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The Domestic Nomad

If you read the blogs of a lot of self-proclaimed nomads, lifestyle designers and location independent professionals – you could easily get a sense that international travel and global nomadism is the holy grail of every long term perpetual traveler.

We’re here to stand up and say – being a Domestic Nomad is an equally valid form of vagabonding.

Last year the fabulous website NuNomad.com featured a roundtable discussion with several prominent nomadic entrepreneurs, exploring the topic of what it takes to be a long term nomad.

In my comments on the article, I pointed out that they had only gotten contributions from folks exploring worldwide travel – and that the whole universe of domestic nomadism was being ignored. As a result, Carmen from NuNomad contacted me and asked if we’d be interested in being interviewed about our style of domestic RV nomadism. The interview was just published this past week.

Now don’t get us wrong – we love global travel (and have done plenty of it ourselves), and we admire those who have made it work as a sustainable lifestyle.

But traveling internationally is not the only way to embrace nomadism, nor is it the “ultimate” way to strive for. Domestic travel can be just as rewarding, and it is often vastly easier, more practical, and better suited to craft into a sustainable lifestyle.

For many, traveling the world full time ends up feeling more like an extended vacation or a prolonged break from normal life than something that feels truly sustainable. For some, international roaming ends up being a gap experience between major life transitions, or becomes a search for a new home to settle down at. And a lot of people struggle with the hurdles and roadblocks of being away from their home country, such as work visa issues, difficulty with the fine line between travel & vacation or a sense of disconnection from friends, family, and community.

Some do make it work, certainly. But many who try report hitting walls of unsustainability.

For those craving a fully mobile lifestyle, there are ways to embrace nomadism without dealing with the challenges of perpetual international travel.

Embracing nomadism or a location independent lifestyle doesn’t have to be a ‘permanent home’ vs ‘conquer the world’ proposition.

When we set out, our intention was to create a lifestyle of full time mobility that could be unending. International travel is fabulous, but there are extra challenges that can decrease the sustainability of it. Domestic full time travel has given us freedom of mobility, while keeping us accessible to family, friends, work, and (ever critical) easy and affordable wireless bandwidth.

In domestic travel, we are managing to fulfill our wanderlust, without compromising on sustainability or community – and after almost 3 years of full time travel, we feel we’re just getting started. The good ole US of A has an amazing amount of diversity, beauty and awesome things to keep us fulfilled. Heck, despite intentions otherwise – we’ve yet to find time to cross into Canada or Mexico!

One day, yes – we do intend to explore further afield. Perhaps we will head overland towards Central America, or downsize into backpacks for some extended globe trotting. Or maybe we will even trade our wheels for sails, and hit the open seas to spend some time with the now forming Technomad Sailing Flotilla.

But for now, there is no rush. Domestic nomading suites us just fine.

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23 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. Indeed, sustainability is the key to this game.
    If you don’t know how to wing it or live within your means, it’s gonna be hard to pull off. So far, I have been able to balance my books on this.
    It’s not a life many understand but it is the life for me. In the beginning, it is always expensive because you are getting used to the place. But once you find out where the bargains are and when they have sales… it gets easier. By the 2nd month, I am already set in a pattern and it’s just cruise control from there on… until I move again, that is.
    I also have a membership with couchsurfing.com, but I haven’t even used it yet.


  2. We recently came back from what was supposed to be a gap-year/find-a-new-home experience abroad, but alas, it ended after 5 months. We got tired of being constantly on the move–packing; catching buses, trains and planes; finding hotels; making friends for just a day or two and then you go your seperate ways, etc. We had fun and it was an awesome experience but it just wasn’t the exact thing we were looking for. We have both worked & lived abroad, which was great but not nomadic enough being tied to a 9-5 job. So, our next venture is along the lines of what you are doing. We are now saving up for a travel trailer and a tow vehicle to explore the good ole U.S. of A. We have some rental properties that would help us if we really decided to full-time it.

    • RVing can definitely strike a sweet balance between mobility and lessened logics to constantly figure out. We’ve certainly loved the comfort of always being at home while always traveling. For us.. it’s become a bit too comfortable & routine, so we’re about to take-off for the challenges of a different modality of travel. I’d also say.. 5 months is hardly enough time to find a balance in anything that is aiming to be sustainable long term. That’s more along the lines of an extended vacation, than a lifestyle. It is however about right to find the glitches on which to adjust for your own unique balance. Which sounds like you’re in midst of doing. It really took me a good year to find my stride even with RVing, and there were many times in the first 6 months I was ready to quit. Best wishes in your adventures!

  3. Sailing on a ship is like our old romantic notions about pirates. 🙂 they do represent a type of freedom very few people will ever experience… and best of all… nobody is getting into your business.

