I’m having this weird unsettling feeling that I don’t know where I am. As I’m walking around the airport something happens and my brain races to try to figure out my whereabouts – narrowing it from continent, to country, to city. This is all brought on by the fact that in the last two days I’ve been to 8 different airports and cities: Placencia, Belize City, Houston, Minneapolis, Lincoln, Omaha, Dallas, and JFK NYC. I’ll be in NYC for 5 days and then take off again for San Francisco, Anchorage, Nome, and Anadyr Russia over the course of 3 days.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When I left on September 8, 2006 it was only supposed to be for a year to 20 some countries around Asia, Africa, and Europe. At that time everything about travel was new to me, I barely remember who I was back then, I had a huge closet full of designer clothes/shoes, an endless budget to party with, surrounded by friends I’d go out with every week, a running club, and I hated my job. I still remember being at JFK airport getting ready to leave a bundle of nerves; a complex combination of excited and scared emotions flowing through me. That excitement and fear is what drove me onto the first plane, and it still keeps me going 9 years later.
It doesn’t seem real; 7 continents, 65 countries, epic treks, safaris, kayaking in Antarctica, meeting world famous chefs, press pass for the Indy 500, eating at the best restaurant in the world, staying in the same place as Prince William and Kate, climbing glaciers, heli hiking, surfing on 3 continents, dipping a foot in all 4 Oceans, staring at thousand year old ruins, staring into a polar bear’s eyes, and driving across countries where there are no roads.
Nine years is longer than I’ve held any single job, lived in any single place (besides my childhood home), it’s longer than most marriages last, and for a commitment-phobe…9 years of anything is a lifetime. Applying for visas, buying airline tickets, packing and repacking, never doing laundry in the same place twice, editing photos, and writing millions of words have become my ‘normal’.
The 9 years have had a weird arc to them. Years 1, 2, 3 were all about learning to travel, being a budget backpacker, figuring out how to live without things and make a living somehow, and soaking up new cultures via very independent travel that I organized myself. Years 4,5,6 were probably the most amazing from a mind, body and soul standpoint. I pushed myself in new directions, traveled deeper and longer, did more epic trips, and I started traveling with my family regularly. I began to figure out how to make some money doing photography & blogging, and started a career break movement in Meet Plan Go. Years 7,8,9 have been another big change for me as I started more freelance writing in order to make money, and my style and length of travel has changed drastically – it’s less independent and more organized tour oriented. The main driver of my travel plans is work rather than ‘where I want to go”. I used to do more slow travel, and I now find myself ping-ponging all over the world, flying more than I ever have in the past. I stay in a one place for only a few days and then move onto the next experience or project. Hence why I often don’t know where I am. I am peripatetic.
I started to try to write this post,a 9 year recap in my series of ‘This is Sherry…’, a number of times. I struggled with how to be honest and not sound like a spoiled brat. All I can say is that I LOVE travel, it excites and delights me. After 9 years on the road I couldn’t be more thankful about all the things that I get to do, however it all does come with a price – and that’s the part that I struggle to share. After all, I have the best, most envious job in the world.
“Oh my God, you have my dream job!” is the most common thing I hear everywhere I go.
Travel writer/blogger/photographer must be the most sought after job in the world, and I have it! I have worked my butt off to get here, and like everything in life, it has it’s ups and downs, especially when you do it like I’m doing it – without a homebase. And the reason I don’t have a homebase is because there’s no way I could afford a home/rent on what I make as a freelance writer/blogger. But I’ve been willing to live this life in order to write, photograph, and see the world.
It’s important to be honest. I recently read this piece by fellow blogger and nomad, Wandering Earl, and I totally agree with him. I am impressed, excited, and disturbed about the turns travel blogging have taken since I’ve been involved – but that commentary belongs in a separate post in the coming future. As much as I really want people to travel and see the world for a longer period of time than a vacation, I don’t believe people should do what I’m doing – living indefinitely out of a suitcase trying to make a living. It’s really not for most people. Do it if you want, but I won’t tell you that it’s easy and doesn’t come without a price.
The honest truth right now is that I’m tired, and most of the time I’m rather stressed out. My relationships suffer. The perks in my life are great, but moving constantly is hard.
Have I Changed?
People ask me if I’ve changed, and of course I have changed, it’s been 9 years. Even if I had been sitting still on the ‘regular path’ I would have changed over the course of 9 years.
