When Travel Is Life: A Conversation With 4 Modern Day Nomads

During my travels, I’ve had many opportunities to meet amazing, dynamic, and inspiring people – all of them modern day nomads creating and living the life of their dreams. I sat down with four wonderful women to find out more about what inspired them to start travelling, what keeps them going, and the challenges and celebrations they’ve experienced on their journeys.

Some information on our nomads

Anna is a 27-year-old Filipina from Manila. She’s currently on Tablas Island in the Philippines spending time with her family before returning to work.

Barbara is a 54-year-old Brit who resides in Nepal.

Rebecca is a 38-year-old American, born and raised in New York. In the 15 years she’s spent travelling, she’s lived in Hong Kong, Sweden, Thailand, Hawaii, and Indonesia. She now works as a scuba diving instructor in Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

Maree is a millennial from South Africa. Living a tropical life, she’s currently in the Caribbean where she works as a server and yoga teacher.

What inspired you to start travelling?

Anna: The struggles in my life are what made me start travelling. When I was still in university, I used to assist and facilitate camping class to get extra money. We travel to different places to camp. For me it’s a win-win situation to travel while earning money. This made me travel more for business or just for myself. 

Barbara: At 40, I had a big journey of personal change, realising I had lived my life in fear, terror, and petrification. Afraid to move, to make any decision; a victim responding to what happened to her rather than actively participating in her own life. I chose to challenge my physiological fear. So I decided, for first time at 48 years, to travel. I had never travelled before. I began a one-year journey of solo travel which become 18 months, then selling everything, and it’s now been six years.

Rebecca: I was 22 at the time, and four months into my first proper job after graduating from NYU (New York University). I was working as a trading assistant for an oil and gas derivatives trading company in New York City. I was standing on the subway platform waiting for my train to go home and started to think about what I did for a living. Essentially, moving numbers around on a screen, helping rich people get richer. I liked what I did, and was quite good at it, but it seemed somewhat meaningless. It hit me that there has to be more to life than this. That was the thought that started me on the path to travelling and living all over the world for the last 15 years.

Maree: A broken heart. I knew it was finally my time to spread my wings and hopefully heal.

What inspired you to keep on travelling? 

Anna: The joy of discovering new places, like peaceful and greener environments. I always like seeing many trees and thinking of the sea as just my neighbour. I crave the scent of the nature and simplicity of a small town. Also, discovering places felt like discovering myself too. Every time I travel, I somehow get to know more about who I am and who I want to be.

Barbara: I love being free. My time is mine. Not working is awesome, and yet I help as I go along. Once I sold my home, I knew there was no going back. Not enough money even if I wanted to anyway. This is the life I chose and I make it work for me.

Rebecca: The excitement of the unknown, the challenges of living in a new country, learning new languages, experiencing new cultures, challenging what I considered normal, learning to live with very little material goods but surrounded by priceless natural beauty. The more I saw and experienced, the more I discovered how much more there is to see and experience.

Maree: There was a very clear turning point for me. My first day in Zanzibar, Tanzania. I got to the beach as the sun was setting and when I went into the crystal clear turquoise water, with the sky above a million shades of pink, I was so overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounded me! In that moment I knew there was no way I could go back to my old life.

Tell us about your first trip as a female solo traveller.

Anna: My first trip alone was when I went to Bali, Indonesia. It’s the first time I left the country too. I wasn’t scared, but felt very distant and disconnected not knowing what to expect. I cannot speak their language. They have a different culture. Finally, when I arrived and experienced Bali, all the worries faded. I was overwhelmed in a positive way. I was amazed by their ways and culture. I discovered a lot and found Bali not so different from my own country.

Barbara: Holland – I was 47 years old – for one week. I’d never felt so alive and free. It was the first time I’d saved money for myself too. Friends gave me base accommodation, I bounced around Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam, and Naarden. Made loads of new friends and this was a massive boost for my travel plans which, at this point, hadn’t really come together.

Rebecca: It was a two-month backpacking trip across Europe when I was 23. I started in Athens, Greece, and worked my way across the continent to finish in London, United Kingdom. It was an experience that totally changed how I viewed travel, and it was the catalyst for me to leave the USA at age 23 on a one-way ticket to Taiwan to visit friends just to “see what would happen.”

Maree: My first proper solo trip was a spiritual quest to Kenya. I hopped on a plane with USD600 to my name, a nine-month return ticket. and no idea what the hell I was going to do. I stayed with my friend for the first 10 days, and after that things just miraculously fell into place, one after the next. As I was alone, I was flexible enough to say ‘yes’ to opportunities as they came up. I also felt very safe the entire time I was travelling, and learnt how to trust my gut and intuition a lot more than ever before. I spent a lot of time alone, getting to know who I really am. The more I got to know myself, the more I liked myself, and eventually, that’s how I learnt to love myself.

What was one of the most difficult things you’ve had to do while travelling alone?

Anna: Sometimes, travelling alone can be dangerous, and the people around you can’t always be trusted. I can’t give you a specific example since I’ve always had nice travelling experiences, but relying on yourself and solving your own problems (for example, if you lose your wallet, passport, or phone) can be the difficult part of travelling solo.

Barbara: Nothing, really. When I started, I literally had no money for three months in India, but I got through that and it made the journey way more interesting. The hardest thing is managing friendships – foreign and local. All the coming and going, hellos and goodbyes.

Rebecca: I can’t really think of any one thing that’s been difficult while travelling solo. I guess when I’m alone with lots of carry-on, it’s somewhat annoying to use the toilet with all that luggage. Also, not being able to split the cost of a room. Then again, I also like my privacy.

