These global nomads make the world their home


What if your vacation never ended?

That’s a serious — and timely — question. It’s the peak of the summer travel season, and if you’re at the beach right now, you’re probably reading this and thinking, “I don’t have enough vacation time.”

And you’re probably right. Only two-thirds of Americans plan to take a summer vacation, according to a survey by travel insurance company Generali Global Assistance. And average vacation time has shrunk to just 16 days a year, according to research conducted by Project: Time Off, a coalition of travel companies. That’s nearly a full week less than the average between 1978 and 2000.

But really, what if you could go on vacation and never come back?

Well, turns out there are people who have done that. These global nomads either have jobs that can be done remotely, fund their travels with their retirement money, or a little of both. They live in places for days, weeks or months at a time and then move on. And you might be surprised to know that being on vacation all the time is not what you think it is.

Tiffany Soukup went nomadic a decade ago, but her motive wasn’t to vacation perpetually. “I wanted to always move forward in a direction that motivates me,” she says. “That’s why I jump on an airplane, that’s why I put myself out there and take risks.”

Soukup is a classic globetrotter, especially when it comes to earning money. She and her husband write and take pictures for their travel blog, which is something almost all of these wanderers have in common. The Soukups’ resume also includes gigs as park rangers, substitute innkeepers in Vermont, servers in a café in a train car in Australia, harvesting potatoes and, most memorably, working on an organic winery in New Zealand.

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The finances can be tricky, says David Mercer, the author of programming books who has also spent months on the road.

“A sustainable source of income that trickles in no matter where in the world you are, or what you are doing, is arguably the best way to support a permanently nomadic lifestyle,” he says. “There are a few famous instances of travel bloggers who have become millionaires by doing nothing more than posting about their travel experiences.”

Ah, we should all be so lucky. So where do these travelers go? Pretty much everywhere.

Inessa Kraft, an actress who travels with her 10-year-old daughter, journeys wherever the work takes her — to Singapore for a gig with NHK Japan, to Oman for a TV commercial, then to Malaysia for film roles. She loves the combination of acting and traveling.


“During the last year we lived in five different cities for one to three months and I was shooting in 13 different cities all over Asia,” she says. “We have friends from many countries and a strong feeling that Earth is our home.”

I know what you’re thinking: But are these globetrotters really happy? Some of them are. Four years ago, Stephanie De La Garza left a 20-year career in information technology and sold everything she owned to work at a wild animal rescue center in Costa Rica. Since then, she has lived in New Zealand, Australia and various parts of the United States.

“It was the best thing I’ve ever done with my life,” she says.

But being on the road constantly can take a toll on relationships, sometimes with regrettable consequences.

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Consider what happened to Torre DeRoche, a writer from Melbourne, Australia, who crisscrossed the Pacific with her boyfriend for nine years in a 1979 Valiant sailboat. It was a beautiful but terrifying experience. At one point in the journey, the vessel almost sank.

“Back at home, my nieces and nephews were starting to forget my name,” she says. “New babies had been born in my absence.”

Eventually, the pressure of life on the road was too much. DeRoche and her boyfriend went their separate ways.

That’s one of the downsides of constant travel, and I should know. After seven years of almost constant travel, my relationship of 26 years abruptly ended. The nomadic lifestyle may have its rewards, but it isn’t for everyone.

Tips for aspiring global nomads

Don’t take too much. Determine the bare minimum that you need to survive comfortably. Then get rid of the rest. “What’s left over is the amount of junk you need to move with you,” says world traveler Ian Hunter. But don’t go overboard. You can’t live out of a suitcase forever.

Don’t forget to work. Reality check: “You will not always be on vacation,” says Elijah Masek-Kelly, who currently lives in Bolivia. He works normal business hours and explores the country on weekends. “Even when you are traveling constantly, you still need to find a work-life balance,” he warns.

Don’t overthink it. “There will be lots of naysayers who want you to conform to their way of thinking,” says Emma Pamley-Liddell, who is on the road with her husband and three children. “But life is an adventure. You should grab it.” That’s true. If you overanalyze the opportunity to untether, you will almost certainly talk yourself out of it. Life’s too short.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • sirwired

    Working remotely for a job back home, or working for yourself, I can understand that. But all these people taking up random odd, local, jobs for employers… how are they getting work permits in all these places? Don’t most countries require foreigners to obtain special work visas? Or are they just getting paid under the table all the time? That can put you in serious legal and financial jeopardy.

    I’ve been on simple business trips to some of these places, and had to fill out an unbelieveable amount of paperwork to prove I WASN’T doing something requiring a work permit/visa (vs. a business-travel visa), (Australia was the worst) so I can only imagine how much paperwork is required to actually obtain said permit.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I’m sorry to hear about your relationship. Reading your work (on this blog and in the paper), I can tell you are great dad and wonderful advocate for many who need your help, and I’m sure you will continue in excellence.

  • Travelnut

    I have a job where I could work remotely wherever I wanted to live. But I also wondered about work permits. There are also many other considerations, like taxes, to consider when working abroad. I remember when we sent one executive to the UK for two years (while we are a “multinational” company, we rarely send US employees abroad for long-term assignments). It took weeks of meetings with HR, legal, and finance to set her up.

