When you are a long term traveller or digital nomad there are a few things you should leave behind when you hit the road – but your hobby isn’t one of them.
Keeping up with your hobbies and interests during long term travel is important and it will make you a happier nomad. By pursuing what you enjoy and making time for your hobbies, long term travel becomes more sustainable and your location-independent life becomes richer and more fulfilling.
This is something that, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve only recently discovered. Even though I have been a digital nomad for the last 7 years, I’ve only begun to appreciate the value of enjoying my hobbies while on the road within the last year or two. I used to think that traveling full time was enough to fill my life, but I still felt like something was missing.
I’ve always loved to read, ever since I was a young child. I have fond memories of returning from the public library with an enormous stack of books and spending hours poring through them. I always read as a young adult, carrying a book with me in my purse and sticking my nose in it during my bus commute to school. But when I started traveling full time in my early 20s I began spending much less time reading. I still did it occasionally, but there would be long gaps of time when I didn’t have a book on the go. There was just so much else going on in my life that it fell by the wayside.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there was a sense that something was missing. When I realised that I hadn’t been reading and that months had gone by since I had picked up a book – I felt deeply dismayed. I knew that reading was always something that had brought me joy since I was young, so why had I stopped?
With the help of a Kindle (a thoughtful gift from Lee) and a bit of dedication to build the reading habit again, I’ve gotten back into it. These days I have several books on the go and I make time for reading every day. I read on buses, trains and planes. I read while eating my breakfast in the morning and before I go to bed.
The effect that it has had on my mind is noticeable. I think it has played a part in reducing my anxiety recently, as my brain has something positive to focus on (comprehending the complex world of an interesting book) rather than something negative (constructing numerous hypothetical situations in which everything could go wrong.) I can’t tell you what an enormous relief that is.
Also, from the non-fiction books I have read I’ve learned many new and interesting things and the fiction books have given me inspiration, food for thought and emotional catharsis. I’ve got much more to talk about – more ideas and stories to share with the world. I also think it has improved my writing and generally made me a happier person.
I’ve also recently spent time working on another hobby that I left behind when I went travelling – art. I studied art at University and I has always been a passion for me. However, there were a few years in my 20s when I completely neglected it as it didn’t easily fit in with my digital nomad lifestyle. However, last year I decided I did want making art to be part of my life again. So, I got a small sketchbook and a few coloured pencils and I have been occasionally working on drawings as I travel.
I don’t work on it nearly as much as I would like, but when I do it makes me so happy. When I am immersed in drawing something, time goes by so quickly and I don’t worry about anything else. The creative side of my brain takes over and I experience a blissful state of flow.
A nomadic lifestyle can be mentally exhausting, as it is filled with uncertainty, a lack of routine, a lack of community and support systems and the need to process new environments and situations on a regular basis.
I believe that traveling slowly is the key to making this lifestyle sustainable – both for your health and your wallet. But I also believe that hobbies and interests are an important part of this and that they are incredibly beneficial to your mental health and general well-being as a digital nomad. In this post, I’ll explore the benefits of keeping up with your hobbies and interests while you travel, as well as addressing some of the challenges you might come up against when trying to bring your hobby on the road.
Why You Should Keep Up With Your Hobbies During Long Term Travel
First of all, let’s look at why it’s important to maintain your hobbies and interests while you are travelling. Here are some of the reasons:
It’s Part of Who You Are
This is a big one. Your hobbies and interests are part of the complex tapestry of your identity, so if you stop weaving them into your day to day life you’re going to notice their absence. You are a multi-faceted human being and although you are interested in travel, you are also interested in much more.
Even if you are backpacking for 6 months or a year or even 5 years, your passion for your hobby doesn’t go away. If you love reading or making art or writing Harry Potter fan fiction, that’s going to be part of who you are no matter where you go in the world.
Candice Walsh, travel blogger at FreeCandie.com, says “books are such an integral part of my life, I’d physically (and emotionally) feel like something was missing if I didn’t have reading material with me!”
Sophie from WhereisZebra.com writes “Travelling is about finding, not losing yourself, and your hobbies and interests define who you are, so keeping up with them is keeping up on being the real you.”
One of Lee’s main hobbies is football (that’s soccer for you North Americans). It is a sport that he has been following since he was a kid and used to go to Accrington Stanley games with his dad. He has worked for the football club in the past, gone to hundreds of matches over his lifetime and could talk about football for hours.
