“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.
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?
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.
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…