As the speed of my life comes to a screeching halt in the United States, I find myself desperately searching for something of my nomadic lifestyle to hold onto -- some way to apply what I've learned without traveling.
I wrote these nine nomadic principles as a way to remind myself how to stay nomadic even when I'm not moving around -- a way to keep that freedom alive inside regardless of how limited I might be location-wise.
You don't need to be a nomad to apply these lessons and they're just as relevant for a non-traveler as they are for someone who spends their life roaming the planet.
1. Embrace change
Change is the only constant in the universe. If your life is full of routines, it can be extremely easy to forget how natural it is for things to change unexpectedly. Change is normal. Resisting this universal constant guarantees you will encounter stress when things don't go according to plan.
In the life of a nomad, change becomes the routine -- change is simply an indication that adjustment or adaptation is necessary. Remaining flexible and adaptable are keys to survival for a nomad.
There is nothing wrong with making plans, but always remember that you cannot outsmart the universe. If the universe says change is inevitable, don't become distressed or upset when things don't go according to plan. Instead, embrace change and learn to adapt to every new situation.
2. Live in the moment
When you're a nomad constantly moving from one place to the next, you don't have the luxury of putting the present moment off until later. Today might be the last time you'll find yourself with the opportunities that lay before you, so staying present and living in the moment becomes a necessity.
Whatever you're doing, allow yourself to become fully present in that moment. Soak in your surroundings and allow the smells, sounds, colors, and textures to fully engulf your senses. When unrelated thoughts arrive, let them arrive but give them a lower priority.
You can be fully present while still taking care of what needs to be done, both now and in the future. Your goal shouldn't be to ignore everything except what's happening right now, but rather to prioritize things in such a way that you can maintain a fully present awareness while still managing the rest of life.
3. Keep your options open
Nomads like to stay flexible and ready to change whenever the need or desire arises. Keeping your options open doesn't mean avoiding commitment, but the options you choose to keep open should enhance your ability to reach your goals.
If your one year goal is location independence, for example, renting an apartment instead of buying a condo would make more sense. If financial independence is your goal, buying a used car that you can afford would make more sense than taking out a loan and extending your debt.
Try not to close yourself into a corner or lock yourself out of opportunities. Whenever you have a choice to make, look ahead and ask yourself what decision would offer the least restriction and provide the greatest room for unforeseen changes.
4. Make use of familiarity
As a nomad, familiarity is mostly an unfamiliar concept. The only thing that becomes familiar is experiencing the unfamiliar. The constant stress of adjusting to new situations quickly reminds us how valuable even a little familiarity can be.
Use familiarity as an opportunity to refine your approach to life and practice open-mindedness. How can you best prepare yourself to react to the next unexpected situation? How can you be even more grateful for this moment?
Be careful not to let familiarity make you too laid-back or complacent. Instead, use the freedom it provides to work on things that will continue advancing you towards your goals. Speaking of goals, make sure you always have a few goals that require you to step out of the comfort of familiarity to continuously challenge yourself.
5. Respect your health
There are few things more important to a nomad than his or her health. Without good health, life stops. Freedom disappears and life becomes magnitudes more difficult.
Your health determines your freedom. The healthier you are, the more opportunities become available. Good health is also an insurance policy against unforeseen circumstances. You never know when you'll be left alone to fend for yourself or when a situation will require you to put aside your own problems and help a loved one.
Your health is one of the very few responsibilities that is entirely your own. You not only have a responsibility to yourself, but also have a responsibility to all those around you who will have to bare the burden when you allow your health to deteriorate. Your health is your wealth and without it you will always be poorer than you need to be.
6. Cultivate frugality
Nomads don't have the luxury of running to the store and buying a replacement every time something breaks. Instead, when something breaks, the item transitions from having one purpose to having a different purpose. Items that can serve multiple purposes are also valued higher than single-function items. Durability and taking the time to care for things to ensure they last a long time, are valued higher than anything else.
The next time you're about to toss something, ask yourself if it could be used for something else. Think outside the box. Could it be given to someone who needs it? You shouldn't become a pack rat and hoard junk, but don't toss something just because it has a superficial defect.