I get so tired of talking sometimes; it’s exhausting constantly meeting new people in my nomadic world, so I now welcome alone time more than I ever did. Yet I strangely love it and hate it. In a normal person’s life maybe you are around people you know 80% of the time and meet new people 20% of the time. But in my life that’s reversed. “What keeps you grounded?” Heidi asks when I told her I’ve been homeless for the last 9 years. “Do you have a van or car or something?” was her first question. “I don’t really have anything that keeps me grounded.” I reply in a defeated tone. Nine years of no homebase has left me quite ungrounded, I’ve tried to do a few things to combat it, but it feels like it’s a loosing battle as my travel the last 3 years has been more hectic than ever. My travel schedule has me coming in and out of NYC more often which means I get to see my handful of friends when I’m there which is probably the only grounding force I have any longer.
One of the things that keeps me going is that I still adore experiencing other cultures – it makes my heart skip a beat to meet people from other cultures and experience their way of life. It’s very clear to me that spending this much time traveling in and out of the US makes you completely in tune with what you love and hate about your own culture. And I’ve realized that there is a lot that I love and hate about my own culture which is why I still like to move in and out of it so much and haven’t picked a home base in the US yet.
Feeling out of Touch
When I come back to the US I always feel like a bear that’s been in hibernation for a decade – I know nothing of pop culture; all the new gadgets on cars that have been developed, paying with phones and ipads, entire tv shows have come and gone, I have no idea what the latest wellness foods and crazes are, and I look at a People magazine and know absolutely no one on the front cover. It makes me feel really out of touch and it’s easy to let that feeling spiral out of control for me. To combat it I have to remind myself of everything I do know about the world and the average American doesn’t. But regardless of the wealth of worldly knowledge I have, I can still feel out of place in the US.
Strangely even though I travel alone, I’m rarely alone. My travel style the last 3 years has been much more about group tours and traditional tourism rather than independent travel. So that means I come in contact with many, many people. People who are on vacation. But I’m ‘on vacation’ all the time, and I get tired of being social. Instead of going to have happy hour drinks at a lodge with the rest of the people I’m traveling with, I’d rather not talk to anyone and simply sit on my porch sipping wine and writing. I’m just too tired to be social some days.
The Quest for Newness
This is one trait that I started with in 2006 and hasn’t waned a bit; in fact it’s probably gotten worse in the last 9 years. I have this incredible desire to always be experiencing new things – it drives me constantly. It’s stronger than my quest for love or being loved. So one thing that I find difficult is that there are very few new things that I encounter any longer. It’s like the alcoholic that used to get drunk off of 3 beers, but now it takes 3 beers, 2 shots of Whiskey, and a couple of glasses of wine to get drunk. Now…apply that to travel…and that’s my addiction problem.
Living in the Present
Everyone talks about living in the present; it’s easy to say, but hard to do. Over the course of 9 years I still wonder if I’ve figured out how to truly embrace the present. When people learn of my lifestyle they often say that I really “live life in the present”, and I agree – I do it more than most people do, but I haven’t figure out the magic sauce of not worrying about the future yet. I have changed in many ways when it comes to knowing and accepting what my future holds. Most of the time I have no idea what I’m doing for my future and where it will take me. In fact, I currently don’t know what I’m doing or how I get work after mid October. I typically have my life pseudo planned out 3 months in advance – and after that I have absolutely no idea. I’ve grown pretty accustomed to this pattern. I’ve accepted unknown, but it doesn’t mean I don’t worry about it. It isn’t exactly living in the present, but it’s much more living in the present than I ever was before.
I go in waves of connecting with people and then I fall off the wagon and realize that I’m talking to no one and all of the conversations I’m having are only in my head. Yet I’m constantly adding to my wealth of connections and relationships. Many of them are fleeting and short term I know, but there are a few every year that seem to stick and have a profound impact on me. I am much more of solitary person than I was 9 years ago and I have mixed feelings about it. At my core I know I’m a social person, but I just need more time to recharge now it seems. My handful of really close friends are my lifeline. Overall I have fewer close friends, but more friends than I ever dreamed possible.
Just as I struggle finding and making new long-term friendships, the same goes for romantic relationships. A ‘dream job/life’ like mine is not very conducive to meaningful romantic relationships. Yet I’ve had an on/off again one going on now for 2 ½ years, which is quite substantial in my world. But sometimes I wonder if one of the reasons he likes me is because I’m never there. Honestly I love unconventional relationships, but I’m tired of long distance relationships.
What Does the Future Hold?
For some ridiculous reason I’ve decided that 10 years is a nice round number…a decade. Ten Years a Nomad – doesn’t it have a nice ring to it? I’ve said that I’ve wanted to try to make it 10 years of living nomadically, so right now that’s what I have my sights set on.
