The Challenges of Living a Nomadic Lifestyle

The Challenges of Living a Nomadic LifestyleOur return to Canada last week marked the beginning of our van life project: a wacky attempt to combine travel, minimalism, and green living into one glorious lifestyle.  As we drove off the ferry that had brought us back to Canada, we imagined all of the perfect road tripping adventures that were ahead of us.  Instead, we had a rough start to the trip that left us stressed, tired and unsure of the entire project.

The bad luck started with a small accident in Victoria, BC (oops…I backed into a car while parallel parking) and got worse when we discovered that we might have to re-install our solar panels because the velcro was already starting to lift.  After that, we realized that I had miscalculated our internet usage and that our plan to use a mobile hotspot device wasn’t going to work out.  Ugh.  Long story short?  We started the big van life adventure as two very unhappy campers.

Our tough start was very humbling though, because it reminded us that there are ups and downs to travelling, especially at the beginning of a trip and even more so with experimental types of travel like van life.  With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the challenges we’ve experienced while living a nomadic lifestyle because as great as it is, it’s not always perfect.

1. Homesickness

We absolutely adore our friends and family, so even though we get to spend quality time with them when we’re at home, we miss them like crazy when we’re on the road.

2. Arguments

We both cope with new situations in very different ways.  I prefer to quietly accept things like overpriced food, dangerous taxi rides and tourist traps while Mat reacts more vocally to these situations and so we usually end up arguing quite a bit at the start of a trip (until we get used to our new situation and then we’re all lovey-dovey again!).

3. Fatigue

Time changes, overnight flights, long days, loud hostels – there are at least a dozen different ways that travelling can prevent us from getting a good night’s sleep.  On a 2-week trip it’s not so bad but when we’re traveling for months at a time, it can leave us feeling pretty exhausted and wondering why we don’t just settle down.

4. Constipation & Diarrhea

These are our constant companions when we’re travelling.  As soon as we leave home, our digestive systems go berserk and it can take weeks or sometimes months for us to get into a good routine.  I know it seems like a small complaint, but seriously, when you’re not having good poops, shit gets crazy.

5. Unexpected Expenses

No matter how much we plan our trips in advance or how much money we put in the “miscellaneous” column of our budget, there are always unexpected expenses that find their way onto our credit cards.  We had to add 20% to all of our expenses in Washington this winter because of the terrible exchange rate.  It was like throwing $20 in the garbage every time we spent $100 :(

There are many other challenges to living like nomads (depositing cheques, paying taxes, receiving mail, crossing borders), but these are the ones that we find the hardest to deal with.  All that said, we still think the benefits of living like nomads outweigh the challenges.  If you missed it, you can check out our post about why we live a nomadic lifestyle to read the positive things we love about the lifestyle because even though it’s not perfect, it’s still a lot of fun!

Happy Exploring,


32 thoughts on “The Challenges of Living a Nomadic Lifestyle

  1. Tammy

    Thanks for the post! It’s good to know the challenges of van life as well as the good stuff. We love your blog and your youtube channel. We are just starting our travel journey with a van similar to yours. Your posts are so helpful and inspiring. Thanks so much!

    1. Danielle Post author

      Thank you for checking out the blog and YouTube channel, Tammy! I hope you’re having fun with your van life adventure, too :)

  2. Erin

    Great post. I find a lot of people think vacation and traveling are always the same. But like you said, a two week trip can be completely different than being on the road for weeks… You tolerate more, you bounce back to your routine after, etc. So this past is helpful to illustrate the realistic and sometimes not so fun parts of life on the road. Like you say, you choose it so you take the bad with the good but it’s not all romance and parties ;) we’re finding that too. Many of the same issues.

    1. Danielle Post author

      Thank you, Erin! It’s definitely not all romance and parties but you guys look like you’re always having a good time! I love seeing what you two get up to every week :)

  3. Tori

    Hi. I stumbled across your blog and now read it regularly. Thanks heaps for your insight! It’s funny because I’m in Victoria right now as part of my long-term travel around Canada on a budget, contemplating removals of expenses such as phone plans, and it’s great to read about you guys facing similar dilemmas.

