the freedom of being a nomad
We’ve been feeling it lately. The feeling of being “stuck”. Or, as I wrote about a few years back, of having “a noose around my neck”.
Sometimes it takes talking to the right person to get clarity. I’ll cover that a bit further below.
We’ve previously written about why we wanted a base in Spain. It was all about getting Permanent Residency in Europe. And Spain always made the most sense in achieving that: besides having clear laws that we could navigate, Spain is a great country to live in. We love the people, we speak the language, there’s lots to see and experience.
This post is in no way a slam against Spain. Spain has been great to us. This post is more about us and the way we feel.
A month ago our friend Magdalena wrote me. She’s the owner of our favorite apartment in Prague and we’ve stayed at her place at least 5 times for months on end. During Covid she had rented it long-term to some people. Now they were moving out. Would we be interested in renting it for a month?
We love Prague and usually would never hesitate to go if given the opportunity. Besides just enjoying the city, it was always the place we would go back to get “stuff done” when we travelled full-time*. We have a dentist there, a medical center that we like, we update our computers and our cameras in Prague. Prague is a city where you can get quality services at good prices.
*For new readers to the blog, we travelled full-time from 2014 – 2020 before settling in Spain.
It just so happened that earlier this year I had planned a trip that would take us from Prague to Berlin and through Germany and France.
But when Magdalena asked me the question I hesitated and told her I’d have to think about it. Firstly, our investments have taken a hit (just like everyone else’s). Inflation’s through the roof. I looked up the cost of a return flight Malaga to Prague and the cheapest I could come up with was 250 Euros. Yikes.
Those things wouldn’t have stopped us in the past. The difference this time was that we also have a base, a place that we pay rent on (800 Euros/month). Does it make sense to pay double rent for a month in Prague? (actually the apartment in Prague comes out to about 1100 Euros. So combined that would be 1900 Euros for a month). Add to that 500 Euros return flights. It just doesn’t make financial sense, especially when you’re feeling poorer because of the bad stock markets.
I had to tell Magdalena “no”.
“You must be millionnaires!?”
That’s what one of our neighbors had said when I had told her that we had spent the last 6 years travelling around the world. It couldn’t be further from the truth. When you travel full-time you’re almost 100% flexible. Whenever we felt we had to be a bit more careful with our money we would spend a month in places like Thailand, the Balkans (in the off season), or Eastern Europe. We spent the summers of 2018 and 2019 in Ukraine where we spent the equivalent of $600 US on rent. We didn’t always save money when we travelled full-time (because we would go to places like Japan, Germany and South Africa) but whenever we felt the need we could turn the switch and save money. Just because we were flexible.
When you have a base somewhere all that changes. You have a fixed rent to pay, you have utilities. You no longer have that flexibility.
More here: Finances: How we can afford to travel full-time
But this post isn’t just about money.
Because when Magdalena asked me if we wanted to rent her apartment I also thought of other things. Like our backyard and our plants. It had been bad enough travelling around Spain for a month in February (we had come back to a backyard covered with dead leaves and flowers). In the summer it’s different: we have lots of plants and flower bushes that have to be regularly watered. There’s a lot of maintenance. Over the last month we’ve averaged at least an hour a day doing garden stuff: cleaning out mosquito-infested brush at the end of our yard (which came with the apartment), having an ongoing battle with an ant and mealybug infestation (which are killing our bougainvillea), clearing out monster Spiders (we discovered a Recluse Spider nest under our gas tanks), cleaning up leaves and dead flowers, picking up the occasional shit or half-dead cockroach that neighbouring cats like to leave behind, putting up little umbrellas to protect some of our newer plants from the full sun of June… Who would do that if we were away for a month?
If you think the above sounds “fucking boring” you’re right. We sometimes feel we’re slaves to our apartment, our yard and our belongings. And it’s taken us about 2 years of having a base in Spain to realize that maybe having a base can be fucking boring. And that we miss our old nomad ways.
About 2 weeks ago Lissette said it out of the blue “if one day you tell me you want to start travelling full-time again I wouldn’t have a hard time with it. I miss it”.
The above sets us up for the conversation we had with the chain-smoking Frenchman who we see everyday at the swimming pool in our complex. He’s always there, cigarette in hand, reading a book and keeping an eye out for his kids in the pool. Despite always saying hi and talking a bit of French, we had never had a real conversation with him.
That changed last week. It turns out he’s an IT guy. Prior to living in Nerja, he and his Spanish wife and 2 kids had been nomads, living in various parts of Europe and South East Asia. A few years ago they had bought a van and travelled through Spain. Then his wife got pregnant with a 3rd child. That’s when they decided that they had to settle down somewhere. They chose Nerja because of the relaxed vibe and because it was the closest thing to being “home”.
But when asked he wistfully said he wished he could travel again. He said that even his two older kids ask “when will we travel again?”. He says he doesn’t care about belonging or his home. He misses the freedom of travel.
