Digital Nomad, featured, Reflections
Comments 20

Nearly 7 Years of Travelling Without a Home – and Then Life in Lockdown.

What’s it like to chain myself to one place after 7 years of long term travel?

It feels like yesterday when I was hiking up the moonscapes of Qeshm Island in Iran at sunset. Or falling off the map on a motorcycle adventure in the remote tribal Chin state of Myanmar. Or feeling awe-inspired at the electric ‘ghetto sessions’ in Khayelitsha, one of South Africa‘s largest townships.

When I look back at my life of long term travel, there is one thing in common. It all feels surreal.

And in a very different way, that’s my dominant feeling during this pandemic too!

Also read: Four Years of Travelling Without a Home

long term travel
My surreal life of long term travel: Jumping into a lake in Guatemala at sunrise!

Since this strange period of our lives began, many of you have reached out to me, curious about what it’s been like to hang up my travel boots indefinitely. After nearly seven years of long term travel and living out of two bags, what’s it like to chain myself to one place for the foreseeable future?

In this post, I try to lay bare my heart, reflecting on this time of shock, struggle, acceptance, disappointment, anger, gratitude and hope.

With a home nowhere, I suddenly had nowhere to go!

long-term travel, goa kayaking
In a strange turn of events, we now (temporarily) own a kayak!

Back in 2013, I gave up my rented apartment and sold most of my belongings. In the years since, I’ve felt at home in many places around the world but not put down roots anywhere.

Having no possessions and no commitment to a single place felt liberating on many levels… until I found myself in lockdown!

As luck would have it, an unexpected turn of events made me abandon a multi-day trek from tribal Chhattisgarh to Madhya Pradesh. I ended up taking a flight to Dehradun to see my folks for a few days, and figure out where I could slow travel next to hide out the brewing coronavirus fears.

In those few days, my universe, like that of many others, overturned. WHO declared it a pandemic, India went into a stringent lockdown, state and international borders shut down indefinitely. Suddenly, I had nowhere to go.

That few days visit turned into 3 months. And in retrospect, I’m so glad I got to spend that quality time with my folks – something I haven’t done since I moved out for college at seventeen! Unfortunately though, my partner was stranded in a different part of the world during the lockdown. Perhaps because the geographical separation wasn’t out of choice this time, it stung pretty bad.

When domestic movement gradually resumed, we went through a ton of passes and paperwork, Covid tests and institutional quarantine. And took a leap of faith to move to a small Goan village for the foreseeable future.

We now call an old trading shop turned studio “home”, own a kayak and a small oven, and wake up to hornbill and peacock cries!

Also read: What’s it Like to Travel Solo When You’re in a Relationship

Roots or wings – aka is long term travel still for me?

high tatras slovakia
To travel long term is to know the world, slowly, deeply. Hiking solo in Slovakia.

To tell you the truth, I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to stay in one place again. To have a small backyard when I can grow my greens, to own more than what fits in two bags. Have constant access to a kitchen and experiment with vegan recipes. Build a consistent supply chain of organic, seasonal, zero waste produce. And not have to decide every couple of months, where next?

After the initial shock of the lockdown, I realized that I had no choice now but to experience “the other side” of life.

So I threw myself right into it. Started growing my own herbs and microgreens. Experimented with vegan baking. Got connected with a group of local organic farmers. Tried to throw myself into writing, books and music. Binge-watched movies and shows.

At first, it felt nice to have a schedule and all this time on my hand. But the days quickly started merging into one another. They felt familiar, comfortable and predictable.

Waking up to the same horizon every day eventually became monotonous. I began to miss the rush of long land journeys, the magic of fleeting encounters on the road and the anonymity of being a new “me” in a new place.

Turns out, the reason I never found a place ‘perfect’ enough to lay down roots was because I was never actually looking for one.

Also read: How to Indulge Your Wanderlust at Home During the Pandemic

Ironically, long term travelling prepared me for a time of no travel

slow travel tamil nadu
Long term traveling, full of unexpected offices and lessons. This one in Tamil Nadu.

It seems like those challenging times on the road – the border interrogation in Nicaragua, getting mugged in Costa Rica, getting stalked in Ethiopia, breaking my phone on the first day of my solo adventures in Ecuador – unexpectedly prepared me to adapt, no matter what life throws along the way.

The pandemic is definitely one such curve ball.

