How to Become a Nomad: It Takes a Lot of Planning to Be Carefree


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"Contrary to popular belief, I don’t just flit around the world on a whim, landing wherever the wind blows me, whenever I get there. My nomadic lifestyle, exciting as it is (at least to me), doesn’t just happen by chance.

It takes a lot of planning to be carefree.

Maybe carefree isn’t the right word. Maybe just “free” is. Or maybe “happy”, or “not worried” or “at peace with whatever the future holds”. Because for me, carefree encompasses all of these things. Some days the mix isn’t quite right, and I’m less happy or less sure or more worried, but in general, this is how it goes for me.

But how is it possible to go through life running around the world, going from job to job and not worry too much about things? Or how is it even possible to do it at all, worried or not?

You’ve got to:

1. Embrace uncertainty. (Don’t worry, be happy!)

Read here if you’re not sure what I’m talking about. In short, start being OK with not knowing what’s going to happen to you or how a certain situation will turn out.

2. Learn all you can about the things that matter. (Knowledge is power.)

You want to live in Lisbon for a month and not worry while you’re there? Figure out what it takes to live in Lisbon for a month. Get on your Google machine and find housing costs, transportation costs, restaurant costs, etc. In this day and age, it’s all out there. This way, you’ll reduce the number of unhappy surprises you encounter.

You want to hop from contract job to contract job? Learn the system. Learn when certain jobs start and finish, in general what they pay, and when you have to apply and be hired for them. I teach ESL in Toronto. I know which schools generally hire when, what they pay, and when the start dates are for their terms. I know which credentials I have to have to be hired. I know when I should expect to hear about my summer employment leading student groups around Europe. I know how much I’ll make, and which of my costs will be covered.

I understand how the system works for the things I like to do, so I can plan for various situations.

knowledgepower3. Don’t grab onto the first shiny thing you see. (Be realistic!)

Just because you do your research and find that there ARE apartments in Lisbon for 200 euros a month, doesn’t mean you’ll want to live in one, and it doesn’t mean one will be available to you. This shouldn’t be what you bank on. Don’t stop your search about the cost of living in Lisbon because you’ve found an answer that suits your budget and feeds your over-optimism. Think about the probability of being able to find a decent apartment for 200 euros a month. Are there many listed? How do they look? If 200E is the middle of the road, chances are good you’ll be able to find something. If you see one hole-in-the-wall apartment listed for 200E, chances are that shouldn’t be what you budget for.

This also applies to the employment system. Just because you apply for a job, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. Just because you know when start dates are, doesn’t mean that’ll help you get hired. However, think about things like this: Have you done this job before? Do you have experience? Do you have relationships with anyone hiring or currently doing that job?  Are they hiring many people, or just one? Have you applied many places (good), or are you putting all your eggs in one basket (bad)?

4. Know your options. (Know your options.)

You’ve embraced uncertainty. You’ve learned all you can about things that matter in your life plan. You’ve put on your realistic glasses and assessed the situation. Now, flesh out as many possible scenarios as you can. Not in a manic, worried way. In a calm, cool, collected and objective way.

This was my thought process in late August. I had just come back from Europe travelling and working for 3 and a half months. I knew I had to attend my best friend’s wedding in New Zealand in December.

I want to go back to teaching at the college where I taught before. I want to save as much money as I can, and I want to leave for my trip across the world in November/December, hitting a few countries. I don’t want to use up my savings. 

Scenario 1: I get the teaching job, save all sorts of money, and everything goes according to plan. Leave for trip in November/December.

Scenario 2: I get a job, but not with the amount of hours I want, which means less money. I save all the money I can and still leave in November/December. I re-evaulate the length of the trip but still go.

Scenario 3: No teaching job for me. I find something else short-term, otherwise I freelance as much as I can and live off of canned beans. I pare down the travel dream, but I still go at least to New Zealand.

