Nomads like me do not have the same desire to create a permanent home that many people seem to have. We are wired differently. Instead we are always seeking Nomadsville. Nomadsville, despite what the title suggests is not a small town in America, with a cutesy ‘Welcome to’ sign at its entrance, next to the diner that’s been in someone’s family for generations, serving hot coffee, eggs over easy and homemade fruit pies to laidback locals attired in plaid shirts and a selection of denim. Nomadsville is the motherland for travellers. An imaginary place that beats within the heart of all nomads, impels us to obsessively research destinations and drives us to spend all of our money on travel. Nomadsville represents ‘the next place to travel to’. It is as much a state of mind as it is a place we have an unquenchable thirst to reach – which of course we never will because we are always adding more places to the must-go wish list.
When travelling people often ask me where I am from or where home is. From my voice, they usually assume I am English. The truth is I am not from anywhere and home is wherever I am. I was born into nomad life in Germany and raised a third culture kid by my English father and Irish mother as we travelled between England, Ireland and Germany until I was fifteen. Dad being in the British Army meant we moved every one to two years and I had attended eight schools by the time he ended his Army career after twenty-seven years of service. It was incredibly hard for him to adjust to life on ‘civvy street’, less so for me as I was used to change, unfazed by people coming into my life temporarily, able to form friendships with a time limit and then moving on. I fit in everywhere and nowhere.
What I love most about the nomadic life of a traveller is the gift of transformation. Every unfamiliar place encountered is a fresh start and a new beginning. No one on the road knows your history; no one knows about your strengths and failings, your bad habits and break ups, your happy memories and the things you’d rather forget – and neither do they really care. They only know what you tell them, what version of you you present, and they’re just looking to have a good time too. Staying in hostels is the cheapest and most social way to travel and complete strangers are perfectly happy to sleep in the same dorm together or grab a beer after a manic day of sightseeing to swop travel tips and stories. When I turned forty I was wondering if I had become too old to do the hostel thing but I need not have worried. Venturing to Liverpool for a city break, I recently shared a dorm with a sprightly lady in her late seventies. What an inspiration she was and a joy to meet. Her husband of sixty years has become too physically disabled to travel so she now travels alone, stays in hostels to keep the cost down, make new friends and she is thoroughly loving life. She had the energy of a woman half her age, was keen to chat to anyone who was sharing the dorm and she had no fear of showing off her body as she got dressed on a morning – bit of a shock when I woke up to a view of her full moon but I applaud the confidence she has at her age.
It’s now ten years since I began my solo travel adventures with a trip to Thailand, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (picture is me in Thailand). If I could go back in time to give my thirty year old self travel advice, I would say you need less stuff than you think you do, watch out for scammers, things will not always go to plan but you will survive, worry less and just enjoy the ride. You will learn to be resilient and self-reliant. As I have discovered over the years, whilst travelling any number of things can and will go wrong. In Washington DC I strolled into Dulles airport to check in, only to discover I had gone to the wrong airport because of confusion over an airport code. I was assured it happens all the time and instead of the single short flight I was supposed to take from DC to Miami, I had to book onto two flights, for an extra $50, and when I arrived at Miami, my suitcase had been smashed apart by transportation security. I got bitten by bed bugs in an Amsterdam hostel and eaten alive by mosquitos (fifty bites on one leg which swelled up like an over-stuffed sausage) in New Orleans when one of the guys in my dorm left the window open. Never one to shy away from a beach and an opportunity to tan, I burnt my face so badly in Zanzibar my lips swelled to twice their usual size (on the upside I learned that lip fillers would not be a good look for me) and I could hardly move my face for two days. On the flight out, a poor girl had to sit next to me as I set about removing the peeling skin #sorry, not sorry. I’ve slept overnight in Gatwick airport because I ran out of money and couldn’t afford to pay for a hotel. One of my most mortifying experiences was in the Sanjūsangen-dō, the buddhist temple in Kyoto that houses 1001 beautiful statues of the Goddess Kannon. I was having a deep and meaningful moment of spiritual contemplation when I realised I must have ripped my thin harem pants on the wooden stool I had sat down on to remove my shoes to enter the temple and for at least twenty minutes, my arse had been on display to the general public. One of the saddest experiences I encountered did not directly involve me but affected me nonetheless. Waiting for a flight from Dubai to London, a glamorous older Eastern European woman sat next to me in the airport lounge. She stood out because she was kitted from head to toe in designer gear and spoke loudly on her mobile phone, excitedly wishing whoever she was speaking to a happy birthday and told them she would see them later. However, as the plane was preparing to land forty minutes from Heathrow, the same lady, who was sitting three rows in front of me on the flight, had a heart attack. The crew did what they could to save her but she passed away and her body was clumsily removed from the aisle to the back of the plane as the runway approached. Her sobbing male companion was led to the front and all of the passengers sat in stunned silence. When we landed no one attempted to move to get their bags from the overhead lockers. The captain announced that there had been a medical emergency and we had to remain on the flight until the police arrived. I couldn’t believe that the vibrant woman who had been sitting next to me hours earlier was now gone. A poignant reminder that none of us know how long we are here for and should therefore make the most of life.
Next week I embark on my round-the-world adventure and in the months ahead I am sure there will be highs and lows. You have to expect the unexpected when travelling and hope for the best. I am looking forward to visiting unfamiliar places and making new friends on my journey. Being a nomad is not the same as being on a permanent holiday. It’s a way of life. An innovative lifestyle choice. The digital revolution means more and more people are quitting their unfulfilling nine-to-five lives, hitting the road and revelling in the freedom to work anywhere in the world on their laptops. If reading my blog and checking out my Instagram @uncaged_artbird inspire you to choose to dramatically change your life in this way and become a fellow traveller, let me be the first to say ‘Welcome to Nomadville….’
Take care, Lisa.