I’ve been fantasizing about taking another career break – similar to the one that got me started on this wild ride. Strangely after 9 years and crafting a career I love, I’m kind of in the same place I was when I was working my corporate job. I need a break. I’ve been considering taking a break from trying to make money and just getting back to the basics of how I started…just me…traveling. I have considered actually going back to some of the original places I went to in my first year of travel to see how I’ve changed, how the destination has changed, and how tourism has changed. Or maybe a career break for someone who moves around all the time is to simply sit still for a year?
Writing a Book…Proposal
Holy shit…I have no idea if I can weave a story out of 10 years living as a nomad or not, but I’m going to try. Even though I think my life is just pretty normal, others seem fascinated by it – so I’m going to test the waters and see if people really do care to read about it. This fall I’m working on a book proposal for an agent I started working with! Let me be clear – this is a proposal…not a book. If someone likes the book idea and wants to publish it, then I work on the book.
Most mornings I wake up and think – Fuck – I can’t write a book! How do I organize it, what have I learned, will it be something people want to read, how utterly honest am I capable of being, and how in the world will I ever slow down enough to even focus on it?! However, like most things in my life opportunities present themselves to me on a platter and I typically take them and see where they lead me. When a friend of a friend tells an agent about my lifestyle and the agent contacts me interested in a book version of it…then you go with it. She asked me to put together a book proposal for her to shop around and that’s what I’m doing. Once again…holy shit.
Coming Full Circle
In my first year of travel I had the revelation that I didn’t want to go back to my old cube life and instead wanted to stay on the road and keep traveling. My challenge was trying to solve the issue of how do I make money and keep traveling everywhere? I’m happy to report when I put my mind to something I normally achieve it – and clearly I did in this instance. Now I’m moving into a phase where I know that I want to find a homebase to support my travels, I want to slow down a bit and change the pace of travel and motion. But once again I’m plagued with the same question – how do I do that and make enough money to maintain a home base.
Here’s the one thing I know…I will figure it out. I’ll figure out how to make it all work, because that’s what I do best. I’ll figure out how to keep doing what I love, to be kinder to those I love, to be more grounded, to make money, to hang up my clothes again and have a place to call “home sweet sometimes home”, to keep writing stories, and to keep showing the world to people who are interested in seeing it, and to keep traveling and finding that newness I crave. And I’m excited to see what new things get added to that list.
Never in my wildest, wildest dreams would I have predicted that my life would take these turns and twists back in 2006 when I left NYC on a one way flight to Kenya. Who knows what year 10 will hold!
By Jannell September 8, 2015 - 9:24 am
Love, love, LOVE this post, Sherry 🙂 You are a rockstar and I have no doubt that the future will unfold nicely for you. Thank you for the continued inspiration to live a life of my choosing – I’ve found happiness in slow-travel. Moving to Cancun in 2016!
By Alisha September 8, 2015 - 10:35 am
So proud and inspired by your longevity on the road! Loved reading this post. Thank you for sharing your life with the world!!
By Ali September 8, 2015 - 10:49 am
What an amazing accomplishment! You’re right, living a nomadic life is not for everyone. I’ve taken long trips, as long as 5 months at a time, and it was enough to show me that I need a home base. I’m impressed with, and sometimes a little envious of, people like you who truly enjoy enough of the nomadic lifestyle to keep going. Good luck with the next phase of travel and with attempting to slow down!
By valerie September 8, 2015 - 11:32 am
This is just such a moving and honest post about your life of solo and wonderful wanderings . You’ve learnt more about yourself than anyone who stays on his couch and adores his brand new TV set.. Funnily, still in Vienna, ten years and I’m need of a drastic change too..so my ‘trip’ this year is a Master Drama Education that I started this summer (Trinity College Dublin) while working, see where it leads. I’m proud I was one of the people you met on the road. Happy journeys!
By tony September 8, 2015 - 12:17 pm
I happen onto your post about 8 years ago and have followed your posts and trappings ever since.
By Sherry September 8, 2015 - 12:30 pm
Wow – you’ve been following that long…I only thought my mom did that! Thanks so much and thank for leaving a comment! One of the hardest things about continuing to blog is that I often wonder if anyone really even reads any of the stuff I put out – so it’s really nice to hear that people are interested!
By Lynn September 8, 2015 - 1:22 pm
You are awesome. I, too, have been following your blog for awhile — 6 or 7 years. I love your photos, your musings, and your travel recommendations. No matter what you do next, if you’re blogging about it, I’ll be following it! And if you write a book, I’ll read that too. Thanks for the inspiration and honest posts about your life!