Luckily, I landed with scenario 1. However, I had a plan for the three different realities I may have come up against. And if I had ended up with scenario 3, that would have been OK too, because of step number #5.

decision-tree5. Prepare for your worst-case scenario. (Cushion the fall.)

I’m not saying to always expect your worst-case scenario. You wouldn’t be too happy and carefree then, would you? What I’m saying is to be prepared so that your worst-case scenario  isn’t actually a terrible scenario, just a less-than-ideal one.

For example, if I had ended up jobless and eating canned beans right now, I’ll admit that it wouldn’t have been the highlight of my life. But I still would have been able to see friends and family, be constructive by writing, and stand by my best friend at her wedding across the world.

keep calmWhy? Because I had money saved up from before, and I have parents who love to have me at home. (Right, Mom?) I wasn’t starting from zero. I know there’s always the possibility that I won’t come back to an open teaching position, or that a surprise expense will launch a sneak attack. I didn’t want to delve into my savings to live off of from September to December and to pay for the NZ trip, but I would have if I had had to, and it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

Not bad for a worst-case scenario, right?

In this How to Become a Nomad series, many of the things I recommend doing build on one another. Changing your attitude, planning, and having the right outlook are all interrelated, and the success of one of these pursuits affects the success of the others.

Keep your eyes peeled for my next post: How to Become a Nomad: Master the Routine of Change.

How I Became A Nomad


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"“Oh yeah? Well you’re a nomadic Gypsy!” is a wannabe insult my brother often hurls at me. I say “wannabe” because it’s not really an insult to me, but I know he means it to be a little more derogatory than I take it. I like changing things up, moving around, seeing new things, breaking the routine. I like being a nomad.

I don’t want to cast my dear brother in a bad light here. No, not at all. We get along (pretty) well and have a loving, teasing, bickering older sister – younger brother relationship. (If only he would listen to me more!) But with me at twentysomething and him, still at twentysomething but three years younger, and our being different people and all, we have different ideas about the paths our lives should take.

Recent sibling selfie.

Recent sibling selfie.

Having recently graduated from college, my brother moved home, bought his dream car (a bright orange, ’69 Chevelle) and took a full time job working in the family business. He’s happy. He’s good at it. He’s needed. He’s got a plan to save for a down payment on a house and wants to buy one when he’s 25 or 26. I’m proud of him.

Now, we’ll take a look at me at his age. I finished school, started this blog and fled to Italy. I came back to Canada with no idea of what I’d do, but with the notion that I needed to find a job. So I found one, in an office. The job was stressless, the pay was decent for entry-level and it had the added bonus of being right across the street from my parents’ house. Ottimo. Great.

So I did that for a year, reading blogs by travel gurus like Nomadic Matt and Chris Guillebeau  when work was slow, slowly becoming bored and feeling trapped behind my desk. Luckily, the universe was on my side. The company downsized and let me go, which I documented here. Around that time, my first magazine article was published here, and I received my first cheque for writing. I took a month off, enjoyed Christmas and then went back to school for a semester to get a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language. Then the adventure really started.

Saviour on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

Saviour on the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

I got a  job leading student groups around Europe for the summer and I did a bit of my own travelling. I came back to Canada and started teaching, both ESL and Italian. I did that for 8 grueling months (it’s not that the work was grueling, but the commuting was) and continued to write. In May, I went back for round two of students in Europe, scored a couple more writing gigs and did some more travelling. Now I’m back in Canada, teaching English for four months and preparing for my next trip.

Two Canucks and  the Kiwi hot air ballooning in Turkey.

Two Canucks and the Kiwi hot air ballooning in Turkey.

Oh yeah, didn’t I mention it? In December I’m heading across the world to New Zealand to be the maid of honour in my best friend’s wedding. She’s a bit of a Canadian adventurer too. So’s her Kiwi fiancé. (One day I’ll write their story on here and really wow you all).

