How to Live a Nomadic Life: 11 Essential Skills You Need

View of mountains from swimming pool in Pai, Thailand

The nomadic life seems like the perfect dream life, constantly traveling to exotic new locations. You’ve seen the many pictures of people working from glorious sandy beaches, in constant tropical weather.

The office 9-5 is a thing of the past, as is having a boss, the digital nomad seemingly lives with complete freedom. A freedom which can be both appealing and misleading.

Sure, the most common choice I make is which beautiful country I would like to visit next.

The sacrifice, perseverance and skills that I had to build up for this freedom has taken years.

The nomadic lifestyle is a thing of pure beauty, sprinkled with constant challenges and instability.

In this post I am going to share the 11 essential skills required to sustain a life of travel.

What Does 'Nomadic Life' Mean?

You can’t avoid the term, a quick Google search, your Facebook feed or YouTube and you will come across the term ‘Nomad’ or ‘Digital Nomad’.

You hear the story everywhere, “We quit our 9-5 to become digital nomads and live a life of freedom”.

What exactly does living nomadically mean?

In the early days it was common for communities to live nomadically as tribes go in search of more fertile soil, grazing lands for animals or abundant crops.

In the modern world, most of us have our basic needs met. We don’t need to go out and search new lands for our survival.

According to merriam-webster nomadic is:

  • Roaming about from place to place aimlessly, frequently, or without a fixed pattern of movement.

For many this is what the search now entails, the idea of roaming from place to place is embraced, providing us with freedom, independence and a sense of adventure.

What Best Describes a Nomadic Lifestyle?

A modern nomadic lifestyle is almost impossible to give a single description to.

For some having the freedom of working from home, not the office, is a nomadic life. For others vagabonding your way around the world is the only way to be nomadic.

The truth is there is no single definition which will describe the subjective nature of what ‘nomadic’ means to you.

Living a nomadic life in Pai, Thailand

Growing up my fathers job would make us move to a new town every 3-4 years. By definition I was moving from place to place, living a nomadic life.

While studying at university, I would find ways to travel and work abroad during my breaks. I found seasonal work in Austria and Switzerland which allowed me to move from place to place and feel nomadic.

I quit my last job in London, bought a one-way ticket to Asia and learned how to create an income online. Now I am a ‘Digital Nomad’ a term I didn’t know existed just a few years ago and now symbolizes the freedom I enjoy.

Since leaving my job in London I have lived in seven countries, ranging from five months to two weeks. It has been a rollercoaster as I get accustomed to the instability, challenges and vast changes the nomadic lifestyle provides.

I have always wanted to find ways to travel the world, immerse into new cultures, experience new adventures and live free from the traditional model of work/life we are exposed to.

For me being nomadic is having the freedom to choose the terms of my existence. There are a lot of things that we are not told about living and maintaining a nomadic life.

Here are 11 essential skills needed to sustain a life of travel and adventure.

11 Essential Nomadic Life Skills

To sustain a nomadic life is not all smooth sailing. Quitting your job and letting go to the adventure is enticing, but it is not an escape to an easier way of living, it is one of the greatest challenges you can face.

It takes preparation, perseverance and commitment, here are 11 skills which have helped me turn this pipedream into a lifestyle.

1. Relentless Optimism

Maintaining a nomadic lifestyle will require a positive mindset and relentless optimism. The nomadic life is inherently ever-changing, that’s the only guaranteed constant.

You will encounter numerous surprises, embracing the challenges with gratitude and a smile is vital.

I had my leg in a cast for two months after an accident in Nepal. I decided to learn how to navigate the hectic streets of Kathmandu in style and do some sweet tricks on my crutches.

I was determined not to let this get me down, or hamper my progress, so I also decided to use the spare time I had to pick up new clients and develop my professional growth.

If you actively work to avoid change in your current daily life, this lifestyle will be filled with frustration, anger and fear.

You will always be in a new situation, meeting new people and changing your plans.

With a positive mindset you will seek out the new opportunities from every situation you are presented with. You will embrace the changes and capitalize on the setbacks when they come your way.

2. Strong Intuition & Decision Making

You will constantly be faced with decisions to make and mostly in entirely new environments. You will need to have a strong intuition in order to make the best decisions possible about situations and people.

You’ll have to trust other people and be open to strangers as sources of advice and support.  

While I lived in London, going to a new area in the city could make me feel nervous. Today choosing which country to visit next seems as simple as where to go for breakfast.

Finding solutions due to bad decision making is more difficult when you’re on the road. Having the ability to trust your intuition and make decisions will keep you safe and happy.

Once you have practiced the art of following your intuition and making good decisions, you want to be able to make quick decisions.

The nomadic life will invariable force you to make quick decisions without seeing the full picture. This is when you want to be able to feel confident in making decisions quickly, giving you the trust to fully embrace the freedom.

3. Preparation & Planning

Being able to make good, quick calls is important with good preparation and planning you can save time and money.

The nomadic lifestyle involves traveling to various new countries, sometimes on very short notice. Having a basic process of preparation in place gives you the flexibility and freedom to embrace the unknown.