Conversely, when you're about to buy something, really ask yourself how much value it will add to your life. Is there something else you already own that will achieve the exact same result? Can you borrow an item from a friend or even offer to buy it from them?
7. Trust in nomadic serendipity
Traveling alone in a foreign country can oftentimes feel like traveling on an alien planet where the language and writing are incomprehensible. This forces you to rely on the kindness and generosity of the human soul and you quickly learn to trust in nomadic serendipity. You learn to accept that it's OK for people to lend you a hand when you're lost or need help.
But use common sense and never let down your guard. One evening I was walking back to my hotel in Vietnam when two young girls on a motorcycle pulled up next to me. As they waved me over, my first thought was that they must need help. It turned out they were hookers and, as I walked away, they got aggressive and grabbed my arm.
Always remain vigilant, but be open to the possibility of a total stranger offering a helping hand. When you know that you need help, or when you don't think you can handle a situation on your own, remember that most people are genuinely good. Also remember to always be ready to provide a helping hand when someone else needs it.
Spread kindness and generosity and the universe will reciprocate. Be receptive to kindness and generosity and the universe will allow good energies to flow in your direction.
8. Learn to remain detached
Nomads recognize the impermanence of everything around them. They're forced to accept, on a daily basis, that everything which currently exists will one day change. Possessions wear down and break, landscapes transform and change, people grow and move away.
Becoming attached to anything -- cultures, possessions, outcomes, people, or even your own body -- will only lead to unnecessary pain and unhappiness. When something you're attached to changes in an unexpected way, you'll become distraught and upset that things didn't go as planned. If you're not attached, you will never be disappointed -- every change that occurs will simply add color to the canvas of life.
Avoiding attachment doesn't mean being insensitive or not making commitments. It simply means preventing yourself from becoming shackled to an outcome. It means embracing the unknown and recognizing that even your existence is temporary.
A life free from attachment is a life with more room for love and happiness.
9. Develop a deep appreciation for family
Some nomads are lucky to travel with their families, but for those of us who travel solo, every day becomes a reminder for the importance of family; every day becomes a reminder for how big the world is and how few people on this planet we can say genuinely care for our well-being.
Even if you see your family every day, always remember how lucky you are to have each other. Greet them lovingly. Be polite. Speak with love. Argue with love. Be kind.
Remember that of all the billions of people that exist, they're the ones who are most likely to be there when you really need help. That dedication deserves immense respect. Having family to love and care for is a privilege and they should be treated as such.
Travel teaches us so much and yet those lessons are often left behind when we return to our normal lives. It happens so easily because the context is so different.
Think back to the last time you traveled: What lessons or observations might you be able to adapt to your current life? Add your thoughts to the comments below and help me expand this list.
Great list of life lessons! I really love #7 Trust in Nomadic serendipity. So often people become stuck in despair, and it cripples their ability to grow. There’s certainly an art to balancing an openness to accepting help and an alertness for danger. Always be alert, but always trust in serendipity. I try to apply this sense of trust in serendipity in my everyday life. Thanks for sharing, Raam! Hope your transition home is smooth.
Thank you, Lynn! 🙂 Remembering that we are surrounded by people who can, and probably will, help us when we get in over our head certainly makes taking bigger steps less scary!
I’m w/you re: #7…this one made my heart double pulse.
We plan to return to our hometown for the holidays, and #4 just transfigured my negativity: familiarity is not something that is going to re-attach me like a barnacle, but it’s something I can exploit for health, sharing, and peace.
It’s the life we’ve escaped, but familiarity (and the root, family) are the imperatives.
Mark, I’m so happy you found some of this article transformative. 🙂 I use the return to familiarity as an exercise to learn more about myself and reinforce the reasons I removed myself from that familiarity in the first place. But like you said, more than anything, familiarity gives us a chance to shut off, to take a break and introspect where we’d normally be learning and digesting.
This is gold. Pure gold. I wish I could write more than that, but if I did, I’d comment on every one of your points.
