One of the questions I often get as a nomad is, “How long are you going to travel like this?” First of all, that’s an impossible question, but to best answer it, I always say the same thing: “As long as it feels right to me. If and when my path needs to change, I will change it, but for now, this feels right.”
One of the greatest lessons from my solo nomadic travels has been learning to listen to myself and knowing what I need to be (and give) my best, and then giving myself permission to take appropriate action to meet those needs.
A little over a year ago, after testing out Boulder, Colorado as a potential home base, I wrote in a moment of clarity (in the famous “rice cooker post” 🙈) that I was not ready to be grounded, not yet. I wrote:
“I don’t want to “buy in” to the material world until I feel confident that it’s the right step for me. There may be a time when having a newer car is the right step. There may be a time when having an apartment or house to call my own is the right step. But it is not this time. In fact, I’m nowhere near that time.”
Well, one incredibly epic year after I wrote that post, and three and a half years after I left, that time has come.
I needed those three years on the road. I needed every lesson, every turn in the road, every challenge and obstacle, every high and low in my path that brought me full circle to where I am now. And now, I need something else.
It is December, and unlike the past three Decembers, I am at home in Montana. Meaning, I actually have a place that I rent by myself, my music is playing and my fireplace is on, the lights and tiny Christmas tree I have put up make my space extra cozy.
Outside sits my new Subaru, snow tires on, ready for adventure. I made soup from scratch last night, in my own kitchen. I have posters of Patagonia up on my walls, sheepskins straight from Argentina draped over my chairs, a blanket from Guatemala spread across my bed. All of my suitcases and backpacks are stored in a closet.
I have a dresser and more than five shirts to choose from. I dragged my neglected winter gear out of storage, along with my dishes, skis, and other things that haven’t seen the light of day in 3.5 years.
I am no longer nomadic.
It’s strange to say those words out loud, but I feel relief when I do. I have an address, friends and family I haven’t gotten to spend nearly enough time with in recent years, and even a season ski pass to beautiful Big Sky Resort. I’m committed to doing this winter thing, and I’m doing it right.
I don’t like the “r” word (roots) or the “s” word (settle), and there’s no need for those here. I know that I have permission to change my mind at any time, but for now, home in Montana is where I know I need to be. I feel it in my bones.
Transitioning from a solo life on the road with a backpack, to a grounded life in a town with a home and a car has definitely come with its own set of challenges, not to mention expenses. You guys might not believe this, but traveling the world nomadically is astronomically cheaper than living in Montana. Yikes.
Challenges of Moving Home
Expenses: Expected and Unexpected
A home. My first priority when I decided to come home to stay was finding a place to live that I could call my own. For the past three summers, I’ve spent a couple months living in three different friends’ houses, but these were temporary solutions. It was time to find my own place.
Moving into a new place means a) paying ridiculous rent prices, and b) making it my own. That means spending money on things that I need to make it my own. And no, a rice cooker was not a priority.
A car. I drive a 1994 Toyota Pickup, which I knew from past experience wasn’t going to give me confidence driving in the winter. It was time to get a newer car, for many reasons. I still have my trusty old truck, but now I’m also the proud owner of a stick shift adventure-mobile with heated seats, also known as a Subaru Outback.
Gear. All my stuff is breaking. Apparently, whether you use your gear for years or store it for years, it still breaks.
I need new gloves and a new ski jacket, mine are over a decade old, crusty and breaking. I got rid of my last pair of ski boots, so I have to get new ones. I have (ten-year-old) skis that I love, but I found out they are “rotten” inside, rendering them completely useless. I didn’t even know skis could do that.
My goggles broke, and the day after that, my yaktrax snapped (I use them to run on snow and ice). I admit that I actually shed a tear of defeat when that happened. This is hard.
I’m trying to get back into winter and skiing with positivity, and apparently the universe wants me to do so with new gear. Perhaps I’m meant to leave the Old memories behind with the broken gear, and welcome everything that comes with the New. This is the only idea that makes me feel better about all this, because it has quickly become a very expensive season for me.
Also, I’m picking up ice hockey, which has been a secret dream of mine for a LONG, LONG time. It is an ideal addition to my life right now in many ways, but of course, it doesn’t come without a price tag.
Spin: To an extent, money can buy happiness. I now have a brand new pair of Völkl Auras and Atomic Hawx Prime ski boots, I’m falling (hopefully not literally) for ice hockey, a new sport that will provide me with endless benefits, I have a space to call my own, a car literally built for adventuring with friends, and I’m proud of myself, because I created a business that allows me to afford these comforts and necessities… and changes. That’s a dream come true in itself.
