The Benefits of Long-Term Travel as Digital Nomads
Article and interviews conducted by Nora Dunn
(Photos of those profiled provided by interviewees)
Updated 8/3/2019 by Transitions Abroad
What makes long-term travelers tick? What does it take for somebody to pack up and hit the road, embracing a life of full-time travel, and shunning many of the creature comforts that we are accustomed to?
Traveling long-term is not always an easy path to choose. Travelers regularly experience feelings of loneliness and alienation (even with a partner), and struggle to keep in contact with family and friends back home who do not always understand their urge to travel.
Then again, the rewards of full-time travel are unparalleled. As an exercise in self-exploration, travel allows us to meet new people, experience foreign cultures and hospitality, push our boundaries, and operate outside of our comfort zone; all of which can be incredibly uplifting and educational.
The following are profiles of a few full-time travelers, all with very different stories to tell and very different reasons for being on the road. Interestingly, their initial reasons for leaving their old life behind are not always the same as their reasons for staying on the traveling circuit.
Sherry, Host of OTTSWORLD
At the age of 36, Sherry quit her job in America and traveled actively for 16 months, seeing 23 countries on a whirlwind tour. And like many long-term travelers, returning home to “the norm” was not appealing, so she sold everything she owned and adopted a full-time travel lifestyle. She funds it by teaching ESL, doing travel writing, travel photography, and running her travel blog.
“Initially I had a number of motivators to want to travel,” says Sherry. “Every time I went on my standard 2-week work vacation I never wanted to come back…I had a very successful career for 14 years, but I wasn’t at all excited about it. I constantly felt like there must be more to life than sitting in meetings all day…eating lunch at my desk.”
Sherry also loves the challenges of travel: “I like challenges that get me out of my comfort zone and challenges social norms. Quitting a perfectly successful career and leaving my 'sex in the city lifestyle' to live out of a backpack and travel solo to parts of the world I couldn't pronounce seemed to be the right kind of challenge. It was different, everyone was envious of it, and it scared the crap out of me...perfect.”
Sherry’s traveling experience has substantially shaped how she sees the world and has created new motivations to stay on the road. “Once I started traveling to parts of the world that I had only experienced through news outlets my whole life, I was overcome with the need to show other Americans that the world was not as scary of a place that we were led to believe. In fact, I was overwhelmed with the realization that all of the cultures that I experienced simply wanted the same things I did. I started blogging and continued to travel beyond my original plan so that I could show more people that it was possible.”
Her continued travel is also with the hope of changing the typical North American perspective of the world. “America is very sterile and controlled. Other parts of the world such as Africa and Asia aren't; but they still get along just fine. Family relations are stronger than America; their lives are simpler, but seem to be more satisfying in a way. Mainly, I wanted people to see the version of the world that I was experiencing and not the CNN or FOX news version.”
Sherry has spent the last eight months in Vietnam, and will be moving on to her next adventure shortly.
Jeanne, Host of SOULTRAVELERS3
Jeanne, her husband, and their eight year old daughter are originally a family from Santa Cruz, California, but for the last three years they have been citizens of the world. Having traveled in four continents and 29 countries thus far, they have settled into a nice rhythm. They travel actively for seven months of the year with an RV as their primary mode of transportation and accommodation, allowing them to enjoy the remaining five months for immersion in one location.
“Our primary motivations for our open ended world tour as a family was to educate our child in the best possible way, to have more time for one another and bond deeply, and to experience freedom and the world together while connecting and collaborating with others,” Jeanne says.
Their motivations were also economic in nature: “We were influenced by what we saw as the coming economic problems, so our goal was to make our assets liquid, mostly get out of the dollar while values were up, so that we could grow them as we roam the world, living large on little.” What in 2005 may have seemed like risky decisions were the right ones for this family, in hindsight.
When asked if their motivations for travel have changed since they started, Jeanne replies that their long-term travel adventure “has been better than we ever imagined”, and that their initial reasons for travel still stand today.
Aspiring travelers can learn a lot from their
home-school techniques, intercontinental piano lessons, and non-profit
work. Next on the SoulTravelers3 agenda: a long stay on the African continent, then South America, then Australasia.
Craig, Host of INDIE TRAVEL PODCAST
Craig and Linda Martin are young New Zealanders who have been traveling since February 2006. By November they had “made enough mistakes to fill a website”: the Lonely Planet award-winning Indie Travel Podcast. They travel on a tight budget, finding ESOL work as they go, but with their continued online successes, they are hoping to transition to a fully “location independent” lifestyle before long.
The motivation for their travel lifestyle was in Craig’s blood. “My family traveled a lot as a child…growing up in New Zealand, you’re very aware of how far away everything is and there’s a great adventurous drive that comes from that—a need to explore.”
With experience under their belts, Craig and Linda stay on the road for “a strong desire to see new things, hear new music, eat new food, and drink new wine.” Craig observes that they are “developing and feeding an addiction to the ‘new’,” something that many travelers crave.
Not dissimilar to Jeanne at SoulTravelers3, Craig and Linda travel slowly. They like to stay for three to six months in each location, followed by a month or three of active sightseeing. They are open to this process evolving, as it already has and will continue to do. By the end of this year, they plan to be in South America.
Cherie and Chris, Hosts of TECHNOMADIA
Cherie and Chris are both full-time travelers who met on the road and continued their adventures together. Chris has been a full-time traveler since April of 2006, and met Cherie—who was splitting her time between Florida and California—in 2007. They now live and work on the road together with their kitten Kiki, driving along America’s back roads with their solar-powered travel trailer.
Cherie and Chris each had different motivations for travel when they started. Cherie for starters, was tired of evacuating her Florida home in 2004 due to the hurricanes. “I came to re-evaluate my definition of home and 'stuff.’ I began contemplating mobility, and it occurred to me that my business was location independent - so why should travel only be for designated vacations and occasional business trips?”
Chris figures the travel bug came to him early on. “While living overseas, I got exposed to people on extended backpacking trips through Southeast Asia and Europe—and I knew that I someday wanted to experience extended travel myself. Then years later when I was in college I stumbled across the website of the original technomad Steve Roberts. He opened my eyes to the possibility of combining travel and technology into a lifestyle that is ongoing, not a trip with an end in mind.”
After two years of full-time travel, Cherie’s motivations have “spread to include a life full of variety, freedom from accumulating stuff, embracing serendipity and the more deeply exploring the widespread communities we've become part of.”
Chris’s motivations to travel shifted only a bit: “Now I am also driven to help grow the community of nomads, encouraging and inspiring others in addition to focusing on my own travels.”
And as two solo travelers who met and united on the road, Chris says that “having Cherie come into my life was an unexpected and a wonderful shift in focus and travel style.”
You can find Cherie and Chris tearing up the streets in the States, with no end in sight.
* * *
These full-time travelers have little in common. Their ages span over 20 years, and their original home towns are all over the world. Some travel solo, others with a partner, and yet others do it with the whole family. Their styles of travel also differ, as do their motivations.
The common theme between these travelers is a simple yet powerful one: they have all seized their dreams of travel and made it a full-time lifestyle. Although you may not see them in line for all the tourist attractions, rest assured you will still see them; working on a laptop in a café, enjoying a picnic lunch in the park, or just taking in the culture while they enjoy temporarily calling a foreign place “home” before moving on.
Nora Dunn is a Professional Hobo and Freelance writer who has been traveling full-time since early 2007. Her own motivations for travel can be read about at www.theprofessionalhobo.com.