At first, I was naive enough to think it’ll be behind us soon. But now, I don’t see myself travelling far before a vaccine is available, which could be several months or even a year from now.

Even though I’m young, healthy and outside the vulnerable age group, studies have found long term health implications for those who contract the virus. I also feel an acute responsibility towards rural communities in India with little access to healthcare, and can’t bear the thought of carrying the virus to them.

The initial months were tough, both professionally and personally. I had a few delayed payments trickling in which helped cover my expenses. But all travel assignments were put on hold, leaving the future uncertain.

Surprisingly however, I quickly moved through phases of denial, shock, anger and disappointment, into acceptance.

As an introvert, minimalist and someone who’s been working from home for nearly a decade, the obvious challenges of lockdown living were easy for me.

But I’ve been working towards making this lockdown life more palatable. Moving closer to nature, cycling, kayaking, photographing feathered creatures, researching more about wildlife conservation challenges and learning to cook!

Also read: How I’m Financially Sustaining My Digital Nomad Lifestyle

The privilege of travel, and life itself

himachal pradesh monsoon
The realization that to travel, and travel long-term, is a privilege. Monsoon in Himachal Pradesh.

Hailing from India, privilege is often a tricky subject.

On the one hand, I often compare my lack of privilege to western bloggers / freelancers with powerful passports, social security and financial support during the pandemic.

On the other hand, I feel very aware of my access to good education in India (among other things we take for granted), that ultimately helped carve this digital nomad life for me.

This pandemic though, has given me much more perspective.

It has led me to the harsh acceptance that I’m not an essential worker, my soft skills weren’t of much use in a crisis, and travel – even the responsible kind – isn’t as resilient as once thought. We (me and most people reading this) are lucky enough to work online and shelter ourselves from the pandemic.

But despite the increasing penetration of smartphones, rural communities associated with travel have been hit really hard during this time.

This gaping urban-rural divide led to a new passion project, Voices of Rural India – perhaps India’s first curated platform for rural storytellers!

The goal is to build digital storytelling skills in rural India while creating an alternate source of income. And in this time of no travel, it’s a chance to explore remote corners of India virtually, through the stories of the very people we travel to meet.

We’re looking for passionate volunteers to join us to support Voices of Rural India. If that’s you, please get in touch!

The art of traveling long term vs the growing frustration of a weak passport

digital nomad
How to travel long-term? Ditch that Indian passport 😉

Travelling with an Indian passport has always been painful. I hate the heaps of documentation, the long wait to get a visa, stringent application processes, a defined duration of stay etc.

But in the current times, as someone who thinks of herself as a global citizen, I feel even more caged with closed borders and no tourist visas.

Countries like Georgia and Estonia have recently launched a “digital nomad visa” that would be ideal for someone like me who wants to stay longer and work on the go. But unfortunately, India is not one of the 95 countries eligible to apply. SIGH.

Also read: How I Manage Visas on My Indian Passport as I Travel the Globe

“What about the future?”

long term travel checklist
Thinking of the future as an adventure. In the Lake District in the UK.

There was a time when anxiety about the future used to gnaw at me from the inside.

But over many years on the road, with neither a constant income nor a constant home, I’ve gradually learnt to let go.

The future is just that – distant, unpredictable. We need to nurture it, yes. But not at the cost of living fully today.

This life of long term travel has taught me to think of the future as just another adventure. And perhaps that’s what we need most right now. Cherish the little joys that today brings, and not dwell too much on the future. Whatever it brings, it’ll be an adventure for sure.

Also read: How Travelling Changed My Perspective on Getting Married and Having Kids

A life of no regret

Long term travel tips
Fleeting encounters on the road. Newfound friends in Iran.

Some people say I was too young to quit my corporate job at 23. If I stayed on a few more years, I could’ve amassed more wealth and experience.

Some say this digital nomad lifestyle is unsustainable. I need to own a house, I need to own things.

In a way, this unprecedented crisis has challenged everything about my life philosophy in the past seven years.

I don’t own a house or a car, and until a few months ago, I didn’t even own any cooking equipment. I’ve long believed in the shared economy to find homes and rides around the world. Covid came as a total shock to my existence.

But in the middle of a damn pandemic that has shattered many travel and life plans, I feel so grateful about the choices I’ve made.

I’m glad I didn’t put off my dream of slow travelling the world on my own terms. I’m grateful I didn’t build a bucket list to tick off only once I retired.

