On the first of December, 2023, I celebrated six years as a full-time traveler. For over six years now, I haven’t had a fixed address or a home in the traditional sense. I spent most of those years living in a Ford Transit campervan, a journey I share in my latest book, Life Done Differently. Since selling the van, I lived in a tiny house for two months, been a house sitter in various places, stayed with friends, and occasionally booked an Airbnb.
I love being a nomad. I love the freedom and flexibility. I love exploring new places and meeting cool people. However, it’s probably fair to say that, ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been voted most likely to end up as a nomad. So, how did I get here?
The making of a nomad
It all started back in 2017. I had just turned 33, and even though life was great, I began to have doubts about the direction I was heading in. I was very career-focused, working long hours as the Head of Marketing for a tech startup. I enjoyed it, but I wanted more from life than just a successful career. In many ways, it seemed obvious what my next steps in my life should be: Get married, buy a house and have kids. It was what all of my friends were doing.
However, while I was excited for my friends and could see the beauty in the lives they were creating, I wasn’t sure it was the right path for me. Somehow, I just couldn’t picture myself walking down an aisle in a white dress or raising a bunch of little ones – at least not yet.
What do you do when you feel lost and unsure about what to do with your life? You go traveling! And when you live in an amazing country like New Zealand, it makes sense to explore your backyard instead of hopping on a plane to faraway places. So I decided to buy a campervan, quit my job, and take some time to figure out who I am and what I want from life.
It was supposed to be for one summer. One summer of adventure, freedom, exploration, and escaping my busy city life. That summer turned into almost five years on the road in my camper and life as a traveling house sitter after that.
Along the way, I met incredible people, overcame challenges, admired and explored the stunning scenery of New Zealand, challenged society’s norms and expectations about what a woman in her 30s should be focused on, and found the answers I was looking for.
Making a living as a nomad
From the very beginning, I loved the lifestyle, especially the sense of freedom. Stepping away from my busy, career-focused life in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, made me realize how much the stress had impacted me and how much better I felt living a slower, more intentional life. However, probably the main reason I kept traveling beyond that first summer – the main reason I was able to – is that I discovered I could work remotely.
Until then, I had worked in various marketing roles that all required me to be in the office, at least most of the time. This was a few years before Covid made remote working more common. At the time, I didn’t know anyone with a remote job, so I hadn’t considered it an option.
When I told the company I was working for back in 2017 about my plans, intending to resign, they asked if I would consider working part-time and remotely while I travel. To my surprise, within a few months on the road, I secured another new client and another one shortly after. In the six years since, I’ve worked for dozens of companies as a virtual marketing consultant. In addition, I started writing for a travel magazine and also wrote three books, including the travel memoir Life Done Differently.
Thanks to a good network and excellent reputation, I get lots of work through word of mouth and referrals. As a result, so far, I’ve always had enough work, which is one of the main reasons I’ve been able to travel full-time for as long as I have. The other big reason is that I live a simple, low-cost life.
Low-cost ways to travel
Travel is often deemed expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Sure, if you want to stay in luxury resorts or do lots of tours and activities, the costs add up quickly. However, there are ways to travel for less. Living in my van for almost five years saved me a lot of money. I had to pay for campgrounds and van maintenance and repairs, but that was a lot less than what I used to pay for rent in Auckland. Since selling my camper in 2022, I’ve been a full-time housesitter, which is another way to save money while traveling.
I’m also very selective about what tours and activities I pay for, often opting for a free hike or bike ride instead of a paid activity. I don’t spend much on going out or fashion, and while most of my hobbies, like paddleboarding, kitesurfing, and cycling, require pricy equipment, now that I have it, doing them is free.
Traveling mainly in New Zealand also means I don’t have to fork out for expensive airfares. This might sound boring to some, but trust me when I say that New Zealand is the kind of place where you can travel for many years without getting bored, especially if you love nature and adventuring in the great outdoors.
The one big downside
There have, of course, been challenges over the years. I had to write off my first campervan. Choosing a life so different from most of my friends sometimes made me feel lonely and disconnected. Occasionally, I doubted my choices. Sometimes, the constant change was overwhelming. The pandemic brought its own set of challenges. However, looking back, all those obstacles feel like minor blips – little speed bumps I had to overcome to get to where I wanted to be.
There is one significant downside to this lifestyle that’s more than a little speedbump, and that’s the lack of community. The real-life kind of community. The sense of comfort that comes with belonging somewhere, with knowing your neighborhood. The feeling of connection and belonging that, at least for me, only comes from spending lots of time with someone.
There is a thriving international nomad community, and connecting with like-minded people from all over the world online has been amazing. But it’s not the same as having a real-life community.
So, if you’d ask me if there’s anything I genuinely miss, that would be it — a real-life community.
So far, all the things I love about this lifestyle have outweighed the downsides. I have no desire to return to the traditional life I had seven years ago. However, the longer I live this way, the stronger the urge to stay put somewhere – even just for a while – and to build up a community and have more stability seems to get.
I know I’m not alone in this. The lack of community seems to be the number one answer you get when you ask long-term nomads what they miss. So maybe that’s the price you pay for the freedom, adventure, and flexibility. It’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves if that price is ever not worth it anymore. Luckily, while life is short, it’s long enough to switch between staying put and traveling a few times.
Lisa Jansen is a writer and digital nomad based in New Zealand. She is the author of the travel memoir Life Done Differently: One Woman’s Journey on the Road Less Travelled, as well as two other books. To connect with Lisa, visit her website or follow her journey on Instagram or Facebook.