4 Surprising Life Lessons from My First Year as a Nomad

I’m writing this from a picnic bench at Thunderbird Conservation Park in Glendale, Arizona, surrounded by hills and trails for miles in every direction. My dog Ginger is lounging under a tree, exhausted from some hearty ball play this morning. She snoozes with one eye half-open, in case I get up for an unscheduled run. The sky is overcast and the weather is pleasantly cool ”” a refreshing breeze, yet it’s warm enough for just a t-shirt and short shorts.

Now I sit and type, hugged by nature, and reminisce on what has brought me to spend the past two days bumming around this particular trailhead, with no tasks other than to feed my mind and empower my body in whichever way I please.

Seeing the Light
© Vanessa Runs

I have written many words on how Shacky and I moved into an RV and gave up our jobs to travel, run trails, and in my case””write my first book. But now we’ve been on the road for several weeks. My book has come out, it’s doing great, and I’ve started my next one. In that time, there have been many concepts that have shifted my perspective on the world, and there is value here for everyone””whether you live in an RV or not””to make small changes and enjoy a life that is just a little bit more awesome.

Here are four secrets I’ve gleaned from my still-new nomadic life (and four corresponding challenges in the hopes that you can do the same):

#1: Uni-tasking

Back in the “real” world, when I had a job and a house, I found myself multi-tasking constantly. It was my only chance at completing my lengthy list of chores and responsibilities.

At work, there was no down time. The daily tasks (checking email) were overshadowed by the weekly tasks (writing, editing), which were overpowered by the monthly tasks (preparing reports and keeping those page views rising). Month after month, the tasks repeated themselves.

At home, much of the same – the repetitive cycle was never-ending, and only served to keep the house in working order, like a hamster wheel that turns round and round but never advances anywhere.

Moving into a 22-foot RV, 97 percent of my previous To Do list was eradicated. There was no office to spend my day in. There was no house to maintain. In place of my To Do list, I formed a Project List. These were not tasks that repeated on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. These were big ideas and huge projects that would take months ””years, even ””to see through. For the first time in my life, I had the time to slowly chip away at these dreams, and set them into motion.

The first big project I tackled was writing my first book, The Summit Seeker, a task that took me nine months to complete. Besides writing my second book, other things on my Project List include:

  • PCT thru-hike
  • Run across El Salvador (approx. 160 miles)
  • Spend a summer in Alaska
  • Live in Slab City for one year
  • Run across America
  • Live and work at a farm for one year
  • Live and work at a wild animal sanctuary
  • Summit all of Colorado’s 14ers (mountains reaching 14,000 feet)

I no longer multitask. I don’t have to. I have the time to sit and spend hours, or a day, or a week, completely immersed in one project that interests me. The progress I’ve seen from this uni-tasking is mind-blowing, and cringe to think of how many of us put big ideas on the back burner while we desperately try to cycle through the smaller, meaningless chores of daily life.

Call to Action Challenge

Set aside one hour each day to pursue your personal projects. You probably already have one in mind. It’s that one thing that you’ve been meaning to “get to” when your schedule clears up. Guard this personal time fiercely.

Neglect your daily chores if you must and follow the natural flow of your curiosity. Did you read or see something that you want to learn more about? Follow that trail all the way through. Yes, it may lead to a rabbit hole or a dead end, but that’s okay. Pursue your interests, even if you start by staring off into space, just pondering.

Accomplish something that won’t have to be re-done in a week or a month. You don’t have to change the world, but maybe you will learn a new instrument, pick up a new language, or write a book.

Chilling on a Rail

#2: Authenticity

When I was working in an office, I got called to my supervisor’s desk one day and asked to put on my shoes. Because I worked behind my own desk all day and never had comfortable business shoes, I would kick them off under my work space. Nobody would notice, but once I forgot and walked to a meeting in just my socks. I got in trouble.

In my old life, there was professional-Vanessa and there was play-Vanessa. There was the Vanessa who dressed business casual and went to meetings, and the Vanessa who played on the trails and acted silly with the dog.

One of the first things I noticed after moving into the RV was that most of my Vanessas evaporated. There is only one Vanessa now””just me. I didn’t have to wear dress shoes or wear a meeting-face. I was no longer expected to look or act a certain way. I could be myself.

I began to rediscover Me, and learned more about what I loved and disliked. Getting comfortable in my own skin gave me a newfound confidence. I stopped second-guessing my dry, sarcastic sense of humor (Would the office folks get offended?), and censoring my opinions (Was this the appropriate crowd to express my true views?). I regret with all my heart every second of my life spent trying to fit into a mold that was not me.

Call to Action Challenge

Go 24 hours straight just being yourself. Genuinely and fully. Be the same person at work that you are at home, that you are on the trails, that you are deep inside. You’ll be surprised at how much you can get away with. Once you’ve mastered that, go for three days. One week, then one month.

Catch yourself every time you’re trying to be someone or something else. It will take time, and yes you will offend some people with your ridiculous views and obscene sense of humor. But keep at it. You’ll slowly weed out all the people who shouldn’t be in your life, and those who can truly love you will be drawn your way.

#3: Sufficiency

A few weeks ago, the thermostat in our RV fridge broke and we lost the ability to store food. It would either get very warm or completely freeze, and all our food went bad. We shut the fridge door and started doing what I thought was impossible: living and eating well without a fridge.

I instinctively switched to a mostly raw vegan diet, but the most drastic change of all was the shift in my perspective on sufficiency. Our fridge is tiny, so it’s far from what most people would call abundant. Anyone could see that we were already living minimally ”¦ but were we really? With the fridge, it was easy to buy a little extra. Sometimes we’d throw extra food in the small fridge until it went bad.

