“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake.
The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more
nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe
granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
“Travelling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, I would stay and love
you, but I have to go; this is my station.”
Lisa St. Aubin De Teran
“It’s the police! They’re surrounding us.”
Oh. Of course. I felt a little bit silly for the beaming smile and
“bonjour” I gave the first guy as he passed us in the narrow, half-
flooded tunnel. It was a clever strategy: send an un-uniformed of-
ficer past us, so that when we see four more officers waiting ahead
of us, we have nowhere to run.
Not that running was actually a possibility. The cloudy spring wa-
ter we had been sloshing through for the past few hours impeded
our speed just as much as the massive bundles of copper cables,
once Paris’s first telephone system, which now snake through the
tunnels like overgrown vines.
2 LIFE NOMADIC
These weren’t just any police, either. I’d heard the legends of the
Cataflics, the Catacomb Police, whose only job was to keep tres-
passers out of the catacombs. Now we stood face to face with
Without saying a word, they escorted us out to the abandoned
train tunnel from which we had entered. When we arrived eight
hours earlier, slivers of light still reached the middle of the tunnel.
Now the only light came from the menacing headlamps on the
To be honest, I barely cared that we were being caught. Explor-
ing the catacombs was a once in a lifetime opportunity that was
worth any slap on the wrist we might receive. Three hundred
kilometers of underground tunnels and caverns weave through
Paris’s underground, but less than one kilometer is open to the
Such limited access didn’t satisfy our thirst for exploration, so we
took matters into our own hands: we broke into the catacombs.
It was spectacular. We walked through a German bunker from
World War II which still housed rusting machinery from the war.
We sat and ate baguettes in a giant cavern that played host to
the underground party scene of Paris during the sixties. Detritus
from the parties still carpeted the ground. We saw an obscure
gravestone of a monk who had died in the catacombs after sneak-
ing down to gorge himself on wine. And, of course, we crawled
through foot-deep seas of human bones, now splintered and
caked with mud.
“They want to bring you to the police station,” Clement, our
guide, translated, “because they know that if they give you a fine,
you’ll just leave the country without paying it.”
The absurdity of the situation struck me. I’d never even been to
Europe until a few days ago, and now the French Police were go-
ing to arrest me. If I was still in Austin with my friends and fam-
ily, I would probably be grocery shopping right now. Or maybe
watching the latest episode of The Office at a friend’s house.
As we walked along the old train tracks to the paddy wagon, a
thought struck me.
“This is my life.”
Eight months later, the memories of Paris have yielded to newer
adventures. Thanks to my best friend and frequent travel com-
panion, Todd, and his mastery of the French language, we were
released without any sort of penalty. I think he managed to con-
vey that we were more interested in French history than vandal-
Now I’m in Panama, enjoying warm, sunny weather in the midde
of winter. From my apartment in downtown Panama City, I can
look across the street and see the waves of the Pacific lapping up
against the shore.
In a few hours I’ll take a fifteen minute walk to one of my favor-
ite restaurants in the world, Casa Vegetariana. For dinner I always
eat the same thing: a mountain of brown rice, vegetables, beans,
and fruit, with a glass of the best fresh squeezed orange juice in
the world to wash it all down.
Three weeks from now I’ll be gone. All of my worldly possessions
will be crammed into a tiny backpack and I’ll be exploring the
Dominican Republic and Haiti. From there I’ll take a ship across
4 LIFE NOMADIC
the Atlantic to Europe, a two week voyage that will afford me the
time do some much needed editing.
After that, who knows? Right now I’m considering Scandinavia,
Northern Africa, or India.
I am a modern day nomad, part of a tiny sliver of the population
who have discovered that traveling the world is a more exciting
and satisfying alternative to the standard American life. By lever-
aging technology, we have separated our obligations and com-
mitments from fixed locations. As we travel around the world we
work, play, and learn.
Incredibly, living this way isn’t expensive. My total costs, includ-
ing food, flights, rent, and entertainment amount to less than the
average mortgage payment in the United States. My low monthly
costs don’t reflect the lifestyle you might associate with them. I
live better than I did in the United States and I want for nothing.