In the coming years, in a world wrought by climate change, intensive animal agriculture, single use plastic and irresponsible travel, we will face a whole new set of challenges. I’ll continue to contribute to this planet in whatever ways I can, but…

I can say with confidence, having tried it over the past six months, that living in one place is just not for me. I belong on the road, always moving, wild and free.

What’s this lockdown period been like for you? Where did you spend it, and what’s your most important realization from it? Do you think a life of long-term travel is for you?

PIN this post to read later!

Get my latest article in your inbox!

Join 21,282 other subscribers

If you enjoyed reading this article, I would love for you to share it!

20 Comments

  1. “The future is just that – distant, unpredictable. We need to nurture it, yes. But not at the cost of living fully today.” – Beautiful post & philosophy! You’re approach to life is so inspiring 💜

  2. Dr.Amitabh Mukherjee says

    I belong to your preceding generation( 60’s born )when such coinage of digital nomad were unheard of, though I feel I belong to your type. I m a nomad by all means. I m a man from calcutta, a medical doctor by qualification. After my medical schooling , I tried my hand as a soldier, stayed for sometime, had done few years of family medical practice, went on to become administrator, then weaver, followed by a stint of living and earning as Antiretroviral support Doctor on behalf of an UK based charity in African bush in Sub-Saharan region. Repatriated after completing term and got trained myself to becomes sailor,and sailed for some years and came ashore to drop my anchor at an University to teach in the PG level. Then I had severe itching in my soles, packed my rucksack and left for Antarctica where I wintered at Indian Stn. Maitri. Everytime I worked an earned money , I exhausted on spending on travel to different countries in Europe, Africa and South Asian regions. During this , I came across different people, culture,cuisine, took loads of pics, but could not document them and my feelings. I couldn’t become a blogger. I got married and have my wife and a son( also a professional and ‘settled’)at home. But I couldn’t got ‘settled’ yet. This pandemic has kept me restrained,but I m having the same kind of itching , restlessness….
    Will you pl tell me how to start writing a blog ? Actually I can not compose the stuff into a interesting one..
    Thanks
    Dr.Amitabh
    9830021289

    • Greg Jor says

      Hi Ami. Start where you are bro. You write well. Your post above is blog # 1. Go for it. Thx Shivya. Cool post and pics. Appreciate it.

  3. I’m sort of in the same situation. Not really a digital nomad, but a freelancer in travel and tourism, with no steady address for many years. I have decided to just take life as it comes and get the best out of it- I will be back in the world of travel & tourism soon again.Even plan a solo cycling tour of Cyprus next month. We will be past this pandemic within the next year. And then global nomads like us will roam the globe again. Good luck with everything.

  4. Heta says

    Beautiful article again. I have been called traveller by many and people have been asking, how does it feel to not travel, I understand it’s a conversation point but it’s also irritating that, travelling is not a need nor my profession depends on it..so for me it was a choice, which I feel I will be foolish to travel again where I don’t have the luxury of chatting up with locals, eat food outside in open .. travelling right now doesn’t make sense, yes being alone at a scenic place can be done for few days but it’s still not travelling. Rather I feel we should take the time we have and use it to build on our current relationships..with family/ friends, whoever is around

  5. One thing I have learnt so far is not care much of the future it must definitely be treated as an adventure coz you never know what is there for you next. Take Care & Stay Safe. We will beat this pandemic for sure and go back to do the one thing we love TRAVEL 🙂

  6. The pandemic has been an eye opener for digital nomads. Many digital nomads sold their house and belongings and led a life of nomad, for last couple of years. But with countries closing their borders and asking nomads to leave created a new problem. These travelers don’t have actual home. A lot of them faced problems and went back living with parents or friends. Many digital nomads are forced to rethink abou the future plan or course of action.

  7. Nina | Lemons and Luggage says

    Wonderful words, Shivya, as always! Perhaps it’s a good thing that you have realized that living in one place really isn’t for you. Otherwise, you would have wondered if people were right to tell you what they did.

    I feel similar to you in that I feel stuck in Greece. Although we are able to travel within Europe I don’t think it’s the right thing to do right now. Although most new infections seem to be brought about by parties and family gatherings, I simply don’t want to take the risk with such an unpredictable disease. At the same time, my unemployment money just ended, and jobs in Greece aren’t exactly in abundance. But neither are they in other places in a time where more people are getting fired than hired.

