Lessons From Living The Nomad Life, With a Toddler

Here's a story my partner and I like to tell even more than the story of how we met: We'd been living together in Boulder for three months before we decided to give away pretty much everything we owned and live life on the road, since we both worked freelance. And why the heck not?!

We were going to start with a road trip through the South and up the East Coast. And then who knows? Maybe Spain for a year or New Zealand for a while. On the very first night of our road trip — in a small studio apartment Airbnb in Atlanta — I found out I was pregnant.

Clearly, this was not part of the plan (I had an IUD, after all). But we continued with our trip for the next couple months, finding OB/GYNs along the way for prenatal check-ups before we settled down for the final months of my pregnancy and the first year of our daughter's life.

But the plan was always to hit the road again after she reached her first birthday. So in May of 2017, we once again gave away all our furniture and set out on Road Trip 2.0. This time with a little one in tow. For the next seven months, we drove from San Diego to Vancouver, B.C., stopping every three hours (the average length of our daughter's nap time) to stay for anywhere from three days to two weeks.

If I thought traveling with a toddler would be tough, traveling with a toddler while balancing a job and finding time to work out (a non-negotiable for me, as I'm not only the fitness editor for Livestrong.com, but also needed exercise to keep me sane and stable) was at times a circus act. I'm not complaining, necessarily; I feel very fortunate to be able to live the life I do with two of the people I love the most.

But it's certainly an uncommon situation to have found myself in. (Although the rise of freelance economy and telecommuting jobs has made this a growing phenomenon.) So after nearly a year on the road with my family, here are a few things I've learned.

1. Changing my travel style from 24/7 vacation to “real life.”

Vacations can do a number on the waistline (for the best possible reason), so learning to make life on the road more like “real life” was essential for me to stay healthy.

In the beginning, it was so easy to slip into “vacation mode” and go out to dinner every night or find excuses to skip my workouts. Travel feels like a vacation, so why not indulge? But we specifically chose Airbnbs with kitchens so that we (by “we” I mean “my partner”) could cook and have our own space to come “home” to.

So our outings switched from restaurants to farmers’ markets (I think my favorite was in Edmonds, WA) and from pricey tourist attractions to outdoor hikes. And I started doing workouts in whatever space I could find — the porch of the Sechelt, British Columbia, house we shared with the owners; the backyard of a cottage in Mendocino, Calif., a Motel 6 in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and yes, even a friend's bathroom in San Francisco. You work with what you've got, right? At least there was one place (in the middle of a nature preserve in Oregon City!) with a small gym attached.

2. Becoming more of a Marie Kondo of on-the-road living.

Living like nomads means we had to be very picky about what we packed and what we left behind. And if it didn’t “spark joy” — it’s not coming. Clothes, whittled down to a single suitcase. Changing table and diaper pail, left behind. Pillows, we shoved them in as a very last item. Books, coffee machine, and blender, didn't make the cut. And all our furniture was donated. It was very freeing to sort through everything we own and get rid of half of it.

One of the toughest things we do without is a babysitter/daycare. But we tag-team parent by taking turns running after our little one while the other works and we both work while she naps. And the minute she goes to bed, we take a big, deep breath and congratulate each other for making it through another day.

3. Pushing myself to go from homebody to outdoor adventurer.

Traveling to and staying in all these new places (and having a stir-crazy toddler) pushed me out of the house. After all, “Adventure is out there!”

But I'll be the first to admit that I'm an introverted homebody who'd rather sit at home binge-watching “Scandal” and drinking red wine than going out.

The stories have totally been worth it, though. We've found random children's story times in coffee shops; made friends with the owner of a rock shop/coffee shop in Glendale, Utah; hiked through creaky, prehistoric-looking redwoods in Arcata, Calif.; and were basically adopted by a family in Squamish, British Columbia. (The dad built their huge, 3-story house from lumber he cleared himself from the property!) Plus, we hiked through three national parks — Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon.

4. Redefining what it means for me to “have it all.”

Yes, I believe I can have it all. But that also depends entirely on my definition of “having it all,” which has certainly shifted.

To some, I sure look like I “have it all” — a job I love in an industry I'm passionate about; a happy, healthy daughter, a loving, supportive partner and a life of travel. All of which I'm extremely grateful for.

But as is human, I often find myself focusing on what I don't have — a job where I can climb the corporate ladder (I'd always envisioned myself as the “top dog”) or a group of friends I can meet up with for coffee or drinks (texting just isn't the same as face-to-face interaction). So I've had to rethink my priorities and realize that those dreams and desires aren't off the table; they're just on hold.

So as I get ready to embark on Road Trip 3.0 (after a two-month pit stop in Houston, TX to help out family) — we're doing the South and the East Coast next, hopefully ending up in Montreal — it's been fun to look back on the year that's been and plan for what's next. And if you want to follow along on our family's journey, come find me on Instagram!

Life has not been boring for our little family and certainly nothing like what I expected. And that's been the biggest change for me: to let go of my Type A linear life plans and let spontaneity take over.

Rachel Grice