In this book I will share the secrets of living this amazing lifestyle.
You will learn how to live in five star cruise ships, all meals in-
cluded, for $25 a day. You will understand how to book interna-
tional flights at forty percent off or more, sometimes as cheap as
$16 per flight, including taxes. You’ll live in furnished apartments
in world-class cities for $17 per day.
Most importantly, you’ll see the world and experience everything
it has to offer. Welcome to Life Nomadic.
What is a Modern Nomad?
“Be indifferent to where you live.”
We’ve come a long way from the herding-yaks-through-the-
steppes days of nomadic life. Nomads have been roaming the
earth for somewhere around ten thousand years, but only recently
crossed a critical threshold. Until now, being a nomad has meant
isolating oneself from modern culture. From the early years of
nomadic tribes to the more recent phenomenon of self-outcasting
adventurers disappearing from society, an element of sacrifice has
been bundled with the glory of mobility and freedom.
A modern nomad is a different breed. Instead of isolating himself
from society, he does the opposite. He goes and experiences more
of the world than he ever could ever experience staying in one
place, but is still able to stay connected with people far away from
him. A modern nomad isn’t someone who has no home; he’s
someone who has many homes.
Maybe you want to divide your time up between four countries
in a year, following spring or summer around the globe. Perhaps
breezing through one hundred countries in a year would make
you happy. Or maybe you just want to live a simpler life in your
hometown, but be ready and able to leave as soon as an opportu-
nity grabs your interest.
You’ll have plenty of time to figure out what sort of nomadic
lifestyle you want to live. To get you started with a few ideas, I’ll
share with you what it means to me.
6 LIFE NOMADIC
How many times have you started off a sentence with, “I’d love
to, but I have to…”? A million times. Me too.
I strive to cut that phrase, and the underlying causes for it, out
of my life. If a friend is planning a trip to India and invites me to
come along, I want as few barriers in my way as possible. I may
not go, but if I don’t it’s because I have a good reason, not be-
cause life’s obligations are getting in my way. I have no mortgage,
no bills, and very little stuff to store when I leave.
If I decide that I’m sick of black sand beaches and would rather
go skiing in the Alps, I can pack and be ready to leave in thirty
minutes with few or no expenses constraining my decision.
Flexibility of movement isn’t the only type of flexibility that’s im-
portant, though. Most days I spend time studying new languages,
so that I can have conversations with as many different people in
the world as possible. I focus on languages spoken in many coun-
tries, big countries, or countries that I just love (like Japan).
I eat an extremely healthy diet and maintain an active lifestyle so
that no activity is beyond my reach. I want to be able to go on a
week-long hike through the Napali Coast of Hawaii just as easily
as I can lounge on a sleeper train on a three-day trip across Viet-
Our world offers an amazing and limitless wealth of experiences
and knowledge1, laid out for your personal consumption, and it’s
important to be ready and willing to take advantage of what it
has to offer.
1 By the way, not many of these are within your city. Think about what you’re
missing out on if you don’t leave.
On the other hand, it’s important to remember that the abil-
ity to travel doesn’t carry with it the obligation to travel. There’s
nothing wrong with spending time in your hometown with your
friends and family. But don’t blame me if, once you’ve had a taste
of the nomadic life, you become too antsy to stay there for long.
I am leaving the town to the invaders: increasingly numerous, mediocre, dirty,
badly behaved, shameless tourists.
I’m not content to be a spectator in life or in my travels. I don’t
want to see a new culture, I want to be a part of it. Living like the
locals, speaking in the local language, and visiting the sites the
locals think are important are all strategies to achieve this goal.
When traveling it’s easy to get stuck on the well beaten trails fre-
quented by backpackers, tourists, and vacationers. There’s noth-
ing wrong with spending time on these trails (who’s going to go
to Peru without seeing Macchu Picchu?), but don’t live on them.
Live where the locals live, eat where they eat, make friends with
them, and take their advice.
Before visiting a new country, I try to at the very least read the
Wikipedia entry on it to get a sense of what the country is like
and how it got that way. The GDP figure gives a good sense of
how much money locals are living on.