Ah – but I can’t resist talking about serendipity. This is also known as “trusting the process” in my parlance. I love this. As I look back on all my successes, they’ve been the result of serendipity – the combination of right place, right time, and right action. All we can do is make the right action and hope it’s the right place and time for them.
I’m a big fan of making your own luck. If you’re pushing your limits, making mistakes, and actually trying – then the karmic universe (whatever it is) tends to favor us.
Again – excellent, excellent post!
I couldn’t agree more, Brett! We absolutely need to trust the process and accept that if we go into things with good intentions, even if those good intentions simply mean that we want to improve ourselves, that karma will have a way of helping us out when we need it.
I have taken so many “leaps of faith”, including my spontaneous visit to the schools in Nepal, that turned out to be some of the biggest and most important steps on my entire journey! 🙂
Thank you for the comment, Brett!
These are profound lessons ~ especially the thread of impermanence and the preciousness of this present moment that runs throughout. What you have learned and are sharing with us is stunning to say the least. I am so grateful to you.
“maintain a fully present awareness” – this is the aspiration in my life and, I believe, the key to spiritual transformation and lasting happiness.
I only disagree on one point, my friend! I agree that it’s important to take care of your health and that good health does give you more physical freedom.
But good health does not determine your freedom. Freedom depends only on the state of your mind. As much as we might care for our body, ill health may suddenly occur due to causes and conditions. Illness can also be a profound teacher and our means of finding true freedom.
Disagreements are good, Sandra! 🙂
I think you might have misunderstood what I meant by freedom: I wasn’t talking about all freedom. I totally agree that one can be “free” even if an illness or other handicap prevents us from moving around (after all, “we” are a lot more than our physical body). However, neglecting our physical or mental health when we have an option not to neglect it definitely leads to reduced freedom, physically and mentally.
Now that I re-read what I wrote, I think I could’ve stated it better. 🙂 Health doesn’t really determine freedom, but rather it’s a conduit for enabling or removing certain freedoms.
Good stuff! I love #2. For me, living in the moment is a hard one to master, but when I catch glimpses of it, it’s oh so sweet. 🙂
I think patience is another good one that travel can teach us. I wrote a little post along the same lines and it includes a few other benefits of travel. http://www.ordinarytraveler.com/tipsarticles/5-things-travel-can-teach-you
Thank you for sharing the link, Christy! That’s an awesome companion post!
You’re absolutely right about traveling teaching us patience. I think that longer-term travel is needed to really teach us patience though… I know plenty of people who have gone on lots of shorter trips (under three weeks) and they’re just as frustrated and impatient every time! When we’re traveling for months at a time, I think we’re forced to change those habits and recognize that learning patience makes our life so much more enjoyable! 🙂
Ha! You are right about that one! I should have specified long-term travel and not just taking a vacation.
Wow, the world would be such a better place if everyone had those principals!
Great list & great post! I am going to be using this when I go on my RTW trip!!!
Thanks Jaime! 🙂 Good luck on your final preparations for your RTW trip!
Too cool Raam… I’ve been thinking about how to prepare myself for a life less tethered recently and these tips link my desire for outer freedom with universal principles that make life more free inside and out.
I think there is so much that travel in general can teach us about how to live a better life. In the past 96 hours that I’ve been back in the United States, I’ve made so many observations and learned so many new ways of looking at life — things that I never noticed before my six month trip.
Even trivial things now seem absurdly silly, like the “Horse Crossing” sign on the road near my parents house… in India or Nepal it would be comical to see such a sign because of course there will be horses, cows, bulls, sheep, and many other possible animals crossing the road! 😛
crossing…and sleeping and eating and just generally living on the roads, paths etc. 😀
It was a wonderful idea to bring principles from travel together with the everyday…you did it beautifully.
I’ll never forget watching two huge cows sitting down in the middle of the highway chewing on grass and then watching cars, going 50-60mph, simply tap their brakes and swerve around them. Or the giant bull, with huge horns, strolling up the highway towards oncoming traffic as if he owned the road. 🙂
He DID own the Rd!! lol. What about those narrow little walkways in some Indian towns (like I remember them shopping in Varanasi) and when a cow comes along you really have to be quick to move over, you can’t muck around. They have the rights because they are bigger and you’re going to get hurt otherwise.
