Five years ago today, I was at Penn Station, hugging two of my best friends goodbye as I stepped on a train to JFK airport. Just a few hours later, I was on a one-way flight to Puerto Rico – a pit stop to see family and friends before embarking on a life-changing adventure that would start just a few days later in Belize. October 1st, 2011 was the day I said goodbye to my life in New York City and said a frightened hello to a nomadic life that was supposed to last a year.
Back then, I barely thought I could last a year on the road. I didn’t feel like I had enough money or the guts to pull it, but I still wanted the experience of chasing my dream of world travel.
I’m glad I made that leap of faith even with all the uncertainty ahead. Through this life experience, I’ve learned that we underestimate ourselves more than we think, and it is moments of need or genuine desire that push our drive to accomplish the things we never thought were capable.
A year on the road passed, and I didn’t feel like I was ready to go back home. I still didn’t want to go back to NYC and put on my architect hat. Naturally, I pushed for a second year of travel.
After that second year, I pushed for a third; but this time, my sabbatical renewal was not on a yearly basis. I gave myself an indefinite time on the road. I would go home when I felt like going home.
The thing is, my definition of home has morphed throughout the years. Puerto Rico and New York will always be home, but as I’ve experienced other places, other cultures, and other people; I’ve learned to root myself in foreign cities to make them feel like home, even if just for a short time.
My need for home does not lie in a particular address, but more on a physical and mental state that makes me feel like I can belong in a place and feel relaxed there.
The Recurrent Question…
The longer I travel, the more common it is to be asked, until when? When will you stop traveling? When will this crazy lifestyle end? When is enough?
I always answer these with one of these three answers; I don’t know, until the money runs out, or for as long as I can. The truth is, I don’t know when I’ll stop. It could be in three weeks or three decades. I really don’t know.
Usually, as soon as I answer, their pause and looks reflect their own fears of not understanding what this really is.
It’s easy for someone who doesn’t travel long term or understand this lifestyle, to think that this is just a phase or something temporary to get out of your system. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. This is my life now. A life I crafted with a lot of work and sacrifice; one that I don’t feel like giving up easily.
I remember, about two years ago, I sat in my apartment with almost no money to go anywhere. For a moment I thought, “well, this is it.” But the idea of giving up on this lifestyle versus ending it on my own terms made me discontent and uncomfortable. The thought this unwelcomed end becoming a reality re-lit a fire in me that pushed me to avoid that outcome.
Naturally, out of need came change. I adjusted the way I travel, going at a slower pace to spend less. I also approached my site differently to make it more what I wanted it to be – a place where I write things and experiences that I feel like sharing or that would add meaning to the site, instead of just writing because I need to publish something. Additionally, I constantly try to improve the site to make it work as it should. This is not just an outlet; it is a business too. A business that fuels my lifestyle.
On Long Term Travel… And People
For each anniversary I’ve written a commemorative post sharing the things I’ve learned. (For some reason I missed the second year. What happened?) These posts have gone from sharing the things I’ve done, to how much it cost to travel a whole year. I’ve also shared how I managed to do three years with just $60k as well as the things I’ve learned and how my views on life, people, work, and the world have changed these past few years.
I believe I’m still the same Norbert that left NYC five years ago, but at the same time, I’ve learned so much more than expected, which has changed the way I see things and interact with people. In fact, travel alone has not changed this. What has changed it is the interaction with people and how I’ve opened myself to their influences. Five years of travel can teach you all sorts of things and the most wonderful thing is that you never stop being amazed.
Yes, not all my travel days feel like glorious “you should be here” moments. In fact, many of them are quite dull, but I’m fine with that. It changes the rhythm and the pace of not only my trip, but also my life. I remember in my first two years; I traveled so much and so consistently that it felt like a routine and it almost became a chore having to go out to see something new. I got to a point where it felt monotonous, and I dreaded the idea to having to go somewhere new. I believe it is the monotony of the routine what kills you. It happens on a 9-to-5, and it certainly can happen on the road too.
This is another reason why I believe changing the pace now and then and letting desires marinate in me for a bit longer have intensified my passion for this lifestyle. I’ve also deepened the idea that experiences alone are not the ones that will make a place memorable. It is the people who will make a place or a moment feel even more special to you. This is why I’ve focused more on interacting with locals or meeting other travelers as I go, and even traveling with them for a while.
It’s odd that even though in these past 365 I only got to visit four new countries (Guyana, Suriname, East Timor and Iceland), I flew more than in any other year – 45 flights taken. Yes, I repeated a lot of countries, especially when I took my family (all 17 of us) to Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia, and then continued traveling with my nephews for a month across Indonesia and Myanmar.
This was an experience I’d never had and one that I loved, but damn… it takes a lot of work to manage a trip this complex for 17 people. My family loved it, so I’m happy with that. Or so they say…
One goal I reached this year was visiting my 100th country! The funny thing is, I didn’t even know I reached it until just a few weeks ago. When I visited Iceland, I was sure it was my country #99. I was excited about it! Then, back in Puerto Rico, I told my sister I wanted to go somewhere new to celebrate my birthday, maybe Dominica. What better than to spend your birthday in your 100th country?! Right?! She just replied, “you’ve already been to Dominica.”
Yes, I had already gone to Dominica with my family when I was much younger. I didn’t remember it. -_-
So, very unceremoniously, I reached my 100th country believing it was my 99th.
On What I Call Work
At the beginning of my trip, I quit my job to take on opportunities presented to me and to follow a dream I had for so long. I adopted the lifestyle thinking it would be a fleeting moment in my life, but I let things build themselves as I picked the puzzle pieces wherever I went. My life on the road is my work; my work is my life.
I’m often asked, how can you travel for so long without a job? To which I reply, “Oh, but I am working.” It might not be a traditional job, but it works for me, and it resonates with me more than a stable job at a firm.
Which brings me to Architecture… No, I’m not done with it. I may be on pause with the traditional practice in a firm, but I still work as a freelance architect. This past year I’ve been blessed with a fantastic client for whom I’m designing a house in Puerto Rico. Even though the profession still lingers on that antiquated notion of “work can only be produced in an office,” I’m challenging it with the way I’ve approached this project, by designing it from several countries and managing most of it remotely. It is possible. I’m slowly blending even more what I’ve wanted to do from the beginning: to travel long term and still practice as an architect.
I’m grateful how many of you, who I’ve met through my travels and the blog, have become an important part of my life, as well as my close friends from my various home bases who still look after me even when I’m not there or just stay for a brief time.
To my readers, thank you for every email, comment, Snapchat message, and any form of interaction you’ve done since the beginning of this blog. You have no idea how much they’ve influenced what you see here today.
Hopefully, you’ll all still be part and be able to influence several more years of travel.