In the lack of normalcy, this is my routine

I remember my first several months as a nomad, viscerally. I use the word “viscerally” because I can almost, now, feel the caustic taste of the anxiety that took over on most days. Honestly, most days.

At the time, I was so confused. That feeling took me by complete surprise. I had traveled solo a lot, and I was finally doing what I had long dreamt of doing.

But what I was feeling, I now realize, was the result of the systematic demolishment of every normalcy in my life — from how I showered and got dressed in the morning, to how my days progressed to where my food came from at night. My job had changed, my house had changed, my network had changed, my belongings had changed, my whole life had changed.

I had almost zero routine.

I had gone from a person who set the alarm before 5 a.m., hit the gym almost every day and scheduled life around a series of meetings, deadlines, happy hours and events to someone who had nowhere to be, no one to be with and was suddenly working in a job without any outside framework or direction.

10 things I learned after one year as a nomad

In many ways, it feels like my journey as a nomad has only just begun. But that day in late June when I packed up my backpack and left my old house in Minneapolis? That feels like CENTURIES ago, some black-and-white movie I once watched.

The last 14 months have been an exercise in almost complete change — I sold everything, left all that I knew and charged into an indefinite journey of solo travel. To do that, I had to unlearn how to live, how to think, how to operate, and then calculate and build a new normal in a totally new existence.

After more than a year as a nomad traveling mostly through Central America, here’s what I learned:

An ode to slow travel

At sunset in Panajachel, Guatemala, a line of snack stalls abutted the Lake Atitlán.

Each one offered beers, swaddled with napkin bibs, and fresh ceviches with their own little twist. Living there for over a month, I could have tried them all. But walking by every night, I chose the same one — not because I was uninterested in trying something different, but because being a regular just felt good.

Why I love being a solo female traveler

Traveling with others can be a lot of fun, and let’s be honest, it’s definitely the most popular way to travel. But solo travel, especially solo female travel, has become trendy for a reason and it’s not just the great selfie ops (selfies are actually really hard to take solo, I’ve learned).

I get a lot of questions about my solo female traveller lifestyle — whether I get lonely or bored or feel uncomfortable a lot.

Those answers? All a resounding “no!”

Traveling alone isn’t a consolation prize; for me, it’s actually the pinnacle. Whether you’re taking a weekend trip within the U.S. or wandering across a continent, solo excursions can be incredibly refreshing and stimulating. Going alone has taught me a ton about myself, about my independence and what I’m capable of.

Once you start, it can be addicting. Here’s some of why I love moving through the world alone.

An emotional return to Minneapolis

Last Wednesday, I landed in Minneapolis for the first time in a year.

And the first emotion I could identify upon my return to my adopted home of eight years was “weird.”

Obviously, I was more than excited to see friends and former colleagues, for a three-week summer stint on the precipice of returning to Central America.

But as the plane from Montréal, my previous stop, descended into the Twin Cities, I could only think of the last time I was in that air space. 

It was June 28, 2018, and I was leaving everything I knew, bound for everything I didn’t. I was ready for this move, I thought. Weeks earlier, I had sold all my belongings — the things acquired over 32 years of life — left my job at the Star Tribune, said a tearful goodbye to the house that claimed so many memories, bid farewells to friends of a lifetime. I did so with so many dreams, with so much motivation. I’ve never felt regret. 

But in that moment, in a left-side window seat in the back of the plane, I was struggling to breathe. 

13 discount codes to make your trip cheaper

Related content: how to eat for cheap; how to travel the U.S. as a broke nomad.

Let’s be honest: if you live in the U.S., travel — both nationally and internationally — is constantly threatening to break your budget and leave you with post-vaca woes. Partly thanks to our geographical location and partly thanks to an airline industry that’s completely out of control, flights can be really expensive! Most hotels are honestly nuts, too. ($400/night just to get some shuteye? Are you disconnected from reality??!) And transportation in a given place isn’t always much better. If you’re doling out $2,000+ just to arrive, sleep and get around, your whole travel plan gets squeezed — perhaps causing you to skip some of the actual, you know, SIGHTS.

That’s tragic. And really, really defeating. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to save some bucks on the logistical costs if you know how to work the system, play the points game (get loyal: with a credit card, an airline, a hotel chain, etc.) and SHARE SOME CODES.

Here are 13 of my own personalized codes you can use to cut the costs on your next trip. (Bonus: for most of these, I benefit too!)

The extraordinary ordinary

For those of you accustomed to following my journeys across the country and abroad, perhaps these last couple weeks have felt a little, well, boring.

After the better part of a year in Central America and a rapid-fire run through seven American cities, I’ve been holed up for almost two weeks in a small town outside of Pittsburgh. My Instagram — usually home to a blitz of cultures and experiences — has gone mostly quiet save for some work promotion, photos of my avocado toast, images of onions caramelizing in a pan. I’ve entered exactly one restaurant. I’ve barely left the house (of my dear friend that lives out here); to be honest, even if I did, there would be little to do.

It’s delightful.

And for someone with very little “normal” left in their life, I can’t really explain how meaningful it is.

How to travel with friends (and remain friends after traveling)

If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably realize that I usually travel solo. That’s not an accident. I love being alone on the road for a multitude of reasons: I get to be totally selfish in my choices, I move at my own pace, I find I use my senses to better experience moments and I’m also more vulnerable (in a good way) to new interactions and friendships.

But the truth is, most of us travel with someone else — and I enjoy that, too. The trick, of course, is aligning your goals and desires with another (or multiple!) humans, a feat that isn’t always easy. Most of you have probably already realized that a great friend/partner/family member at home doesn’t necessarily equal a great travel partner away from it. Being in totally different settings from a normal existence — read: 24/7 interaction, bathroom-sharing, schedule-sharing — can test the closeness of and tolerance for any relationships.

So how do you have a stellar time with your bestie or your significant other without devolving into petty fights and frustration? Here are five of my favorite tips for having a swimming vaca —and still loving each other on the other side, as evidenced from my recent trip to New Orleans with my great gal pal Megan.

17 ways to be more eco-friendly while traveling

Growing up in a family where we washed and reused plastic bags, grew much of our produce, composted more than anyone I knew and camped our way across America, I’ve always tried to be conscious of my impact on the environment.

But traveling through Central America this last year — watching waves of trash wash up on beaches and sewage pumped directly into rivers and lakes as well as the effects of climate change, such as great drought  — has caused me to think even more urgently about living green.

The problem is, in many parts of the world, particularly poorer countries, being eco-friendly isn’t always convenient or even possible all of the time. In vast areas of Central America, for example, messaging about waste and realistic alternatives for single-use plastic are rare while large-scale recycling programs are entirely absent. Compounding my own personal mark are the tiny toiletries I’m forced to buy (small bottles vs. large bottles) thanks to living a life on the move, and the wet wipes I use constantly because of the lack of clean water, soap products and space. (I’m far from perfect.)

It’s easy for a lot of us to throw our normal standards to the wind while traveling or vacationing — when room service, eating out and sightseeing create different patterns than the perhaps more eco-friendly habits we’re used to abiding by at home.

Still, there are many ways to reduce your carbon footprint and travel more sustainably whether you’re venturing across the country or overseas — if you’re only willing to put some thought in and make moderate sacrifices.