Although he can’t go to matches when we are travelling, he still keeps up with this interest by watching football on TV (sometimes at ridiculous hours when we are in other time zones!), commenting on forums online and reading football news.
Lee just simply wouldn’t be himself if he were to cease his interest in the world of football whenever we were on the road. I can’t imagine Lee without an active interest in football – it’s just part of who he is.
It’s Good for Your Mental Health
There have been numerous studies showing the benefits of hobbies for your mental health. This LifeHack article describes it well – it seems that hobbies bring you a blend of meaningful purpose, accomplishment and full creative license that is very empowering for the brain.
Also, enjoying your hobby can reduce stress. In a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 100 adults were studied as they went about their daily activities. Their heart rate was tracked and they completed surveys to report on how they were feeling. The researchers discovered that people who engaged in hobbies were 34% less stressed out than the people who didn’t. Also, their heart rates were lowered while participating in the hobby.
It didn’t really matter what the activity was, as long as it was something they enjoyed.
Since stress has been linked to all sorts of ailments including increased risk of depression, memory loss, weight gain and a lower immune system, it seems like your hobby could be good for your mental health as well as your overall health.
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that in my own life I am calmer and happier when I am busy enjoying my hobbies. For example, hiking is another favourite hobby of mine and the physical exercise helps get those endorphins flowing in my brain. Or, when I am drawing or reading I am so mentally engaged that anxious or negative thoughts cannot creep in.
It Helps To Keep You Grounded
The nomadic lifestyle can be challenging sometimes because there is no consistency. It’s hard to have a daily routine, because sometimes you wake up in a hostel in Prague and other times you wake up in a bamboo hut on an island in the Philippines. The foods you eat, the room you sleep in, the culture around you – all of these factors are constantly changing.
When you carry your hobby with you, you can have at least one thing that stays the same no matter where you go. When I whip out my sketchbook to draw something, it doesn’t matter where I am – the process and the experience are always the same. Having a hobby you love can be very comforting and can help keep you grounded when you are living a life with very little structure or continuity.
It Makes You Smarter
Your brain is like a muscle. You can train it and make it stronger by exercising it. If you don’t present it with challenges and new things to learn, it becomes weak. By enjoying your hobby and improving your skills in that area, you are sharpening your intelligence and expanding your neuroplasticity.
This is true for a lot of hobbies and activities, from playing a musical instrument to playing video games to reading and much more. One of the hobbies that Lee and I keep up with as we travel is going to pub trivia nights – we have been to countless different quizzes in many different locations. I feel like the challenge of answering trivia questions makes us smarter, (although perhaps this is cancelled out by the beer drinking that usually goes along with a pub quiz).
It Helps You Connect With Others
I really love the way that Lee’s love of football gives him an automatic talking point to share with so many people we meet on our travels. “Who do you support?” is a question that can get Lee and a stranger talking passionately about players, games and leagues for ages.
As you travel around the world you will meet many people and some of them will share your hobby. Having this shared interest is a fantastic conversation starter and a great way to make friends.
For example, I mentioned that Lee and I have a hobby of going to pub quiz trivia nights as we travel. So, when we arrived on our Working Holiday Visa in Australia, one of the first things we did is to seek out a quiz in our area. We went to a quiz at a pub near our house in Brunswick, Melbourne and played by ourselves (we didn’t win). However, we did strike up a conversation with the people at the next table.
Those people just happened to be the wonderful Cam and Erica, who have now become very close friends. From that night on they invited us out to several other quiz nights as well as stand up comedy nights, parties, barbeques and much more. Together we also enjoyed a day of wine tasting in the Yarra Valley, a road trip on the Great Ocean Road and many adventures in Tasmania. Our experience of being in Australia has been greatly enhanced by knowing them and some of my fondest memories of this past year involve our time spent with them.
When you participate in your hobbies and do activities that make you happy, you will meet other like-minded people who also are interested in the things you enjoy. Those people make great friends.
It Reaffirms That Long Term Travel Is a Way of Life, Not a Vacation
I’ve been travelling the world for the last 7 years, but I have not been on vacation during that time. This is a hard thing for a lot of people to wrap their head around, because when they see you traveling they assume that you must be taking a “break” from “real life.” However, if you are a digital nomad or a long-term traveller and you are sustaining yourself on the road – travel IS your “real life.”
