It occurred to me at the last farm I was at that I don’t have a home. I had no address to write down in the “wwoof book” that they have. All I had was my parent’s address in a different state, and if something needed to get to me in Denver, my church’s address.
I have no home.
People correct me when I say “homeless,” though. And that’s fair, I’m not homeless. The word “homeless” denotes that an unfortunate circumstance(s) left me without a place to lay my head. Which is not true in my situation. I intentionally saved money, planned a trip, and moved out of the only address I had to venture to another country to learn about farming and a new culture, and hopefully enter a new phase of life.
So I think maybe the term “nomad” feels a little better.
I’ve been moving from farm to farm and from place to place with a backpack on my back and a lot of hope that everything will work out. And now I’m out in this big world by myself, thousands of miles away from the familiar. I have no health insurance, no source of income, and no established resources or social groups. I am out here on my own. I can remember before I left my sister exclaiming, “That’s not safe!” while I looked on with a slight grin. It’s true not everyone would attempt this sort of venture. When I tell someone how long I’ll be over here they look at me with their head cocked to one side and their mouth slightly agape. Five and a half months? What? Why? How? Where? The questions fall out without much hesitation.
But what they really mean is “What is wrong with you?”
So what is it like to up and leave a steady job, a rented house, a car, a well established community and, of course, a pet guinea pig? Well, it’s exciting/scary/lonely/invigorating/dangerous and many more adjectives that I can’t quite come up with right now. But in a very big way it is freeing. It is like shaking off shackles and chains and social expectations that had become a burden more than anything. It is standing far away from your tiny little world and seeing it from the bigger picture. For some reason when you are in the middle of your circumstances it’s impossible to see out of them. Stepping outside can help the refocusing process.
Before I left Denver I had been particularly lonely. I think anyone who was near me could have told you that. The house I was living in was no longer a source of community for me and a lot of my close friends had either moved away or moved on to a different phase in life, or both. I was feeling lost and like the expectations and pretentiousness and egos all around were weighing in on me when all I wanted was human connection. The city just started to feel like chaos. It felt like a billion busy, hurt, and dysfunctional people crowded too close together who were simultaneously incapable of having human relationships. I can’t count the number of times that I thought, and still occasionally think to myself, “the world has lost its fucking mind.” And I felt like it expected me to lose my mind, too.
But to be sure, all of this was seen through a lens of my own baggage and also my incapacity to separate myself from the chaos. And it’s all just a phase, anyway. But this is what I mean. The benefit, at least in my case, of becoming a nomad is walking away and finding new perspective. Or at least to clear your head a little bit.
Perspective is not the only mark of being a nomad. So far I have lived in three places here in Scotland. “Lived in.” I mean, define live in, right? But I digress. Living at the first smallholding with Carol and Graham there was much to be offered as far as learning and challenging my skills. Being the only wwoofer and having a direct relationship with my hosts allowed me to have a lot more freedom to take on specific tasks and to take charge of things. For example, I took it upon myself to help clean up some of the wool that they had stored away from the previous three years. I also learned the schedule for feeding and walking the dogs, and did just that. I would ask Graham if he had done any of the above and if not I would do it. And every afternoon I would take on the chore of feeding the hens, collecting the eggs and then cleaning them. If I knew they’d be out late at night I would shut the hens and pigs in and take the dogs out. Or if they needed help in the morning I would get up earlier and do whatever chores were necessary.
But as soon as I felt as though I had a handle on their rhythm, developed semi-comfortable relationships with them and felt settled I packed up and moved on. The next stop was Phantassie and suddenly I had to get comfortable with the workers and staff there, find my footing and learn their rhythms all over again. It was a bigger (although surely not “big”) farm that sold its produce commercially to quite a few sources. I went from having a more “management” position to working out in the field where I wasn’t able to really get an understanding of the full picture. To be sure I enjoyed it, but it was a serious mental switch.
Then there comes the whole living with people thing. I did this with Carol and Graham, had shared space at Phantassie, and I am yet again in a situation where I am living in someone else’s space at a flat in Edinburgh. As might be expected from living with people you don’t know, you have to deal with all the practical side of things. What are their general habits that I need to respect? When and how do they do the dishes? When do they eat and who cooks? Does anyone have food that they are particularly attached to that I should stay away from? I have to be honest, I’m really not a fan of this aspect of it. Mostly because I am so worried about stepping on toes. Regardless of how nice or inviting your hosts might be, there is always this underlying question of “which one of my unconscious habits are irritating them?” Not to mention whether or not they are feeling that you have respected their hospitality. And I do mean respected. As a guest, when people invite you into their home you have to walk this fine line of accepting hospitality and not taking advantage of hospitality (or making sure your hosts don’t feel taken advantage of-it probably looks different for everyone.) And that’s entirely a feeling out process. They lent me a few warm items of clothing when it got cold which I washed and returned at the end of my stay. When my wellies (rainboots) broke I borrowed a pair and then returned them to where I found them. But my point is that there always seems to be an uncomfortable feeling of treading on someone else’s space and not being quite sure how far “make yourself at home” extends.
