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There’s a growing movement of adventurous Australians living a nomadic lifestyle. 11 million+ outbound international trips were taken by Aussies in 2019. Earning and passport strength mean Australians can explore the world with relative freedom. We’ll examine secrets to success in such a lifestyle, alongside the pros and cons to consider before packing up and hitting the road.
What is a nomadic lifestyle?
Traditionally, nomads were animal herders who moved in search of greener pastures, while the modern nomadic lifestlye is searching for this only figuratively. A nomad lifestyle involves ongoing, long-term travel funded by remote and passive income (digital nomads); income earned through jobs on the road (analogue nomads); and/or savings, pensions and investments (grey nomads).
Yet, ongoing, long-term travel is a relative term that will be different for each person, couple or family. Travel, like life, is rarely linear. In my mid-30s, I consider myself a slowmad (a nomad who travels slowly by spending months or more in each location), whereas in my early 20s I was driven by a faster pace and desire to ‘tick countries off the list’. Those early years were spent working in a series of short-term jobs in various locations, later moving into a career that allowed contracts of a year or two at a time. Now, after years of trial and error, I am a location-independent freelancer and business owner.
The one constant throughout my nomadic journey is a barely audible restlessness that seems to hum in the background of my mind like an old refrigerator. No matter where I am, I just can’t shake that desire to see what’s over the horizon. While others long to settle down, I just want to take off.
If you can relate, the nomadic lifestyle might be calling you too.
How to live a nomadic lifestyle?
In order to live a nomadic lifestyle, you require a few key elements:
- Sufficient income to support your travels – i.e. transport, accommodation and food costs;
- The required infrastructure needed to earn – i.e wifi, electricity and other ‘tools of the trade’;
- Reduced number of carryable possessions – i.e. clothes, electronics (and well, everything!);
- An open and adaptable mindset to embrace change, unpredictability and occasional loneliness.
How easy or challenging you will find a nomadic lifestyle will very much depend on where you currently are in life, your previous travel experience and your personality. For some, the question of how to start a nomadic lifestyle is relatively straightforward, while others may need a major overhaul to their current way of living.
You may enjoy the security of a ‘home base’ that you travel from but return to throughout the year. Or, you may want the freedom of an untethered existence in which novelty appears at every turn. You may have responsibilities that keep you in one place but wish to carve out some time for your own nomadic adventures. There is no right or wrong way to live a nomadic life.
Some tips for those new to a nomadic lifestyle:
- Identify what a nomadic lifestyle means to you. Do you want to drive a caravan around the country? Travel to every nation in the world? Buy a round-the-world ticket and travel for the summer? Write down your goal with as much detail as possible;
- Start slowly. Change can be challenging and difficult. Be kind and patient with yourself. If you have a house full of ‘stuff’ that you cannot bear to part with, start with sorting through one room first; or put it all in storage for three months. If you are afraid of flying to a country where they speak another language, start with an English-speaking place (or even travel locally);
- Consider your income, infrastructure needs, possessions and mindset. Write down anything that is stopping you from adopting a nomadic lifestyle and then consider three small things you can do to begin removing this obstacle.
Finally, download a free copy of my ebook “Before you become a digital nomad”. This book was written with additional tips and tricks from my own journey and is for anyone who wants information about exactly how to start living a nomadic lifestyle.
How to become a digital nomad
“Before you become a digital nomad” by Kate Zarb, now free!* Freelance, free from rent or freedom? Download your copy.
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How to live a nomad lifestyle in Australia
Australia is a relatively easy country to be a nomad in, as it is possible to follow mild weather around for most of the year and there are a lot of free (or low-cost) public infrastructures like wi-fi, public restrooms and libraries. Although mainly located in regional areas, there are also a large number of free camping spots for those looking for a cheap place to rest their head.
If you want to give the lifestyle a try locally before committing to international nomadism, there are two lost cost options that I thoroughly recommend:
House sitting: In exchange for looking after someone else’s pet/s and home while they go on holiday, you receive free accommodation and unlimited furry friend cuddles. House sitting has been my #1 way to save money, spend time with adorable animals and meet some wonderful people along the way. I use Aussie House Sitters ($84 AUD/year) – the largest, most trusted house pet and house sitting website in Australia. So far, I’ve saved over $30,000 AUD in rent via house sitting. They have sister sites in New Zealand, Canada and the UK.
WWOOF-ing: If you are looking to explore more of rural and regional Australia, learn more about concepts like Permaculture and meet lovely folk in the process, consider WWOOF World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms ($70-$120 AUD/year). In exchange for 4-6 hours a day of work, you receive free food and accommodation. I have WWOOF-ed around the entire coastline of Australia and couldn’t recommend it more highly as many of the ‘hosts’ are also experienced travellers from whom you can learn a lot about the nomadic lifestyle.
How to afford a nomadic lifestyle
Apart from house-sitting and WWOOF-ing, there are many ways to afford a nomadic lifestyle by reducing your costs, including work exchanges, volunteering and meeting other nomads through sites like Couchsurfing.
I’ve actually found this lifestyle much more affordable than one where I stayed in one place for a long time, but that’s mainly because I travel slowly (a few months or more in one location) and rarely pay for accommodation, via the techniques mentioned above. I prepare all of my vegetarian meals in advance whenever possible, avoid takeaway and don’t drink alcohol. I plan transport as far ahead as I can and compare prices carefully.
