Earlier this week we traveled with some friends to the Perhentian Islands of Malaysia. During our time there, I came to realize there are some unexpected challenges and consequences to this nomadic lifestyle.
When people think about the nomadic life, I imagine they first envision people like the Berbers of Morocco and other Saharan countries. Thanks to social media and the Internet, digital nomads is a more commonly known term. We absolutely love being nomads, and it’s been an absolutely tremendous experience for us so far.
But there have definitely been challenges.
We’re pretty flexible, and life on the road really enhances that. We’ve stayed in fairly . . . humble accommodations as well as some that are on the lower tier of luxurious. The more we do long-term travel, the easier I find myself being able to sleep practically anywhere and in almost any position. I’ve used everything from a rolled up jacket to my day pack as a pillow. (The jacket is more comfortable, in case you were wondering.)
I can handle a dirty bathroom, bugs on the floor, a creaky bed, and a nasty toilet (even a squat toilet if I have to). I don’t care if the place doesn’t have complimentary toiletries. I’m happy if the door closes all the way and locks reliably. I’m absolutely thrilled if the bathroom is en suite. I can be sitting in a restaurant when the power goes out and be completely unfazed.
But give me slow or unreliable WiFi, and my head may explode.
Things that would’ve really irritated me before, I just laugh at now. Train was supposed to arrive at 11:30, and it’s now 12 with no sign of an impending arrival? Whatever. Hair in my food? Pluck it out and keep going. I’m ecstatic when I get on a local bus, and there is actually an empty seat available. The long-distance bus has a working bathroom that I can use? SCORE!
After traveling continuously for almost 2 years, however, I have little patience for overcharging taxi drivers (a la Bangkok where they try to overcharge you by $8-10!) and touts. I will walk out of my way to not have to pass through a gauntlet of touts.
In addition, when you go to other countries a lot, you see how smoothly things like border crossings can occur. Later, when you find yourself in a situation that isn’t going so smoothly (for example, returning to the US), especially in a country that is more developed and has more resources, well, it just frustrates you that much more.
It’s a rather nice position to be in when you don’t really have anything in your life to escape from.
When you live this lifestyle, visiting a remote tropical island just doesn’t have the same effect on you. The Perhentians are rather pretty islands with white sand beaches. There isn’t much to do other than chill, swim, dive, and repeat. I can see why it would be “paradise” for someone who is doing the typical 9-5 thing. It would be a GREAT escape.
But when you aren’t living the traditional model, it’s just another island with little to do or see and a lack of food choices. And when you’ve seen and lived in so many of these islands, it’s hard to be all that impressed by the Perhentians.
Things that can sound incredibly exotic tend to be “all in a day” for us quite often. And, I’m not complaining! I’m absolutely beyond thrilled our life is such that visiting a tropical island is just one of those normal things for us.
Different kinds of “souvenirs”
Since we essentially carry all of our possessions, we don’t buy souvenirs. Instead we have experiences, memories, and photos to remind us of places.
But, I should say we don’t have intentional souvenirs.
Tigger’s sandals are from Morocco, suitcase from Mexico, and the shorts he’s wearing right now came from Honduras. Part of his netbook came from Thailand (when we had to replace its motherboard and battery).
Our toothbrushes and toothpaste were bought in Paris, my reading glasses are from Thailand, sunglasses and dental floss from our time in Morocco, today’s T-shirt from our sea turtle experience in Mexico, and my flip-flops are from Thailand as well. Our winter gear was bought in Colombia, and my current supply of medicines were obtained while in Peru and Morocco.
Every time I transfer photos from my memory cards to my laptop, it’s done with a card reader I bought while in Guatemala.
And, of course, there are the many stamps and visas in our passports.
Events are related to locations
I think the average person remembers occasions by when they occurred, but for many nomads we connect events with where we were at the time.
Tigger recently asked me “When did Hunger Games come out?” My response was: “I think it was when we were in Ecuador.” That’s more significant for us than remembering June 2012, or whatever.
“Where are we going to be for my birthday?” might seem like an easy question to answer, but usually it isn’t for us. (This year we know only because we have a housesit scheduled during that time period—in New Zealand).
“What are we doing this summer?” is a legitimate question; however, it may not apply for nomads. Why? Well, we could conceivably experience more than one summer in a year. This year we’ll have 3 winters. Or, we may be in a place that just has the 3 H’s for seasons: hot, hotter, and hell hot.
Typically, people may not remember much about Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, etc., but for us they were destinations. Last year we celebrated all three on an oasis in southern Morocco. The year prior we were in Central America. In 2011, Tigger celebrated his Forever Day by doing a shark dive in the Caribbean, and last year he celebrated it with a special dinner at our oasis home in Africa.
The nomadic lifestyle may not be for everyone, but we fall in love with it more and more every day. It’s hard to beat a life where you live your dreams every day.