Adulting as a Nomad

Living the nomad lifestyle is invigorating. I wake up to the warmth of sunrise creeping through my windows, I drink my coffee near the edge of whatever given mountain called me to me that day, and when I want to explore somewhere new, I go. No ties, no one to report to, nothing holding me back. Early in my career, I always thought I would end up with a job that sent me all over the world for work, and when that wasn’t happening, I decided that I needed to create the life that I wanted to live. And I really love it.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. I was fascinated with stars and space. I mostly blame Tom Hanks and Apollo 13 for these dreams. When I was twelve years old, we took a family vacation to Australia and happened to be there just at the right time to see baby turtles hatch in the middle of the night and run towards the white foamy waves of the ocean. I honestly don’t know if I watched a single turtle that night, as the entire rest of my family of seven eagerly watched the adorable little creatures, but what I do remember is the feeling of looking up at the stars and experiencing everything else around me fade into the distance. It was like the world was on mute and me and the stars were in our own dimension, completely isolated. I felt like there was a tunnel pulling me up towards space and I couldn’t break my gaze.

As you may have realized by now, I did not become an astronaut. That dream shifted pretty quickly when I realized how much physics I would have to take. After that, I honestly don’t really remember what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I pictured my life as an adult, the main images that came to mind were all of the places I was going to visit. I thought I might live in Thailand or the Philippines. I loved (and still love) Southeast Asia. Such warm and welcoming cultures where people take care of each other. But I also had never been to the middle east or Africa or South America or Russia. There was so much to see.

I had the great privilege of growing up in a family that took vacations around the world and I absolutely loved those trips. When we first went to China when I was seven, I remember that I got so excited that I had my own porch off my room and was convinced that I could now get a horse and keep it on my porch. Or when we went to Thailand for the first time, I had never seen a dolphin or driven a jet ski. Each trip was so exhilarating. The thrill of exploring somewhere new becomes quite addictive. Even the vacations where I was a complete brat and didn’t want to go to the Natural History Museum or Stonehenge — just leave me alone and let me listen to Savage Garden on my walkman! — e’hem… our family trips are what I remember most about childhood.

What I realize now looking back, is that wanting to be an astronaut was my internal spirit’s way of telling me that my lifeblood was to explore. I wanted to see everything and experience it all. And when I dreamed of life as an adult, I knew that was my path. I spent a lot of my adult life getting distracted from that truth. It’s not that I didn’t travel or explore before choosing nomad life, but it wasn’t a top priority and I was minimizing a part of me that brought incredible joy. I am sharing this background to remind myself (and you) to go back to those childhood memories. To really feel what it was like to be happy in those most perfect  moments and pinpoint what it is that brought you alive. Go back to those the thrills of childhood. There is something so genuine and true about the joys we experience as a kid. Make those dreams real.

With all of that said, choosing to live my dream of endless travel and adventure, comes with sacrifices. And it turns out that adulting is still a thing, no matter where you are or how much you try to simplify your life. I a still  I am a tax paying citizen, I pay my bills, I get junk mail. People often ask me what I do to handle these types of scenarios. Where do I bank? Where do I shower? How do I do laundry? So in attempts to bring some of the adulting to the romanticized life of the nomad, I am going to answer a few of those questions.

Where are you a resident?

This one is tricky because it impacts my taxes, car registration, voting, how my employer pays taxes, etc. I don’t have a childhood home or parents who even live in the country, so there hasn’t really been an easy default location to choose to be a resident. So I decided to keep my residency in Indiana. It didn’t make sense to change it to somewhere else if I wasn’t sure I would be there long term. Fortunately, I have friends who are gracious enough for me to use their home address in Indiana. I was still able to vote in the 2016 election, I filed my taxes and will be able to renew my car plates this month. My advice for other nomads? Stay a resident wherever makes the most sense for your job and is somewhere you go back to often enough that it won’t be too complicated.

How do you get your mail?

Honestly, there’s almost nothing that comes through the mail that I need to have access to. A few super old school businesses like my doctor and vet, but other than that, I purposefully made sure that all of my important info comes through email before I hit the road. This is SO important and really only takes a couple of hours to set up. As far as anything that does come through the mail, the easiest way that I’ve seen so far is to have a PO box somewhere in the country where you can request them to forward you your mail periodically. Forwarding is pretty easy and most of the time I have things sent to General Delivery at whatever USPS I will be closest to. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a package and sent it to General Delivery in Port Angeles, WA and when I showed up at the post office, there it was. Even the smaller town post offices offer this service. It’s pretty incredible! It has also allowed me to get a few letters and packages from friends here and there, which is always a highlight when you are on the road.

Where do you bank?

This one wasn’t much of an adjustment for me since I already had a completely online bank — Capital One 360. So I have not noticed much difference being on the road vs. not. If I need to send a check (god forbid…) I can issue one from my bank and it takes about a week to get to the recipient. I haven’t done that in over a year though and almost always use Venmo or PayPal to send people money. I don’t have a checkbook at all. There have been a few times where I had to get a money order, but that is also relatively simple. You walk into CVS, ask for a money order, fill out the little slip, hand them your cash, and there you go. Nothing from my bank goes through the mail, it’s all paperless, and I can deposit checks from my phone, so this is one area that is pretty simple to navigate.

How do you shower?

I am not sure if I am proud to admit this or embarrassed, but I went a solid six months without having regular access to a shower. Some vanners have solar showers that are hooked up to the back of their van where they can wash off. I do not have such civilized contraptions… So I would shower wherever I could. Sometimes I would sneak into a campground to shower, a few of them actually had pay stations for their showers. In between long stretches, I would just bath in a lake. I actually didn’t mind doing that for a couple of weeks even. I could even kill two birds with one stone by soaping up Simone and playing fetch with her in the water until she was rinsed off.

On a daily basis, I use facial wet wipes to wash my face and at least every other day to wipe down the rest of me. It’s amazing how refreshed you can feel from something simple like that. I also use dry shampoo almost daily for my hair. I have since grown up (slightly) and gave in to buying a gym membership. I joined Planet Fitness, which is inexpensive and all over the country, so I have access to a shower in most states.

Where do you do laundry?

About once every two weeks or so, I’ll hit up a laundromat. I no longer sort colors, white and linens, it all goes into one giant washer and one giant drier. I actually kind of the like the routine of sitting in a laundromat, people watching, as we all stare into the massive machines tumbling our outfits round and round. There is something very iconic about the experience and it makes me feel like I am in a movie. To wash all of my clothes, it costs me about $10, which is not very different from what I was paying at the apartment previously.

Where do you go to the bathroom?

I was having a conversation with a group of people recently about building out vans and one of the guys mentioned that he didn’t think he would need a bathroom. I was quick to agree and said, “Hey, if I as a girl can function without a bathroom in my van, then any man should have no problem without one. Is that really gross and way too much information?” We all laughed.

TMI alert, I do not have a bathroom in my van and I frankly, I don’t really need one. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stopped on the shoulder of an off ramp to open my two side doors as “curtains” to pee. When you travel as many miles as I do, you don’t have time to stop at a gas station every time you have to pee. It’s completely inefficient. When I’m hiking, I pee in the woods. If I have to do more serious business, there are a million gas stations, McDonald’s, restaurants, Starbucks, etc. that I have access to. As much as I’d like to be in the middle of nature most of the time, the reality is that we live in a highly civilized country and accessing a bathroom is not difficult. Honestly, it’s the least of my worries on the road.


So there you have it! The logistics of adulting on the road has actually not been as painful as I originally thought it would be. The main way to make it work is to have supportive friends and family to help when needed. Happy to take other questions for anything I missed!

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