Living a Nomadic Lifestyle: 14 Things Most People Don’t Know About Being a Nomad
For many people, having a nomadic lifestyle is a dream come true.
- No boring, 9-5 cubicle monkey corporate job
- You get to live anywhere in the world
- An endless supply of incredible adventures, experiences, and friends
Sound too good to be true?
Well, I can say from personal experience that it isn’t.
After living nomadically for an entire year, I can say that the nomadic lifestyle is incredible.
But, as with anything, there are some trade-offs.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about living a nomadic lifestyle:
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Let’s dive in.
What Is A Nomadic Lifestyle?
A nomadic lifestyle is simply a way of living that doesn’t tie you to a specific location. That’s it. But that’s not to say that there aren’t many different ways of living a nomadic lifestyle.
That’s the fun part. YOU get to decide what kind of nomadic lifestyle you want to create.
The way I see it, there are really three broad categories for living a nomadic lifestyle, dependent on how much income you can make while living location-independent:
- Lean Nomad (Easiest): Dramatically reduce your spending and just work enough to fund your travels and experiences.
- Fat Nomad (Hardest): Build multiple income streams to fund your travels. Don’t worry about reducing your spending that much — live where you want and splurge on cool experiences.
- Somewhere in between Fat and Lean Nomad: Kinda self explanatory 🙂
For more information on the different strategies to fund those lifestyles, this article about funding a nomadic lifestyle is very comprehensive.
Regardless of how you decide to set yourself up, a nomadic lifestyle requires:
- The ability to earn income regardless of your location
- Extreme flexibility (as in “oh shit, if I don’t leave the country in 2 days I’m going to overstay my tourist visa and be here illegally)
- Owning very little (we’ll touch on this in a bit)
- Comfort with problem-solving and quick decision making
Now that we understand what a nomadic lifestyle is, let’s dive into the pros and cons.
The Top 6 Pros Of Living A Nomadic Lifestyle
Pro #1: You Can SAVE Money While Living A Nomadic Lifestyle
Without doubt, the #1 question I get after someone finds out about my lifestyle is this:
How can you afford that?
Here’s the surprising truth:
IF you do it correctly, you can SAVE money while living a nomadic lifestyle.
And when I say you can save money, I’m not talking a few hundred bucks here.
I’m talking a lot of money.
And the best part?
It’s just some simple math. Nothing crazy.
Let’s break it down.
According to this CNBC article, the average rent in the United States is $1,405. So we’ll use that as a benchmark.
Let’s say you want to live nomadically for an entire year.
If you were to stay at home for 12 months, you’d spend $16,860 on rent alone.
Now let’s say you wanted to start your nomadic journey in one of my favorite places to live: Chiang Mai.
My fianceè and I lived in Chiang Mai for three and a half months. On average, we paid $719 per month in rent.
We overpaid. Significantly.
It was our first time in Asia so we just used Airbnb instead of renting directly. We made a ton of friends who were paying as low as 6,000 Thai Baht (THB) per month for a studio apartment. But we found it to be much more typical to pay around 11,000 THB per month.
11,000 Thai Baht = 359 USD.
12 months of paying $359/mo in rent in a place like Chiang Mai = $4,308
That’s $12,552 in savings so far in RENT ALONE. But we’re just getting started.
If you are a U.S. citizen and work outside of the country for more than 330 days out of the year, you might qualify for something called the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE).
Here’s a description right from the irs.gov website:
If you are a U.S. citizen or a resident alien of the United States and you live abroad, you are taxed on your worldwide income. However, you may qualify to exclude from income up to an amount of your foreign earnings that is adjusted annually for inflation ($92,900 for 2011, $95,100 for 2012, $97,600 for 2013, $99,200 for 2014 and $100,800 for 2015). In addition, you can exclude or deduct certain foreign housing amounts.
And in 2019, you are eligible to exclude $105,900, according to this IRS document.
So how much can that save you?
Here’s the simplest breakdown I found online from a site called Nomad Capitalist (written in 2018):
A qualifying self-employed individual can claim the FEIE and exclude their first $104,100 of active income from income tax, but this will not eliminate any self-employment tax (namely, Social Security and Medicare) that they may owe. They must pay self-employment tax on their entire net profit – even the amount they excluded from income tax.
At present, the rate is 15.3% on up to $118,500 in income, and 2.9% on any income above that amount. So, if you earned $100,000 through self-employment during the tax year, you could exclude the full $100,000 through the FEIE for a savings of $24,000 in federal income taxes, but you would still have to pay $15,300 in self-employment tax.