I like the fact that life there is a bit more mixed in some countries. Animals aren’t kept out of sight as they are here to such a degree. On the other hand, I fear for their safety at times and I wish that they would be better cared for.
I experienced that narrow walkway situation, ON A MOUNTAIN in the Himalayas! 😀 The path was barely wide enough for one person and I had to climb up to higher ground to let a big horse walk by me without pushing me over the edge!
Great list and it’s useful to have these concepts to ground yourself after returning home to keep the best of your life on the road at home.
I would add keep your traveler’s eyes and curiosity on when you are at home. The observational skills and ability to question everything that travelers develop are great. Keep that up at home and you may discover quite a lot about your home that you didn’t realize and you may find connections with multi-ethnic communities that will help bring the world closer to you.
On our recent trip home, we loved discovering Asian and Latin American grocers and getting into conversations with them about where they were from and how things were going with their families. It helped us feel connected to the places we had been and it was nice for the people to talk with someone who understood a bit of where they had come from.
@ Audrey, Brilliant thought to add “keep your traveler’s eyes and curiosity on when you are at home”. I have moments in life where I feel more curious about things around me and I notice I always get more from life during those times.
Great point, Audrey! I find myself so much more aware of the foreign cultures around me. I think one of the best things we can do is become more connected with our surroundings at home by connecting with those people who we now actually have something in common with! 🙂
Raam, I was grateful for what you said about the importance of family, especially when you said,”how few people on this planet we can say genuinely care for our well-being”. Your understanding of family is pretty profound. Our families (both biological and spiritual) are so vital. Sadly, many in this world don’t have that same understanding. Thanks for sharing that.
Thank you, John! It’s so easy to take things for granted when they’re present every day, but I think taking family for granted is one of, if not the biggest mistake we can make. At the same time, it’s probably the easiest mistake to make since most of us spend so much of our lives in the presence of our families (at least cumulatively).
Terrific lessons for life. I’ve been feeling a little guilty about not traveling as much these days, but you’ve made me see that the way I experience life, live in the moment, embrace change, value family, respect my health — all of it makes me a nomad on this planet too. Thank you for that. Guilty me begone, hello nomadic me!
Hello Nomadic Katie! 🙂 I’m so happy to hear this helped you get out of that funk! The people we become after traveling doesn’t need to leave us once travel stops! That doesn’t mean we should stop traveling, but at least when we’re temporarily stuck we can still act like we’re perpetual travelers!
I learned that kindness can show up at just the right moment.
Like when I was travelling from Israel to Italy on the deck of a cargo/ferry boat and someone saw me buying only a plate of peas to eat and they paid for me to have a full meal. (I was close to zero in cash.) I always remember their kindness.
My lesson is to always help out when I can. I practise this often when I am helping people push broken down cars on the street or giving out food when someone knocks on our car window in traffic.
Totally agree, David. When we generate good karma, it always finds its way back to us, even if it’s from a different person or comes back many years later! 🙂
A really, really good post, Raam. I think your creativity juices are flowing again even with you back in the US! The most important one is respecting our health – and as you said and I said the same thing in my health podcast – without it, we lose everything. Life stops. And we have to face a new problem altogether…..thank you for this wonderful post, Raam!
Thank you so much, Farnoosh! 🙂
Health is indeed so important. And I think the most profound realization is that our health is nobody’s responsibility except our own. That’s one of the things I think about a lot when I’m working out: Of all the different things I could do in life, working on my health, on my body, is one of the few things that is really entirely my own job.
This body is the one thing we’ll have with us until the end, no matter where we go or what we do; it’s our one and only vehicle on this journey!
After reading your blog, first thing I did was cleaning out my closet ! Lol step 8 remaining detached. Im slowly trying to do that. Its So hard especially when growing up I have the American dream of a house and white picket fence. How can I not want to own and to view material things differently?
Hi Sarath, great question!
