You’ve had your couple of weeks on the beach – it’s blissful and you don’t want to go home, and that’s when you start thinking ‘what would it be like to live like this full time?’ And you wouldn’t be alone – just search #digitalnomad or #vanlife and you’ll see a bevvy of long-legged, almost entirely naked young women, with their impossibly hipster partners flung across the bonnet of their pimped up transit vans or peering over the top of their laptops at the lapping waves tagged with #myofficefortheday.
You hate them, obviously. But you also want to be them.
At least, this was my story. In 2017 I was stressed out and overworked. My life was a series of Monday mornings, putting things in and pulling things out of the laundry, taking out the bins and staring at my computer screen all day. I felt like life had stagnated.
Don’t get me wrong. I had nothing to complain about. My business was doing well and my child was happy and healthy. We had a nice house in a nice town. But it was boring and predictable. At the same time the first signs of perimenopause were hitting me and I realised I was having a full on existential crisis. We were stuck in a rut. And, as a life coach, I felt like a fraud if I wasn’t going to do anything about it.
So we hit the road. We sold our house, put most of our belongings in storage or sold them at car boot sales, bought a camper van, painted the interior pink and set off on a seven month road trip.
What’s Your Excuse?
As a single mum home educating my daughter and running my own business, we had freedom that not everyone has. At the same time, as the only breadwinner and as a woman traveling alone with a child we felt more vulnerable than, maybe, someone traveling with a second adult who knows at least SOMETHING about engines. Which brings me to my first point.
There will always be reasons to believe you can’t do a thing. Whether it’s long term travel, starting a business, educating your child on the road, traveling with your pets (we brought our two dogs with us and friends looked after our three rabbits and the gerbil), living off the grid, changing career midlife, there will be barriers that seem insurmountable.
I believed we couldn’t take this trip because we couldn’t afford it. Until I changed the question. Instead of thinking “I can’t because…” I instead thought, how can we afford it?
Flying was out because I didn’t want to put the dogs through that. But driving was an option. Staying in AirBnBs was better for the dogs than hotels and having our own home on wheels gave us a roof over our heads if an AirBnB fell through or we just got stuck somewhere with nowhere to stay.
Financially, I was worried about my business. So I arranged to coach my clients using Skype and Zoom and I only chose campsites and AirBnBs with strong internet.
My mum hadn’t been very well so we decided to stay within Europe and drive back to the UK every four weeks to spend time with the family. Not ideal, perhaps, but it was necessary for us.
Do you see what I mean? Rather than seeing the obstacles as barriers, they became exercises in creative thinking.
Changing your situation doesn’t change your state
Secondly, I learnt that you take yourself with you. I pictured myself suddenly transformed in to someone who got up at dawn and did yoga in the glow of the rising sun. I thought I’d get really in to crystals, and I imagined I’d be chilled and in the present because why wouldn’t I be? Having got rid of the causes of all my stress surely I could just enjoy reading a book in the sun or staring at the vista in peace. Wrong.
After the first four weeks, which were really just long a prolonged holiday, all the old fears and stresses piled back in. Life was still work and laundry, only now it was harder because we were away from everything familiar, in homes that weren’t as modern as our UK home, while the promised strong internet turned out to be a weak signal only accessible if you risked life and limb by hanging out of the second story window and waving your laptop around.
It turns out that it’s not your situation that causes your stress. We do it to ourselves. Long-term travel taught me that worry is a choice, even when it seems like it isn’t. Sure, there are aspects of life you don’t want to tolerate, and why should you? But removing the tolerations doesn’t automatically remove the negative self-talk, the anxiety, the sleepless nights or the comfort eating. You have to do that.
I started journaling, meditating, changing my morning routine to one that got me in a good state before I fired up the phone and laptop. I learnt to take breaks when my adrenaline was pumping too hard. And I took my daughter out in the afternoon to explore our surroundings, even when my head said “Do more work! Do more work!”.
Long term travel, or change of any kind, exposes the personal development work you have to do. It doesn’t, in itself, fix the problem. But it does mean you can’t blame your circumstances any more. That is enough of a reason to do it in my opinion.
Throwing the dice
Most of us are risk averse. I am. I’ve been putting money in to a pension scheme since my 20s. I don’t skydive or scuba. And I am insured up to the hilt. I have taken risks in my life though. I left my secure BBC job in my late 20s to start my own business. I moved to the countryside on my own in my 30s. And, of course, I sold my house and went traveling with my daughter in my 40s.
And that’s because I realise one universal truth. We have far less control over our lives than we think. We have the illusion of control but that’s all it is. They can make you redundant from your so-called secure job. You can get sick. You can meet the person of your dreams only to realise it’s a bit of a nightmare.
Life is like a game of snakes and ladders. You get to throw the dice. You don’t get to control where it lands. You move through the board, determined by where the dice fell. Maybe you get a ladder this time. Maybe a blank space. Maybe a snake. But you only lose the game if you decide not to throw again. The choice to throw the dice is pretty much the only aspect of the game that is in your hands.
Even if long term travel doesn’t float your boat, there might be other dreams that would. No one can guarantee that it will succeed, give you what you were searching for, or be as fun as you fanticised it would be. But at least you threw the dice.
The pros and cons
Long term travel is hard. It’s tiring being out of your comfort zone so much of the time. It tests your relationships. Hot weather can seem attractive on a cold day in Blighty, but when your Italian apartment has no air conditioning and no mosquito netting and you’re placing wet towels on your body at night, it’s not so fun.
Some days are just like days at home – working, shopping, watching Netflix. Others are like something out of the pages of a disaster movie – the day we nearly died as I backed our massive RV down a single track lane with a sheer drop down one side and a cliff face up the other. And some days are just like the pictures on Instagram…
My business survived. We saw and experienced places, foods and sights there were seriously once in a lifetime moments. We lived. I mean, we really lived. And we came home more confident, more appreciative of the little things, clearer about what mattered to us, and chemically bonded in a way that doesn’t happen when you are ships in the night going through the motions of normal life.
I can’t say whether long term travel is for you. But I know this. Life is short. The mistakes make the best stories. And you’ve got the dice in your hands. The only question is whether you’re going to throw them.
Blaire Palmer is founder of A Brilliant Gamble, which runs courses for people who want to make big changes in their lives, do work they love for a living and have a lifestyle that really works for them. Check out her podcastat and join her Corporate Escapees Facebook Group