When riding Priscilla the Bikecar between Memphis and Miami I came across this Gopher Tortoise on the Withlachoochee trail in Florida. We had plenty in common.

Life is not like Instagram: I’m a Tortoise

The pros and cons of carrying your home on your back and creating a living out of travel…

My home is on my back, has been for a decade now.

I didn’t think it through at the outset, it wasn’t a long-term plan. I just knew that if I rented or bought another place I’d fill it with stuff and I’d never leave. Not having a home was the solution to affording a nomadic lifestyle without the heavy guilt and doubt that comes with spending money on something that isn’t being used.

And before you say it, a house to rent out to others would have just wound me up. I didn’t want to deal with tenants. I yearned for freedom, not people who couldn’t fix a blocked sink.

I’ve learned to live light (ironic that I write this with a broken foot sustained from bearing a heavy pack on a walking journey) which has contributed to my lack of outgoings, and a simple life without possessions has taught (initially forced) an appreciation of small, free moments. These fill each day and now the thought of walking through a department store surrounded by shelves of things that are effectively useless, well…I’m an enemy of stuff :)

My entire life has become an adventure, even the bits in between my journeys, and being a nomad means the freedom to say ‘yes’ to the most unexpected opportunities. It has taught me to find peace and understanding within myself and 100 mornings a year I wake up and have no idea where I’ll be sleeping that night. I actually adore that feeling.

I travel with a hammock and bivi bag so always have a sleeping option; even deep in a city there are a hundred places to lay down for the night. It took a few years to train my mind to realise that when the worst case scenario is that I might have to sleep in a park or a gutter, things aren’t so bad. Each new bed (or patch of dirt or air between two trees) is just another story and I’ve been happy with that for so long.

Not having a home has enabled me to afford the lifestyle that I’ve grown to love. Paddling down a river for three months is far cheaper than renting a place for the same period. I understand now that travel doesn’t have to be expensive. To the contrary, it’s priceless. Of all the elements of the life ten years that have played a formative role, being homeless is the most important.

Travelling through unfamiliar places without plans or contacts is my perfect flavour of travel, especially on a non-motorised trip or when you’re somewhere for a reason — such a brilliant ice breaker. Forget this ‘it’s all about who you know’ nonsense, that’s just an excuse for booking ahead. And seeing as strangers are just friends waiting to happen it pays to have a reason to talk to people.

Being without a roof has taught me to be vulnerable. I’m not afraid to ask for shelter if a storm is coming. I know that 7 times out of 10 if I get talking to a local when I’m riding or paddling through a place they’ll take me in, almost always without me even asking. I’ve made so many friends because I don’t live anywhere — I’m a professional, social hobo.

I’m determined not to let any future home take away this awareness that being vulnerable without a roof has given me the most incredible friends and skills. Home is just a concept in our minds and I know that the best life is a truly simple one, un-owned by unecessary possessions and unmotivated by buying them.

And sure, what’s in the bag? I can’t go and write a book in Spain and Bali and the next minute ride a skateboard across a country or kayak down a river and expect all the kit to fit. Storage units are an option, or little packages of stuff left in friend’s houses, but my prime recommendation is to pack light — it’s rare now that you can’t get those things that you need, wherever you travel. And this includes laundry. I don’t travel with a towel, every shower has a towel nearby already, and towels are heavy! I have one pair of boots (actually now I have one shoe and one orthopaedic boot!) and they live on my feet during travel, unless I’m somewhere warm where I just carry flip-flops.

I take care of my laptop and phone, they’re my office and means of translating my experiences into a living. Never dropped or broken a phone. Never lost a laptop, touch wood, nothing is throwaway for me. I care for the items I choose to carry and anything I don’t need I’ll find someone who can use it better and give it away.

While the freedom to flee and fly has given me the wings to design the life I want, it has come at a cost.

It’s tiring, moving from place to place, not wanting to be an imposition or a source of entertainment in return for a bed. I’ve burned out these last few months. A thick invisible thumb presses against my forehead come the early afternoon. I have a huge sleep debt. As I’ve become better at my stuff more opportunities have presented themselves and I’ve ditched some, taken others. But my reality has become moving constantly around the world. I’m knackered. Reluctant to pass up the next good thing but so desperate for rest. I’m beat.

And I get it, I need to stop. But if I do, the money and the surprises don’t come — I’ve learned to make a living on the move. There has to be a balance and now I’m sure that home is the key. When I do stop it must be quality time.