By Marie Anne September 8, 2015 - 2:37 pm
I will say it again. You are living my dream. I lived and taught in Japan, Turkey, U.S, and Vietnam for 10 years. I travel to many places during that time. I have lived in Hawaii for 13 years. It is both paradise and I feel SO grounded- not in a good way. I too love experiencing other cultures. I feel so alive and curious. I would love to spend the rest of my life traveling but after reading your blog I can understand the downside.
PS mahalo Ron for sending this out.
By Marie Anne September 8, 2015 - 2:39 pm
I will now be following your blog. Aloha
By Jo September 8, 2015 - 3:43 pm
Write a book…write a book…write a book – it will be more interesting than 99% of what’s on the non-fiction shelves 🙂 As for being more present, I once had a chat with a guy who was preaching about how ‘present’ he was compared to the rest of the mere mortals in the room. My inner devil couldn’t help but ask how he got to Spain – did he just turn up at the airport that morning and go? No, he replied and after a few minutes begrudgingly admitted you can’t be present ALL of the time. It’s just not practical, especially not when it comes to the topic of travel. But being more present than most people most of the time is a pretty damn good achievement. Now, where was I….write a book…write a book…write a book! Happy adventuring.
By Anne September 8, 2015 - 3:46 pm
Not really sure how to say this eloquently so I’m just going to say it: You kick so much ass.
Your spirit and humility have always been so inspiring to me. You, your writing, your life…it’s all very genuine and real and I’m thankful to consider you a blogging mentor and a compass for what truly matters.
I can’t WAIT to see what happens next (and to read the book!)
See you soon…in some corner of the world.
By Claudia September 8, 2015 - 4:27 pm
Such a refreshing read. I love travelling, and I have gone on a number of long term trips but nowhere in my dream (or nightmares) I would ever consider being a nomad for 9 (or 10!) years. Like you, I have understood many things in my (way shorter) travelling experience. I actually do enjoy being home with my family and spending time alone – during travels and even when I am settled in one place. And (again like you) I have started appreciating organised guided tours – perhaps working as a tour leader for a while helped me understand the value of them, the work behind it, and the passion!
I hope you do write that book. I can’t wait to read it!
By Wynne September 8, 2015 - 5:54 pm
One of my favorites posts! You already know how you changed my life, and I’m still trying to figure out next steps myself. You are truly an inspiration to many of us and I can’t wait to see what’s next for you!
See you soon…
By Rhonda September 8, 2015 - 6:50 pm
Congratulations Sherry! You have long been an inspiration to many of us who want to live outside the norm of a 9-5 and house with a picket fence. As we get ready to embark on our next extended adventure, our goal is to make money on the road, in whatever form that takes, and travel for a few years, but do know that we will one day again settle down with a home base of sorts. Good luck on your next career break and finding that middle ground between nomad and stationary that works for you!
By Kim September 8, 2015 - 7:24 pm
9 years is a long time and you are blessed with experiences and memories that almost no one has. You’ve definitely got a story to tell and if you need help with that proposal let me know. I’ve learned a lot!
By Dan Unger September 8, 2015 - 8:59 pm
Thank you thank you thank you. Yes every last beautifully written word IS YOU. I have seen you work so very hard to get thoughts, ideas, concepts and descriptions clearly worded. To weave stunning photos into your words is truly icing that melts in a readers mind. THEN you top it by putting yourself and 9 years of your life into a capsule that flows and floats us with you. Write that book!
By Sherry September 8, 2015 - 9:24 pm
Thanks darlin’ – you’ve been such a great new addition to my travels and life…thank YOU!
By DeJavieur L Speller September 9, 2015 - 7:23 am
Congrats one being able to do you. On the road for 9 years and making a way to do something you love is a pretty amazing story in itself. I understand about coming back to the USA seems like reverse culture shock to me. I’ve lived outside the USA for the past 6 years traveling and working to make ends meat. Now I’m on search of finding a home base for my travels yet it is hard when I can’t find only one place I’d like to be long term. Thanks for the inspiration and can’t wait for the book.
By Sherry September 10, 2015 - 4:44 pm
Yes the hardest part about settling into a homebase is I have no idea where it should be! And that’s what stops me from actually doing it! Thanks for following along!
By Jared September 9, 2015 - 2:53 pm
Inspiring Sherry. My biggest takeaway is, if you have the means to travel and the road is calling you, DO IT! No time like the present and no worth regretting not making a decision 10 years down the line. Oh, and your book is something I would definitely read. This coming from a guy who finds it hard to get through a Nat Geo Traveler Magazine! Congrats for being one of the few to actually make a successful business out of traveling. Hope you have many more years of success.