  • Alan Gore

    Japan is an especial stickler for work permit validity, but in that male-dominated society I noticed that the officials never bothered to check that virtually every working expatriate, always the man, had his wife teaching English, or other native language, on the side. This may have been an unstated but intentional policy for making it easier for their own people to trade internationally.

  • sirwired

    I think my wife might have a thing or two to say about bringing a woman back as a souvenir from our next vacation! :D

  • LeeAnneClark

    This is a particularly interesting topic to me, because I am soon (wihtin the year) to become one of these “nomads”.

    My husband and I are retiring from our lifelong careers, selling or storing most of our belongings, renting out our house, moving aboard our 44-ft sailboat, and setting sail to cruise the Pacific for at least five years…longer if we ‘re still loving it at the end of that period, but five years minimum.

    We’ve been working towards this for 30 years. It’s our dream, one hatched when we were young, after meeting on a sailboat and falling in love. We did all we wanted to do as a couple – got married, raised two kids, focused on our careers so we could sock away enough money to never have to work again, and now we’re finally ready. We’ve been attending seminars, reading books, meeting other long-term cruisers and picking their brains, and doing as much sailing as we can, in a series of boats. We bought THE boat three years ago and have been getting her ready to go ocean cruising. A couple more things to do (replace the mainsail, add a watermaker) and she’s good to go.

    We will spend at least a year in the Sea of Cortez, then we will cross the Pacific to the Marquesas Islands and continue into French Polynesia, then on to the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, New Caledonia, and many South Pacific islands in between. Eventually we’ll get to Australia, and where we go from there is still undecided…but we don’t have to make that decision for years.

    I’m sad to hear that Ms DeRoche’s relationship didn’t stand the test of time, but I tend to doubt that their cruising lifestyle was the key reason behind their break-up. There are thousands of couples and families out there doing this very thing, some of them for short-term adventures, others as a permanent lifestyle. Yes it comes with some unique challenges – living in such close quarters ain’t easy no matter how much you love each other! And you both need to be equally committed, and equally prepared, both mentally and physically. You both need to be able to single-hand the boat, as when you are on a passage, there’s no dropping the anchor in the middle of the ocean, and we each need to sleep. (Our longest passage will be from Baja to the Marquesas, about 3 weeks at sea.)

    Are we crazy? We don’t think so! When we tell people what we’re doing, they often seem to think we’ll be sailing out at sea the whole time. Not true – we will spend most of our time at anchor in beautiful, remote locations (where we can scuba dive, go hiking, kayaking, touring the local region, or just relax on the boat), or in slips at a marina in larger ports where we will re-provision and get any needed boat maintenance done. We have no real schedule – we’ll go where we feel like it, when we feel like it, dependent on he weather of course. We will make many friends – there’s an active community of cruisers who meet at various ports and keep in touch via radio. We will not be cutoff from family & friends – we’ll have internet much of the time, through various means.

    But yeah, we get a lot of people who think we’re nuts. We also have many family & friends who are 100% supportive, and are looking forward to reading my blog. (No self-respecting cruiser who can string a sentence together doesn’t have a blog.) ;-)

    We are doing this now, in our 50’s, because we wanted to do it before we began to have the usual age-related health issues. This does mean we’re having to retire when we’re both at our peak earning potential, and we realize this means we may have less money for retirement once we’re done cruising – but living on a boat can be done pretty cheaply, and we will have the income from our house rental that will cover most costs, so we won’t even have to tap into our retirement until we are done, come back and kick the renters out and move back into our house.

    I certainly agree this is not an adventure for everyone! We often hear of couples who like the sound of it, sell everything, buy a boat and head out to sea, only to learn that they hate it and then they are back at square one. But we’ve been planning this for 30 years, and have already done some long-term cruising so we are well aware of what we will find out there. We are NOT gonna hate it. ;-)

    Onward!

  • Sharon

    Live your dream! Fantastic!! Please let us know your blogging handle, if you allow us to follow your travels.

  • LonnieC

    Wow! Sounds fantastic. Certainly not for everyone, but….

    May you have fair weather and following seas.

    Keep in touch.

    Lonnie

  • LeeAnneClark

    Thanks! Once we set sail I will be sure to post a comment somewhere on Chris’s blog telling any of his readers who are interested where to read about our adventure. This will be just a travelogue – no ads or selling, just for entertainment purposes. :)

  • LeeAnneClark

    Thanks a lot! I won’t be disappearing – I’ve been reading Christopher for many many years now, and I expect I’ll continue to do so once we become “nomads”. We’ll usually have internet in some fashion, depending on where we are, except during long passages. (And even then we will have various means of communication – satellite cell, SSB radio, etc.)

  • lvswhippets

    I love to travel & have been fortunate to see every place on my bucket list but I also love to come back home to my dog, home ,family & friends-not necessarily in that order.
    Really sorry about the recent rearrangement in you personal life, Chris.

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