You are not just dropping everything to relax on a beach for two weeks, you are living your life. You just happen to live your life without a fixed location. The fact that your life is portable is just one aspect of it – not the only one.
Having a hobby during long term travel makes a lot of sense. You would have a hobby if you had a more conventional life based on one place, so why not have one while you are living nomadically? You’re not taking a break from your life, you’re living it all around the world.
It Might Make You Money
Most people enjoy their hobbies solely for pleasure without assuming they will bring in an income – which is absolutely fine. However, if you do have a hobby that you love and you become good at it, it’s something to consider. Could your interest bring you extra cash to fund your travels, even if it’s just a small trickle?
For example, if you love to draw could your sketches sell as prints online? If you make jewellery could you sell it as you travel? If you are really good at a particular video game, could you make tutorials on Youtube?
So Many Reasons to Bring Your Hobby Travelling
These are just a few of the main reasons why you should consider bringing your hobby with you if you are going to be traveling long term. The issue is, sometimes it’s harder than it sounds and there are a few obstacles in the way.
Keeping Up With Your Hobbies: Long Term Travel Challenges
This is all good, but keeping up with a hobby is a lot more challenging when you live a life of travel. There are a few reasons why you might end up not bringing your hobby with you on a long term trip, such as:
Your hobby requires bulky and difficult to transport equipment and supplies.
This can be a major obstacle. If your hobby is painting, you are not going to bring along oil paints and a canvas in your backpack – it’s just not practical. However, is there a way that you could bring along a smaller and more portable version of your hobby? You could take a small sketchbook and some coloured pencils and make sketches, which you can turn into full size paintings when you get home.
Sophie from WhereisZebra.com is an artist, so she travels with a graphic tablet. Even when she doesn’t have the tablet on her, she always has something to draw with. “I’m trying to always have with me a small sketchbook and a pencil. Otherwise, when the drawing need is hard to overcome I use old receipts found in my wallet plus a random pen.” she says.
When it comes to reading, Candice from FreeCandie.com knows that she can’t bring a huge stack of books in her backpack. However, she makes due with a Kindle. She says:
“I don’t love my Kindle, but I tend to use it a lot while I’m travelling since it’s so easy to pack. That way I’m more likely to read something I actually want to read rather than some trashy literature found in a hostel. I try to pick fiction from the destination I’m travelling to, for both the cultural insight and to get myself excited about the trip.”
Shop around and see if you can find something that you can use to enjoy your hobby but is compact and easy to squeeze into your backpack. You can often find a “travel sized” version of something, like a fold-away magnetic chess set if your hobby is chess, or a travel-sized embroidery kit. I’ve even seen travellers backpacking with guitars. It is an extra piece of luggage, but if you play the guitar every day and it brings you joy then it might be worth carrying.
Although, there are some hobbies that are just too large to fit in your backpack. Sophie writes:
“I had to pretty much sacrifice (my hobby) because of living as a nomad: playing the piano. I still do it sometimes, in large piano-department stores, at the airports – there are places where you can spot this giant instrument “clearly exposed to the public” and free to use. My favourite place is a giant shopping mall in Tokyo, Akihabara, where for the first time I touched my dream one – a white shiny piano.”
You struggle to find time in your busy schedule.
I can relate to this one. When you are traveling long term there is always something you could be doing. There are so many things to see and do in your destination and exploring will fill up a significant amount of time. If you work on the road that will take a significant chunk out of your day, then you also have to factor in time for cooking, eating, planning, booking hotels, catching buses and trains, and much more. It’s hard to squeeze time for a hobby into a travel lifestyle.
The solution for this will be unique to everyone, as you will have to find out what works with your schedule. We all get the same 24 hours in a day and the time for working on your hobby is in there, it’s simply a matter of rearranging and prioritising.
I can tell you what has worked for me:
- I’m more likely to do something for a small amount every day, rather than a large amount once per week. So, doing something for 30 minutes per day is more likely to happen than blocking out 3.5 hours in a large chunk.
- One of my hobbies is reading, so I make sure that I have my book or my Kindle accessible everywhere I go. Even if I’m only waiting for a bus for 10 minutes, I can whip out the book and read a few pages. You’d be surprised how much you can read even if you only do it in the small stolen moments.
- When you are travelling long term, you aren’t out drinking and socialising every night – some nights you stay in and take it easy. Instead of watching Netflix or mindlessly surfing the net on those nights, why not work on your hobby for a bit? If I find myself spaced out and checking Twitter and Facebook in the evenings, I think “could I spend this time reading instead? Or drawing?”