Before heading to a new country, have a checklist of 10 or less things you must take care of. You want to consider such things as:

  • The official currency exchange rate
  • Cheapest mode of transport from the airport to city/accommodation
  • How to get a sim card
  • Visa requirements (return tickets, bank statements etc)

Gathering information is relevant to all aspects of a nomadic life, even if planning (like me) is not your strongest point, investing in building this skill will free up your time and deepen your pockets.

If you’re heading out for a long trip or it’s your first adventure Nomadic Matt highlights ’17 Easy Steps to Plan for Your Next Trip’

4. Non-Attachment

You will have to let go of EVERYTHING, your car, apartment, furniture & stuff, most if not all will have to go.

People you have grown up with or spent the past years with, will drift away. As you’re visiting tropical islands, exotic jungles and glorious mountains… Life goes on. Their life continues and you are no longer there.

You will be in ever constant change as a nomad, meeting new people comes with all the joy and excitement that can be expected. Saying goodbye is just as regular, and life goes on.

Group picture at night holding hulahoops

You have to detach because nothing remains, daily routines, places you loved and connections you’ve made will always be changing.

I now own only 2 backpacks, a laptop, a longboard and single pair of shoes, I still feel I have too much.

5. Embrace Failure

Constantly having to make decisions in new environments, will eventually bring failure. Learning new skills and attempting to earn income for yourself online, will eventually bring failure.

I have lost clients, money and almost my sanity due to countless failures. I took the time to learn through books, mentors and mostly life experiences that failures are a big part of the journey, which are stockpiled with learning opportunities.

Through the failures I learned what does and doesn’t work, allowing me to hone and practice a craft which now provides me regular income online.

6. Discipline

I have the freedom to live in multiple countries a year, work completely location independent, without so much as a whisper of the word boss. This is thanks to practice and dedication to self-discipline and motivation.

Nomads are not purely traveling, they challenge the status quo while sustaining themselves on the move. If you plan to work online, clients expect a certain level of quality and deadlines are not optional.

Working on laptop in cafe overlooking a lake in Nepal

With so much constant instability, routine can be hard to develop and vital to maintain. Waking up early, exercise, reading, learning and implementing new skills all take time and discipline.

You will need to set goals, then have the motivation, routine and discipline to work hard and attain them.

7. Being Alone

There can be a perpetual fear of being alone, many people do all they can to avoid loneliness, not valuing the time alone with ourselves.

A nomadic lifestyle has loneliness ingrained into it, you are always travelling solo to a new location and starting from scratch.

The social cycle you had accumulated, begins again. Relationships are few and far between, unless you find the perfect nomadic partner.

You will be alone for prolonged periods of time, accept this, embrace this and use this time to grow.

A nomad needs to be happy alone, eating out, going to a bar or meeting new people, you will have to do these alone.

My best piece of advice: Don’t take yourself so seriously

8. Know How You Work

In an ever-changing environment, you are your only constant. You need to develop a deep understanding of yourself and the ‘anchors’ you need to feel happy.

Whenever I move to a new place, I know I need to skate, play basketball or ride motorbikes. So I ensure they are always part of my life. Not only am I keeping myself happy, I find people who share my interests and make new friends.

I have spent enough time alone to understand how and why I work the way I do. This skill has allowed me to keep a balance and quickly seek what I love and love where I am.

9. Curiosity & Thirst for Knowledge

If you are looking purely for fun and adventure, short term traveling or holidays are the best solution for now.

If you are looking for constant discomfort, growth, learning and discovery, the nomadic life may be best for you.

A nomadic lifestyle needs to include ambition to succeed:

  • The ambition to learn a skill, and take the time to practice and hone a craft.
  • The ambition to understand the world through your eyes and embrace change.
  • The ambition to persevere in the face of failure and dig deep to power through.

A childlike curiosity for all things is one of the biggest rewards of nomadic life. Whether learning a new skill or about a ceremony in town, every day is filled with learning opportunities.

10. Proactivity

You are always somewhere for a short time period, you can’t wait for things to just happen, you have to pursue what you want.

You will need to sustain your life, learning, implementing and finding work opportunities requires constant proactive behavior.

Nomads cannot afford to be shy, we have to push forward to achieve our goals.

11. No Ego

This may not sound like a skill, but could be the most important one on this list.

A nomadic lifestyle is not an amazing ego boost, it is a grind. You will more than likely work harder for comparatively little financial reward, for some time.

You may swap the comforts of your apartment with all your stuff, for $2 a night hostels. Others may not always understand and even criticize your lifestyle choice.

You will be humbled and see life very differently, you character will be tested. If you worry what other people think of you, then practice letting go of this.

Me lying down eyes closed outside at night in Pai

The Takeaway

The nomadic lifestyle can appear as a dream to most, with constant pictures of beautiful locations, fun filled activities and endless adventure.

Sure, I have experienced some of the most epic moments since becoming nomad. Helicopter rides through the Himalayas, motorbike trips against gorgeous backdrops, festivals on picturesque beaches, beautiful hikes in tropical jungles and surfing in paradise.

“A Safe Road Holds No Victory, Only Regrets”

This is now part of my life and I only expect this to get better. To get to this point I have come up against disasters and catastrophic situations which have almost led me to quit this lifestyle.

It requires discipline, faith (in something) and perseverance to make a nomadic life work for you. Whatever you truly desire, you have to work hard to have any chance of attaining it.

I could not imagine living any other way, are you ready to live a nomadic life?

Let me know in the comments below.

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