The Virgin Islands: Nomad Style
"To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” Quote from the movie, Walter Mitty (if you haven't seen it and you're reading this blog, you must rent it and see it stat--it is the quintessence of life and travel and imagination and I promise you, you need it in your life)
Tonight we'll set out for a new slew of adventures. We’ll be testing the limits of our travel prowess and improving on what we already know. Much to our own surprise, we’ve traveled a lot this year, and each trip has proven to be a lesson in who we are as travelers and how we can do better. For some, travel is a cherry on top of a well-situated life. For us, however, it’s the necessity that drives life. We must travel. The road must be taken, as we are ever taken with it. And so, we find ways to fit the world into our lives. Currently, we’re cramming it around the edges of what is commonly called “reality.” Our budget fits tight, and the thing to give is comfort in the day to day, not the insatiable wanderlust that grips us. We’re bound to travel, servants indentured to our wandering hearts, except we’re free to decide. And we choose adventure around every corner.
Our perfect life looks like a fully paid-off spot of land in the mountains with a small, but comfortable off-the-grid home on it. Assuming we can both find ways to work flexible jobs, we could travel freely and still have a home-base. We learned in 2011 that a home base is important to us. The proposed arrangement fits us perfectly. So far, we’ve worked for seven years so far to attain this dream. We’ve lived in multiple renovation homes. We’ve stripped floors, ceilings, carpet, linoleum, and so many unholy things we can’t even tell you about here, because this isn’t the renovation blog and we’re not sure you have the stomach for some of it. And we’ll continue that way. Truly, we’ve seen it all. I’ve cooked in a kitchen with no counters and used the bathtub to obtain all of my water. I’ve run a crockpot in a house that doesn’t have a kitchen or floors. The crockpot just sits in the corner bubbling away, filling the structure with home-ness. And we work away the hours after we return from work.
A couple years ago, we had projects underway and were trying to make a house (which we’d stripped bare) livable for my sister who was soon to move into it. But we also hadn’t fed the travel monster in quite some time and our anniversary was upon us.
We got married in January so travel would always be cheap. That wasn’t the entire reason, but it was a consideration. The wedding was one day, but an anniversary comes every year, you see. So the night before our flight, we worked on a house we didn’t even live in yet. After a full day of work each, we put in the first bathroom sink for the house, we installed the only shower the house would have. We worked until 4am and then slept half an hour on the floor, drove an hour and half to our own home, and set off to see Seattle. We had no idea how tired we were until we began to unwind and rest. It was an awakening of the senses for us. We began to grasp (just a little bit) how important travel is to us. But all we were really seeing was the tip of the iceberg.
I'm not proud to admit this, but we generally work our living space into a state of relative functionality and then live with it until nearly time to sell when we finish all the nagging projects. Where we live has always been about resale value and income possibility for the space we live in more than it's ever been about finding a place we love. We bought an unwieldy duplex house that was abundantly charming and it saw us through some years when our yen to see things and change the world took us down some dark financial paths. I ended up very sick and as medical bills piled high, the rentability of the larger portion of that house is quite literally what put a roof over our heads for a number of years. Then we collected ourselves and our trip to Seattle was the first time we began to fraternize with the travel bug again.
So while many people say they can’t imagine what it would take to move to another country because they’re so settled, we take a different approach. For us, it’s not until we’re entirely settled to the point that we no longer even have debt on the property we own that we can move. We’re inching toward that goal with all our determination and sheer force of will. Once that property sits comfortably as ours, we’ll be able to travel in peace. For us, property ownership and vagabond-style travel are inextricably linked. To others, it looks like we’ve lost our minds and we’re wandering in circles. And that’s okay. We’ve always been outside the box to the extent that we seldom approach anything resembling a box. We honestly couldn’t find it with both hands and a map.
What we can’t let go of is the way that seeing a new place changes us. We are hopelessly addicted to the way that we become more compassionate, more aware, and more involved in this world each time it shows us a new facet.
We’ve had a banner year for travel. And it came as a shock to us. For eight of the past 12 months, we’ve had at least one trip per month that involved leaving our State and sometimes also the country. With each trip, we’ve honed our travel skills. It all started with a crazy idea to buy tickets to San Diego because they cost only $35 per person each way. So we did. And then we elected not to rent a car to save money. That’s how we became nomads. As nomads, we saw things differently. We took trains, Ubers, free shuttles, an ill-fated tandem bike, and for over 10 miles each day, we used our feet as our primary mode of transportation. Our feet took us places we’d have missed in the comforts of a rental car. And still we picked a few things that we absolutely splurged on in place of that car. I saw my beloved grey whales, we toured restaurants and literally ate like kings sometimes, and other times we ate like penny-pinching nomads. We ate at the fifth best restaurant in the world one night, and then dined on cheap beach food the next day, while other days, we skipped meals to cover the cost of something else. Each experience we enjoyed thoroughly in its own right. At the end of the trip, we reluctantly traded our backpacks and road-hungry feet for our former lives as desk jockeys. And doing so brought us to the base realization that we couldn’t keep living that way.
At dinner each night, we’d craft new ideas, new ways to travel. Ideas like folding bikes, hammocks, and even an RV have swirled through our conversations. The rest is history. History I’ll gladly relive in the pages of this blog.
All of it brought us to the brink of life inside our norms, and we’ve cast ourselves headlong onto the world. This trip we’re leaving for tonight is going to be, without any doubt, the most interesting trip we’ve taken so far. And we don’t have a single luxury planned, in fact, all we have is a campground for a few of the nights. The hope of going diving died with our dwindling budget. We seriously considered cancelling the trip, and when we found the plane tickets to be non-refundable, we elected to make this the pinnacle of our travel experiments for 2015.
We will be camping, first at an actual campsite, and later in hammocks in the forest of palm trees beside the sea. I expect we’ll walk more miles on this trip than we’ve ever logged before. We’re certainly not renting a car. We don’t have a sleeping space booked for all of our nights in the Virgin Islands. And we’re not stressed.
A backpack apiece is all we’re carrying, and in them we’ll have a place to sleep and everything we intend for entertainment. Our nomadic hearts will be lulled by the comfortable sense of not knowing what’s coming. I’m packing, planning, and getting myself ready for a trip unlike anything I’ve ever done before. Each step is another step closer to everything we long to become. We’re leaping off the edge of cultural norms and into the delicious unknown of nomad lifestyle. We’ll report how it goes and what we learn along the way. We are the Royal Vagabonds. We live life fully, pressing our limits and discovering our strengths. We indulge when it counts and skimp when it doesn’t. And we’re all the richer for it.
Cheers to the nomad heart, may it long beat with passionate abandon!