Rent savings = $12,552
Federal tax savings: $24,000
Total savings for this example = $36,552
And that’s not even factoring in the other cost of living adjustments. My fianceè and I didn’t cook for the entire 3.5 months that we lived there because eating out was so cheap. You can get some incredible street food for ~$1 USD.
For some more comparisons, you can check out this estimator.
Now, you may be paying more or less than the $1,405 rent estimate. And you may be making more or less than $100,000 a year.
But before you balk at someone who traveled the world for an entire year, do the math.
They might be saving a lot more money than you think!
Pro #2: Forced Minimalism
Alright. So you’ve moved abroad to a cheaper location and saved $36,552. Not a bad start!
But now let’s look at my favorite psychological benefit of living a nomadic lifestyle:
If you’re not familiar with minimalism, here’s the definition from some of my favorite thought leaders in this space, the Minimalists:
Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.
And when you’re living out of a backpack and one carry on for over a year, you have no choice but to be a minimalist.
You can’t buy that much, because if you do...
- You have to lug it around
- It’s going to add to the weight you have with you, making it more expensive to travel
- You’ll be forced to remove some stuff that you brought with you
Ta daaa! You’re forced into minimalism!
As a minimalist, you’ll learn to value experiences and people more than things.
You’ll suddenly become hyper aware of everything you own — and you’ll start to understand what truly brings you happiness.
Minimalism is truly an incredible gift, and something that will have life-changing effects on you, whether or not you decide to continue living remotely.
Pro #3: Destroying The “I Wish I Would Have”s
Outside of asking “how can you afford that” and hearing more about some of the experiences I’ve had, 95% of the time, the next comment I’ll get will be:
“Man, I wish I would have done something like that.”
Life is too short to be wishing about things. If you’ve always dreamed of living a nomadic lifestyle, then do it!
The moment you start your nomadic journey is the moment you start destroying the “I wish I could have”s.
And better yet, it won’t take long before they are replaced with “remember when”s.
And those, my friend, is what life is worth living for 🙂
Pro #4: You’ll Level Up Your Problem Solving Skills...
After living nomadically for awhile, you’re bound to encounter some, how shall we say it... interesting ... situations.
Over the course of our time living abroad, my fianceè and I have:
- Had to figure out how to illegally ride a bike in Bali (and figure out how to drive on the opposite side of the road with crazy Balinese drivers and stray dogs running into the street)
- Sprinted through the Bangkok airport after being interrogated by Israeli police for 1.5 hours
- Had a bus leave earlier than scheduled in Sweden, leaving me stranded in the Gothenburg bus station at 4am. To top it off, in the bus station I saw someone in a mask and ski goggles with a red flashing light strapped on their back. It was simultaneously an odd and stressful experience.
If you’re going to travel, you’re going to find yourself in some interesting situations that you have to get out of.
The first few times, it’ll be intimidating. But, after awhile, you’ll start to learn how to solve problems a LOT faster and not get stressed as much.
This is an incredibly valuable life skill to have, and it wouldn't have been possible if it weren’t for my nomadic lifestyle!
Pro #5: Traveling Turns Boring Things Into Exciting Things
When you’ve never left the country before, you start to take certain things for granted. Things are just the way they are... because you don’t know any other way.
But the moment you leave the country, everything becomes new and exciting. You become a beginner.
Suddenly, learning how to buy the right laundry detergent becomes difficult, and ordering from a menu is a challenge.
People’s definition of happiness is different. They may clean their butts with a bidet instead of toilet paper.
The moment you walk into a culture that’s significantly different than yours, you become like a child again.
Even the smallest things are full of wonder and excitement, and you learn to appreciate life in an entirely different way.
Pro #6: Holy Memories!
I’ll never forget the time I camped in the Sahara desert.
Or the time that I got into a car with two random strangers in Spain and they took me to an incredible restaurant in the middle of some mountains.
Or the time that I proposed in Florence, Italy.
Living a nomadic lifestyle supplies you with CONSTANT new and exciting memories that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life.
Pro #7: The Cultures & People
I believe that you don’t know what your culture is until you’ve left it.
After spending so much time outside of the U.S., I slowly began to realize that my worldview was very limited, and what you consider to be “right” or “wrong” is simply a matter of perspective.
Leaving the country will give you incredible insight into who you are, and provide you with a much greater perspective on people in general.
Not only that, but experiencing new cultural events is one of my favorite things to do abroad!
- Oogoh oogoh parade in Bali
- Songkran Chiang Mai
- Lanterns in Chiang Mai
- Feria in Spain
- Semana Santa in Spain
- What about Israeli holidays ie Yom Kippur?
