On Saturday, August 18, I arrived at my friends’ townhouse. I was taking a quick load of boxes, suitcases, and assorted I-need-this-with-me stuff to their place before going back to my apartment and finishing the move-out.
Matthew let me in. I dropped some stuff in their living room, headed back out to my car, and unloaded the rest, with his help, into their living room. Once my car was empty, I walked back inside, lay prone in the middle of their living room floor, and groaned.
“Are you okay?” Matthew stood near the couch, where Erin was waking up from her nap.
“I have so much stuff,” I complained. “It’s never ending. I’m so sorry I have so much. There’s just… too much.” Throwing my arms over my face, I groaned again.
They both chuckled. “You’re fine.”
I didn’t feel fine. I felt overloaded. Each box had to be packed and labeled as well as it could be so that if I needed something during my nomadism, I could easily find it in my storage unit. The storage unit was filling up quickly. And how on earth did I have so much stuff that needed to go with me on this adventure?
I’m a traveler. I pack light. I pride myself on packing light. I don’t need a lot of extra anything. But my car was full to the ceiling. My first day into my digital nomadism foray was feeling heavy with failure… and literal heft.
My digital nomad lifestyle is possible thanks to a remote full-time job — my company literally has no office. I’ve never met my coworkers in person.
It’s also possible thanks to my incredible network of friends and family who have offered me spare bedrooms and air mattresses.
Because of these two factors, I’m going to save roughly $1,000 a month in rent. That money will now be hurled at my most pressing debt: three credit cards and my car. My student loan payments are low enough that I don’t mind them, and the tax break from paying them off helps every April.
(But don’t think for a second that every time that student loan interest rate increases by 0.25% I don’t lift two of my ten fingers in the air and yell at Navient’s website.)
As of April 2018, average credit card debt in the United States is $9,333 per household. Among households with the lowest net worth (of zero or negative, of which I’m a member, but hey! at least my self-worth is high!), the average credit card debt amount is $10,308. And then, of course, the Northeast and the West Coast, where the cost of living is just about as high as it’s going to be, have the highest average credit card debt.
So basically I’m not an anomaly. And I don’t regret most of what I’ve put on my cards, even if Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman would have a heart attack at my financial priorities. For example, my massive trip three years ago to D.C., Dubai, Nepal, and Texas was one of the biggest chunks I’ve ever thrown on my credit card: between my flight ($2,200), the tour through eastern Nepal ($1,200), and other expenses, it was probably about $4,000 when everything was said and done. An expensive, three-week, ’round-the-world adventure.
Do I regret putting that big of a charge on my credit card when I already had a balance? Absolutely not. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Am I ready to pay these things off? Absolutely uh huh.
I’m an incredibly fortunate woman to be able to do this. While I’m not so “fortunate” as to have my mommy and daddy pay for everything, I certainly understand that I’m doing something few people really can. Work-wise, as long as I have internet from 9am to 5pm central time Monday through Friday, I can work from anywhere.
I don’t have to resort to living with my parents long-term — as much as I love them, I can’t move back to small-city Texas again. A lot of millennials have to, though: as of 2016, 15% of 25- to 35-year-old millennials were living in their parents’ home. I know plenty of people, including good friends, who have lived with their parents for six months or longer in order to pay for a house or continued education or while they’re looking for a higher paying jobs.
I had to do something similar when I first moved back to the States and lived in Dallas. My job wasn’t paying me a living wage for the first year, so I couldn’t afford rent. Thank goodness for best friends.
I don’t have to worry about that now. Technically, I could get a cheap apartment outside of SoCal and be a “normal” adult. Pay rent, save money, pay down debt, live the generic American lifestyle.
Instead, I’m going to bounce from SoCal to Texas to everywhere, living close to rent-free and tackling debt while getting some travel in. And while the amount of stuff I currently have is a little anxiety-inducing, I’m not worried about the next year. I’m excited.
My big “why” for doing this is obviously to pay down debt.
But another, far more privileged reason also exists: I want to travel.