High Quality of Life
It’s possible to travel the world for even less than I do. You can
stay in the grimiest hostels, which always seem to be 24 hour
8 LIFE NOMADIC
parties, and eat nothing but ramen noodles. Some people do this
and enjoy it quite a bit.
That’s not for me, though. I’ll stay in a hostel here and there, but
I prefer to rent clean apartments with wireless internet in the best
areas of town. I love eating high quality fresh food, and will al-
ways pay for it, even when doing so costs a lot of money. And un-
less I’m spending a weekend with a Kuna Indian tribe, I want hot
Living as a nomad should raise your quality of living, not lower
it. They key concept to understand is that a high quality of living
doesn’t mean spending a lot of money. Flash almost always costs
money; substance is often a bargain.
Cutting Edge Technology
Just because I can be found in some of the most remote areas of
the world, like the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia,
doesn’t mean that I’m not going to keep up with cutting edge
We live in an exciting time, and it’s important to me to stay part
of the internet age. I carry a laptop, photojournalist-grade digital
camera, and HD video camera with me at all times. My watch
and phone both have GPS receivers in them to help me navigate
and avoid getting lost. I’m never far from the internet.
At the same time, a lot of technology is garbage and I’m happy to
walk away from it. I don’t need a 42 inch plasma screen to see an
edited version of the world – I’ll see the real thing with my own
eyes. There’s a gadget or gizmo for just about any task these days,
and despite previous tendencies to buy them all, I’m now much
happier to have fewer, but very high quality electronics.
Of journeying the benefits are many: the freshness it bringeth to the heart, the
seeing and hearing of marvelous things, the delight of beholding new cities,
the meeting of unknown friends, and the learning of high maners.
My favorite restaurant in Austin, Texas serves lunch until 2pm
and begins serving dinner at 6:30pm, which leaves a quiet four
hour period between meals to work. They’re technically closed
then, but eating almost every meal at the same restaurant grants
the customer a certain amount of leeway.
I was working on programming a piece of software, called a mul-
tivariate testing tool, which I was convinced would make me
rich1. Every day, seven days a week, I had the same routine at the
restaurant. I’d eat lunch, work hard for four hours, eat dinner,
and usually go hang out with my friends.
One afternoon, frustrated with a programming problem I
couldn’t seem to solve, I leaned back in my wooden dining chair
and stared out the window.
For no apparent reason, a thought crossed my mind: Why do
I live in Austin? It’s a great city, of course, and all of my friends
1 It didn’t.
10 LIFE NOMADIC
were there, but why was I there? My work was portable. I could
I added up the years I’d lived in Austin. Twelve. That was a lot
of time to be in one place. I thought about all of the cities in
the world that I’d never seen and, if I stayed in Austin, maybe
wouldn’t ever see. The thought froze me in my tracks.
It occurred to me that if I chose to, I could move anywhere. I had
friends and family in Boston – maybe I should live there for a
while, just for a change of scenery? Or maybe Los Angeles, where
I lived for a year and still had a lot of good friends?
What about somewhere totally new? Maybe New York or Chi-
cago? I’d been to both cities a few times and liked them.
Why was I constraining myself to the United States, I asked my-
self. It’s a great country, but plenty of people live in other coun-
tries happily. I hadn’t done much international traveling, just a
trip to Japan, a trip to Taiwan, and a few quick jaunts around the
Caribbean. There was a lot left to see.
And then a final epiphany hit me. I didn’t have to choose just
one country – I could live nowhere and everywhere at once, as a
modern day nomad. As soon as I had the idea, I knew that it was
REDEFINING REALITY 11
You Don’t Have to Do What Other People Are Doing
“Two roads diverge in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that
has made all the difference.”
“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone
else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in my life is that
doing anything because other people are doing it is a terrible
idea. It’s like letting other people run your life by default, all
while maintaining the tenuous illusion that you’re in control.
If you want to live an extraordinary life, nomad or not, you’ll
eventually have to start considering all possibilities, not just the
ones made convenient by society. Ninety nine percent of the
world is off the beaten path, both literally and metaphorically.