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a desire for a house and a white picket fence! Everyone has different goals in life and if that’s your dream, then by all means you should follow it. But that doesn’t mean you should be attached to the dream. It’s the attachment itself that causes pain. For example, if you were really attached to the dream, then getting the house but discovering it doesn’t even have a fence might upset you (that’s taking an extreme example, but you should get the idea).
Another thing you could do is ask yourself if it’s really the house with a white picket fence that you desire, or if it’s just the perceived comfort/status/accomplishment that would come with getting it. Maybe it’s not really the material possession that you want, but something else that comes with it. Could you get that other thing some other way, without all the trouble that comes with a big house?
In my experience, it’s very rarely the physical object that we want but rather something that comes with getting it. Think about the child who screams and cries for a toy at the toy store, but after getting the toy only uses it for a few minutes and then gets bored. He didn’t really want the toy. What he really wanted was the feeling of getting something that he thought he couldn’t have. Once he got it and that feeling was gone, the actual object didn’t matter.
That’s exactly what happens with material possessions when we become adults. We see things we want and we only buy them to fulfill that feeling of desire. The usefulness of the actual object means very little. I experienced this when I was younger and I bought a brand new Honda Accord. I spent all kinds of money paying for the car payment, adding modifications, cleaning it, etc. But in the end, did it get me from point A to point B any better than a cheap pickup truck with no car payment and nothing to clean?
When I let go of the attachment to the status of having a nice car and competing with my friends, the practical solution emerged and I was freed of all kinds of stress (worrying about my car getting scratched or stolen, worrying about the enormous car and insurance payments, etc.). Was I missing the feelings I had when I owned the Honda Accord? Absolutely not! In fact, I felt proud that I no longer had to worry about things like scratching my truck or making a car payment.
So, it’s really not about wanting or not wanting to own stuff. It’s about not wanting to complicate life any more than it needs to be. If I was a lawyer and I needed to put on a specific appearance to my clients, maybe owning a nicer car would make more sense than owning a pickup truck. In that situation, my priorities would be different. If you decide that your priorities and goals are worth more than and inconvenience that might come with them, then by all means go for it! 🙂
Thanks Raam for explaining!
Raam, thank-you for the wonderful post. The manner in which you present the principles is balanced very well. I find #2 to be the most challenging. My focus seems to drift toward some promise of the future, somewhat akin to the “grass-is-greener” syndrome, rather than engaging in the present. I catch myself thinking that if do something better, differently, or more productively, then things will be better in the future, but those futures just end up being like the many “todays” that are filled with yearning and anxiety. I’ll try to relax and make today a good day with the expectation that tomorrow will also be a good day.
I think #2 is one of the most challenging ones! Time itself would have us believe that there’s always more time, but the reality is that the next moment may not exist for us.
I’m someone who has a million great ideas, but has a lot of trouble actually starting any of them. And the ones that I do start, I have trouble finishing! It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that there will always be plenty of time to finish things later. I’ve found that it helps for me to ignore the future and pretend that, at least for me, the future may not exist (which is true; I could die tomorrow). If there’s something I really want to see finished, I need to focus on finishing it today. Then if and when tomorrow comes, it just becomes a bonus day and an opportunity to achieve more! 🙂
Thank you for the comment, Greg!
I really like #3, Keep your options open. I think it’s so easy to make a big decision about something, like buying a house, and not really think about what that decision could mean for you in one year or five years down the road. I know a lot of people right now that are stuck in their houses because they can’t sell them and it’s effecting many other aspects of their life.
Absolutely, Larry! I’ve made lots of decisions that in retrospect limited my options and made it very difficult to make changes.
I think the more certain we are of where we’re going, the less we need to worry about long term restrictions. The less certain of where we’re going, the more freedom will assist us in discovering what we’re searching for! 🙂
What a fantastic post! I think about how to do this all the time.
I’ve lived abroad a couple times, but now just travel in the summer, which means I’m out there some of the time and here–where I live–most of the time. I totally believe in living in the moment–while on the road and at home–and do it as much as I can. I also love the idea of “nomadic serendipity.” Amazing how things happen–the way things fall into place and flow, etc.
Anyway, I think it’s important to be able to do this when you return home, too, and not just on the road. And so, I thank you for sharing your tips here. Very relevant to so many of us travelers/nomads!