I’ve currently got a one-way ticket to New Zealand, but it’s not going to stay that way. I wanted to make sure I’d get there in plenty of time for the wedding, so I booked my ticket back in the summer. Now I’m sorting out my travel details. I think I’ll hit up Australia and Hong Kong while I’m away, because, what the heck? Right? Right.

I’ll probably be gone for about 6 weeks, but it could be longer. How do I get this time off? I have a job that fortunately/unfortunately (but more fortunately, at the moment) is done by contract. Yep. 7-week teaching contracts. I’m here for two contracts, then I don’t give my availability for the next one. If I’m back before the start date of the March term, I’ll probably be able to grab some teaching hours then.

But that’ll all go up in smoke if my Italian work Visa comes through. Fingers crossed, and if the gods of bureaucracy smile upon me, I’ll be heading over to Italy in the spring for some undetermined amount of time. Until I get itchy feet again, and feel the need to go somewhere else.

People ask me all the time where I’m off to next and how I can make it all work for me. I’m still muddling through, making mistakes, but, at the moment I’m happy with this “nomadic” life I’ve created. It means I get to do interesting things, in interesting places, with interesting people.

Mud baths in Turkey! Photo credit: Lance Jackson

Having a mud bath in Turkey. Photo credit: Lance Jackson

This post is the intro to a short series I’m planning to publish here, entitled How To Become A Nomad (And Not Give Up Everything). I’m aiming to let you in on a few of the tips and tricks I use to juggle my life, pack in all this extended travel and not have to pawn all my possessions. Look for the first installments in coming weeks.

Practical Italy: 5 Things to Consider When Planning a Trip to Italy


Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"Before you know it, “travel season” will be upon us. Planning a trip to Italy? Before you book, make sure you take a look at these things to consider when planning a trip to Italy. Keep in mind that Italy doesn’t work like Canada or the US or England or really, like anywhere else, so the more thought you put into your trip, the better.

1. When are you planning on going? Your experience will differ depending on when you travel to Italy. I’d say anywhere between May – September would be considered high season. Prices of everything will be at their peak, lines will be longest, temperatures will be warmest, and beaches will be the most crowded, especially in August. For many things, it would be extremely wise to book ahead (everything from tickets to the Coliseum to hotel reservations) and pay the small booking fee that accompanies such things in Italy. Trust me, the few euros you spent booking your tickets is so worth it when you pass by all the poor schleps standing in line under the blazing Roman sun to get a glimpse at the Coliseum. With your pre-reserved tickets, you’ll breeze right by and into the Emperors’ playground senza problemi.

Looking for a calmer time? Try October or April, but be sure to avoid Easter.

Cinque Terre-10

The Cinque Terre beaches in August.

2. What are you planning on doing? Italy offers something for everyone, in my humble opinion. But I’d say it’s best (especially if you’re travelling in high season) to figure out exactly what you want to do and where you want to do it, in order to make sure you have the best Italian experience possible. I’m not saying jam-pack your trip full of things and run around with a never ending ‘To Do” list, but have an idea of what there is to see and where you can see it. Don’t go to Florence if you think you want Roman ruins, and don’t bother with the Cinque Terre if you’re looking for the Renaissance.

Then, if your top thing to do in Florence is “sample as much gelato as possible”, there’s no need for heavy planning, except for maybe mapping out a few gelaterie. But if you just have to get in to see the David, and walk the Vasari Corridor, and take a painting class, and visit Santa Croce, and catch a game of Calcio Fiorentino, you need to get your organizational skills out and do some planning.

Many things are closed on odd days of the week and can have interesting hours, reservation policies, dress codes, etc. Best to do your homework in advance, then there won’t be any surprises eating up your precious time in Florence.

The Boot

The Boot

One more piece of advice: Don’t go somewhere just because you’ve heard the name.  If you’ve heard of Pompeii but you don’t know (or care) what happened there, then don’t go! The Travel Gods will not thunder down upon you. This is your trip, and the only person you have to please is yourself. Who cares if all the guidebooks say to go there? If you don’t have any interest in a place, don’t waste your time and money on it.