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hi Tori – thanks for checking out the blog! We loved Victoria, especially the floating village at Fisherman’s Wharf and walking along the water – I hope you’re having a good time there, too :)

  4. Jim

    I just caught your story on a YouTube post that Kirsten Dirksen posted. I was so struck by you guys that I had to learn more. I wish you both the best in this. I once again have to rethink my life. I’ve been down scaling for a while, but as you guys said with your house you bought, even trying things build up fast. I’m far away from family in both directions, a van lifestyle would allow me to see them all. A few years and I can retire and have my checks deposited and I’m golden! :-)

    Thanks for sharing. I hope more give up the high consumerism lifestyle.

    1. Danielle Post author

      Thank you for coming to check out the blog, Jim! We’re so excited to have worked with Kirsten on that video and I’m glad you enjoyed her video :) It sounds like you’re on a similar path but much closer to retirement (lucky!). Have fun exploring and downsizing!

  5. Martin

    Thanks for sharing your honest views. Yep, traveling is so rewarding (however you do it) but is not always the perfect glamours staff you see on the mass media, just real life, but so rewarding !

    I love your channel too

    1. Danielle Post author

      That’s exactly what I was trying to get at – travelling is just a different reality. Thanks, Martin!

  6. Roy

    We are at the other end of travels. We just retired from seven years on the road. We have been to Alaska and all the way to Cabo in Baja, and Saskatchewan to the Alamo in Texas. Last month we bought a park model overlooking a lake in BC. It’s small but seems huge to us and we appreciate things more now.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hey Roy – 7 years on the road is A LOT! I’m super impressed and hope we can cover half the ground you did one day. I can see how you would be happy to stay put for awhile – we’re always in the middle of appreciating the nomadic lifestyle and wanting some stability. Right now, being nomadic suits us, but we’re not afraid to change our minds in the future if it feels right. We’d love to hear more about your travels one day :)

  7. John

    hello Danielle, I found your videos on YouTube just a few hours ago and I watched all of them. for a few years now I’ve been planning to buy a van and just travel around the United States working when I needed money. but for one reason but now I’m actually going to do it November 15th is my leave dayo it November 15th is my leave day. your videos and website have been so informative and entertaining I really enjoy them and I’ve learned a lot.I guess my only question is do you have any suggestions for earning money on the road either the Internet or any other way. Any information you could give me would be really appreciated. I wish you and Matt the best of luck in your travels. Thanks very much John

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi John – thanks for checking out all of our videos! I’m glad you found them helpful and hope you have an amazing adventure in November :)

      We started van life with jobs so we haven’t had to find work along the way. If we did, we’d probably try to do seasonal work – maybe working in a store over the holidays, maybe working on farms, construction sites or resorts over the summer. We have experience working in health food stores and cafes so that’s probably where we’d start looking.

      We’ve been seeing a ton of “We’re Hiring” signs everywhere we go, so it seems like finding work on the road might be a matter of talking to people, looking for signs and being open to trying new things. If you have a specific skill set or type of work that you want to do, then you could figure out a way to contact employers in that field to see if they have part time/temporary work for you.

      I wrote a blog post about working online that has some tips although unfortunately it’s still pretty hard to find online work. Many employers haven’t figured out that it’s cheaper to have their employees work from home!

      Good luck and let me know if you need anything else!

  8. Joey

    I was curious how you were able to find jobs that allow you to travel the way that you do? Also I read in one of your posts that you house sit for people. How do you find these opportunities?

    Really enjoy reading about your experiences!
    Stay healthy

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Joey – thanks for asking! Mat has always been a jack of all trades, selling his art and doing graphic design contracts so he’s adapted quite easily to our traveling lifestyle. I usually work as a project manager or office manager which has typically meant that we had to stay in one place. I was lucky enough to be offered a job 1.5 years ago by some friends who run an online store. It really was pure luck.

