There are a lot of different words I've heard to describe my lifestyle. Location independence, digital nomad, travel blogger, restless wanderer, expert vagabond... whatever you call it, choosing to work from my computer and travel the world is far from the norm. Which is probably why so many people ask me what inspired my decision to live as an eternal traveler.
I always felt like I didn't choose travel; travel chose me. Lately, however, I've been thinking that maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit. After all, we all face unexpected events in our lives, but it is our decisions and reactions that shape our life. Travel found me, but I am the one that chose to follow it when it walked (or rather, flew) away.
How one trip became an entire lifestyle
When my parents decided to take us on a family trip to South Africa, Victoria Falls, and Botswana, they knew it was going to be an amazing trip. I even think they had an inkling that it would be a life-changing experience. What they didn't realize was that they were going to spark a wild fire in my soul that would no longer be kept in check by our once-a-year vacations.
On our last night in South Africa I turned to my sister and said, "I'm going to come back here some day."
"Ya," She agreed, "This has been amazing. I would love to come with my own family when I'm older."
I shook my head. She didn't understand. "No," I said," I am coming back. I don't want to come back, I will. I'm going to make that happen and soon."
It took me two years to come up with the money and the plan, but sure enough I came back. Like all of my friends, I had graduated high school and was waving goodbye to my parents. But instead of waving from the door of my dorm, I was waving from the gate of an airplane that would take me back to South Africa. Over the next five months I would travel through South Africa, Turkey, Ethiopia, Thailand, and India. I thought of it as my big trip before beginning on the path to adulthood. It turned out it was just the beginning of what would become a deep addiction to the open road.
Since the day I left my hometown in 2012, I haven't been in any one place for more than 10 consecutive months. I came home from my gap year and left for NYC where I spent two terms studying at NYU. After a summer in California I went back to NYU, only this time I spent my first semester at their Ghana campus and my second semester at their Florence campus. Then it was one more school-year in NYC. I was supposed to be there for two years, but I was itching to get back to travel, so I decided to do a summer term in Paris so that I could graduate early.
When I left for Europe I had it in my mind that when my trip was over I would return to NYC and accept the job I'd been offered. I would rent an apartment, begin an entry-level job in a normal career, and start "adulting." But the minute I got on the airplane and watched the city grow smaller and smaller, I knew I wasn't coming back. At least, not permanently.
Making the decision to keep traveling
After my summer in England and Paris I came back to the US and spent the fall traveling around the states, visiting family and friends. I spent the holidays with my family in California before taking off again, this time to Central and South America. Only this time I didn't leave under the illusion that when this trip ended, my travel days would be over and I would settle down in an apartment with a normal career.
I had started working as a freelance writer and I was ready to see how viable a life of constant travel really was. Time after time I'd chosen to book that flight when staying where I was made more sense for just about every reason. Now I was living on a tinier budget than ever before and my future was a giant question mark. And yet, once again, I booked the flight.
Because anything else would have been a lie. My amazing parents always encouraged me to be true to myself and do what makes me happy. It didn't take long for me to realize that travel is that thing. A life without travel barely seems worth living, so I stopped pretending travel was a phase I would grow out of, and I embraced the location independent lifestyle.
When faced with a fork in the road...
...take both paths.
This February I was washing dishes at a surf camp in Costa Rica, convinced I would be doing this travel blogger thing for the long-run, when I got an email from University of Edinburgh. "Congratulations!" It declared, "You've been accepted to the MSc Mind, Language, and Embodied Cognition program."
I screamed and ran around the camp jumping, yelling, and maybe even crying a little. Then I sat down and got real serious. I had to make a choice. I could keep traveling, working as a freelancer, and seeing the world. Or I could go home, save for grad school, and head to Scotland in September for a yearlong masters program.
It was a fork in the road.
That's when I realized I didn't have to choose one over the other. I could choose both. I could travel as a freelancer for the next couple months, go home at the end of April, go to Scotland for a year, and then go wherever the wind takes me. For so long I've had everything planned out and for once I've decided to stop pretending like I'm going to have this normal and predictable life some day and start embracing the difference and spontaneity that makes me who I am.
Maybe I'll keep traveling after Scotland. Maybe I'll keep studying. Maybe I'll do both. Who knows? And why do I have to? I'm doing what makes me happy. I'm living a life I can be proud of. What more can we honestly ask of ourselves?