On The Road Again – The Path Back To Nomadic Life

“I don’t think it’s for me,” I say to the estate agent as I poke my head into the en-suite. 

She takes it to mean that I don’t want to buy this house.

But I can’t help feeling like I’m saying something more profound.

That this – the home owing and the fixed location and the routine lifestyle – isn’t for me. 

“Don’t worry. You’ll find somewhere,” she says as she hands me her card.

I smile to reassure her and wonder if I should be worried. After all, I’ve already agreed to sell my own home. If that goes to plan, I’ll be out on my ear before summer is done. 

I suppose I should be worried, I decide, so I resolve to go home (while I still have one) and set to working finding a replacement. It’s the sensible solution, for sure. 

Settled on my sofa, with a cup of tea in hand, I hit the web and start to search for properties for sale. It doesn’t take long before I’m in Morocco. Eyeing up the Sahara and camel treks and train journeys, medinas and riads. If I fly to Malaga…then catch the bus to Tarifa…I can take the ferry, arriving in the port of Tangier by sea. It doesn’t help that I’ve been reading Tangerine, a thriller which is set in the city.

It helps even less that I’m feeling that old familiar urge to flee. 

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all nomad life

I’ve been here before. This cross-roads in life. This should I stay or should I go dilemma weighing on my mind.

Somewhat coincidentally it was exactly 9 years ago, almost to the day. 

Back then, my marriage had spectacularly failed and I faced a decision: stay in the UK and build a new version of the same life. Or go. Quit my job. Sell my home. Board a plane. See where life takes me. 

I chose the latter. It was 2010. I’d take a year off then come back and start again. 

Except I didn’t. Come back. I boarded plane after plane after plane.

For the next five years.

I’ll admit, by late 2015, it was getting old and I was craving a solid base. A home with a kitchen and a workspace. Somewhere I could get coffee and breakfast in the morning without having to get dressed and consult a map.

Almost fortuitously, I screwed up my knee and the decision was made. Back to the UK. For surgery and to settle down. I bought a home and moved in with nothing more than my carry-on suitcase.

Looking back over the last 3 years, it was the best time to come back. I might even get close to calling it fate. Just as my knee recovery was in hand, my mum got sick. It was an illness that eventually took her life at the end of last year. And while it was difficult to be at her side and watch her decline, for once in my life I was in the exact right place at the exact right time.  

The last 6 months have been some of the hardest of my life as I’ve struggled not just with grief but that somewhat gargantuan question – what really is the purpose of life? Unsurprisingly, I haven’t quite hit upon the answer but there’s a gnawing in my core that tells me it’s not this. It’s not my routine. It’s not my home. It’s not a life lived in the few hours that remain after the chores of paying bills and replacing lightbulbs and emptying the dishwasher are done. At least, not for me. Not right now. 

It’s a thought that’s been gathering force for months but I’ve been too damn tired to do anything with it. Because as much as I’d like to march forth and carpe diem, I just haven’t had the damn strength. We all know that grief makes us sad. But nobody tells you it will make you tired all the way through to your bones. I can stare at maps all I like but packing a bag to put myself onto one is a whole other matter. Which is why I did nothing for the first few months of this year. I wanted to do more. I wanted to get out there and live a bigger life. Of all the people, I knew there was more to be had. I wanted to climb more volcanoes and swim in more seas. But most of all I wanted to lie down in my bed. 

Then spring appeared and I had a burst of energy. I thought I’d broken through the grief (foolish optimism). It happened on a Monday. My house was on the market by the Thursday and I flew to Miami on the Friday. Perhaps escaping from under the shadow of death, this trip took on a particularly rose-tinted glow. Regardless, it was one of the best trips I’d had in a long time. And I wanted more.

It was a high that ended quickly. I returned to the UK and was hit with more bad news. My cousin had died unexpectedly. Unrelated, my aunty died a month after that. 

Who was I kidding? Grief hadn’t let me go. It was right there, seeping back into my bones. 

Except now I’d agreed to sell my home and I didn’t want to let that momentum of doing something, disintegrate into nothing. But did I really have the strength to follow it through?

Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire nomad life

I was resistant at first. Full-time travel and the nomadic life is hard work.

“I probably just need a holiday.” I said to a friend. It was a bid to talk myself round to the sensible option. A week away.  Two. Or even three. Press pause for a while. Take time to recharge. Step onto a beach and out of the grief. And when I’m done, when ‘it’s’ done, return. Build a new version of the same life. Get another home.

I started house hunting in earnest. Criss-crossing the country to find a new and refreshing locale (such is the boon of being able to work from anywhere). Meanwhile, I tried to arrange a holiday of sufficient yet short-term magnitude.

