Sometimes wonder how I found the courage to do this, to be a fat nomad, but what a ride it’s been.
In dreaming of becoming a nomad and travelling for five years, I don’t know what daunted me more – routinely squeezing into plane seats for up to 20 hours at a time, sleeping in mystery beds for five years, or the prospect of carrying everything I owned every place I went for a half-decade. Already hoisting 275 pounds on my size 22 body, wrestling with luggage constantly intimidated me.
Whatever doubts I had, I could no longer ignore my almost-suffocating desire to explore our world. I had to stop letting my body hold me back.
Days like these, among rustling leaves of palm and lime trees along the Mekong River in Eastern Thailand, I’m overwhelmed by gratitude for my blind courage when, at age 42, I went all in on that five-year plan for a nomad life. My last day with a home was September 24th, 2015.
A couple years previous, when age 40 loomed, I began fearing dying with regrets. A friend had recently died of cancer at 41 and wrote a heart-stopping memorial to his life, making it clear he had no regrets. He’d fallen in love, had beautiful kids.
Me? I felt my life had nothing to show for it.
I had seen my mom die at 57. Between her short life and Derek’s, life taught me time was promised to no one. Like the Jack Canfield quote goes, the trouble is, we think we have time.
With my clock ticking, I needed bigger dreams, travel dreams.
Realistically, my high-priced West Coast lifestyle plus travel didn’t mesh with my writer’s income. I needed to choose. Maintain a home, or ditch it and travel?
But could I be that kind of traveller? My health hadn’t been great. I’d regained a lot of weight I’d lost. I’d become very reclusive and inactive, with my body paying the price for it.
I began following nomads and their adventures online. They all seemed to be hot, fit young women posing in beautiful places with stunning tans, flowing shirts, and floppy hats. Was every nomad young, active, sexy, and healthy? (I’ve since learned the answer to this is no.)
Was nomad life out of reach for the likes of me and my big body?
“Says who?” I wondered. It’s not like I had to hoof it with a 60-pound backpack on my back. I could get a rolling duffle, pay for taxis, stay longer. I could nomad my way.
Slowly, my internal dialogue flipped from “could I?” to “I gotta.”
I kept my dream to myself until a year before my departure. By then, I’d learned so much about being a nomad that every time a naysayer spouted doubts about my ambitions, I could shut them down with facts.
That last year, I kept paying down debt, learning more about visas and travel and cultures. I collected gear and kept dreaming, then, in September, 2015, I did a 180 on life and went nomad.
Since giving up my home, I’ve spent over 830 days home-free. I’ve dragged my 50-pound duffle bag and 20-pound backpack onto over 46 flights, 8 trains, and several ferries, buses, and helicopters. I’ve stayed in 18 countries on four continents and lived in 39 cities.
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I’ve ascended Greece’s Acropolis, stood alone and roared to ghosts in a Roman Coliseum, spent five months in Mexico, called a Greek island home for Christmas, lived in Moroccan surfing town, bawled while listening to sad bagpipes on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, devoured lobsters on a road trip in Eastern Canada, endured brutal Thai masseuses, and so much more. These days, I’m scheming to have a wardrobe made in Cambodia while visiting Angkor Wat ruins, then it’ll be off to Greece for some kebabs and raki.
Sometimes I think about this life I live, and it doesn’t seem real. It’s amazing, but it sure ain’t glamorous, like those floppy-hatted Instagram beach babes want you to think it is. Every new apartment means an anxious learning curve. Will the WiFi work? Will I like my bed? Are there bugs? Does the shower work well, and what’s the water pressure like? Why can’t I get a decent set of cookware? Lately, I’ve wondered when I’ll have an oven again. Apparently, ovens aren’t a thing in Southeast Asia.
Life isn’t problem-free just because I eat in foreign locales. I still work six days a week and nurse a sore butt and cankles from work-dominated days. And that happens a lot, because this isn’t a vacation, it’s location-independent living. It’s being a hobo with funky area codes.
Sometimes, I get days off and play tourist, enjoy exotic meals, and wander streets with my eyes agog.
Since leaving Canada, I’ve experienced struggles. I lost a job, which is terrifying when thousands of miles from home without unemployment insurance to soften the blow. Worse, after nine months of underemployment ended, my father died, marking at the end of my first year as a nomad with tragedy. A few months after that, I had major surgery – a hysterectomy – solo in Albania.
Tough year, for anyone. Tougher when away from everyone you know.
In a way, though, my nomad status allows me to adapt better to adversity, because I can improvise on the fly. Living standards are flexible, some countries more budget-friendly. My past 14 months with Dad’s death, surgery abroad, and inevitable spending mistakes means I walk a fine line at present. But, in Southeast Asia, walking a fine line still allows me to pay for rent, food, massages, and entertainment for around what rent and basic utilities in Canada cost. Same with Albania, Bosnia, and other countries that have live cheaper cost-of-living indexes than back home.
Despite after all those countries, the cobblestones I’ve walked and landscapes I’ve seen, I’m still fat. Weight adds another dynamic to my travels because my luggage is heavier. Every t-shirt of mine weighs three times what a size 4 girl’s shirt weighs. My jeans, heavier. My panties. More fabric, more weight, more bulk. I must carry everything needed for months on end because Europe and Asia don’t make finding size 22 clothes simple, nor do they carry wide shoes.
Some nomads buy clothes cheaply along the way, wear ‘em out, donate ‘em, then travel with a carry-on to the next town, buy more clothes, and repeat the cycle. I can’t. I must anticipate clothes needed for specific climates, for eight months or more at a time, because being fat limits my options. Hence a 50-pound duffle bag and a 20-pound backpack.
Luckily, I’m smart and know how to adapt. With flights, for instance, I’ve learned to book through Google or Skyscanner, where it shows the legroom available on flights. I sit on aisles, for extra space, and I ask for belt extenders as soon as I board. For beds, I’ve learned I dislike North America’s and love hard beds found in Asia, Mexico, and much of Europe. Talk about happy accidents.
But my half-decade of life-changing back problems haven’t affected my travelling like I worried they would. In fact, I’d say my back likes the ever-changing landscape of my travel life more than my reclusive life back in Canada. Perhaps sameness was killing me back home.
These days, I’m rediscovering cycling, which is making me more confident and making my travels more fun. I’m also slowing down how often I change towns, which allows me to experience cities for five to eight weeks at a time, which means managing travel anxiety less frequently.
Becoming a nomad was a huge learning curve, a tough go at times, an overwhelming change of life… and I’d do it all again tomorrow. Lugging the heavy clothes, being out of shape, my body issues, they make this life challenging, but it’s worth it. Every day, it’s worth it.
At 44 now, this is the adventure of my lifetime. I may never again have another extended experience like this, once I get off that final plane in two, three, or four years. Sometimes I wonder how I found the courage to do this, but what a ride it’s been. More, please.