Every once in a while someone tells me I’m brave for traveling, or moving somewhere, or, most recently, trying this whole nomadism thing out. It always bothered me to hear that, and it took me a long time to pinpoint why. But if I’m being soul-crushingly honest, I’m not brave at all. I live my life with a specific fear. A very I-acknowledge-and-understand-my-privilege fear: I don’t have enough time on this planet to do everything I want to do.
If my debt continues to go up, that will only further inhibit my ability to do as much as I can. If I take a higher-paying job to pay down that debt, it will likely inhibit my ability to travel. If I move somewhere I can afford, like where I grew up, I’ll be miserable — and I still won’t be able to do as much.
My fear is having my wings clipped. I want to live the fullest life I can, travel as much as I can, and experiencing all the milestones and major chapters that are important to me.
This lifestyle is the fastest way I can think of to pay down (and off) my debts, and I get to do that while still being able to travel. Then, once my debt is down to a manageable amount (or gone), I can save and travel more freely.
And maybe, just maybe, in my travels over the next indeterminate amount of time, I’ll find a place that feels like home. I’ll be comfortable putting down roots. I’ll decide to create a home base and just travel when I take my vacations twice a year.
(Side note: Americans, take your vacations. Even staycations. There’s a big reason a lot of us are depressed.)
“How is it?”
I’ve officially been home-base-less for six days. So far, it’s easy enough. I need to condense my things into fewer suitcases, but that will happen over time. My eating habits have been similar to a college freshman’s, but I’ve got a good support system to get me back on track. After all, when you get a text from your coach asking about the chocolate chip cookie you had for breakfast, you know you’ve been a nutritional idiot.
There’s a lack of routine the first few days I’m in a new place, especially as I figure out where to (temporarily) put things like my laundry basket. After having a home for every little thing, including my eight chapsticks, it’s a little hard to settle for semi-organized.
Am I stressed? Not nearly as much as I was before we finished the move.
Am I happy? Very. Especially because my current “roommates” are good friends of mine, and they have the patience of Mother Teresa and the Pope, even if they curse more often.
I’m also happy because I paid off my first credit card this morning. Talk about an instant psychological boost.
“Where are you? Where are you going?”
Last year I spent six months traveling and six months in San Diego — I literally counted the days, and it was an almost even split. So this year shouldn’t really feel that different, especially since I’ve already spent so much time in San Diego.
I’m here now, and will be until mid-September. Then I’m driving to Texas to see my niece (sister and brother in law, too). I’ll visit my parents, too, to get my stuff that’s still at their house organized, as well as visit my cat.
I’ll fly from Texas to DC to stay with my friend Caitlin for a couple weeks. Fly back to Texas and hit Austin and Houston, probably. Drive back to San Diego in early November. Probably.
November 9–17, I’m going to Japan ON A VACATION. It’ll have been over a year since my last vacation. That’s morally wrong. And it’s my own fault.
I’ll then fly back to Texas to spend an early Thanksgiving with my family. After, I’ll fly back to San Diego, then probably drive out to Phoenix to spend a good chunk of time with some friends there.
In February I want to go back to Taiwan to celebrate Chinese New Year and see my Taiwan family again.
Then, depending on my finances and how I’m feeling, maybe I’ll finally take a solo trip to Paris like I’ve been wanting to. Work from there, explore the city, do some soul-searching. Or start on the northern shores of Portugal and work my way east, doing two weeks per city or country. Take the train, work from little cafes with menus in languages I can’t read. Most people are surprised when I tell them my only European travels have been to the Netherlands and Scotland.
But who knows. I never really know what the next six months of my life look like, or where I’ll be in nine. I could even have a sudden switcharoo and decide I hate traveling and just want to settle down somewhere with a white picket fence, three dogs, two kids, and a corporate job I can retire from.
My life would probably be a lot less expensive if I decided I hated travel. Unfortunately for my finances, though, that sort of lifestyle flip would likely take a major blow to the head.
I can’t afford that, either. Healthcare is expensive.
I suppose I’m good as is.