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Why I chose to be a nomad in my 40s


With the Moroccan surf roaring in the distance and a glass of sweet mint tea by my side, it’s easy to feel like my nomadic life is perfect. Today, it is.

The day my father died while I explored another city, however, was not.

All lifestyles come with sacrifices, and my sacrifices were made so that I could see the world. When you’re young and life’s promise awaits, long-term travel can be an easy choice. But in your 40s — when most everyone you know has a mortgage, family and secure future in hand — forsaking security for the great unknown is a bold risk.

When I gave my landlord the keys to my apartment days before my 42nd birthday, I had sold the leather sofa set that took me seven years to pay off. Giving away the wall of books I’d spent a life accumulating crushed me, and I struggled to have friends “adopt” the copious kitchen appliances that I adored. Yet, somehow, I whittled my 900-square-foot park-side apartment in Victoria, B.C., down to nine boxes.

Standing before my landlord that morning, if I could have reneged on my decision to go “full nomad,” I might have. I was deeply anxious about whether I’d be tough enough for this adventure.

But even greater was the fear of regretting not attempting my decades-long dream of traveling the world.

I offloaded those apartment keys, threw my bags in a friend’s SUV, along with my nine boxes — representing a life that once took a 25-foot moving truck to transport. Croatia awaited. The boxes went in storage, and I hopped on a plane.

Since that day 16 months ago, I’ve lived in over 30 cities, taken more than 40 flights and a dozen trains, while struggling to make myself understood in six languages and 10 countries. Amazing as it is, there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t long to share what my friends back home are experiencing, or wish I could play with my niece. Or even just be in the same time zone so that a phone call home doesn’t require math and preplanning.

On the other hand, I get to explore the Mexican high desert, road-trip through the Azores islands, or listen to a bagpiper on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

I wish I could be happy with a “regular” life — family, a good job — but children were never in my picture. Other girls played with dolls and called them their “babies,” but I coveted Smurfs, stories and Legos. When other teens dreamed of marrying one day, I imagined a “spinster” life running a bed-and-breakfast as I typed away in an oceanside study.

Single life seemed ideal because I wanted freedom to travel and live as I liked, but 15 years of misadventure interfered with that dream. A couple near-fatal accidents, a decade of struggle, a wall of medical debt — it all stood between me and the world. That “freedom” I’d opted into as a single woman had become a life of Netflix binges and fat-pants, while working from home. Daily, online displays of other people’s freedom taunted me, until I decided to be relentless in pursuit of my own freedom.

One-third into my plan to travel for five years, there’s still so much more I long to experience. A whole world waits to be tasted and trampled.

The nomadic life isn’t always glamour and glory. Every new shower or tub is a learning curve. Beds are unpredictable. Travel days are panic-filled. Flights are insufferable. And you really haven’t lived until you’ve crushed a fast-crawling scorpion emerging from your sink.

Anxiety still consumes me on every packing day. Health issues are an ordeal, as I recently learned while sitting in a run-down Greek emergency room, confounded by their health-care system. Even finding plus-size clothes abroad is a struggle.

So why do I do it? Because how else would I know what it’s like to stand all alone in a Roman arena in Croatia on a windy November day? The Acropolis and the Parthenon weren’t coming to me, so I needed to go to them.

As a single woman on a writer’s income, my choices were: have a beautiful home or see the world. No sugar-daddy was whisking me away to travel on his dime, so I had to be my own hero.

When I get lonely, and I do, I turn to co-living arrangements. Here in Morocco, for example, I’m lodging with 12 other remote workers fixated on living a life less ordinary. Once we move on to our next locations, we may never see one another again. But for now we’re close friends, united more by kindred worldviews than anything else we might have in common.

One day, I’ll probably want a more predictable existence, like a bed of my own, a routine as comfortable as old jeans. But for now, I don’t know where in the world I’ll be in six weeks — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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