If your hobby is really portable, you might consider doing it during those long hours when you are on bus or train journeys. With no internet access to distract you and nothing else to do, it could be the perfect way to enjoy some time with your hobby.
If your hobby is something active, like hiking or fishing, you will need to schedule it into your plans so that you make sure it happens. For example, one of the hobbies I really enjoy is hiking/walking. As Lee and I travel, I tend to choose travel experiences that will include a lot of walking – such as the three day, two night camping trip in the Outback that included an afternoon hike on the first day and sunrise hikes on both mornings.
Also, whenever we are based in the UK for any period of time, I meet up with a local rambling group who go on hikes in the English countryside every Sunday. This helps me to make sure that hiking is something that I do at least every week.
You will also be more likely to do something if you are actively learning and improving your skills in that area. So, for example if your hobby is photography then you can take an online photography course as you travel and increase the quality of your photos.
Making time for your hobby is sometimes simply a matter of deciding to prioritise it, then scheduling it into your life. Maybe you will do it every night before you go to bed, or for 30 minutes in the morning? Or maybe you will plan to meet up with a group and do it once per week? Find a plan that works for your lifestyle.
Your hobby requires other people.
Here’s a tricky one, what if you are travelling long term, but your hobby requires a group of people who met up regularly for sessions – such as learning martial arts or dance or playing a sport?
This is one of the hardest challenges to overcome, because one of the big disadvantages of a digital nomad lifestyle is that you don’t have a community. My brother practices Iado, a form of Japanese Samurai sword fighting, and he has been meeting up with the same group for years. It is a meaningful part of his life and there is no way that he could do that if he lived a mobile lifestyle like mine. He is able to cultivate relationships with his Iado group and develop his practice over many years – one of the benefits of living in one place.
However, there are some ways that you can find people who share your hobby while on the road. It really helps if you travel slowly and spend at least a few weeks in each destination you visit. One thing to remember is that no matter where you go in the world, there are probably people living there who share your hobby – you just have to find them.
Here are a few ideas:
- Check out Meetup, which is a website highlighting different events, meetups and groups. You may find that there is a local swing dance group or a weekly hiking event that you can participate in.
- Find the local dojo or dance studio or yoga studio or climbing gym and see if you can visit for one-off sessions during your stay. You may be able to drop in for individual classes for a fee, or pay to use the facilities for a day.
- Put the word out on Couchsurfing that you are looking to somewhere to participate in your hobby. The locals will probably be able to recommend somewhere that you can go.
- If your hobby is playing a sport, like baseball or football, look for a local casual league that meets up to play. Ask them if you can come take part in one of their games.
- If you are working abroad, see if you can organise something with your co-workers. For example, while working abroad in New Zealand, Lee played fun and casual matches of football with his co-workers.
- Also, see if anyone at your hostel wants to play with you! You could probably gather up a few people for a casual kick-around, which would also be a great way to make new friends.
- Keep in touch with enthusiasts who share your hobby online via forums and discussion pages.
- Watch Youtube tutorials to keep honing your skills and learning new techniques, even when you are away from your instructor.
- Consider scheduling Skype sessions with a friend from home who shares your hobby, or with your instructor at home.
- Travel to a destination where you will be able to participate in your hobby while you are there. For example, my brother travelled to Tokyo and was able to attend an Iado tournament while he was there. In India I met many yoga enthusiasts who were attending yoga workshops and classes as they travelled.
- Book travel experiences that match your hobby. For example, if you love horseback riding you can book a visit to an Argentinian estancia or a trip through the backcountry in Banff, Canada and enjoy riding horses in a different setting.
Don’t Leave Your Hobby Behind When You Travel
If you are planning to become a digital nomad, I urge you to consider how you will bring your interests and hobbies with you when you hit the road. I truly believe you will miss them if you don’t. If you are a digital nomad and your life has been feeling a little empty – ask yourself if there are any of your passions, hobbies and interests that you have left behind. Is there a way that you can bring them with you?
Long term travel is different than a vacation. It’s not leaving your life behind, it’s taking your life with you on the road. This means taking all aspects of who you are, including your hobbies and interests. You are more than just a traveller – you are a complex and multi-faceted person with varied interests who just happens to be living nomadically.
What’s your hobby? Do you take it with you when you travel? Let me know in the comments.
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