      It’s tough to find work that is location independent but I did my best to share some tips to get started in one of our past blog posts here:

      We also made a YouTube video with tips for finding house sitting jobs here:

      Since we made the video, we joined The Caretaker Gazette and they have a really great list of opportunities that are mostly in the US but some overseas as well. I hope that helps!

  9. Toni and Isaiah

    Hi there fellow nomads! I love your youtube channel and the ideas that I can incorporate into our van/home as well. My son (13 years old) and I started on our adventure Dec 21, 2014. After talking about selling everything and traveling in a van for years the universe apparently heard and I developed a brain tumor. Must’ve been my awesome thinking power, put to much strain on the brain. Lol. Life is good and exciting! We definitely have dwindled down more items along the way. I still feel that everything we need should fit in a backpack, however were not there yet. We have visited more forests and friends within these past 7 months than I have in a long, long time. Many friends know what we’re doing and have offered meals, showers and friendship along the way. My son saved a baby hummingbird from a river, fed it for two weeks until it was strong enough to fly on its own. But what tops it all is when my son swam in the river just a few feet from a brown bear in the Sierra’s. It was an experience he’ll never forget and I’m sure he’ll tell the story to his grandkids. I began to crochet on my travels and have opened an Etsy store (FrogsAndFairiesCafe).
    My son recently bought a GoPro and has been interested in photography and videography. I look forward to see his progress. Btw-I’m roadschooling my son.
    I can relate to the nomad challenges but have no regrets. We hope to walk the John Muir Train next year.
    Thank you for the great videos. Today was the first day I saw your blog.
    Toni (and Isaiah).

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Toni (and Isaiah!),

      Thank you for sharing your journey with us! Your adventures sound amazing and I’m happy you’re both having so much fun on the road. We get so many questions about whether van life is possible with kids and I’m happy to hear that it is! I also took a peek at your Etsy shop and I love your crochet hats – very cool! Be well and stay in touch! I’d love to hear more about your upcoming adventures :)


  10. Jayla

    I thought the fatigue and stress of daily jobs was one of the reasons you changed your lifestyle but now it seems to be a product of your lifestyle? So hasn’t the whole thing been counterproductive?

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Jayla,

      That’s a really good question. In all the different lifestyles we’ve explored (living in a house, apartment, backpack, van), we’ve found that there are always stresses but they’re all different and aren’t necessarily equal.

      For example, the stress of having a $200,000 mortgage is not the same as feeling homesick.

      Another important difference to note is that having some stress while getting to do what we love feels better than having stress and doing things we don’t like.

      I hope that makes sense!

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Teresa,

      Thank you for these website suggestions! I’ve tried Elance with no success but hadn’t checked out yet. I really appreciate you contributing to the community – hopefully it helps someone find work that will allow them to travel at the same time :)


      1. Viv

        Elance can work-I took a course on it, and it started to make me money- you need to set up your profile correctly and aim for quality clients. Don’t compete at the bottom level with folks from poorer countries who can work for less!
        It’s now called Upwork and it does take some time to get traction but then you are doign writing, web design or anything that is digital, blogging for a company etc.

        1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

          Hi Viv – thanks for letting me know that Elance/Upwork has been working for you!

          Competing with people from around the world was definitely one of the challenges I had with the site.

          Happy exploring :)

  11. Teresa Reinhardt

    Oh, and for life on the road, “traditional” RVing has been done for a long time, and they have good ideas and suggestions (e.g., for forwarding mail, paying checks, on-the-road job search), incl. YouTube videos.
    Simply google “long-term RVing” or such.

    Have fun!

  12. Oliver

    Hey guys, just wanted to let you know that I’ve been homeless by choice for over 3 months and when you don’t have a place to call home you can develop bladder problems. Because the bladder is really the organ of territory.

    Cheers, I love to read from your adventures.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Oliver,

      Sorry to hear about your bladder problems – I hope you find a way to enjoy your new lifestyle without any other health consequences.


    2. Viv

      Actually in Chinese Medicine- kidney/bladder has to do with fear. So that being homeless and the stress of it could create issues with those organs.
      There are things you can do, herbs, yoga, meditation etc. Chi Kung, get a good book and it can help over time!

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