    The place we had planned to go is a big question mark now for administrative reasons, and I’m constantly wondering if I should just go and give it a try or keep on waiting, but for how long.

    In the end, whatever is going to happen will happen, but I can’t shed the feeling of uncertainty yet.

  8. That was a very interesting account of your travel tales so very absorbing !I have been following you right since I started blogging in December last year& admire your natural instincts as an avid explorer! I will be honoured if you could go through my latest blog on Uttarakhand.U may like it.

  9. Oh Shivya, you took the words right out of my mouth. Like you, I was a full time traveler for 5 years until the pandemic. I am now stationed in Berkeley, CA, and working this month on a book in Louisiana. Like you, I long for my freedom but am grateful for my good life in the meantime. Perhaps I will meet you for an adventure some day….

  10. I so enjoyed reading this post!! I’m a long-time traveller although I have always had a base and do shorter trips but on a frequent basis. For me the pandemic has been tough because travel through experiences and connections with new people feels like an essential part of who I am so without it I felt really lost. Those beautiful moments spent having an adventure with people you’ve just met who quickly become friends. Travel expands my world view, I get to interact with people I would never normally get the opportunity to meet. I end each trip mentally richer than I did before. I acknowledge the fact I can travel is a privilege in itself, but it brings with it many benefits. I will start travelling again (responsibly) as soon as I am able. Thanks for sharing!

  11. anjuli says

    Thoughtful as always. Now that you have cooking vessels, where are you currently living? Love from Goa. Anjuli

  12. Great post Shivya as always, but especially this one. I believe that it is the impermanence of life we all struggle with, especially in these times right now with Covid. There is no measurement at all how the future will reveal itself for us. Take care Shivya, stay safe and healty.

  13. Great post as always, Shivya, especially this one. I believe that it is the impermanence we all struggle with, especially in these times of Covid. There is no measurement at all, what the future will reveal for all of us. Stay safe and healthy Shivya

  14. Shivya, I loved when you said that your life on the road prepared you for the life that you are living now (in the pandemic). That’s what it is all about. Learning and adapting. I travel once or twice a year but since a year now, like everyone else – we have been home and there is an uneasiness that I feel. A predictability that i don’t like. There are no turns where I see a mountain or the anticipation of a lake. The world seems smaller and confined. But this too shall pass. It will!

  15. You are wise beyond your years and I suspect your nomadic life have contributed to this. I completely agree with embracing the little joys that today brings. This pandemic has taught me to live more in the moment and cherish the beauty close to home. Strangely, had it not been for covid, I may have never explored some of the wonderful regions in my home province. Great post! All the best to you.

  16. Anamika Joshi says

    Hi Shivya,

    I don’t know where to start and whether to actually even write the stuffs going on in my mind right now. This lockdown period had brought so many changes in my life. I had a heart break, lost my job, my dance teacher said I’m not good enough or may be not even suitable for the art form, disappointed my parents completely(marriage!!), best friend not talking to me and many more I don’t want to bore you with. My entire perspective towards myself and people around me changed in just 3 months. This may all seem like an overload of a rant, and I am very greatful for what I have in life, but 2020 is an eye opener for me.

    Right now, I don’t know what to do or where to go, but I want to question everything. All I want to do right now is travel some place and find perspective in life..

  17. Some really interesting thoughts about what the pandemic might do for travel and what it means for us travel lovers. Personally I agree with you, those longer adventures I’ve had have taught me to role with the punches a little and I don’t necessarily need a routine even when I am in London (my base). Couldn’t agree more that if this time has taught us anything it’s: never put off those things you want to do! I’ve never met anyone on my travels who has said “I wish I’d waited longer to experience this”!

  18. Thank you for sharing your insights and vulnerabilities here. I can truly relate. As someone who travels often, these times have been trying for me, too. Like you, I’ve turned to gardening, cooking, family; things that bring me comfort and “ground” me. If there is an up-side, it has given me pause to reflect on a great many things I might have overlooked, had I been on the go. I’m trying to focus on that…

  19. very insightful article once again. The uncertainty of Covid era is here for some time and we need to accept this. It is easier said than done though. But we have keep moving, one small step at a time.
    Thanks for sharing this thought.

I'm waiting to hear your thoughts on this post:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.