  4. Cherie and Chris, you go guys! 🙂

    Since 2008, I wanted to live in a van until I realized… for the past year I already am sort of semi-nomadic! I move places every 3 months. My life is condensed even further… because I fly and drive a lot, my entire life is in 2 suitcases and a laptop backpack. If it doesn’t get through airline baggage requirements, it doesn’t get taken along. When I get to my destination, I do buy things, but all of it still would fit in a small van. (Perhaps I am still unconsciously practicing for RV life).

    But hoo yeah, I would not trade this gypsy life for anything. My only problem is I am courting a girl whose parents have lived the regular life all their lives –you get a 9-5 job and you stayed in one place. And I am beginning to feel the heat from her old folks. 🙂 It’s all good, though.

    It’s funny how it upsets some people that I live like this.
    I am happy. I am free! Many people work like slaves to get that 2 weeks of annual leave. I am so happy I lucked upon this lifestyle. I would not trade it for anything else.

    One of the best things is the job security, believe it or not.

    Why? This is how I see it:
    nomads always have to look for alternative sources of income all the time. So when a financial crunch hits, the person who got complacent with their 9-5 is suddenly paralyzed. (we are hearing a LOT of this now)

    Nomads, on the other hand… our lifestyle has trained us to keep looking for work, regardless of any financial meltdown that happens. And the lifestyle equips us for hard times… we are more flexible and nimble. and yes, we can move at will to greener pastures. 🙂 Long before one contract has expired, I am already lining up my next 3 jobs. We take jobs big and small. (thus I still see your map still full of destinations! It almost seems like the recession doesn’t have an impact in your lives. How many 9-5ers can say that? 🙂 )

    We’re happy and best of all, we are not owned by anyone.
    We can honestly say, we are truly living the land of the free, home of the brave!

    More power to all of you!



  5. I definitely agree with this. It seems that so many people sell their belongings and their homes and then go traveling, but that’s not really a sustainable model unless you have something back home that is continuing to make income for you. One day the money will run out, and then you have to figure out what to do. I think that something like you’re doing, living domestically but still nomadically, while working on the road, is an excellent compromise. In my case, I travel extensively, but I am able to do so because I have a very understanding boyfriend who enjoys travel, but not as much as I do, and who is happy to stay home at our apartment and take care of the cats and pay an increased portion of our rent while I’m away.
    .-= Kelsey´s last blog ..One Blog, Two Blogs: To Split or Not To Split? =-.

    • It’s so wonderful that there are so many ways to make a life full of adventure happen. You just have to think outside the boxes society hands us. Sounds like you and your boyfriend have a great arrangement to meet both of your needs!

  6. Cherie,

    Great post. I am one of those who have been lured by exotic locales. Mainly because my international travel has been limited and my overland domestic travel extensive. But now that I am shifting to boat travel, my region is the Salish Sea which includes Washington and British Columbia.

    I believe all experience happens along two axes, the horizontal and vertical. When applied to travel, the horizontal axis takes you far with an ever-changing landscape, while the vertical takes you deeper into where you are. Cruising allows for both.

    I encourage you to consider a boat. It can be inexpensive and you can start simply and safely. And unless they figure out how to sell the wind, sailing is free. I like that.

    Come visit sometime and we’ll take you out for a sail.

  7. Traveling and working on the road isn’t easy, and what I found traveling in the USA is that there are actually fewer options than abroad. Fewer folks willing to help out when you are lost, fewer free internet hubs and hostels, etc. I found traveling in the USA (where we are right now) is the hardest because of a total lack of transportation other than cars.

    • I could definitely see that nomading in the USA would be much more difficult via other modalities than RV. There are so many resources for full time RVers (in thanks to a million plus retireed full time RVing crowd that paved the way), that it definitely makes it significantly easier. The RVing crowd helps out its own, and we never feel without a community of resources.. everyone is so friendly and helpful. Heck, in the past two days camped at a gorgeous state park ($24/night – for two people, cheaper than most US hostels) – we made a constant stream of new friends. As far as internet.. we feel we’re getting quite a deal to have a wireless air card that gives us internet access almost everywhere we go, and not having to rely on free hubs.

      But there are other successful USA nomads – such as Brett the Amtrekker who did his journey via an Amtrek rail pass, and couchsurfing.

  8. Hey Cherie and Chris, I’m so glad that you pointed out our bias towards international nomads a while back. You’re right – there is no rule about how far you have to go in order to live a nomadic lifestyle. Interestingly, while I’ve been able to share experiences in many different countries with our three daughters, there is so much of our own country that we have not yet seen. Your travels are an inspiration to me to see more sights domestically. Certainly the U.S. is a beautiful and varied place. Keep on keepin on!

    • We so enjoy that there are communities of us nomads forming virtually, that we can all share a bit vicariously the different ways we approach exploring the world around us. Thank you for providing such a valuable hub for us all to share and inspire each other!

  9. I’m glad to see you make this point, Cherie. I almost commented to this effect on a recent posting somewhere that listed the 50 or so most influential nomads to watch, or something like that. Almost all of them are traveling in Asia (not that I wouldn’t love to do that as well, but it definitely had a strong regional bias).