Figuring Out Where I Fit In
On the road, I’m solo. It’s really easy to accept being alone when you’re solo, because, well, you ARE alone. You usually don’t have real friends around you, just that superficial conversation you’ve had a thousand times that month with the nearest person at the bar about who you are, what you’re doing there, etc. There are no buddies to make plans with, unless you make a point to meet new people. Otherwise, you just do everything alone.
At home, however, surrounded by a community of friends, that looks different. I struggled with lonely feelings when I was home this summer, because there I was, at home, surrounded by friends, yet I was still often alone.
I’m having to relearn what it means to live in a “permanent” (for all intents and purposes) community. Not everyone has a flexible schedule like me, and while I’ve been off traveling, they’ve been keeping a social calendar, and their jobs. Sometimes it means events, BBQs, adventures, etc., but sometimes it still means I’m alone, especially since I’m single (no couple invites for single people).
I can’t expect that I will be with people 24/7 simply because I know people here. I know that’s not realistic, nor do I really want that, but it IS a strange thing to go from being completely solo, to being solo while surrounded by friends.
Spin: Not spending all my time with others has naturally allowed me to take the space I need for myself, which I’ve learned to do in the last three years, and now it’s an essential part of my life balance.
Getting Outside in the Cold
As a very active and outdoorsy person, I was worried that I wouldn’t have the same opportunity or energy to get outside in winter as I do in summer. This has hardly been the challenge I expected.
I have been snow trail running, nordic skiing, hiking, or alpine skiing every. single. day. for weeks. It’s completely doable, and I’m completely loving it. On top of that, I’m getting to play ice hockey for the first time, and I might be obsessed.
The biggest challenge has been getting on the trail early enough to beat the last light, as the sun sets at 4:30pm in these parts at this time of year. Thankfully, soon the days will be getting longer again.
Spin: Hitting the trail is my afternoon me time that I look forward to so much. It’s nearly exactly the same as doing it in summer, just colder and with more clothes. Also, you can play ice hockey at night under lights. #winning
Winter is Here, For Real
Of course I was worried about my choice to “move home” at the beginning of the very season I usually dread and make every effort to escape. Montana winters are harsh, long, cold, dark, and can be very detrimental to one’s spirit if not embraced properly.
In all my previous years living in Montana, I never properly embraced winter, and I suffered greatly each time it came around. I have spent the last three winters somewhere south of the border in the sunshine, because I could, and I wanted to, and I needed to.
However, I have developed an entirely new set of strengths since I left here in 2015.
The other day I was out early in the morning scraping the ice off my car to go skiing, which in itself is crazy if you knew me before. It was a balmy 6° F, and I didn’t even think it was bad. Then a runner ran by, and all I could think was, “I LOVE THIS PLACE. THESE ARE MY PEOPLE.”
Yes, in past writings I have claimed that winter in Montana is like being North of the Wall for most of the year, but you know what? That’s not scary when you discover your inner Wildling. In fact, it feels strangely and simply like home. Now, if I could just locate my Jon Snow…
Q: “I thought you didn’t want to live in Montana..?”
A: Montana is my happy place. Montana summers are what I have made every effort to go home for year after year, even while nomadic. Regarding the rest of the year, reread last section above.
Q: “But, how are you going to make money if you’re not traveling?”
A: This is the funniest question I get these days. I’ve been an online entrepreneur for nearly 6 years, only half of which I’ve been nomadic. I started traveling in 2003, I started the The Budget-Minded Traveler in 2013, I launched my podcast in 2014, I launched Traveling Jackie in 2015, and that was the same time that I went nomadic. My business was set up to generate income since day one, and by the time I left in 2015, I was fully supporting myself with that income. Three years later, that income has grown because I continue to work on it. My income certainly does not directly depend on my constant travels, that’s not sustainable.
Q: “Why the sudden change?”
A: It may seem sudden, but I think it was a long time coming. Long story short, I crashed this summer after the most epic travel year of my life. Not only could I not wrap my head around being on the road for so long again and living out of a backpack, but I also want to explore practicing balance, which means I need something to ground me. A Montana adventure home base surrounded by friends is the perfect fit right now.
Q: “Are you still blogging/podcasting?”
A: Yes. Of course. This is what I do, it’s my “job,” it’s the bread and butter of my business that I’ve been running for nearly 6 years, regardless of how much I’ve traveled during that time.
Q: “When is your next trip?”
Q: “How long are you going to stay in Montana?”
A: Well… As long as it feels right to me. If and when my path needs to change, I will change it, but for now, this feels right…
In the end, my coming home shouldn’t change much in my readers’ eyes or listeners’ ears. What it changes is my capacity to balance work, travel, and my personal life in a healthy way, which, in my eyes, is win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win.
I’m grateful to be in this place with my people, refreshed to have a new objective, and optimistic for what’s ahead.
“(Wo)Man travels the world over in search of what (s)he needs, and returns home to find it.”– George Moore (Thanks to one of my listeners for sharing this quote with me.)