Maree: Learning how to be frugal. I don’t waste money and I’ve been wearing the same clothes for years. The other thing is getting comfortable with eating what’s available. There was a time in Kenya where I was living on USD1 a day. I had a fear of wheat (and beans and anything starchy) but, when all there is to eat or all you can afford to eat is chapati (flat bread), ugali (cornmeal porridge), maharage (beans in coconut milk), and a mango for breakfast, you just learn how to get on with it.

Please share one of your best travel experiences.

Anna: Discovering new family. When I was in El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, I met the most generous and kindest people. They were my workmates and I knew no one when I first arrived. I was so touched by how they accepted and treated me. They made me feel like I’m their family.

Barbara: I fell in love.

Rebecca: One of my best travelling experiences was my trip in December 2017 to the dive resort I currently work at in Raja Ampat. The trip itself was absolutely unbelievable and it was what ultimately helped me land my current dream job!

Maree: I have so many! There was one time I’d completely run out of money and didn’t know how I was going to get to my friend on the other side of the country. Miraculously, I ended up being flown there on a private plane. Another time, I assisted four yoga teacher trainings during my time in Zanzibar. That was life changing.

How do you sustain your travels?

Anna: I travel for business, so work pays for my travel expenses and accommodation. It’s the first thing I consider before leaving and settling at a new place. However, when I travel for pleasure, I save money from my salary.

Barbara: I sold everything, live on a budget, share my skills, and help others and people do the same for me.

Rebecca: When I left the USA in 2004, I was collecting unemployment money from the government and had quite a bit of money in stocks and savings. Since then, I worked as an English teacher and in the financial services industry in Hong Kong. It was during that time that I saved up a substantial amount of money in preparation for leaving Hong Kong to travel more, scuba dive more, and eventually find a place to do my Divemaster Course with the dream of becoming a dive instructor. I have been working full-time in the scuba diving industry since 2009, I manage my money well, and work hard for tips. I also invest in my dive education to make myself more employable.

Maree: I prefer to stay in one place for extended periods rather than hop from place to place every week. I’ve been lucky enough to use yoga and other skills to either work in exchange for accommodation/food or for actual money. I also started doing voice overs and teaching yoga online. This means I need to be in places with decent internet and my suitcase now carries a mic but that’s okay. I’m having the absolute best time of my life so far!

Do you plan on returning home?

Anna: I took a break from living away and took time to catch up with family, but in two months, I’m planning to live far away again and continue feeding my thirst for travel.

Barbara: There’s no going back somewhere for me. I don’t have a home. Unlikely, I can afford one in the UK anyway. I return to the UK annually to see family, grandkids, and mates… and to put on makeup and high heels!

Rebecca: Home is wherever I am at the moment. I don’t plan on returning to live in the USA unless I have to for family reasons. The long-term plan is to live and cruise the world on a sailboat.

Maree: No idea what’s next. My intention is to be in Cayman for two years, save a bunch of money, and develop my talents. I’ve taken up learning the ukulele, rope dart, and dancing. After I’ve saved all the money I can, that’s when I’ll go on my next adventure. There are two of us now, my partner and I, and we both love to travel. So who knows where we’ll end up?

What have others said about your lifestyle? 

Anna: Usually, people think I have the best life ever! Since they see in my posts that I always travel or live somewhere far from where I come from. It makes me feel proud, but sometimes I feel unaccomplished. Whenever I leave a place and jump to another island or country, I need to start from scratch and build my way up again. Building a career in one place gives you security and consistent progression. When you’re travelling, it’s the opposite.

Barbara: I’ve had nothing but support and encouragement and have been told I inspire others. It’s difficult for my sons who are emotionally processing the death of the mum they knew to acknowledge this new one living a life of freedom.

Rebecca: Most are envious of my lifestyle, but of course they only see the easy parts and don’t realise that it’s not always as fun and glamorous. Others are a little confused as to why a woman like myself would do what I do. Others say they could never do what I do. I take it all in stride and just keep on doing me.

Maree: People are mostly very happy for me. I’m living my dream, feeling happier and more free than I’ve ever felt before. I think people who follow their dreams are inspiring so I hope that I inspire others to be brave and take a chance on their dreams.

Any tips for those who wish to follow in your footsteps?

Anna: This lifestyle is not an easy one, but it’s life-changing. Also, it’s not for everyone, but if you’re restless and questioning your life now, maybe the answers are outside your comfort zone. Discovering places is like discovering yourself too. Most importantly, it’s not for free. You need money to travel and it can be expensive, so you need to be wise and smart. 

Barbara: Be brave, be open, and be positive. Learn the local language. Go cheap. The less money you have, the more real your experience will be. Travel slow, stay in one place as long as you can, as long as you like it. Avoid all the things everyone else wants to see.

Rebecca: Hints include ensuring you have a means to support yourself – savings, investments, a job, skills, know-how, and the ability to sell and market yourself. 

Maree: Buy the ticket. Stop wasting money on junk. You don’t need that take-away cappuccino, that new phone, or silly dress, just buy the ticket so that you have a date. Then start saving. That way, you know you’re going and won’t be able to keep letting fear get in the way.

Another important thing: tune in. Tune in to yourself, learn to trust your vibes, and learn to trust the universe. When things get bad, which they can, just breathe and pray. The Universe has got your back. You’ve got this.

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Jay has travelled and lived extensively in Asia and Africa. Part gypsy, part nomad and part mermaid, she aspires each day to satisfy her wanderlust in any way possible.

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