The other week I had an amusing conversation with an assistant at a doctor’s office. It made me realize and remember my current way of living – one that is not of the norm. In a recent phone call to my doctor’s office, I realized the uniqueness of my situation as they struggled to understand where I lived and where exactly I needed my prescription re-filled. No, not at the CVS pharmacy in Vienna – my home. No, not at the Safeway in Hood River. I politely explained that I am currently on Oahu in Hawaii. The office assistant responded confusedly and with a hint of frustration saying, “Well, Ms. Spear, it seems that you travel a lot… where do you need your prescription filled? And, what is it that you do…?” I couldn’t help but smile to myself and as I explained that I am currently a sea kayak guide and a SUP instructor – two things that I never imagined I would be in this life.
Ever since I was in high school and pondering where I wanted to attend university, I realized the conundrum of wanting to live everywhere. I wanted to experience living at the beach by attending UNC Wilmington, and I wanted to experience living in the mountains surrounding Virginia Tech. I considered applying to school in Hawaii until I was convinced that the cost of living would be too high and the visits home too infrequent. After choosing to attend the University of South Carolina (yes, it is the real USC!), I struggled once again to choose one location to study abroad in. Italy sounded amazing (hello, vino and marsala), as did the prospect of living in England surrounded by beautiful accents and an antique history. Ultimately, I chose the adventure and culture of Australia, and was forced to leave Italy and England untouched on my list. As graduation approached and I began thinking about future employment, I struggled with the acceptance of choosing one city to live in for the couple of following years. I realized that I didn’t want that – that I wasn’t willing to spend my youth that way – and I alternatively discovered a way to experience living in new corners of the world and making them my home for some extent of time.
In the two and a half years since graduating from university I have learned what works and what doesn’t work in this nomadic lifestyle. At the core of this lifestyle is the desire to choose experiences over things. While there are undoubtedly trade-offs to living this lifestyle, I have chosen it because of my desire to experience new things in life, and life in different parts of the country. I want not to experience these places as a tourist visiting for a week, but rather to experience them more similarly to that of a local. I love to learn the lay of the land, to meet new wonderful people and gain a circle of friends, and to make memories in a new and beautiful part of the country – all with my best friend, Clay. The motivation behind this is neither the income nor the physical things associated with a lifestyle, but rather the desire to experience as much as this world has to offer. I have had the desire to both live in the woods and sit around campfires at night and to wake up in the morning to go surfing in the aqua blue sea that is now at my backdoor. In the last couple of years I have learned how to make this nomadic style of living work best. It is by having fewer possessions, living inexpensively, possessing a knack for networking, and posing a willingness to try new things that I have thus been successful.
When Clay and I first packed up his Subaru to move to the Pacific Northwest, we packed it as full as we possibly could – only to move into an 18 foot long tent. This was a mistake! I packed clothes that went untouched – even a pair of wedged high heels – that sat in the darkest corner of my suitcase. Part of being successful in the nomadic way of living is to downsize your possessions. I am lucky in that this doesn’t mean getting rid of everything I own, but rather storing it in my unchanged high school bedroom in my parent’s home. In the second trip that Clay and I made back to the Pacific Northwest, I did manage to downsize, however not quite enough! This most recent move, in the move in Hawaii, we did it right. I boarded my flight with one suitcase and my backpacking pack. As it turns out, I still have more than what I need.
Living nomadically may not involve an overwhelmingly astounding paycheck. In my recent years, I have sought out and chosen opportunities because of the part of the world they exist in and because of the job description itself. There is nothing more I could want at this moment in time than to be on the water in Kailua Bay everyday – and be paid to do it! However, with seasonal jobs or positions in the tourism industry often comes a modest salary. And that is okay – it’s all part of the trade-off. What this means, however, is that spending is kept to a minimum. Here in Hawaii, Clay and I are without a car, without cable television, and without Wi-Fi. I frequent the Starbucks down the block every time I post a blog, and Clay and I haul our dirty clothes to the laundromat bi-weekly. What we do have, however, is access to surf post-work any day of the week, countless breathtaking hikes, the chance to spearfish in our backyard, and the opportunity to experience Hawaii to its fullest. By living within our means, we are able to experience this paradise while still putting a portion of our income towards savings each payday.
Success in living nomadically may require success in finding seasonal positions. This can be challenging to do, as often with any job there are many more applicants than there are positions. (This is especially challenging in working to obtain any position in Hawaii as a mainlander!) Both of my positions at Wet Planet Whitewater as well as Kailua Beach Adventures have been obtained with a personal reference from either a former or current employee. When I applied to Wet Planet, my former peer and friend from USC’s Mountaineering and Whitewater Club, Emily, was a current employee. She was able to put in a good word for myself and Clay, and before we knew it we were road-tripping our way to White Salmon. Similarly, our coworkers who quickly became friends at Wet Planet told us about their experience working in Kailua as sea kayak guides. My friend Katie wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of her and her husband John for Clay and myself. On January of that following year Clay and I were new hires! I am confident that we were both qualified and competitive in applying to both of these positions, but with the number of people in the job pool, a personal connection undoubtedly goes a long way!
Open-mindedness and a Willingness to Try New Jobs and New Things
While living and working in various places I have picked up new hobbies, experienced different ways of living (i.e. a tent), tried new foods, and taken on odd jobs for payment or for work trades. Part of the benefit of moving to new parts of the world are to experience new ways of life, so what good is the opportunity without the willingness to try them?! Working at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in western North Carolina I was first introduced to whitewater kayaking. This has played a large role in my personal and professional life, as it led me to my boyfriend and whitewater kayak guru, Clay Lucas, as well my current position as a sea kayak guide. I have attempted Steelhead fishing in the Pacific Northwest only to find I don’t like slimy, squirmy things, and here in Hawaii I have picked up both surfing and playing the ukulele.
Outside of hobbies, odd jobs or work trade opportunities are fun and creative ways to supplement your income or to obtain a desired good or service free of charge. These opportunities are gems when considering the sometimes smaller incomes nomads are earning! While working in the Columbia River Gorge, I participated in a work trade with a neighbor and wine-maker. As an elderly woman, she needed assistance in setting up her social media outlets – Facebook and Instagram. I helped her several times that summer in exchange for bottles of wine (every girl needs her wine!). While substitute teaching during my most recent move back home I picked up an extra job tutoring the cutest, brightest, and sassiest fourth grader I now know. In the past I have worked at yoga studios in exchange for free yoga, and have begun knitting hats with the goal of one day selling them.
For anyone who has found their way to this lifestyle, I can reiterate that we seek it out not for the income or the life luxuries, but rather for the experiences and the endless possibilities that it offers. A few weeks ago Clay and I were lucky to attend a Keith Urban concert in Waikiki with our friends Matt and Isabel. Keith Urban played the song I know and love – “A Little Bit of Everything”. As I thought about the lyrics I realized that I don’t want a little bit of everything, but rather a little bit of everywhere. I just want a little bit of everywhere.