The Top 6 Cons Of Living A Nomadic Lifestyle
Con #1: Forced Minimalism
Wait, I thought this was one of your favorite pros?
Ha! Yes it is. I consider “Forced Minimalism” both a pro and a con.
Yes, it teaches you to love people and experiences more than things, but at the same time, if you’re living nomadically, you’ll miss buying stuff.
Usually if you have to buy something while traveling, it’s a temporary fix or a “hacky” solution because there’s no point in buying anything nice if you can’t keep it.
Even though I enjoy what minimalism taught me, I did from time to time just wish that I could buy something and actually keep it.
Con #2: Counterintuitively... You’ll Start To Crave Routines And Stability
One of the main reasons that people want to live nomadically is the fact that they are sick of the same old routines. You want something new.
When you start traveling, the “newness” of everything will be very exciting. But the surprising truth is that you’ll eventually CRAVE a consistent routine.
Like I mentioned in my post about good habits, bestselling author Charles Duhigg claims that 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.
When you have to rewire your habits every time you move, you start to have to make A LOT more decisions, which gets taxing.
Just think about it. Every time you move to a new location, you have to...
- Find a good grocery store
- Learn where things are in that grocery store
- Figure out how to buy common necessities (sometimes even trying to figure out how to buy laundry detergent is a struggle in a different language)
- Find a new gym
- Learn how to get around a new city
- Figure out the public transportation system
... and on and on.
So, YES, escaping your routines is nice. But one of the cons of the nomadic lifestyle is that eventually you’ll get sick of having to make all of these “micro-decisions” which impact your productivity and enjoyment in other areas of your life.
Con #3: Maintaining Relationships Back Home
Some people decide to become nomadic because they’re trying to escape the people that they are surrounded by at home. If that’s you, then this obviously won’t apply to you.
But if you’re the kind of person who wants to keep up with friends and family back home, here’s a warning:
Just like heading off to college, you’re inevitably going to stop talking to people that you were friends with when you have a big geographic distance between you.
You’ll have to make a commitment to people that you’ll stay in touch — and actually do it!
When my fianceè and I were traveling all over, we did our best to talk to our families at least bi-weekly, and scheduled time to talk with our closest friends at least every few months.
Relationships take work, and being thousands of miles away definitely takes some discipline!
Con #4: Where Are You Going To Sleep?
Finding places to live while living as a nomad is tough!
Every few months, you’re going to have to:
- Find a good location within a reasonable distance of where you want to hang out
- Deal with different cost of living standards and re-allocate your budget
- Negotiate for a good price
For the most part, my fianceè and I used Airbnbs — the more expensive, yet more convenient, option.
If you’re comfortable with it and are staying for a reasonable amount of time, your best option is going to be booking a temporary stay (Airbnb / hostel) while you go and find a more permanent place to stay.
This way, you’ll avoid the markups that come with Airbnbs and will come across much better deals.
However, if you do want to go the Airbnb route, there is another option that I personally haven’t tried... but my friends have had a lot of success with it:
However you decide to go about it, it’s going to get annoying after awhile.
Con #5: Saying Goodbye All The Time
As we discussed in pro #7, The Cultures and People, you’re going to make some amazing friends while abroad.
Because of that, you’re going to run into the exact opposite problem:
Having to say goodbye to them!
Then, similar to the “maintaining relationships” problem, you’re inevitably going to lose touch with the incredible people that you met.
Bittersweet, but we’re grateful for all the friendships we’ve developed during our adventures!
Con #6: Building a Career & Work/Life Balance
If you do decide to go the “Fat Nomad” route and build passive income streams while you’re working remotely, it can get tough at times.
While many people think that living nomadically is all play, there are many times where I’d stay in the local coffee shop on the weekends to get things going.
On the contrary, it’s easy to get caught up in the next adventure and slowly put less of a priority on your goals of building a location-independent business.
Finding a balance can be tough, and you have to set boundaries and work on your productivity to make it all work.
Con #7: Say Goodbye To Convenience
If you come from the States and are used to Amazon Prime and having stores open 24 hours or at least until 10pm, get ready for occasional frustration.
Stores might not be open on Sundays or have later hours, and depending on where you are they might even close down for a midday break.
If you do want to shop online, things can take weeks or even months to get to you.
Just be prepared to be patient — and you’ll realize how crazy convenient everything was back home!
Summary & Conclusion
When all is said and done, I am a HUGE proponent of the nomadic lifestyle. In my opinion, the pros heavily outweigh the cons.
But that’s up to you to decide!
What questions do you have about living a nomadic lifestyle that weren’t covered here?
Let me know in the comments below.