It takes effort to get off the beaten path. Modern life is set up to
keep you on it.
For a practical example, think about five random people you
know. How different are their lives? Do they all have a car, an
apartment or a house, and a bit of credit card debt? Do they
spend their time watching TV and movies, eating at fast food and
mid priced restaurant chains? Do they spend vacations in Florida
or Mexico, with the once every five years weeklong trip to Eu-
12 LIFE NOMADIC
I don’t even mean to criticize that lifestyle all that much. Com-
pared to most of the world , it’s a pretty deluxe life2. It’s comfort-
able and safe.
What I am trying to say, what I want to shout out from the roof-
tops, is that there is a lot more to life than that. The world is a
spectacular and complex place, and most of the joys and wonders
of it aren’t in your neighborhood.
When you finally get off the beaten path, you’ll find two things.
First, you’ll reconnect with the sense of discovery and exploration
that you had when you were a child. The act of blazing new trails
and taking full responsibility for your life is exhilarating. You gain
a new quiet confidence from knowing that you’re capable of driv-
ing your life, not just riding along in it.
Second, you’ll find that it’s not as hard or scary as you expected.
My first real experience with this was in college. I went to school
at the University of Texas and I hated it. The school was fine, but
I wasn’t. None of the things I dreamed of doing in life were de-
pendent on a degree. I was there by default, because society and
parents told me that going to college is what you do when you
graduate from high school.
I was scared to drop out. Staying the course was the easy decision,
but it was also the kind of decision that slowly rots the soul from
the inside. The path of convenient compromises is a dangerous
2 To be totally honest, I’m not convinced it’s much better than third world liv-
ing in many ways. As I rode on an otherwise foreigner-free train through the belly of
Cambodia, stopping occasionally at villages where the average citizen lived in a stick
hut and probably made less than $1000 a year, I couldn’t help but notice that they
all seemed much happier than any cross section of America I’ve ever seen.
REDEFINING REALITY 13
Even though I knew it would devastate my parents, I finally mus-
tered the courage to drop out. I knew that it was the right choice
for me, even if I didn’t know exactly where it would lead. Maybe
more accurately, I knew that staying was wrong. I’ve never regret-
ted the decision, and have never once found myself in a position
where I wished I had a degree.
I broke free from the beaten path and began the march to my
own drummer, and it was wonderful.
Once you take one scary leap like that, the next one becomes a
lot easier, and the next one easier still. Soon it becomes second
nature to follow your own dreams rather than other people’s ex-
pectations, and doing anything else is seen for the absurdity that
it really is.
People will always warn you of the dangers of veering off the
beaten path, but in their warnings you can see the fear that you
might prove their worst nightmare true: that living your life on
your own terms is not totally impossible. It’s a possibility that
most people would rather not confront. The stakes are too high.
If It Seems Too Good to Be True, It May Still Be True
Shortly after dropping out of school, I became a professional
gambler. Once you’re off the beaten path, there’s a lot out there to
Back in the day it was unbelievably easy to make hundreds of
dollars an hour with virtually no risk. If you’re the kind of person
to whom that sounds too good to be true, you’re in good com-
14 LIFE NOMADIC
Almost none of my friends or family believed me. Rumors
spread about the massive losses I must be concealing. Even after
I bought a Mercedes – in cash– my mother told me that if I just
took a moment to add up all my winnings and losses, I would
surely find that I had lost a lot of money.
I had the utopian idea that all of my friends would do this too,
and that we would all have money and be able to do whatever we
wanted all the time. But no one was interested. Finally, after ar-
guing with one friend, he let me use his credit card. I guaranteed
that I would pay him back for any losses, but if we won he could
keep the winnings.
In front of his own eyes I signed up for an account, deposited
$1000, made $250 more within half an hour, and cashed out.
A week later he got the check, having made $250 from thin air.
This particular friend is a genius who later went to a prestigious
school to become a lawyer. Did he jump on the opportunity and
use it to pay for law school?
No. It was too good to be true, so he came up with a bizarre and
illogical explanation for the whole thing and never made another
dollar from it. Meanwhile, it funded my life for years.
