Work and Money
Nomad Family: Why We Ditched the Rat Race to Travel
A year ago, my husband and I were living in Los Angeles with our son, and by societal standards we were “living the dream.” We owned a home and we had a healthy, active 1-year-old boy, full-time work, and a large community of friends.
Dig a little deeper and what looked like the picture-perfect family was actually two people $30,000 in debt and drowning in the demands of new-parent life. My husband worked a physically taxing job that would often require 12- to 18-hour days with little rest in between. The unrelenting nature of his work and the pressure to make our mortgage contributed to him developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Meanwhile, I did my best to seem happy in my new role as mom when, in actuality, I spent every moment trying to convince everyone that I was not walking around in a state of postpartum depression.
It’s not like we were living extravagantly or trying to keep up with the Joneses. Far from it, in fact. I’m one of the most frugal people you’ll meet. I’ve worn the same pair of boots for 10 years. I clip coupons. I’m the kind of shopper who will go to three different grocery stores to get the best deal on blueberries. I enjoy saving money.
But at the end of the day, we didn’t have enough income to support owning a home and taking care of a family of three in the expensive city of Los Angeles. The clincher came one evening when we sat down on our living room couch and laid out the numbers. If we continued what we were doing, we would be adding $2,000 a month to our rapidly accruing debt.
Numbers are brutal in their unflinching honesty.
We wrestled with solutions for how to get out of this hole. Find a new job? Put our son in day care so I could work more? Rent instead of own? None of those options were viable. Economics in Los Angeles made it that all those choices would have cost more in the end. Besides, they were all Band-Aids covering up the real problem: It wasn’t our lack of money; the problem was that we had lost sight of what was most important to us. We had become sleepwalkers in our own lives
Everything was about work, achieve, work, achieve. We had high hopes of being parents who modeled kindness, creativity, vibrancy, and service. But in truth, all we were modeling was making more money at the cost of self-care and relationships. We had fallen into the trap that tells you “This is how you are supposed to live your life.” You’re familiar with it, right? It’s the formula for a perfect life: Go to college, work hard, get married, buy a home, have 2.5 kids, vacation once a year, save up for retirement, and then die … peacefully. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that formula. Many are living that life and are completely fulfilled by it. For us, the so-called American dream was killing us.
Having our son forced us to take a cold, hard look at the lives we were leading. We had to decide, is this what we want our son to watch day in and day out? No. We wanted him to have two parents who were ecstatic about life and living it on their terms, parents who weren't merely existing but who were active participants in their own lives.
So we let it all go.
Reasons to Take a Leap & Travel
We set fire to the life we had been living for 15 years and took a massive leap into the unknown. We left our jobs and sold everything: the house, my car, our furniture; anything left that wasn’t worth saving, we gave away. We made the choice to travel the United States for a year in search of where we wanted to live next. (Of course, this was a year ago, before COVID-19 made its appearance.)
To our parents and the world at large, we seemed crazy for taking such a bold step. To us, we were confidently moving in the direction of a liberated life. We had been travelers our whole lives, and embracing the call of the nomadic journey was a way to connect back to our explorer roots. Engraved into our wedding rings are the words “There’s still so much to see.” The foundation of our relationship was built on the promise that we would never stop exploring ourselves, each other, or the world.
I don’t think every person needs to sell everything and make an extravagant change in their life to feel connected to their inner vibrancy. Far from it. But for us, it had become abundantly clear that we had reached the end of our time in the City of Angels. There was a deep calling for us to return to our creative roots of writing and photography. Traveling for a year allowed us to reconnect with those parts of ourselves and document the journey in our blog, Live a Wilder Life. Ultimately, leaving Los Angeles was a way to release all that was unnecessarily tying us down and to remember the core of our values: family, adventure, and a life of creative pursuit.
We hope that by traveling with our son to places like the Great Smoky Mountains and Zion National Park we will set the foundation for a lifelong respect for and connection to the natural world around him. I know he won’t consciously remember any of the incredible journey we’re on, but every time I see him beam at the sight of a new mountain or jump for joy when he spots a bird, I know that we made the right choice. Somewhere along this yearlong journey we might find the place we want to live. Until then, we’re following the call and living a wilder life.
The next time you’re planning to have an amazing family gap year of travel, try to do it when there isn’t a global pandemic. Six months into our journey traveling the U.S., as we were excitedly mapping out our next six months, everything in the world changed. We were living in Boise when most of the country shut down, and we were at a complete loss as to what to do. Continuing to travel would have been not only dangerous but irresponsible. We had no home to go back to, and our family was spread across both coasts. Getting to them meant braving an airplane ride to areas that were “hot zones.” So we worked on the art of the pivot: We decided to cancel all of our travel plans and stay in Boise until we felt safe enough to drive to a family home in North Idaho.
We know we’ll travel again someday, but for now we find joy in short local road trips. The question is, are we still living a wilder life? YES! Absolutely. Living a wilder life was never, in its essence, about being nomadic; rather, it was and is about truly listening to your own internal compass to know where you are being guided. Before, we were being called to leave the rat race and travel. Now we find beautiful simplicity in our small-town life in North Idaho.