Being out on your own can be fabulous. Many people talk about how great it is, but there are those times when you’re just damn lonely and have no one to call or hang out with in the area. Or maybe it’s that you just don’t connect with those people in your immediate surrounding. Being a nomad and traveling alone does have its perks. I can make decisions by myself without communicating with anyone. I do what I want, when I want and don’t have to worry about what someone else might like to do or how they are feeling. I can skip some event because I’m tired or I can change the date of my travels because I’ve decided I’m more curious about something else. But then there are those times I want to have someone to share an experience with or laugh with or just have eye contact with. I was at the Big Tent Festival and I had no one to enjoy the concerts with until that lovely group of people welcomed me in. There were also the weekends at Carol and Graham’s where I stayed at home wishing that I had a group of friend’s to go to pubs with or go exploring with. But alas, I had no one to go on such ventures with. I had no one to plan with or explore with. I was alone.
Later I went to Phantassie and had a group of friends, thank goodness. But there is always that awkward “getting to know you” phase. For about the first two weeks I tried to understand the social tones of the mis-matched group of Americans and Germans and Brits around me before I finally started feeling comfortable. But the other wwoofers weren’t staying for the exact same time as me. So then they left, and new people came, and then I left, and the relationships I formed will now drift back into time as we all move forward into the future. When I left I made cards for everyone with my contact information, and as I was hugging goodbye I had to fight the tears welling up in the back of my eyes. I’m just a softy like that, but the thought that I may never see them ever again and even if I do it will never be the same, made me just want to cry. As a nomad you have to learn how to say goodbye and be ok with it. And for someone like me who gets attached very easily it’s not always the most fun thing to do. But it must be done. It’s either that or avoid forming any relationships while out on the trail. And if you do than you suffer the unfortunate event of not knowing people who might be quite different from you, learning from that experience, and then seeing them do beautiful things in the future. What a sad fate that would be.
Being flexible and thrifty is also to the advantage of any transient nomad. My parents are coming at the end of this week and they have already seen a travel agent and set up hotels and trains and tours and everything you could ever want for a trip to a country you know nothing about. That’s not really how I travel, though. Maybe it’s how I will travel one day if I become older and more set in my ways. But not now. I did set out dates to do farming and dates that were more flexible to enjoy other attractions. But even then I had a farm fall through due to health issues and ended up having to switch things around. And as for the times I wanted to be in Edinburgh, the hostels were outrageous because the Fringe Festival was on and it kind of attracts people from all over the world in serious bulk. So with the rooms we’re talking 30 pounds a night for shared rooms-maybe 12, 18, or in my friend’s case, 30- which translates into about 50 US dollars. Just for one night. 50 dollars. I was planning on staying 8 nights. That’s $400 to stay in a room with too many people. So I ended up not booking anything vowing to myself to check out other options and to make a decision. Which I never did. But a week before I was to stay in Edinburgh I made a connection at the farm with someone who had a flat in Edinburgh that was willing to take a couch surfer. I think this is actually the opposite of how my parents travel. But it’s how I prefer it. I’m spending a week in Edinburgh to experience the Fringe Festival and also get to know the city, and simultaneously get to know a few locals. I have built-in friends! Where most people like to look at the historical sites of Edinburgh and stay in their comfy separated hotel room, I like to look in the nooks and crannies and see what’s lurking in the city that the tourists will never see. To be frank I like to “live” in the city, make friends and meet the locals.
But, of course, follows the cycle of not knowing the people who you are staying with and not knowing what they’re general expectations are. But these are the prices you pay for traveling this way. And I think it’s worth it. This group has been lovely in the “we barely noticed that there is a new person in our home” kind of way.
(P.S. Mom-don’t worry, it’s actually probably safer then if I had booked a room where I would be sleeping in a room with 17 other people that I didn’t know)
People wonder how I do it. Sometimes I wonder how I do it, with just a backpack and a bunch of hope. But I guess even with it’s inconveniences I find the benefits of traveling as a nomad to be worth it. I get to meet people I wouldn’t normally meet and actually get to know them, because, well, I’m in their space. I get to actually experience an area instead of just seeing the tourist sites. And I get to carry all these enriching experiences into my future. I don’t think I prefer this kind of life for the long run-there is serious beauty in putting down roots and establishing community and relationships that run deep and wide. But for right now in this time in my life, it’s worth it.