It is dawning on me just how far from the norm my “normal” has become.
On average, I call a new country home every one to three months (though I would love to shift that time span up to six to nine).
When I dress, I’m fully accustomed to choosing between sets of two—sneakers or sandals, skirt or pants, exercise top or button down—rather than dozens of options. I sometimes forget I own more than this backpack; although, admittedly, my soul occasionally cries out in longing for my high heels and long dresses gathering dust in a closet far away.
When people ask me how I choose to go where I go, my answers rarely satisfy. “It seemed like an interesting place.” “I had a good feeling about it.” “I don’t know, but it turned out to be the right decision.”
As I look out the window on my flight from Rome to London, I consider that my mind is well-accustomed to these sights: the forests that smear together in movement, the dotted lines that blur and appear unbroken, the view of the ground from miles above.
And as my mind adjusts to this perpetual motion (just as it would to seeing upside down), it creates a deceptive sort of stillness there. It is when I stop for a moment that the world spins around me.
“Normal,” sedentary stillness becomes chaos.
In conversations with friends, fellow nomads and wanderers in their 30s and 40s, I catch glimpses of where I may be 10, 20 years down this same obscure and mesmerizing trail. It will be fascinating—filled with twists and growth old and new, vibrant and rich with life—but it will not be normal.
This is what no one told me about this nomadic lifestyle before I chose it.
Those strong, fearless wild women and roving, unkempt wandering men I met on my first travels—I think I may have idolized them in some small way, but I did not understand them. Not then.
Those early interactions left vivid patterns, swirling emotions and a numinous sense of restlessness imprinted on my memory, but they did not plant any seeds. No, I am certain—in the way that the air in my lungs is certain—that the restlessness that gripped my heart is far older, far wiser than I.
Still, I wonder what they might have told me, had I asked.
I offer an answer, rooted in this moment of my experience, to myself as I stood at that fork, and to others who stand in her shoes.
Here is what no one tells us about going nomadic:
It is difficult—perhaps impossible—to stop.
Once you take that first step, or rather, once you take that thousandth, millionth step, you will turn around, seeking to remember how it was before. And “how it was” will seem lovely, but as a mirage at noon is lovely, shimmering and unattainable.
“Normal life” will seem very far away.
As the months, then years collect on the wooded path behind you, you will wonder at times how you even got here—may consider turning back.
But you can’t. Or, more likely, you won’t want to.
Your choice may not be forever; however, it is far more seductive and insidious than you realize now.
Beware, as packing and unpacking, arriving and going away become second nature, you will find it somewhat baffling to stay.
You will find people you love, and then you will leave them.
Some will follow you; most will not.
You will remember them, however, and your heart will grow full but never heavy with the ones you carry with you. As your body grows stronger, your hair longer, the soles of your feet thicker, something else in you will soften.
Your walls will crumble—your limits, illusions and certainties too.
You may come to feel at home in strangeness, but strange at home. Welcome to the world of in-betweens. Get comfortable here.
Every day will be, in its way, uncommon. You will love it, but you will become addicted to freedom, too. You will go into the woods, and you will get lost.
You may choose to throw away your compass—for awhile, or perhaps longer.
You will be alone, but never lonely—or lonely, but never alone. The moon will call your name at night, and your dreams will follow you into the light of day.
The dark will scare you, and the woods will unsettle you, but you will stay there anyway.
Don’t worry, it’s not that scary. In fact, it’s mostly so beautiful you’ll feel helplessly in love with possibility.
At times you will trace the lines in your hands and your footprints in the sand with nostalgia—but never with regret.
Well, so far.
Your instincts are right. If they are calling you in my direction, trust them; they will never lead you wrong.
Take the first step, then the first thousand.
Welcome to the journey.
“Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Author: Toby Israel
Images: Author’s Own