    Thanks for mentioning the flotilla! I arrived at this post upon noticing some Feedjit traffic from Technomadia. We’ll be meandering around the Pacific Northwest for a while, including the amazingly rich and varied waters of the BC and Alaska coasts. At some point, we’ll head out the Strait of Juan de Fuca and turn left, head down the West Coast to Baja, then turn right for the South Pacific and points beyond.

    We’re bullish on the notion of an aquatic nomadic community, with different boats representing a variety of skills and tools. There’s an amazing opportunity now, with people shedding boats that were acquired as luxuries… with careful shopping, you can get a LOT for your money. Moving as a flotilla is the best of both worlds: nomadic autonomy and supportive community.

    Cheers from Nomadness,
    .-= Steven Roberts´s last blog ..Dervish of the Salish Sea =-.

    • We’re quite tempted to keep our eyes out for an ideal sailing vessel to pounce on in this economy. We’re not quite ready to give up land based exploration – but the ocean has always called me. We’d have quite a learning curve to get up to speed. Being part of a nomadic flotilla sounds incredibly awesome.. we love nomadic community.

      Have you been keeping an eye on the Seastedding Institute?

      All our best to you and Sky ! And Kiki sends meows to Java.

      • Come visit and we’ll bring you up to speed on boats of this class… and where to watch for them. Just for a data point, the one we just got for Sky (Dervish) is a 29-foot Cal that came with sweet little diesel, 5 sails, stout rig with roller furling headsail, galley stove with oven, head with tank and macerator, water system, trailer, and a new-in-box high-tech fuel filter. It was $6200, which is much less than I paid for the empty trailer that is becoming the mobile lab! This boat is fully livable, and Cal 29s routinely do coastal passages like the Baja Ha-Ha and even cross oceans.

        The dynamic operating here is that for most boat owners who do NOT live aboard, the cost of keeping a boat is significant… slip fees, taxes, insurance. If the boat is only used for vacations and occasional weekends, the return on investment may no longer be sufficient. Many are thus for sale. There are also a startling number of cases where people just can’t keep up and the boat is seized, then sold at auction to recover taxes and marina fees. A funky little Watkins 27 sailboat just went at our marina for $1150 – nothing beautiful, but someone will make a tidy profit cleaning her up and reselling.

        We’re moving out of the house this spring and aboard the two boats, and we already have a good network of full-timers around the area. Travel as a flotilla is the next step, with a tech overlay to create a LAN, voice network, and location-tracking system that lets everyone keep track of everyone else.

        Yes on the Seasteading institute – it’s not my personal preference since I like to have autonomy and my own ship, but there are some promising developments there.

        Java meows back, and we hope to see you two soon!
        .-= Steven Roberts´s last blog ..Dervish of the Salish Sea =-.

    • Keep an eye out, and if you run across any boats that have our name written on them, let us know.

      If we run across a deal too good to pass up on an amazing boat, we may just need to join you on water for some hands-on sailing lessons sooner rather than later.

      Hmmm…. How are you going to manage to incorporate a proper hot tub into the flotilla? *grin*

      • I will, Chris… as I think about growing the flotilla, you two come frequently to mind. I already have a “friends’ boats” database and have had a few delightful buddy-boating adventures… it really adds to the experience. Nothing like rowing the dinghy back to your little floating castle at midnight after a fine evening of wine and storytelling on a friend’s boat. Add to that the practical issues of having more varied expertise, navigational brainstorming, a larger pool of experience, better economy of scale in the food department, and the pure fun of a community.

        As to the hot tub, it does exist… meet the Yachtub!


        .-= Steven Roberts´s last blog ..BEHEMOTH Memories =-.

      • Steve – that Yachtub looks sweet indeed. Have you tried one? Can the water actually get warm enough when the tub is in a cold ocean?

        Most importantly – when are you adding one to Nomadness?

        There is another “Yachtub” that I have seen as well – a Burning Man art car constructed from a boat, and filled with warm water. Passengers soak while riding around the playa.

  10. We agree completely. One of the reasons we are moving to Thailand is for our daughter, and of course to be closer to our roots. However, when we return to the US, whenever that is, we want to be just like you. Our mini sabbatical during Summer 2009 was awesome (with our Honda Fit) From TX to CA. We thought about your RV the whole time, thinking, if only! We were very envious. Hopefully, one of these days, we want to be doing just that…. Really enjoy reading your site and gaining tips and ideas for ourselves! Hoping we will be able to meet the two of you in person! 🙂

    You are the king and queen of Domestic Nomading! You rawk!
    .-= GotPassport´s last blog ..Yes, a Confession! =-.

    • *grin* Thanks guys. We love that the internet has given us all a chance to be inspired by the various journeys we’re all taking. It’s so wonderful that you’re able to show your daughter the world and her roots.

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