I work remotely, often from a laptop, but skipping from place to place means I’m always in an unfamiliar working environment. The hours wasted scouting around for a decent coffice to work from. Unreliable internet. Breakfast comes from where? All things out of my control, eating away the minutes which could have been used better.

The longest I’ve stayed in any one place has been two months. Even when I called a narrowboat (Aslan!) home for a few months in 2009 I travelled regularly in that period. Malaga. Zanzibar. And right now, Bali. 6–8 week periods where I’ve been more stable than almost at any other time during the last decade. There to write a book, learn a new skills, get some sun. But still not home, it was always somewhere I was destined to leave. My stomach is turning even writing this. I need to remove the churn of uprooting — the method has served its purpose now.

My relationships have suffered — watch this space for an article on this struggle, it’s coming in a few days and will be called Damn You, Cupid! — and so has the way I’ve treated my friends and myself. To avoid the trauma of constant distance I’ve just been distant to everyone I’ve cared about, friends and partners.

And you know what, I’m done with that. I’ve been harping on for years about how people are the most important part of life and I believe it, I know it, but I’ve so often fallen short when it comes to being a good friend. I have good mates but I don’t have a best friend. I dwell on the fact that I probably won’t ever be a best man for anyone — what have I missed out on because of this life? I’m determined now to make a difference on this. More effort. More presence. This maybe belongs in a different blog, but it’s collateral from living a life on the move. I barely know anyone from my school days. So many chapters ripped out of the book.

Portaging past a dam on the upper Mississippi. For 82 days my belongings lived in two waterproof bags. My only other things were a paddle and a paddleboard named Artemis.

I’m ready for a nest now. A home. One to help fully reclaim the independence you never quite have when living in other people’s homes, but it will have to come with some measure because I also love the adventure that life brings if you leave things wide open.

I don’t mean I long for a white picket fence and a garden. In fact, I don’t want a lawn, grass cutting takes time and there’s plenty of countryside to roam. Reduce the maintenance, free up time for the right things.

Just like the social battles of living life home and away I wonder how my mind will deal with bonding to a house, an apartment, even a cabin. I know I’ll leave less but I’m also ok with that. To have more than a couple of changes of clothes and all the ingredients to hand and the ability to (learn to) cook properly and most importantly that place I know I can rest quietly. I’m just terrified of becoming stale and attached to a room, a bed, a desk, my gloriously delicious coffee habit on tap. Oh man, I want a place…

If affording a location-based home can be possible with less compromise, it’s so valuable. I’ve worked for ten years and am nearly there, almost ready to buy my own place. It took so much work. Saving became a habit. Spending little and putting more and more in a pot. I just don’t want to have to do anything I don’t enjoy just because I have rent to pay. And finally it’s paying off, getting closer.

And then in the last year, as I’ve started to ask these questions the world has answered. As the YesTribe grew I saw others either in my position or wanting to be. The idea of having a flexible home, not mobile but one that doesn’t have to stay empty when I’m away. Just as co-working hubs have blossomed in the past three years the idea of co-living spaces is starting to bear fruit.

If we see any problems in our world we shouldn’t ask ‘is anyone going to do something about this?’ We should make a move to deal with it ourselves. This is entrepreneurship, being human, contributing to our place. So the idea of YesHQ was born. A flexible co-living space which doubles as a hub for work and events, a nest for the YesTribe and a space for ideas and creativity and support and encouragement. A place where people can escape and dream, receive advice and collaborate with others. And when it’s time for the next adventure someone else comes in and takes the room, one with lower-than-average rent, and contributes to running the place in return for a more-affordable-than-usual home.

We’re getting closer to this. Still tracking down the investment but now we have a huge community who want this, half the battle is won.

So, to conclude, I’ve been a tortoise for a decade, or maybe a turtle, a bit of both. I’ve moved on land and water for so long now and I’m ready for my normality to slow down. I’m ready for familiarity. For some small place or places I can call my own. Great friends nearby, a warm body in my bed. Our bed.

A switch has been flicked. I will never stop adventuring, but it’s time for the adventure in between the adventures to take on a different face. And just writing this down, getting it out, admitting it and no longer pretending that everything is just ok. It has brought the biggest grin to my face. After all, I always wanted to be in control, and I am. I need to live according to how I feel and not because of expectation, even those I’ve built up for myself.

My days as a permanent nomad are numbered, and I bloody love that idea.


Read the introduction to my Life Is Not Like Instagram Series, which includes a link to all articles published on this topic

Share my journey on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram (which sometimes even shows the bad stuff)

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