The Part-Time Nomad: A Casual Alternative to Being Fully Nomadic

My time as a digital nomad—a year and a half of perpetual travel, where I lived out of a 40L backpack—was an amazing experience that I will never forget.

It quite literally changed my life, as it spawned the idea for Pack Hacker and I really found my love for all things travel.

But it also came with its fair share of challenges. And so, after a year and a half, I decided to set up my home base in Detroit while continuing to travel periodically. I’m living the “seasonal nomad” life now, and it’s pretty great. For 2018, I’ll be spending roughly 65% of time at home (setting up the studio and operations at the beginning of this year, so, a lot of time in Detroit) and 35% on the road. We’re planning for a full month or two away from Detroit later this year once the intern is fully hired (mostly to escape the winter)!

While some of the more hardcore travelers may turn their nose up at this “seasonal nomad” lifestyle, you really do get the best of both worlds. Assuming you’re still working in some sort of remote capacity, you can still travel quite a bit.

I do a lot of consulting work, and in the past month alone I’ve traveled to New York City, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. While I don’t find myself venturing out of the country quite as much as I used to, it’s still no big deal for me to hop on a plane and head out to a destination of my choosing.

Why I Made the Switch to Part Time Nomad

While living out of a backpack and working remotely while traveling the world is 100% feasible, there are definitely some problems that can come up depending on your situation.

For example, at one point during my travels I was the only remote worker for the small company I was working with. Everyone else was in an office in NYC, and that certainly caused some problems. It’s hard to keep up with things when everyone else is in one central location and you’re halfway across the world in a different timezone.

Once I started Pack Hacker, problems started to manifest themselves in other ways. The one problem that was becoming ever-present was a simple matter of logistics. I was running a company that reviews backpacks and travel gear, but I was living out of a 40L backpack.

Practically speaking, I had no place to store all this gear I was reviewing. I could sometimes purchase an item, use it for a while, and then ship it to my parents house or a friends house—but that was far from ideal. Part of the solution was solved by the fact that I had contributors working with me all over the world, and they often had places where we could store the gear.

But as the CEO and founder, this was becoming more and more problematic as the company started to grow. People were emailing me with bag-specific questions to help choose a backpack for them, and because I didn’t necessarily have the pack in front of me, I had to either guess or get in touch with the contributor and forward emails around.

Outside of storage problems, I was also filming most of our YouTube videos from the various Airbnb’s and hotel rooms I happened to be staying in. While this was kind of cool and gave some authenticity to the travel aspect, figuring out lighting setups and and dealing with weird audio issues in a different room every week was getting very old.

This is the main reason I decided to set up shop in Detroit. I now have all of the gear we’ve tested at Pack Hacker in one place, and I have a well-lit studio setup for filming all of our videos.

But outside of running a travel gear review website, there are a bunch of benefits to being a seasonal nomad that might make full-time travelers reconsider their nomadic ways…

The Added Reliability of a Home Base

The life of a digital nomad is very exciting in that you can constantly work from new places. Every day you have the chance to work somewhere new—whether it’s a different coffee shop or a different country. I cannot understate how awesome this is.

It does, however, come with some drawbacks. Working from coffee shops all around the world means you’re going to have varying degrees of connectivity—whether it’s slow wifi, no wifi, or problems accessing an outlet. You also may be swapping time zones, making it difficult for your coworkers (if you have coworkers) to keep in touch with you.

Video or audio meetings can be headache-inducing. You’ll need to do plenty of homework to make sure you are in a place with good wifi and minimal noise, in addition to working with whatever timezone your meeting guests are in.

While less exciting, a home base can alleviate all of these issues. You know you’ll be in a quiet place with good wifi and power. You can easily look at your schedule and figure out when you should be at home and when you can jet off for a few days. Plus, people know that you’re usually going to be in one time zone.

Reliability is nice, and can certainly help in terms of productivity—and even job security!

You Can Sleep in Your OWN BED

You give up a lot with a full-time digital nomad lifestyle—friends, family, storage, and perhaps most tragically, your bed. Going home to sleep in your own bed is a luxury that many perpetual travelers sorely miss.

As a seasonal nomad, you can have all the comforts of home while still being able to travel. For me, storage was a huge factor—but I’m not going to lie, the thought of sleeping in my very own bed was also pretty enticing. Plus, I’m now much closer to family and friends. The comforts of home are something that many travelers simply write off, but deep down we all know they’re nice to have.

This lifestyle has been a nice compromise for me—I have some added stability, but I’m still able to travel as much (or as little) as I’d like. And most importantly, I still have some cred with the full-time digital nomads of the world.

Plus, after living out of a backpack for a year and a half, packing up for a week is almost comical. I’ve got my routine so dialed in at this point that I can be out my door ready for a week of travel at the drop of a hat.

What do you think? Have you thought about setting up shop and going the seasonal part time nomad route? Maybe you’re already a de-facto “seasonal nomad” and you didn’t realize it?

Tom Wahlin

Tom has lived out of a 40L backpack for 1.5 years of travel, helping him gain knowledge on what to pack and what to leave behind. His top achievements include designing for Apple, creating Pack Hacker, and eating large quantities of ramen (ongoing).

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6 Comments

  1. I appreciate this more than ever Tom, because my wife and I have no home – being nomads – yet chill in the USA with fam in NJ much more over the past 2 years. We are becoming more part time. Even if we hop the bus and do a bunch more house sits in NYC we are less full time digital nomads, which is fine by me.

  2. Hey Tom! I love the idea of being a seasonal nomad. I’ve never done the true nomad thing but for a while I was calling myself an “undergrad nomad” because I spent so much of my undergraduate university career studying, working, volunteering or traveling abroad. When I got back, I really craved some fixed life balance and knew I wanted a homebase. So the idea of just being nomadic part time is so appealing to me. The only things I would need to figure out would be what to do with our home (our strata doesn’t allow Airbnb and I don’t know if we could rent it out for such a short period of time), what to do with my partner’s work (he works at the hospital) and how to bring our dog. Complications, but nothing I can’t figure out, I’m sure!

    https://teaspoonofadventure.com/

    1. Hi Riana!

      “Undergrad Nomad” – I like that 🙂

      Definitely some complications there but with enough persistence & patience, it’s possible to find the balance!

  3. I have just recently decided being a seasonal nomad, as you dub it, is my future. I have been on the road for 27 years and was a nomad long before the “digital” prefix. I am home now and, not surprisingly, it doesn’t feel like home. I can’t settle but full time travel just isn’t feasible any more. I finally realised I can travel from a home base and still have the fun of travel, the income from writing and a place to keep more than a back pack worth of belongings. Great post, Tom.

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