For six years, I haven’t lived in a single building for more than six months, and I have moved through many countries. Because of these explorations, I have lost count of the amount of times I have heard people say, ‘you must be rich,’ ‘how do you afford it?’ and ‘you are so lucky.’ However, I find these responses to be very misinformed. I returned to the UK last month and am trying to make a base from which I can continue my current lifestyle, but have found doing this to be far more difficult than living life on the road.
I have found myself buying things I don’t really need, sometimes to break up the monotonous routine of my current life, and in order to do many things that I want to do, I need lots of paperwork that I don’t have. For example, I haven’t seen my partner of the past four years for over a month as she is now in the US whilst I am in the UK due to us having different passports. For her to join me here, it will take many thousands of pounds, hundreds of pieces of paper, and a lot of finger crossing that the immigration officer who assesses our case will assess it in a reasonable way – by reasonable, I mean looking at the life we have lived and understanding that we don’t have two years of housing contracts showing cohabitation, but that we have been together for much longer than that. We have been told that the chance of them being ‘reasonable’ are not all that likely.
‘You must be rich’ / ‘How Do You Afford It?’
Life on the road is very cheap. I have my backpack, a few clothes that I wear almost everyday, and something to sleep in. I don’t buy anything I don’t need because I can’t carry it (or afford it), and I often hitchhike to get from A to B – I have even tried cycling and walking long distances. For many months at a time when I have moved constantly, I have slept on couches, free camped, and even volunteered in exchange for a bed. I rarely keep accounts, but when travelling from Istanbul to the UK (via multiple days in Italy), Leah and I spent only €2.36 per person, per day, over the course of nine days. I can’t live on that much money in the UK. Buying a sandwich for lunch costs more than that, not to mention fuel, rent, entertainment, and groceries, to name but a few expenses. When on the road, I learn to live with very little finance, and enjoy it by taking pleasure in my surroundings, but when working, I find myself unable to do this so easily.
During many of my travels I have survived financially through a combination of writing articles, writing books, and blogging. Often I make very little money by UK standards – probably around 20% of the minimum wage in the UK – but I spend so little that I am able to cover my expenses. As such, I cannot claim to be rich, and fully advocate that anybody can overcome financial restrictions to travel the world if they are willing to push themselves and rough it up a bit [the only exception to this is when expensive visas are required which are dependent upon the passport you hold].
In addition to living cheaply and the small writing projects I undertake, I also do stints of work when I need / have the opportunity to. These have largely concerned being a ski rep in France, teaching English in various countries around the world, working in kitchens in Australia, and working in construction in the UK. Four fields entirely unrelated to my schooling discipline of mathematics.
‘You Are So Lucky’
I disagree with this because I believe that anybody who wants to live this lifestyle can also do so.* For all the wonderful experiences I have had, I chose to compromise not having a place to keep things, not having long term friends that I can see regularly, not having a place of my own to rest, not having a place to invite friends and family, and, well, many other things. I made the choice to compromise many things in exchange for something else that was more important to me at the time. Many people choose not to give up so much and that is a very understandable choice to make. After six years, I am trying to find a balance of having a base and going on journeys. Will it be possible? I don’t know yet.
If you are flirting with this idea of taking up a lifestyle where you travel the world, you might want to read The Avant-Garde Life. It’s been downloaded tens of thousands of times and a few people have found it useful, particularly when trying to deal with fears, finances, or other complications that are ‘holding them back’ from what they want to do.
*Certain passports make this lifestyle much more difficult, but not impossible.
Transiency (or Lack Of)
I suppose that one of the hardest things I have found is getting the correct balance of pleasure / routine in a static life. In the past, everything has been temporary and when I have not been happy with a situation (whether it be after one day or one month), I have always been able to leave it and do something new. Living in one place, I find myself lacking motivation to keep doing things that I enjoy. Any thoughts on improving this would be interesting to read, but Alastair Humphreys’ Microadventures are a big motivation.
Is This Reverse Culture Shock?
Maybe after so many years on the road this is nothing more than reverse culture shock. I miss the new experiences, the new people, the new everything that I have been experiencing for so long, and I am finding it hard to adjust to life in a place that I once knew many years ago. Many friends in similar situations have told me they felt the same when trying to readjust back to old lives. Many of them ended up returning to their transient lives because of these difficulties. I suppose that it is the opposite of someone who always lived in one place, struggling to readjust to a transient life – hence why it is referred to as reverse culture shock. Thus this may be nothing more than reverse culture shock, but it is something that I hope will soon balance itself out.
Financially and mentally, I am finding the transition more difficult than I had imagined, so for me, life travelling the world truly is much easier than living in one place. There is a battered old van that I could acquire, and a big part of me is tempted to clean it out, put a bed in it, and hit the road once more…
The featured image from this post is of Freycinet, a beautiful peninsular on the island of Tasmania, and reminds me of a happy weekend overseas.