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A base from which to travel

Posted on 21st May 2018

It's all about the base, 'bout the base, no trouble.

It's been over two years since Pete and I sold our house and headed off as digital nomad proofreaders, and since I seem to have overshared so far, I thought I'd continue that trend. Pete won't be happy, with his IT director's hat on, as this blog post won't hit many of his SEO requirements, and I fear this might all be quite self-indulgent, but I do hope there's a snippet or two of interest for you.

According to Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost:

"nomads, contrary to current popular imagination, have fixed circuits and stable relationships to places; they are far from being the drifters and dharma bums that the word nomad often connotes nowadays."

So TL;DR: Pete and I are planning on buying a house, getting a base, in the UK.

As Pete said the other day:

"life's a series of compromises and you have to value what you get sufficiently to make each one worthwhile."

We've realised recently that the compromises we make in the current lifestyle are now not sufficiently counterbalanced and we think a base will address this.

In the last 2 and a bit years, we've done fast and slow travel, and both have compromises that have led us to think a base will be more suited to us now. I emphasise now, because this has all been an interesting journey and we needed to make the clean break, for Pete from his cushy corporate, salaried 9-to-5, and for both of us from Coventry, and I'd always have wondered what it's like to be completely footloose, but now we want a bit of a foothold.

Pros of fast travel as a digital nomad (for me, fast is when you stay in a place for up to a week):

  • You get to see the world! Or parts of it at least. We also visited places we probably wouldn't have prioritised if we had limited holidays (yes, Belarus, I'm looking at you, and yet you were a real highlight of my first year on the road).
  • You can feel energised by experiencing lots of new things while also getting some work done.
  • It feels cost-neutral: you earn what you spend (or earn a little more).

Cons of fast travel:

  • If a big project comes in and you only have a week somewhere, you don't get to see as much of that place as you might like.
  • Getting the work/life balance right can be trickier, especially if there's lots to see and do. Certainly, non-essential work (such as writing blogs or keeping up with admin) can end up being forgotten.
  • Having to live out of a backpack but travelling to lots of different places is quite tricky for practicalities; for example, I have a down jacket and thermals for cold weather, but that takes up a lot of space if I'm spending 6 months in the tropics.

Pros of slow travel (for me, slow is staying in a place for a month or more):

  • There's plenty of time to both see the place you're staying in and work as much as you want to.
  • There's usually time to see more of the surrounding area too and really feel you get to see and understand a bit about the place/people/culture in which you're staying.

Cons of slow travel:

  • When based somewhere for a while, especially if it's a three-month stay, one really notices the lack of things that you'd usually want, e.g. a tennis club (or Pete could join but no doubt have to pay for a year just to use it for a month or two, not to mention buying racquets and suitable shoes) and decent book shops.
  • You are stationary long enough to want to meet people and make friends, but at the same time knowing you'll be leaving again soon, it can feel like groundhog day, or might just not be that easy.
  • We try to be conscientious travellers, but if you have a look online at all the issues Airbnb rentals are having in lots of big cities, it makes choosing locations and feeling comfortable occasionally difficult.
  • It can feel quite isolating if you don't see family nor make local friends, and let's be honest, after this long on the road together, Pete and I are running low on exciting chat!

As we see it, our plans have developed and how we want to compromise has changed. As for buying somewhere, we've realised nowhere is perfect: too hot, too cold, too wet, too high...

Then you look at the practicalities, with or without Brexit, and good old Blighty has a lot going for it. I feel it's the easy option, but sometimes there's nothing wrong with taking that. As we see it, it will be a base from where we can then travel a lot, and work when we want to, but we'll be able to take things we want/need and leave other things in the relative security of our home. It's yet to be put into practice, but as we see it, the base approach has the following pros and cons.

Pros of having a base in our home country (the UK):

  • We'll be near friends and family, and having our own place will be easier than having to rely on the goodwill (and spare rooms) of friends and family.
  • Pete can play tennis again and I can restart my book collection!
  • When we travel to different climates, we will be able to take suitable equipment/clothes (we bought a new tent here in Spain but had no sleeping bags or mattresses – that made for a cold and uncomfy night's sleep!).
  • We can better time/plan our trips to other countries – in theory this should be possible when permanently on the road, but a lot of places have the same ideal time to visit, making it tricky, and then you're left in a compromise location for a while.
  • It will be easier to schedule appointments, rather than having a mad dash to fit in dentist/doctor/optician etc. when only back in the country briefly.
  • I love learning/practising foreign languages but the ease of being able to go the cinema or join a club knowing I'm fluent and will fully understand* is always a bonus (*unless the film is really complicated, of course).
  • Ability to buy more comprehensive travel insurance – it's possible to get nomad insurance but from what I have seen/bought, it's not as good as travel insurance when bought as a permanent resident.

Cons of having a base:

  • The feeling of "double costs" when paying for a home as well as accommodation abroad; that said, we go on holiday when we travel slowly so this won't be very different from our current set-up, and I never viewed holidays in this way in the past.
  • Potential red tape issues with house insurance and concerns about leaving the house empty for periods of time.
  • It might seem like less fun, especially buying in the UK.

The hope for us is that time spent at the base will be more focused on work and then when we travel, though we have all the set-up to enable us to work too, if we would rather just take time off or a country doesn't allow us to work while there, this will be easier. We are aware that we're in a fortunate position and to be faced with a decision of whether to buy a house and use it as a base rather than full-time nomadism is most certainly a first-world problem! We went the whole hog with the digital nomad approach because that's what appealed to us at that point in our lives, but we have the resources and experiences to change that. And who knows, we might yet buy that holiday home abroad with space for Pete's hobby vineyard, but we're not quite ready for that level of commitment to a location and land just yet... And in the meantime, we get to look at houses in Britain (and buy one, assuming we find one we like), and also plan some trips that just didn't suit running a full-time nomadic proofreading business.

Written by Kate Haigh.