The problem was, my holiday planning didn’t come out where it should. I wasn’t eyeing up package hols or week-long yoga retreats. I was looking at month-long rentals and workspace in Asia; I was contemplate sailing the South Pacific Islands for a season; I imagined myself walking the Camino de Santiago for as long as it might take; or what about moving to Spain? Long-term.

Of course, while I fantasised about these trips, I told my family and friends that I was looking for a new home. Things were easier that way. After all, the sensible advice is don’t make any big changes in the first 12 months of a significant loss. So, I played along with my own ruse.

“How’s the house hunt going?”

“Oh, you know,” I surreptitiously closed the page on the round the world flights I’d been browsing. 

“There’s not much out there,” I added. There isn’t. Not if you don’t really look. 

Property after property, all I could find was fault. I don’t like the kitchen. The bathroom is too small. The neighbours seems weird. They’re strange complaints given the kitchen in most hotels is commonly the size of a kettle. And if we really get into it, aren’t we all a bit weird?

I persisted like this for over a month, finally working myself into the level of worry that the estate agent first expected when she found out I’d be homeless soon. 

Somewhere in the gap between my decision to be brave – the decision to sell my home – and returning from Miami, I’d gotten lost in self-doubt. 

This is too tough to deal with was the voice dancing on a loop in my head. And at times, it was too tough – life and grief and loss and pain, they were all too difficult, especially when you stacked one loss on top of another and another. I don’t know how to navigate grief in any graceful way. It’s ugly and it’s brutal and it’s traumatic and it’s hard. It’s no wonder I kept telling myself it was too difficult to do.

Then it hit me.

Grief is separate to travel. Travel I can do. Yes, it can also be tough, and the pain of loss will absolutely follow me. But I also know that in the face of new countries and cultures and challenges, the pain also weakens. It has to. Travel gives you bigger things to tend to.

Not all those who wander are lost nomad life

I’m terrified as I chew over the idea of not buying a new home. When I set down roots three years ago, I never imagined I’d walk the digital nomad path again.

I have all the same fears as I did 9 years ago – the fears of untethering from ‘mainstream life’, of not having an address or consistent healthcare or immediate access to my family and friends. Except this time I have added fears – I’m older (but no wiser), I have two online business I need to maintain. I also worry that I’m going to fail, but this time I’d be doing it publicly (I had about 3 blog followers last time I hit the road, now I get over 2.5 million views a year. Even typing that is another punch from fear). I’m worried that I’ll look back on this moment and think that selling my house in the throws of grief was the most monumentally stupid thing I could have done. I’m concerned that I’m too exhausted to pick up my bag, and that I’ll have nowhere private to sit and cry. 

But most of all I’m terrified that I’m going to die. Not out on the road, on adventures, up a mountain or by the sea. I’m terrified that I’m going to die here. In a house. Boiling an egg. Or sweeping the floor. With so much of the world left to see.

In that thought, the idea of travel became a decision. And in that decision I felt the calmest I’d felt all year.

I called up a storage company and got a quote. 

I made plans to give my wardrobe, desk and other furniture a new home. 

I bought a Lonely Planet for Morocco.

I booked a trip to Milan. 

I begged my uncle to let me park my car on his drive.

I got a new diary with page after page of days ready to be filled.

I burned through my scented candles. I cooked my way through my stock of food.  

And I cancelled my viewings because I was right all those weeks ago – at this very moment in time, buying a new home isn’t for me.   

(Not much) more information about my impending travels

Where am I going? I still don’t quite know. But there will be a trip to Morocco for sure and a quick break to Milan to meet some travel friends. After that? Who knows. But send me some suggestions. 

When am I going? Selling a property is a complicated and long winded process in the UK (bloody lawyers!). Until contracts are signed, it can still fall through 🙁 but for now I’m working on a date of the end of August. Realistically, that will push into the beginning of September. Funnily enough, my first spate of being a nomad kicked off on 20 September 2010. There’s definitely appeal in the synergy of starting this trip on that date. 

How long am I going for? I do want to own another home again at some point (says me now). It’s the morning coffee without using a map that does it. I mean, it’s being near my family and friends that does it. For now, I imagine I’ll be on the road for at least the rest of the year and the beginning of next. After that? Who knows.

Want to read what I posted before becoming a digital nomad this time a decade ago?

Ever get a feeling you’ve come full circle? On 20 September 2010, I’d handed over the keys to my house, put on a backpack and hit the road. I was a trip that would last over 5 years. I set up a web-log page (yep – it was pink, I loved it) and Indiana Jo was born.