Detto questo (that said), don’t forget to be open-minded too. 

3. How are you getting around? Oh, you’ll just rent a car in downtown Rome (horrible) and go for a toodle up to Tuscany (hilly) then drive over to Venice (islands), maybe through the Alps (scary roads) and swing ’round to the Cinque Terre (carless), zip down to the Amalfi Coast (horrifying roads) and land back in Rome, all in your little Fiat 500.

Will you? And it’ll go well for you?

No, it won’t.

Well, at least, probably not.

IMG_1687

Italian cities and towns are home to many a Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) or traffic limited zone. That means you, cruising around in your cinquecento, are going to be collecting a lot of traffic tickets for driving where you’re not allowed to drive. That’s one thing. And they chase you at home with those traffic tickets. (On a recent trip to France, I got two, so I should know!)

Now add the fact that most Italian cars are equipped with a manual transmission (you’ll probably pay a premium for an automatic), and are much smaller than our North American counterparts, and you’ve got a couple little speed bumps that you weren’t really counting on. I’ve seen families have to change their rental cars because all of their heaps of luggage doesn’t fit. People stall out in parking garages and roll down those rolling hills of Tuscany because they thought they could easily master driving a manual car in one go. And forget parking – it’s like an Olympic sport in Italy. You won’t get a spot close to where you need to be, and many hotels in city centres don’t have parking because of the blasted ZTL.

Loaded with luggage

Loaded with luggage

Solution? If you’re going from major city to major city, use the train. Italy is much better connected than Canada (and I assume the US) when it comes to trains, both high speed and milk run. They often come right into the centre of town (where you’ll likely be staying) and can be fairly comfortable. A car in any major city centre (and some smaller ones too) will only cause you extra headaches. I promise.

That said, there are some parts of Italy (the extreme south) that are just better visited with a car. I understand that. It will just take more planning on your part to make sure you don’t run into (m)any disasters.

La Stazione, Milano

La Stazione, Milano

4. How fast are you moving? My dear friend and I did a whirlwind 6-city-8-day trip around Italy a few years ago. Even though we were in our early twenties, hitting up beaches and taking the train, it was exhausting.

I advise you to take it easy and add in lots of leeway for things to go wrong (which they almost always do in Italy). Trains don’t run on time, reservation times are really just a suggestion, you will get lost in Siena’s labyrinthine streets and a disgruntled Venetian waiter will point you in the wrong direction when you’re lugging your suitcases around in the blazing July heat. (More about that later).

Travel guru Rick Steves always says to plan your trip as if you’re sure you’ll be back so as not to pack your schedule too tight. That way you can have the time you want to do some of the things you want (not all), but you’ll do them well and be satisfied with the experience. The last thing you want is to have a meltdown at a museum because the long line means you’re running 20 minutes behind your colour-coded schedule.

Additionally, try to minimize your one-night stops in places, and mix in easy days of staying in town with longer days of side-trips and excursions. Plan time just to walk around, nap (there’s no shame in it) or just lounge around reading a book and sipping prosecco. This is all part of the Italian experience too!

5. What’s your budget? I’m all for thrifty travel, but penny-pinching has its downsides too. High-rollin’ it all the way around The Boot might not be your best option, either. The moral of the story? Be realistic about your budget expectations. With the Internet, information about what pretty much everything costs is at your fingertips. Again, do your research so you won’t have too many surprises. You can find meals, accommodation, transportation and things to do in just about every price range, if you dig around a little.

A final word to the wise about money: If you’ve gone all the way to Italy, do the things you need to do (and therefore spend the money you need to spend) to enjoy it. It’d be mighty disappointing to want to climb the cupola of St. Peter’s in Rome but not do it because you think it costs too much.