Thank you, Lisa!
What I find so fascinating (and a bit scary!) is how easy it is to lose the moment when we’re in a totally familiar environment. I never noticed how much I was losing focus of the moment until I returned to the familiar United States and eased back into comfortable familiarity. Now that everything is familiar to me, I feel it’s so difficult to regain that sense of constant awareness — something that seemed to come almost automatically when I was overseas experiencing new things every day.
I am totally with you on this. I do so much better when I’m away. In fact, sometimes I need to go away just to get back to the moment. When I’m home, it is so familiar and so easy to slip back into certain ways of thinking/being. When on the road, I have to be–and naturally am–in the moment. I think that’s what makes travel so wonderful, you know?
Having said this, the real challenge is at home. I try to do things differently, take interesting day trips, etc. to remain in the moment, but it doesn’t always work so well. The one thing that does, however, is nature–hiking, biking and just sort of being. I think it’s just easier there somehow…
Before my six month trip, spending a weekend in the mountains camping and hiking was the only thing that made me feel reconnected to everything around me. There’s just something about being so close to nature and earth for an extended period of time that forces you to remember where you’re living — on a beautiful planet teeming with life, not the carpeted, heated, sterile box that so many of us call home.
Speaking of camping and hiking, I think I need to plan a weekend trip! 🙂
Wow…you totally get it–“it” being the same thing that I get. I wonder if this is some sort of “getting it namaste.”
Nature, for sure, is the place to reconnect. If/when you go on that weekend trip, enjoy!
Raam, wonderfully written post…I couldn’t agree more with the nomadic principles you have chosen. I carry these personal guideposts every day of my life. It is not always easy, but it is always simple : )
Thank you, Elana! 🙂
I love the first principle, embrace change, and the stay detached principle. This is especially true in the sphere of relationships. Our nature is to assume that longevity somehow signifies depth or intensity, but it’s not so. Being on the road has really helped me to internalize the impermanence truth. Awesome post and glad I found your blog 🙂
I couldn’t agree more, Jasmine! 🙂 One of the hard lessons I’ve learned is that a relationship that isn’t working won’t magically get better if you just “ride it out”. It’s in everybody’s best interest if the problems are identified and acted upon immediately. Ignoring them solves nothing!
Of all the things you mention, the one that I find most difficult is to stay detached. It was one of the messages Buddha tried to preach but alas for us mere mortals, its remains an eternal challenge. I also find that the definition of detachment is quite fluid.
I agree, detachment is extremely challenging. Even more than detachment from worldly objects, we need to remain detached from our body, our ego, and our thoughts and feelings. They are ours, yes, but we don’t need to be attached to them. The real us is separate from all of those things, so by striving for detachment, we can get closer to that.
I don’t think it’s an unattainable quest. I don’t think it has anything to do with us being mortals (the human version of Buddha was a mortal too; many people see Buddha as not a person or a god but something much deeper… similar to a philosophy or state of mind).
“nomad” truly defines my character. i can survive anything in my life except freedom. freedom is everything for me.
people say that I’m very irresponsible person, may be i’am but if out of 100 people 99 are about to take responsibility i would allow them take first, but if there is no one left to take that responsibility then i would definitely step in to take that responsibility, there is no second thought about it.
I think freedom is a quality that all human beings seek, but perhaps the greatest source of our confinement — our own mind — gets missed in the hustle to free ourselves physically. 🙂
I guess being a nomad is a state of mind. We are our own destinations in a revolving, evolving universe.
Being a nomad is definitely a state of mind, both for the obvious survival aspects (if you’re not mindful that you’re a nomad, you may do things that affect your survival) and for the philosophical sense that nothing remains the same from moment to moment: we’re all awash in the great sea of time, evolving from moment to moment as we move through life.
Has anyone heard of the altermodernist movement? It talks about cultural nomadism.
I haven’t heard of that, Mamadou… sounds interesting! I will have to do some research on it. Thanks!
you don’t need to do a resarch about that i’am a nomadic person if you want some info you are welcome
I’d love to hear any advice you can offer. 🙂