When you choose an alternative lifestyle with no road map, how do you know when to make changes and where those changes should lead you?
I’ve been debating sharing about this for a couple of months now. It’s honestly pretty terrifying because it’s super personal. But I’ve always felt it’s important to be honest and open - those are the bloggers that I have learned the most from and appreciate the most. Full-time travelers and digital nomads only have so many resources out there. It can be lonely and confusing.
So here is what I’ve been struggling with. I haven’t been myself for a couple of months. I am completely burned out. I have been struggling with my mental health. And here’s why.
I’ll start with how we got here, but if you’re already familiar with our backstory - feel free to jump to the next section.
Several years ago I was a fashion designer in NYC. Had worked my ass off to get there, and had realized my dreams...and ended up hating it. I was burned out, overworked, stressed, exhausted, and unhappy. I had yearned to travel more, travel longer, but had no real idea how to make it happen for me.
But somehow, we worked like maniacs to save up money, got rid of almost everything, and took off to Colombia to start a 6 month trip. Halfway in we started housesitting. Then the travel turned into a year, and then 2 years, and now almost 3 years have passed.
Early on I started this blog. And then I started freelancing. Justin went back to touring with musicians occasionally and would meet back up with me wherever I was. It worked. We supported ourselves, saved money, and bopped around the world - seeing things I’d never thought I’d see, learning another language, meeting great people, understanding the world better. It was everything I’d ever wanted.
Justin started feeling ready to make a home before I did. He brought it up about a year ago. I wasn’t ready, didn’t know how or when I would be. But we started talking about possibilities. Ways we could meld our desires, ways to live an alternative lifestyle but in a way that was more stable as we get older and think about reaching other life goals we have.
We had gone through many, many ideas, and then in this spring I was housesitting in Oaxaca - the one place I’ve spent the most time over these years of homelessness. A place that makes me feel connected. I happened to be housesitting alone during this time, while Justin was on tour in Europe. But we talked on the phone a lot. We discussed things, brainstormed. I sat on the roof, staring at the city almost every night thinking.
And then we came to a decision, we would stop traveling full time, and would make a home base in the fall.
It surprised me that I was feeling sure about it, only a few months before I didn’t feel like ever stopping being nomadic. But during those few months in between, several personal things happened that rocked me to some extent. The idea of building a physical community who I could look to for support, and give myself to in return felt right.
The Burn Out
So we set a timeline - we would “settle down” in September. Before that, we would get lots of travel in - really go for it.
Justin had a tour in Europe in the Spring, so this seemed like a good opportunity for me to meet him there when he finished, and get as much Europe time in before he would have to go back to the Americas for his next tour.
Well it turned out that his work opportunities kept him in Europe the whole summer. So we took advantage and planned an aggressive itinerary (for us, as full-time nomads, anyway). We would move around every month, with 3 periods in between of even faster travel. 5 countries, 4 month long stays, 2 road trips in 4 months (not counting Justin’s work travels). Normally we end up having 2 or 3 longer stays somewhere during the year - 2, 3, or 4 months at a time. This has helped us to feel more grounded and stable, a good mix for the times that we travel faster.
But in this home stretch of being nomads, I was excited to get a lot of new experiences in.
Until I wasn’t.
Halfway through this 4 months in Europe, I just felt...tired. I lost motivation. Doing anything for the blog felt like way too much work. I started taking pictures just because I knew I was supposed to. I only went out exploring when someone pushed me to. I’d loose hours laying around scrolling on my phone - developing lazy habits I never really had before.
And I ended up being alone a lot. I was completely alone for 3 ½ weeks in July, and I couldn’t even get up the energy to try to meet anyone where I was. The only people I talked to were the grocery store cashier and the occasional restaurant server when I went out. And I’m now alone for the last 2 weeks here in Rome. Usually when I’m solo, I like to meet other nomads, travelers, locals, etc.. Right now, I’m just not feeling like myself. I can’t find the motivation. When you don’t feel like yourself, how do you meet new people?
So, my heart caught up to my head much faster than I expected. I ended up being ready to make a home 2 months before I had planned. But we already had paid and booked flights and accommodation through the summer, so changing plans really wasn’t an option.
I’ve been trying to make the most of this time, trying to push myself to get out, explore, learn. It’s just very hard right now. I realize that this is an incredibly privileged problem to have. That’s part of the reason that I’ve found it so hard to talk about. But the truth is that mental health struggles aren’t only for those who live more traditional lifestyles.
I didn’t expect to be so ready to end my nomadic period early. If I did, I would have changed our timeline. Or at the very least, I could have planned circumstances to be more healthy for me - to have friends around, to stay in places longer, etc.. But those are lessons that often have to be learned through experience.
So I’m on the last leg of this nomadic time period - only about a week left until I leave Europe. And then a stopover for a few days in one of my fav cities - Mexico City - where a close friend from NYC will be meeting me. I know that just being in Mexico will heal a lot of my current negativity. I yearn so much for a home right now, and to be around people who care about me. Mexico has often felt like home. And being around good friends will feel like therapy.
And that brings me to the next part. And our big life change-
We are moving to Oaxaca. The place that has felt most like home to me. The city that I first visited in 2015, several months before I even became a nomad, and cried as I was leaving, after only a week. A city that I’ve since spent close to 9 months in now all together. A place that I have good friends that I can count on. A city that has the most vibrant culture I’ve ever experienced. Warm, generous people, the best food in the world, beautiful mountains and desert, incredible art, etc, etc.. Can you tell that I am emotionally attached?
We’ll be making a soft landing with a month long housesit for some friends. We’ll have plenty of time to look for the right apartment. We’ll reconnect and also make new friends, and put down roots, buy more things than fit in our two suitcases (hopefully not toooo many things, though), and let stability be our new normal.
We will still travel, of course. It will still be a huge part of my life. The first couple of months might be about short weekend trips and explorations, but we have some tentative plans for longer trips as the months go by.
And I’m so excited to dive back into this blog - to make it my main focus again. To get my inspiration and motivation back. I’m happiest when I’m buried in my passion project.
Final Thoughts: Absorbing vs. Creating:
Justin and I often talk about this concept of absorbing vs. creating, input vs. output. There are time periods for learning and gaining inspiration and absorbing the energy around you. And then you have to follow that with a time period of creating - doing something with all of those things that you took in.
If you have an imbalance either way, you’ll end up being unhappy. During my time in NYC I was doing too much creating (though most of it wasn’t my own work, but still). After awhile I had no inspiration left, I was burned out, empty. Now, especially these last 2 months, i have been doing too much absorbing, and not doing something with all of these amazing things I’ve taken in. I’m just as burned out, but because I’m overwhelmed on the other end of the scale.
I feel strongly about that concept, but really it could be its own blog post. The point is that I’m looking ahead to this new time period to find real balance in my life. Looking forward to learning how to do that.