This is a reflection of a few life lessons I learned while living the road life, and how the road influenced me to learn them.
I took off to live on the road with my boyfriend, Roberto, in September of 2017. All we knew is that we weren’t happy working the 9-5 to pay for an overrated rent and having limited time to explore beyond our occasional volunteering weekends in Joshua Tree National Park (for which we were having a hard time affording anyways). Nevertheless, we traded in both our cars and got ourselves a truck to minimally convert it so that it could become our home for an indefinite amount of time.
Then off we went! We had no plan except to visit some of our family members in Mexico and spend as much time as possible outside, exploring beaches, mountains, and deserts. During our time living on the road, we made a lot of mistakes. But that made us grow and gain perspective on many aspects of life. In this piece, I’m sharing the three most important lessons I learned during my time as a nomad, lessons which I believe will stay close to me for the rest of my life. I hope you find it inspiring and feel compelled to share with us in return, the life lessons you’ve learned through travel and adventure as well.
Having Purpose Bigger than Yourself is Key to Living Your Best Life
There were times when my purpose wasn’t clear, and those were the hardest, to say the least. My initial purpose was to explore more, to see beyond the dry walls of an apartment I disliked, to hike in different environments, and to learn new things about nature. But honestly, once we left the apartment and I felt the first rush of freedom from hitting “the road,” my purpose proved not to be very clear or strong enough.
During my time on the road, I cried a lot, and I mean it, A LOT. The trigger that led me to dark times was always something money-related, like a client not paying on time, or having mis-tracked our monthly budget. But today, each time these issues re-appear because there is always something, I realize the more convinced and clear I am about my purpose, this makes my circumstances easier to navigate. All the ugly becomes just a mere happening, rather than sending me right to a painful moment of desperation and sadness (as it would before). Because I know why I am in this world, why I do what I do, and how valuable that really is.
Finding a strong purpose connects you to meaning with everything you do.
Today, my purpose is finding ways to support the conservation efforts in the communities I come in contact with. My purpose is bigger than myself, and I can feel it pounding vigorously in my heart. Every single day my actions have a reason to be, and it’s a feeling you can only understand once you find it for yourself.
And of course, your purpose can be to find purpose until you do. The real key is to find ways of reminding yourself of your WHY and keeping yourself in alignment with that through thick and thin. I’m not reinventing the wheel here. Although it did take a year on the road for me to personally embody and understand the importance of finding my purpose, as it turns out, many disciplines such as literature, philosophy, and psychology have been exploring this concept and its benefits since forever ago. Just take a dive on Google and see how many resources and articles on the topic you’ll find.
Living on the road, you are forced to figure out almost daily, where you’ll sleep, how you manage your limited at-hand resources, and where and when to go next. Having a clear purpose helps you to feel grounded and gives you true meaning as you continue to explore through the uncertainties of everyday life.
No, You Don’t Always Need a Plan. But yes, sometimes you do.
Having a plan can be good, but having flexibility opens the door to opportunities and adventures you couldn’t have discovered otherwise. Taking a detour because a town’s name sounded funny might take you on the best experience, or also on not the best experience. But in the end, it’s all a lesson, and the potential for a real adventure expands when you are open to the new and the unknown.
It’s all the same in life. Having a goal and setting up a plan to achieve it, can be very helpful. But if along the way you refuse to see other opportunities or paths to get you where you really want to go (compared to where you thought and planned to go), you could be missing out on significant opportunities, better relationships, and a whole new point of view for and of yourself.
When do you absolutely need a plan? When you are hitting the backcountry or a trail.
Not planning and preparing can take an ugly turn for the worst when it comes to the power of nature, and you have no ways of communicating with the world. Again, one has to be aware enough to know when the plan is not going well. Push your limits, but know your limits. Always plan on turning back under dangerous circumstances. During my hiking trips, I’ve seen people approaching to hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park after a snowstorm, and attempting to summit Longs Peak (which is technically a vertical climb) when a storm was evidently approaching. Watch out for summit fever, no selfie is worth putting yourself in danger.
What other plan do I think everyone should have? The financial kind-of-plan.
Being flexible within a budget really gives you healthy guidelines to act upon cravings, impulses, and big life choices. Not having a financial plan can be detrimental to your life when all your backlog of credit card debt piles up too high in contrast with your income, or when your monthly subscriptions to a million sites (you never visit) add up to what could easily be a retirement savings account – except you have no savings. I had gotten pretty good at my financial planning and budgeting when I was working only with myself, but sharing finances with Roberto has taken a while to figure out, especially as I manage our shared income. Our cash flow was so inconsistent during most of our time on the road, that when one client didn’t pay on time, it threw us off to the extent that we had to watch the mileage of gas we used carefully. We were visiting Death Valley at the time, and with the park being so spread out we ended up having to stay on just one area and miss out on many of its attractions. Also, because we had no real financial plan we had many surprise expenses to deal with, like paying for our truck’s service and registration fees – which again threw off the whole game.
In short, know your needs, your expenses, use your common sense and logic and stay ahead of it all. Whether it’s preparing for road life or living in the city, planning can be great, as everything, in moderation.
Distance = Perspective
They say you don’t know what you have until you see it go away. Likewise, for you to see yourself and understand yourself, you actually have to remove yourself from your comfort zone and your community. It is only through interacting with new people, new cultures, and a new environment that you can begin understanding who YOU are. As a person who removed herself from “home” in another country about 12 years ago, I can tell you that had I stayed there I would have never been able to fully understand my roots. I would’ve never been able to grow past my roots. I’m not saying you have to go away from “home” forever, but what I am saying is that the clarity and awareness that come with living at a distance from where you feel you belong are very sure to help you grow and understand yourself better. And you never know, you might even find you actually belong somewhere else. To me, home is wherever I go. But I couldn’t have known that had I stayed back in my hometown or home country.
Just like when you stand at the top of a high peak, you get to see a larger picture of your world, when you give yourself the chance to live at a distance from your home base you get to see a larger image of yourself.
Being on the road, you are constantly challenged by perspective. Some places win your heart so quickly you feel almost incapable of leaving, some places fill you with discomfort so much you cannot wait to go. Each occasion, if you are willing to ponder a little, can tell you a lot about what moves your heart, what values you share, what values you must work on, and so much more.
During my time living on the road, I realized I no longer enjoy the concept of a city as much as I used too. Having to sneak around to find safe-feeling places to sleep, allowed me to be so close to many issues you can easily overlook when you have a safe roof within a city. From people who have lost their way and live in deep pain and inhumane conditions, to amounts of trash that might as well have a civilization of their own, I got to feel both my immense privilege and also a rejection from supporting a system that allows for such truths to exist. That is perhaps why, as we decided to take a break from the road to find a little more grounding and stability we chose a place far from concrete streets, where we personally know our neighbors and together we keep our surroundings healthy and clean. Sidenote: Does this mean I’m turning my back on the issues that cities face? Well, after what I have seen and experienced, I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, if I lived in a town. But my choice is to live in a different environment, one which has its own issues, which I do face and make an effort to support as often as I am able to.
Today, looking back at life on the road, I can see in perspective a couple of kids trying to run away and eat the world “ a lo loco” (a Mexican expression that doesn’t really translate but means something like “being just crazy without much thought”). They reached some of the highest peaks they’ve ever seen and entered the deepest valleys and darkest caverns they have ever known. They would do it again, and they will.