% more money is the perfect amount. I hope I never forget that.
    The thing that’s scary about it, is this… we live in a neighborhood with lots of big houses and lots of modest houses all mixed together. The big houses have been built where smaller older houses have been torn down. I look at some of the big houses (some of my friends live in them) and think they are way too big for me. But I wonder when you say to yourself that you have enough. Honestly, I wish our house was just a little bit bigger. One more bedroom would be nice, so our kids could have their own rooms later, but there would still be a guest room/office. It seems like we really have to be conscious about not always wanting ‘just a little bit more’. You always have to ask yourself, do I really want this because it’s something that will enhance our lives, or am I just craving a little bit more, when what I already have is plenty.
    Such an interesting post. Even though we are in no way considering being nomads. 😉
    Oh, one other thing that might be interesting to people who own homes… Matt at saverocity wrote a post about living on cruise ships all or part time and one of the money making factors was that you could use air bnb to rent out your home while you’re away. For people considering a semi-nomad lifestyle, that’s something to think about.

    • Glad you mentioned using Airbnb to rent out your house as you do a nomadic stint. I think that’s a great idea!

      Ya, the %15 more mentality is kind of like that “if you give a mouse a cookie” children’s book.

      And to be honest, I think it’s a good thing to have in the back of our minds! Keeps us in check maybe! And practicing contentedness in the midst of imperfection can only be a good thing.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  5. I will start my Life Nomadic on 3/30/15. I will probably only have around $6,000 in savings. Fingers crossed I can scare up some more but I’m not certain of it. Anyway having my insurance strategy is what I am relying on- keeping enough miles in the bank so that I can get home in worst case scenario. Right now I am keeping costs low with the cashbacks – TCB, BeFrugal, MrRebates, etc. I prefer to stay in hostels and this is cheaper for me than points since still working on credit score. Also WWOOFing is backup for me too if I still don’t want to go “back home”…wherever that is 😛

    • 😀 Sounds like a wonderful and exciting plan! Also if you wanted to check out other WWOOFing type arrangements, is a site we used to browse all the time. Full of all sorts of random gigs you can arrange abroad for free room and board. That was sort of one of our travel-plans we thought we’d use before we got fully involved with miles and points. Never ended up using it but man I loved surfing that site as I’d dream about travel possibilities.

      Would be excited to hear about your journey as you go!

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