By Terrance September 9, 2015 - 3:50 pm
First, let me say “Go girl!” Not many folks are cut out for long term travel. Secondly, I want to encourage you to write that book. You can do it and should do it. I’ll be glad to dispense advice and encouragement. I am the author of 28 books so I can tell you the real deal! And yes, writing a book is far more challenging than writing a blog but the hardest part is getting started. I am also the host of Terrance Talks Travel: Uber Adventures (on Blog Talk Radio and iTunes) and would love to have you on my show to talk about your life the last 9 years. I think listeners would really enjoy and learn a lot from what you have to say. It would be a 15-20 minute phone interview if we can work out the time difference. You have my email if you wish to respond.
By Sherry September 10, 2015 - 4:43 pm
Terrance – thanks for the encouragement and offer of help! I’m not sure how anyone writes 28 books! Will drop you an email – thanks for following along!
By Laura September 9, 2015 - 7:22 pm
I love the honesty of this post. I’ve been traveling for almost three years and while I love it, I’m exhausted. I can’t imagine going for nine. I’m quite sure you have a book inside that many, including me, would love to read.
By Sherry September 10, 2015 - 4:41 pm
Thanks Laura! I wake up every morning thinking about, “How will I write a book?!”
By Isobel September 10, 2015 - 10:01 pm
Sherry, we trust you to make it work no matter what. It’s no wrong to want to stay still for a while and rest. I am an Aquarius and I relate to your post from nine years ago. I think I am nearing the place you were back then.
By Tony and Thomas September 12, 2015 - 6:52 am
Boy, we can relate to everything you said in this post. It might actually be the most honest, most realistic evaluation of travel blogging we’ve ever read. We were hanging out with Dani and Adam at a Berlin beer garden the other day and we all agreed that we have no idea how you manage to move so fast and do so much. You are the travel blogging speed demon!
Thomas and I have the exact same love-hate relationship with the whole industry (and it IS an industry). We also totally feel that same sensation that you mention above of needing something new, something better, something we’ve never seen before. Relating it to alcoholism is exactly right. Will any of us ever have a life beyond our addiction. 😉
By Sherry September 12, 2015 - 2:15 pm
Thanks…I had been writing that post for about 2 months on and off and tried to make it a bit more coherent – but then just gave up and hit publish! I’m now sitting in the airport heading to China for 8 days…still moving. 🙂 Next year will be different – in fact I haven’t planned a thing…yet!
But the great part about moving around is that I get to meet friends all over the world (and make new ones!)…and am so happy we met in Berlin oh so many years ago! Hope our paths cross again soon and we can bitch about our lifestyles and addiction over some beers!
By Sarah Fazendin September 15, 2015 - 2:39 pm
I can’t wait to read your book Sherry!!
By Mary @ Green Global Travel September 15, 2015 - 8:03 pm
What a great, inspirational post. Being a nomad for nearly a decade is an accomplishment that so many dream of but most are too afraid to do. Congrats for coming so far and keeping your goal in sight, and good luck to you in whatever the future may bring you!
By Lynn September 18, 2015 - 11:23 am
Love this post Sherry! I’ve actually been expecting this post for quite some time….I know you need that home base! It WILL be an entirely new adventure to put down roots somewhere, and explore a smaller area in more detail perhaps…I know you will figure out a way to do it and it will be just as much fun to read about that next change as it as been to read about your traveling adventures. Unlike many of your readers I never really envied you, but loved traveling with you vicariously….you took me to places I would never have been to by myself! There IS a book there, and I know the leap from blog to book can seem insurmountable, so once again I will watch with fascination as you make that leap… I have a personal bet as to where you will decide to settle down. I’m not going to say cause I could be wrong (of course) but once you make that decision I’ll let you know if I guessed correctly! And I know “settling down” is probably the wrong terminology for you, but everything is relative!
By Sherry September 23, 2015 - 11:10 am
Lynn – THANKS so much for following the journey vicariously! I adore the fact that you know me well enough that you knew the words “settling down” would make me cringe…and they did! Now I’m curious as to where you think I may find a home base! I honestly don’t know…but I have another year to figure it out!
By beauvais airport shuttle disneyland September 26, 2015 - 2:16 pm
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By Stephanie - The Travel Chica October 5, 2015 - 8:05 am
I take pride in not knowing who is on the cover of People magazine 🙂
By darekandgosia.com July 5, 2019 - 5:05 am
I know it’s a bit an old one right now, but just wanted to say that really enjoyed reading this article 🙂 Very inspirational one!
By Sakshi Jaiswal October 15, 2019 - 5:02 pm
I literally enjoyed reading your article, and it needs guts to live a life like the one you are living if you try you will find a way to earn more money while travelling my wishes with you…so inspiring, thanks for sharing!