Many people have asked me how I could just leave my job and seemingly travel perpetually. How can I afford it? How do you find places to stay for free all the time? How do you find places to volunteer? All questions I’ve received by email, and now I’m sharing the secrets in a series of posts about how The Happy Nomad Tour Rolls and what things are like behind the scenes.
I usually forget that I’m traveling alone and I’m only reminded when people ask me how it is to travel alone.
The truth is, I don’t feel lonely and I definitely don’t feel lonely. I think that’s partly because of the way I am conducing my trip.
Back in 2006, I had a whirlwind 31-day 10-country vacation. My dad visited me for the first part in Spain, Morocco, and Italy. Then I was on my own to explore Vatican City, Switzerland, Austria, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. And yes, by the time the trip was drawing to a close I felt very lonely.
Fast-forward six years and my style of traveling is completely different.
First, I stay with local people on my trip. They invite me to share a part of their lives for the time I am there and it can definitely resemble a family structure. I speak Spanish so I can communicate with people here. I can make my bad jokes (they are even less funny in Spanish), ask for directions, and otherwise create opportunities where awesomeness happens when two strangers’ paths cross.
Similarly, volunteering always allows me to meet people – often amazing people. The people working or volunteering at the organization I happen to be at have a passion for their work and as a permanent student of life I have much to learn from them. But it creates a deep rapport immediately.
Even when I am visiting a touristy place and writing a hostel review in exchange for accommodation I end up meeting the owners (often foreign, sadly, but sometimes local) and other travelers. It may sound strange, but my interactions with other travelers are usually the least interesting and rewarding. The conversations are mundane and often follow a tennis volley of questions like:
- Where are you from?
- What are you doing here?
- When did you start your trip?
- Where have you gone?
- Where are you going next?
Blah. It’s not that other travelers aren’t interesting. Many have become good friends of mine. But it’s not where my interest lies. I want to connect with the local people.
I call home frequently and stay in touch with my family – maybe more than they’d want and definitely more than if I had a “normal” life.
Something I had to learn when I first left home in 2004 is the phenomenon of “out of sight, out of mind.” I am usually the one to stay in touch in my friendships, but on too many occasions my friends have dropped the ball in terms of staying in touch.
Back in 2004/2005 it was harder since I had just left college after spending time with amazing friends and my life in the Middle East was pretty unfulfilling. It hurt more when friends seemingly didn’t want to stay in touch.
Now, when everyone has the internet in their pocket and you can reply to an email while waiting for a traffic light to turn green, I have less patience. But I don’t make as much of an effort to stay in touch either. I do what I can with my limited connectivity and the work I have to do. And I guess another factor that has changed everything is Facebook.
I think sometimes people don’t feel the need to reply because in their eyes nothing has changed in their lives since we last spoke a month ago. But a friendship isn’t comparing notes about what has changed.
Acceptance is something I’ve had to learn, and also that friendship isn’t defined by how frequently emails or calls are exchanged.
Still, comparing my solo life now to when I was working in the Middle East or Denmark, my current life is by far less lonely.
I’ve also made some great friends along the way. It seems like when I know I’m leaving and they know I am leaving, the friendship deepens quicker, yet naturally. It’s wonderful.
I hope this helps show that my life on the road is not at all lonely. My life is full of amazing people, both from the past and at present. Each place I go introduces me to new awesome people and technology has never allowed us to be as connected when distance separates us. I feel like I reap the benefits of both worlds!