How My Life Changed By Becoming A Slowmad
I’ve moved many times in my life. I moved to Uppsala, Sweden to study, and Amsterdam after I had finished my studies. And now, I’ve lived three months in Barcelona.
But why make the leap to travel, and what can you expect when you leave your old country behind and enter a new world? And how do you integrate with and make a genuine effort to connect with your new country?
This is my story as a slowmad, a nomad slowly traveling through the world.
Why I Became A Nomad
Really, most nomads are actually slowmads. Most stay at least 3 months in the country they visit. The lifestyle of constant travel is exhausting and most of us want to stop and breathe once in a while. While most people who travel only get the chance to experience a new place for a weekend, or maybe a week, nomads have the opportunity to actually make some deeper and more real connections. If you are looking to do more than just snap a couple photographs for your Instagram, or to dip your toes in the ocean, you might enjoy being a nomad.
One of my favorite books is the book Siddharta, by Herman Hesse. Siddharta stars a young man eager to learn about the world. Siddharta leaves his life of wealth behind in order to instead experience an ascetic lifestyle. He voluntarily tortures and starves himself, with the goal of experiencing nothingness. Until, one day, he doesn’t want to anymore. Instead, he sets out to learn the ways of the world, and what it means to feel alive.
While the buddhists search for meaning by going inwards, I wanted to experience enlightenment by instead going outwards. By meeting people, making genuine attachments, and learning to love and through connecting with nature. Because of this, I’ve always lived a community oriented life, deeply committed to helping others, to working in nonprofits, and by creating content that can help other people. But I’ve also never settled down. I’ve frequently moved, and changed, and uprooted myself.
Why? It wasn’t that I didn’t love the people there. I found those places deeply meaningful, and the people I met will forever have a place in my heart. I never forget to remember and cherish these moments, and I’m always happy for a chance to reconnect, when possible.
No, the reason why I have lived this nomadic lifestyle, is related to a deep desire and passion for learning and discovery. It’s not that I don’t love the old. It’s that I’m so curious to experience something new. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that way? That while you had people you loved and cared for, the call for the wild just could not be silenced. I’ve always found my inspiration in stories. Stories like The Alchemist, Life Of Pi, and movies like The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty all capture the beauty of what travel feels like. They capture awe-inspiring landscapes, beautiful chance meetups, the wonder of intuition and exploration, and the thrill of seeing or learning something new.
What are the struggles of being a nomad?
It’s hard to leave the old behind. While I always strive for peace and harmony and mutual understanding, it’s often happened that other people grew attached to me. I hurt people by leaving them behind and moving on. The river Styx runs behind me, and it’s a mighty river by now. The nomad is a person who leaves behind to move forward.
And most of all, the nomad is a lonely person. To leave behind means to miss what you have lost. I would never burn a bridge. I always want there to be a chance to reconnect in the future. I will always miss the people I left behind. And I’ll always be very very happy, when I have a chance to see them again. I journal and take time to reflect on these experiences, and do my best to connect with and write to my close friends. I try to stay active online, so that I can connect with people there, and love to do video calls, walks, and to plan trips together with my friends.
I trade a lonely, vagabond lifestyle, for the wonders that I encounter during my travels. Every place I visit, and every language I learn, becomes a new personality I can switch into, to have a chance to do something I never knew was possible. Just as the person who settles, often has to compromise their thirst for travel, and excitement for something new, for payments on their mortgages and long-term work commitments. There’s a choice to everything, and if it leaves you unhappy, you can always turn back and return to the old life that you preferred. But that’s the thing. Up until now, I’ve never turned back. I’ve always kept going. And do you know what’s interesting?
I’ve never felt happier.
You think that you’d miss out on something, lose something, and ofcourse, in a way, you do, and in another way, it stays with you. Up until today, I can say that my life has consistently gotten better, with every new change, and every new step, I’ve gotten further and further to what I would call the ideal life. And I’ve never lost my excitement for that new trip either. Every new place is amazing in a new way, and still, the next place, is somehow, even more amazing.
How does your life change by being a nomad?
People who travel and make an effort to learn new languages, and to integrate with new cultures, get the opportunity to learn from each new culture. Each new place can teach you a new way to communicate, a new way to say hello, and a new way to live. If you keep an open mind, and if you’re curious about people, people can teach you a lot.
By traveling, I’ve had a chance to learn new languages. I now have a solid grasp of Dutch. In the Netherlands, I learnt to budget. I learnt to be practical. I learnt to think step by step. I learnt to drive, and I learnt to code.
In Spain, I’ve learnt the basics of Spanish. I’ve learnt to be more physically active. I’ve learnt about planning and finding the best flight and booking the cheapest AirBnB. I’ve learnt new ways to network and make friends. And I’ve learnt things like Scrum, keeping a calendar, building healthy habits, and managing my time when there’s no boss hanging over my shoulder.
Your life changes a lot by being a nomad. But in other ways they don’t change that much. Most nomads still work a normal 9-5 job, cook their own meals, and stay in a normal apartment somewhere in the city. We don’t work from the beach. We usually work from our own apartments. It’s just that after 5, you get to be on “vacation”. Permanently.
I think, when you stay in one country most of your life, you can find it hard to change. Most of your friends, family members, your coworkers and your boss, all have adapted to who you are by now. They appreciate your good sides and know how to manage your bad sides. While you might want to pick up a new hobby, or learn a new skill, or learn to be more outgoing, it can be difficult, because your friends have all gotten used to you by now, and your day job saps most of your energy, and there’s just no time or space.
A new city or a new country or a new friend group, represents an opportunity in your life to be someone different, to do something different, if you’d like. But you might also be completely happy with yourself, just the way you are. And you might not want to change anything at all. Well, the good news with travel is that you don’t have to change anything you’re perfectly happy with. You can also just let travel be travel. You can enjoy the differences, but when you come home, you’re happy to return to your normal life, and after trying out something different, you know even more so, that you’re in just the right place. And from what I’ve seen, most nomads quit after a couple of years, if even that. Few keep traveling. In the story of the Alchemist, after traveling the world, the main character realizes that happiness was right at home, after all.
How long have you been a nomad, if you are one?
How has your life changed since being a nomad?
If you’re not a nomad yet, what would you like to learn or change, if you could be a nomad for the next six months?
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