He basically repeated everything we were feeling.
We haven’t made a mistake making a home in Spain. We’ve been here almost 2 full-years now. 3 more and we’ll have permanent residency in Spain. That was always our main objective when applying for our non-lucrative visa and making Spain home. When you’re a permanent resident in Spain you can basically do what you want. Someone told us you’re required 1 day in Spain in a calendar year. I checked my lawyer: she confirmed that once you have permanent residency “…there is no regulation on the law establishing the minimum or maximum time you must be in Spain”.
So what does the future hold?
We’re not sure yet. When I wrote this post Why we chose Nerja as our new home in Spain (and why it’s perfect for the times) the emphasis was the extraordinary times we were in. Now with restrictions practically all gone and things almost back to normal, we’re feeling the nomad urges coming back. At a minimum we want to downsize. A big 3 bedroom townhouse with a huge yard is too much for us. If we choose to rent/own something it would be a small “lock up and go” apartment that requires less maintenance. We might however decide to just put our stuff in storage again and travel as nomads as we used to. We know one day we’ll have to stop travelling full-time – but we’re still in our 50’s and as long as it makes sense to do it we’d like to travel as much as we can.
I know the above doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. Our smoking Frenchman said it himself: “if you haven’t lived as a nomad you’ll never understand”.
Related from a few years ago. Sound familiar? Going from travelling full-time to having a base.
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Great post. We just got back from S.America to our home base for this year in San Miguel. It was nice to be “home” though (and we have our dog here) and to know where things are etc. But this is a rental and so we don’t need to continue to care for things long-term or even worry that we dislike the color of the walls or something doesn’t match. I find when we own, that I am much pickier:) One thing I do miss is being able to house swap. We have loads of points and have swapped around the world. That is a freeing element of owning so maybe something to think about. But I hear you on paying double. We were going to stay traveling longer but paying $1600 a month for rent here plus taking on another place for longer would have been tad crazy. It’s nice that you are both in sync on this. Hard when not.
We’re actually in the process of downsizing – getting rid of most of our stuff and moving into a smaller and cheaper apartment. We’re doing it because we want to do more travel and because our current house is just too much maintenance. What sounded good 3 years ago (after 6 years of full-time travel and being in Covid lockdowns) became stifling.
I’m curious about your S. America travels. Where did you go? What were your highlights?
I hear you on downsizing. We did it fully and rent places that are furnished only:)
We just got back from Uruguay (blah did not like), Buenos Aires (LOVE), and Santiago (OK but wouldn’t race back). BA had that immediate feel of “I could live here” from me and my 17 and 20 year olds. It also. helps that if you get the Blue Rate on finances it’s very cheap. But really a lovely city with lots of parks and statues, museums, and of course the food is pretty darn good too.
Great to hear about BA, a place we want to get to!
Hey Frank, fabulous topic for your blog and like you, a dilemma i frequently wrestle with….. it’s kind of like a pendulum that swings from the desire to stay put, have a regular routine, live a “normal” life, etc. and eventually, it starts swinging the other way and your desire is to break free from the mundane and live a “nomadic” lifestyle (however that’s defined).
The late author Bruce Chatwin was convinced that humans are restless or nomadic by their very nature. He believed that humans have movement innate within them. And movement leads to change which is what many (but certainly not all) of us frequently desire. I think Chatwin said “Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.”
But interesting that i detect a bit of hesitation (or fear?) in your posting and your readers comments in really wanting to make the transition to a more “nomadic” existence …. it’s complicated i know….whether it has to do with the falling stock market, resurgence of covid, rising costs of travel, etc.
I go back to that word in the title of your post…. “freedom”. For me that particular value is of utmost importance to the lifestyle that i find enriching and truely enjoy. I totally agree that being able to have/maintain the flexibility is key to living the nomadic lifestyle when, and how we like! What your smoking Frenchman said was true….. you have to have lived sometime as a “nomad” to really appreciate what it means when you’re living a more settled existence.
Hi Don. You are exactly right in your 1st paragraph. It’s always a struggle. In the end we all want the best of both worlds. I think we’re at the point where we want a base, no matter how small. We want a place to come back to. But at the same time we struggle with staying put/having a regular routine/living a “normal” life as you say.
Funny how people cite different authors/philosophers depending on their viewpoint on this topic (see RJA below). I’ll take your Chatwin over his Davis 🙂
Hesitation/fear?? Just because we’ve invested time/money here in Spain. Getting permanent residency in Europe was always a big goal for us so we have to see it through. Which is great – but it also constrains us for the next 3 years. On the other hand it’s something to build towards so that when we do have it we’re ready to do (whatever) we want at that time. Just as we worked towards full-time travel for such a long time back in Montreal.
And you are right in your last paragraph. Freedom, for people like us, is the key to being happy. I don’t expect many people to understand that but you and me I think we can agree 🙂
going to Prague on September 21, 2022. Looking for a montly rental. We are also retired couple early 60’s. Is your frien’s place still available in Prague? Thanks!