If your tastes are a little more expensive, you’ll need to find a way to earn enough to cover your transport, accommodation and food costs while travelling. Need a nomad-friendly income? Read: “181 Best Digital Nomad Jobs Australians can Travel Doing” or “Digital Nomad Side Hustle: Well Paid Market Research Online Australia“.
Australians are particularly lucky to have high relative global wages and this gives us the opportunity to travel more widely than many others.
Major nomadic lifestyle costs
The major nomadic lifestyle costs that you will encounter will very much depend on a number of factors:
- Location: Are you travelling to a cheap or expensive place? See the cost of living for ≈50 countries with digital nomad visas here.
- Accommodation: Are you a five-star hotel fan or happy to sleep in a tent by the beach?
- Transport: The less you drive, ride or fly, the cheaper your lifestyle will be.
- Food: If you eat out regularly, be prepared for your food costs to increase quickly.
- Tours and organised activities: While fun and amazing, tourists pay premium prices for these types of activities.
If you are travelling overseas, it is also important to factor in costs like travel and health insurance.
A nomadic lifestyle can be achieved on a tight budget but requires more planning, time searching for the best prices (and perhaps exchanging your time and labour for accommodation or meals for super-cheap travel). If you’re more of a ‘wing it’ type, you will likely pay more for last-minute bookings, but with a friendly, open and helpful approach you can still find yourself saving money.
Don’t be afraid to respectfully barter and negotiate prices. A little bit of research about the negotiation culture of the country you’re in and a big smile can go a long way to getting the best value wherever you travel in the world. Ask for discounts respectfully.
Australians don’t always have the best reputation for cultural sensitivity abroad and I encourage you to consider yourself an ambassador as you live a nomadic lifestyle overseas. We all know that one person who drinks too much and acts like a rude idiot on holiday. Don’t be that guy.
Pros and Cons of nomadic lifestyle
When I talk about being a nomad, people often ask me “Why is a nomadic lifestyle good?” and I have to be honest in the fact that it isn’t always good. There are an equal number of pros and cons of a nomadic lifestyle and there are some challenges to living this lifestyle that many do speak about. I personally love living as a nomad, have done so for years and plan on doing so for many more. Yet, it’s important to consider the pros and cons before jumping in head first.
Pros of a nomadic lifestyle
There are a number of pros of a nomadic lifestyle. It is these that initially attracted me to nomadism and keep me motivated to stay ‘on the road’.
- Freedom / Independence: Choose where and when you go.
- Flexibility / Your own schedule: Choose your own hours and way of working.
- Opportunity to travel: See places you have never imagined and sights that take your breath away.
- Cultural experiences: Learn about and experience different cultures’ philosophies, arts and beliefs.
- Meet new people: Meet deeply different people from you and from whom you can learn a lot about life.
- Geo-arbitrage / Stretch your money: Make your money go further in a more affordable location.
- Learn new skills: Master a new hobby, trade or skill. Maybe exchange your skills and teach others?
- Learn new languages: Order a drink or achieve complete fluency in another language.
- Weather / Best seasons: Avoid the extremes of hot summers or cold winters.
- Minimalism: Live with less ‘stuff’, save money and value your everyday items.
Cons of a nomadic lifestyle
For all the pros discussed, there are definite cons to a nomadic lifestyle. Yet, for some people, these may not be ‘cons’ at all and may be more positive elements, depending on how you perceive them.
- Work / Life balance: Setting clear boundaries for ‘work time’ and ‘non-work’ time can be challenging.
- Loneliness / Isolation: Maintaining personal and colleagiate relationships long distance is extra effort.
- Financial instability: Location-independent income can be less stable than location-based employment.
- High levels of self-motivation: The onus is on you to complete the work on time (despite distractions).
- Moving frequently: Changing locations often can cause some people to feel less secure.
- Lack of stability: Stability and routines must be flexible around changing circumstances.
- Finding a like-minded partner: Finding a fellow nomad or helping a current partner adjust can be tricky.
- Environmentally damaging (if you’re not conscious): Frequent flights and long drives (and travel in general) aren’t always great for the planet. I encourage you to consider your environmental impact and incorporate earth-friendly practices while travelling.
Secrets to a successful nomadic lifestyle
After being an analogue nomad for almost 15 years and a digital nomad for the last three, I regularly face the same ‘cons’ to the lifestyle that beginners do.
I visit my family whenever I can to assuage my occasional homesickness. I drink my favourite hot chocolate every morning to give me a sense of familiarity in a new area. I sit down to work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 9 am whether I’m on a bus, in a noisy room or in a yurt. With time you will learn more effective strategies to overcome challenges and be able to stop to enjoy the lifestyle’s many rewards.
For me, the main secrets to a successful nomadic lifestyle have been flexibility and persistence. My nomadic lifestyle has changed and is very different from how I imagined it to be when I begin. The ‘road’ will throw many unexpected twists and turns your way. Keep going, listen to your needs and be kind to yourself. For you, the secret to a successful nomadic lifestyle is that only you can define success and what you want from life. Work out the lifestyle that you want to live, then go out there and live it.
What do you think the biggest secret to a successful nomadic life is?
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As digital nomad information is ever-changing, bookmark this post and check back later for updates.
For 50+ Digital Nomad Visas available for Australians, see our Complete Guide.