Now, by force, we eat day-to-day. We buy what is truly sufficient. We know that if we can’t eat what we have today or tomorrow, we’ll have to throw it out. We have one box where we keep fresh fruits and veggies like oranges and cucumbers, as well as another microwaved-sized drawer to keep everything else. Here we keep soups or pasta or canned beans. And that’s all the space we have.

It sounds restricting, but the fridge-free experience has been liberating. It has freed my mind to think in terms of the present, and not worry about what I will eat the next day. This has challenged my fears about the future, and focused my energy on doing the best I can today.

Call to Action Challenge

Go three days without using a fridge. This is tough to get your mind around, but easier than it sounds. At the very least, it will improve your awareness of exactly how much you need to eat every day and how much food is actually wasted. Anybody can get through three days. A lot of food, you may be surprised to find, does not actually need to be refrigerated, especially if you’re eating it that same day. Eat fresh food while it’s fresh.

Tree Hugging!
© Vanessa Runs

#4: Hospitality

You know that feeling when you have a guest over and sense that they genuinely enjoyed their time with you? They loved your food, they were refreshed by your conversation, and they benefited from your comforts and amenities. Serving them made YOU feel good. I was always taught to take in strangers and help travelers. But these days, how many strangers and travelers really cross our paths?

After leaving home, Shacky and I became those strangers and travelers. And the hospitality we have experienced has blown us away. People WANT to help us. They want to share their showers, laundry rooms, food, beer, wine, pools, hot tubs, and homes. As much as we have gained from this unexpected hospitality, I always come away with the sense that these families were just as refreshed by treating us well.

How often, in this day and age, do we invite complete nomadic strangers to our home for a meal? True hospitality is still as magical as it always was, and we’re missing out.

We don’t give people enough opportunities to help us. In a world where everyone has everything, hospitality is a lost art. We all have enough to make our own dinners. We can swim in our own pools. We can use our own amenities. But when you put yourself in a place of need, even in a small way, that spark””that desire in others to help””is ignited.

Even harder than offering hospitality is receiving it because we like to be self-sufficient. It’s hard to put yourself in a place of need, and even harder to ask for help. Yet Shacky and I have seen the joy and satisfaction that others feel when they are able to help us.

Call to Action Challenge

Put yourself in a place of need. You don’t have to become homeless, but put yourself in a position where you can benefit from the help of a friend or a stranger””and ask for that help. This can be as small as borrowing a book, a kitchen item, or asking for a batch of cookies that your neighbor is so good at baking. Don’t pay them for it, but genuinely and fully appreciate it.

This sounds douchey, but I guarantee it’s a beautiful exercise. You are allowing someone else to help you, and you’re putting yourself in a place of vulnerability. Of course, that person is free to turn you down, and it’s okay if they do. Just ask someone else. Receiving hospitality is harder than offering it, and I strongly suspect that the greatest benefit goes to the person who extends the help. Give others a chance to give. And always give freely yourself.

I wish that these insights had become clear to me even before we started roaming the country. You don’t have to be a nomad to reap the benefits from them.

If you do any of these challenges, I’d love for you to leave a comment and let me know how it goes. You can also email me at vanessaruns@gmail.com, or tag me on Facebook with your challenge at facebook.com/vanessaruns.

9 Responses

  1. Ariel

    I really love the sentiment of this whole post! Especially the point about authenticity; I definitely agree that it’s so important to be genuine, and it’s so refreshing when you meet people who are authentic, especially when traveling! I might have to give the fridge challenge a go as well! ;)

    Reply
  2. Carmel

    I can definitely relate to #2–having a work self and a play self. I don’t think anyone at my office has an idea of the person I really am. It’s a tough act to keep up. Great post.

    Reply
  3. Angel

    I honestly envy your courage to go nomadic. Sometimes, I just want to do that too but I guess there are still too much things I have to settle before I actually get on with life on the way I want it. You really must understand now how pointless living FOR money can be. You’re inspirational! Congratulations!

    Reply
  4. Lauren@GreenGlobalTravel

    I’ve always thought of this as a challenging idea, but have not had the courage to do so. Living day to day, without a fridge seems doable, but difficult. Congratulations on your book The Summit Seeker. Thanks for sharing your experience and good luck on future travels!

    Reply
  5. Adam - Tropical Nomad

    Hi Venessa,
    Just came across your blog today and I must say you are a unique and inspirational character :)

    I have applied for the Tough Mudder event in New Zealand but there are still not sure if it is going ahead..

    Best if luck with your books

    Reply
  6. Chris - Tieland to Thailand

    Very inspiring post.

    Uni-Tasking is something that you have to convince yourself of as being good and fulfilling. It is difficult to unlearn what has been ingrained in us from such a young age. Once we do I think it really opens up options that we hadn’t even considered before.

    Thanks for being my source of motivation today!

    Reply
  7. Charli l Wanderlusters

    I think your ‘Call to Action’ changes are great, so motivating and illustrating that change can be such a positive thing. I’ve been nomadic for the last two years and recently started working as I travel. Freelancing gives life balance, I choose when I work and where I work from. I have my own project list and I’m striving to achieve. This has given my motivation a huge boost, thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  8. Lily Saganich

    I appreciate the message of mindfulness and intentional living. You are an inspiration thank you!

    Reply
  9. TM

    A whole bunch of very inspiring articles, thank you V! Thank you for the dreaming and the light, for the saying ‘it’s possible’ and the ‘go for it’.

    Reply

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