I’ll write Magdalena and ask her Susan.
Lisa and Robert
Oh boy, do I feel you. We established a base during covid and wonder on a daily basis if it is time to downsize or give it up. We miss the excitement of travel. We miss trying new food and meeting new people and seeing new places and learning bits and pieces of new languages. And, we hate the constant battle to keep our place clean — so much nicer to shut the door and know someone else would be scrubbing the floors! But, it is also nice to have a real mailing address and more than one suitcase of stuff and a kitchen with all the right stuff. Decisions, decisions . . .
Yes, I think we feel exactly the same way. Love to travel but sometimes nice to come home to your stuff. The more I think of it the more I think we’ll need to keep a base, but that it’ll be dramatically downsized. And that maybe buying something/renting it out when not home is the most logical thing.
Very interesting with these posts discussing overarching issues and life goals/philosophy. I can definitely relate to it, although I have never been a full time nomad. It would be interesting to hear what you think of the opposite perspective – that many humans are unhappy and unfulfilled because they are stuck in permanent “browsing mode” rather than commiting themselves to particular places and people. I recently read the book “Dedicated” by Pete Davis on this topic. For some reason, I would love to hear your take on these ideas as you are choosing the opposite lifestyle (although you seem to be in a solid relationship :)).
Thanks for the comment. There are all kinds of people: I know people who would spend every second golfing if they could, others cruising (we know a travelling couple who all they do is cruise), people who want the latest car or gadget, people who’re just content to sit at home on their couch all day. I had a comment last week “Life is so the same in here than in any other place. You wake up, go to work, make food, watch tv, go to sleep…. Nothing too fancy there”.
If that was me I’d put a bullet through my brain and be done with it. But everyone’s different.
We live once and what we like to do is explore and be stimulated by new places and new experiences. If that’s permanent “browsing mode” so be it. And I’m not sure what being in a solid relationship has to do with anything, that goes with the narrative that there’s something wrong with us…
Hello BBBoy, This is just a quick note to tell you how much I love your blog. I’m an enthusiastic slow-traveler – even slower these days given covid and the loss of my husband – and I’ve explored many travel blogs looking for interesting and less-traveled destinations. Yours is always the one I come back to for thoughtful, reliable, intelligent advice about where to go and why. I hope you figure out your next move and most of all I hope you keep writing. Best to you both.
One of the nicest comments ever. Thank you very much Kathy! All the best to you!
How about house swapping? We have friends who are big fans of homeexchange.com, and I recently heard about one called People Like Us.
Hi Mary. I know people who do it as well…but we’re not really fans of that, there’s just too many variables that have to click in place to make it work successfully. Plus our issue is freedom and flexibility, not sure if house swapping does that for us. But thanks for the suggestion 🙂
I’ve never been a nomad but I totally understand your urge to be one again! Getting a smaller place or buying one that you can rent out when you travel seem like the best options. At least until you get permanent residency. I share the feeling of being stuck.
P.S. The insect paradise in your backyard sounds way too horrifying for me :-))
You’re in India Claudine, I’m sure you see scarier stuff! It’s not as bad as it sounds I guess, most people have to deal with bugs in their gardens during different times of year. Here its ants in the spring…and they’re the ones spreading the mealybugs. The cockroaches – yikes, big here in Spain. Saw a couple in the house last year and freaked. None so far this year.
Too much nature in this place but I guess we asked for it having a large backyard…
Would love to know more about the apartment in prague. We would love to spend a month in Prague next year. Haven’t started looking yet for places
I know the plan is for Magdalena to find long-term tenants again. So it probably won’t be available next year. But if you ever decide to go to Prague on short term notice let me know and I can have a word with her…
Have you considered buying a one story home, say in Nerja, and renting it out when you do travel? Would that suit you, Spain, and your garden?? Of course, you would have to furnish the house!!
From a financial point of view that’s excellent advice. And we have our own furniture which we’ve lugged around the world. Plus Nerja an excellent place for short term rentals. Hmm, you actually got me thinking…
Dear BBBoy, I totally get it. For what it’s worth, I think it makes the most sense for you to downsize to a smaller place for now and resume your travels. I would be hesitant though to give up having a base should covids become an issue again (God forbid). The stock market plunge sure has changed things for a lot of us – really rotten timing for those of us who have just reached our ‘leisure’ (roaming) years. I can barely stand to read the headlines these days, gulp. It sure has made me hit pause on any immediate travel plans.
Thanks Caryl. Yes, I think you’re right to err on the side of caution. Besides which until we’re permanent residents we still have to spend most of our time in Spain (ie the Schengen. How are they going to know, right?).
And yes, rotten timing for markets. I think we all knew 2022 might be a tough year on markets but the war and fallout making things worse than anyone expected…