What I wrote back then were flashes and musings. I took them off the site them a few years ago because they were ‘thin’ (in terms of content), and if I wanted this website to generate income, Google wouldn’t accept anything thin. But screw Google (just kidding, Google robots – I loves ya because you help me pay for flights). I have, however, republished my original pre-trip posts in one longer post. Mostly, I’ve republished them for me, as a bit of nostalgia. They’re here in this post if you want to read them too.

So, that’s where I’m up to with my life. Any suggestions on where I should to go (you’ll see where I’ve already been here)? Any calming words if you’ve travelled after a bereavement? Any reassurance that I’m not doing the most patently stupid thing is also welcome. Share your thoughts in the comments below…

Article written by

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 60 countries. www.indianajo.com is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

18 Responses

  1. Tracy
    Tracy at | | Reply

    I did not see New Zealand on your list of places. I bet spending time there would feel rejuvenating on many levels.

  2. Philippa
    Philippa at | | Reply

    I really enjoyed this post. I’m sorry you lost your mum. I lost my mum in December 2016. In April 2017 I left for South America and Central America for a year. It was the best decision I made. While grief and travel are seperate. Travel helped me as it took me out of my head for periods and provided me respite from my grief.

    I’m sitting at my office job again. About to quit to go on another adventure. I leave end of October. I get your fear of dying boiling an egg! Mine is dying under these office fluorescent lights.

    Happy Travels. Xx

  3. Deborah Jacobson
    Deborah Jacobson at | | Reply

    Loved reading some of your posts. And so sorry about recent painful losses in your life. Bravo for listening to your inner voice. If you ever need a place in NYC with your own private room, feel free to contact me.
    My simple life motto is on a magnet near my bed and on on my fridge ‘live the life you have imagine.’ ❤️

  4. Bex
    Bex at | | Reply

    I lost my grandad who felt like my dad a few days before a trip. I was very torn if I should go or not and eventually went (a few days later so I could attend the funeral) because I knew he would of wanted me to. It was the best decision and even though grief came with me and I thought about him at every moment it helped me heal. Now it’s almost 10 years later and that trip and him will always be connected, like he was with me on my travels. I think having the time away from a busy life to grieve is important and not something we always give ourselves.
    From a selfish point of view I’m very happy you are travelling again because I love your blog and it’s always a place I come to for advise. Happy travels and keep doing what feels right xxx

  5. Daria
    Daria at | | Reply

    It’s a wonderful article, thank you. The sentence about “not wanting to die while boiling and egg while there was so much of the world to see” has resonated the most. I feel the same way, most of the time I’m stuck in a everyday domestic routine.
    You just inspired me toward some urgent (albeit on much lesser scale than yours) action. I thank you for it. And I’m very excited for you!!

  6. Antonio
    Antonio at | | Reply

    Hi, good luck with this new kick-off of your lifetime adventure, just catching up after I read it on FB, very right following your feelings.

    Just my dummy question/statement, why not renting it out, and giving it to a property manager (does not exist that in UK?) and get a sustainable income;low, but sustainable, and steady growing over the years after the home is paid back (with a Mortgage).

    In any case all the best, following you for sometime now, and looking forward the development 🙂

  7. Liz
    Liz at | | Reply

    Hi jo! We met briefly at harihalalaya …and it was such a pleasure! I think you are so brave! And I really look forward to your posts and remember “it takes a long time to understand nothing”
    My brother in law and niece+ live in HCM city and I hope to make a trip there again sometime in the next year, so I will be watching for your updates…I would love to do an elephant rescue and see surya at one yoga Thailand.
    Wishing you safe journey. You are the original eat, love and pray.

  8. Andrew cowen
    Andrew cowen at | | Reply

    You need to follow your instinct. Be confident.

    I am also traveling….sailing round the world. I will share my itinerary as would love to see you at one of the port stopovers…

    Keep well

    Andrew

  9. Rosa
    Rosa at | | Reply

    Congratulations,. Stepping out of the inertia – doesn’t matter in what direction – is a positive affirmation. You’re dead right, full time travel is hard work and in a weird way marks you as “different”. Slipping back into the 10 day holiday mode has proven impossible for us now.

    if you ever need a base in Melbourne, just yell.

  10. Uncle Dave
    Uncle Dave at | | Reply

    Your uncle who agreed to look after Oscar your lovely little car. Another point of synergy, I also looked after your car … Fifi ….back when you first picked up your back pack.

    No suggestions as to where you should travel to; follow your heart, be happy and know that you always have a place to lay down your hat with us. Bon voyage lovely lady xxx

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