The same attitude surrounds Life Nomadic. When people probe
about my life and I explain my perpetual state of travel, their eyes
glaze over and they invariably say, “Wow. I wish I could do that
It’s an autopilot response. It never actually crosses their mind as a
real possibility. When I start to explain in vain how they can do it
too, they come up with a million reasons why they can’t do it. It’s
too good to be true.
REDEFINING REALITY 15
Consider for a moment where that attitude leads. If we approach
any amazing opportunity with suspicion and disbelief, how many
amazing opportunities will we take in our lives? None? Think
about your heroes in life. Which attitude do they have? Where
would they be if they disregarded anything that seemed too good
to be true?
That doesn’t mean to blindly accept everything as gospel. If a
Prince of Nigeria sends you an e-mail, unsolicited, offering a
couple hundred million dollars, it’s probably a scam. The key is
to use your own judgment and research things for yourself, rather
than mechanically writing them off just because other people
have done so.
If you’re going to spend the time to read the rest of this book,
make sure that you can accept that sometimes things that sound
too good to be true aren’t. I don’t exaggerate, I don’t lie, and I
don’t mislead. Everything in this book is true and attainable by
You May As Well Try
Like me, maybe you have some friends with credit card debt, or
maybe you have some debt yourself. When people tell me they’re
in debt, I always ask them if they regret their purchases. If they
could turn back the hands of time, erase the purchase from their
history and escape from debt, would they?
The vast majority of them would do it in a heartbeat. They talk
about how worthless their purchases were and how they would
give them up in a second to be out of debt.
16 LIFE NOMADIC
Then there’s the small remaining minority who also don’t like be-
ing in debt, but wouldn’t give back what they purchased, even if
it meant being out of debt.
Can you guess what that second group spent money on?
Experiences. Usually travel. No one ever regrets spending money
on travel, and I think the reason why is obvious. Possessions
come and go, but experiences change us as people. They make us
better, whether it’s the gift of great memories and stories or les-
sons learned through mistakes. Think about trips you’ve been on.
Would you erase them from your experience if you could get the
cost of them back?
A recent study at San Francisco State University confirmed my
informal observations. They found that when people spent mon-
ey on experiences, it made them happier on average. The rea-
son, they concluded, was that experiences connected people and
“made them feel alive”. So, in a way, money can buy happiness
after all, as long as it’s spent on experiences. And unlike material
possessions, our consumption of experiences is limited by our
time. Even better, some of the best experiences don’t cost a dime.
I can’t promise you that your step into the world of nomads will
be successful. It may not be. I can help by sharing with you, in
an honest and straightforward manner, the things I’ve learned
through my own experience and through learning from other
people, but there are variables neither of us can control.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll spend a couple months abroad and
decide that you’re too homesick to continue.
I’d suggest to you, though, that you won’t regret giving it a shot
even if it doesn’t work out. The worst that can happen is that you
REDEFINING REALITY 17
come back a better person, with new perspective you couldn’t
have gotten any other way.
In the following chapters I will outline everything you need to
virtually ensure your success and happiness as a nomad. I bring
up this point only to encourage to the voice in the back of your
head, the one that says, “maybe I should try this”, and causes
your stomach to feel like it’s on a roller coaster. Listen to the
THE NOMADIC EXPERIENCE
The end is never as satisfying as the journey. To have achieved everything but
k yoSourceor r
to have done so without integrity and excitement is to have achieved nothing.
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We ok! It w three days in Barcelona, and I was staying in. Not
bo had only
only that, I was glued to my laptop getting work done. There
asn’t even a rainstorm to blame my homebody behavior on. The
sun was shining and the city was an unexplored treasure trove of
adventure, culture, and sights.
“This is why I’m able to do this,” I reminded myself. “If I didn’t
take time out to work, I wouldn’t be able to afford to travel all the
Being a nomad requires you to simultaneously have a rock solid
and stable inner life and a flexible and unpredictable outer life.
This is true for both your emotional state as well as your disci-
At times you’ll find yourself stranded in some airport or train sta-
tion for a few days, with no one around you who can speak your
language, let alone a friend. You’ll be waiting in long lines to try