Seven Years of Nomadism

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Dalene & Pete Heck
During this week, on the seventh anniversary of walking away from our physical home, we are on the move.

We’ve just wrapped up five weeks in Girona, Spain, and are in Minneapolis for a brief stay. Then it’s back to Alberta to visit family. And then I’m off to Rhode Island alone to start a cruise. And then back to Alberta. And then onto Atlantic Canada for an extended stay – at least we think so – as the details are all still being figured out yet.

Besides the bout of solo travel in there (we so rarely separate), that is pretty normal for us. Our travels have slowed down since the early days, but we’re still only frequenting beds that aren’t our own, lugging our belongings with us in several bags. We’ve been to 54 countries overall and I can’t even begin to count the numbers of towns or cities.

I have to admit, it’s all becoming a bit of a blur.

I have to admit, it’s all becoming a bit of a blur.

New Zealand Waterfall

I don’t mean to say that like it’s a bad thing, because it’s really not. It’s just an honest thing.

But with this life that we’ve chosen, the expectation from many is that every single day is full of Instagrammable moments. And it surely started out that way seven years ago, as we pranced around South America as first time backpackers. But we weren’t on Instagram then, selfie was not a word in the dictionary, nor did we even travel with a phone. If you can believe it, we actually burnt our photos to CDs and mailed them back to our families. I would like to say that it meant we were more “in tune” with our travels, but by the end of that first year, everything was a bit of a blur then too. One waterfall in Ecuador seemed the same as another waterfall in Ecuador, so much so that we thought that maybe we had seen enough waterfalls to fill a lifetime.

We returned to Canada a bit burnt out and thought that resettling there was a likely prospect. We were tired, weary of the road, and couldn’t care less about another waterfall. It didn’t take long though, given the heavy case of reverse culture shock, for us to realize that we had changed too much to easily re-assimilate. And that we had more that we wanted to do. We weren’t done yet.

Six years after that, even though at times it feels like this life has evolved into something simple and ordinary (save for the different backdrop as we move around), we still don’t feel like we are done. And we really wonder if we ever will be.

We still don’t feel like we are done. And we really wonder if we ever will be.

Selfie Chiapas

Why do we keep going?

If you are not inside our online community of nomads then you may not know this, but many that started at roughly the same time as we did are settling or settled.

Each journey is our own, for sure, and no one can expect us all to have the same trajectory. But this large move towards settlement definitely has forced us to be a bit more introspective. Why don’t we feel the similar urge to do so? There are moments when we pause to consider it (usually when Pete wants to buy more camera gear but not carry it all the time), but such thoughts are usually shelved quickly. On the rare occasion I dream of it as well, but it is honestly very rare, and usually only caused by fatigue when we’ve been moving too fast. Considering that we’ve struck a fairly operable balance in the last few years, I can’t even precisely remember the last time I felt that urge.

And so, on this seventh anniversary of nomadism, I’ve been thinking a lot about where our drive comes from.

Seven Years - Pete on Wall

For one, we are Gamophobes

When we decided to travel, it took us almost 18 months to get on the road. We listed our house just at the peak of housing prices in 2009, right before the big crash, and we never sold before it tumbled. One year later, just as we were beginning to re-evaluate how we could still accomplish our dream, a sudden offer came our way. It had many fewer zeroes than we had initially hoped for, but we didn’t care. We had come to loathe that house. It was a grotesque manifestation of what we thought our future was supposed to look like, but not what we wanted it to be. That house never looked better than it did from our rearview mirror as we drove away.

Our fear of commitment is very real. Gamophobia, as it’s called, is based on an intense negative experience in the past, and those many months between listing and selling were excruciating. Consider that I was also battling what was diagnosed as intense adjustment disorder from a series of tragedies that happened around me concurrently, and it all starts to make sense. Travel was my path out of the dark hole I was in. I needed it so badly, but it took a long time to finally realize it.

Now, the thought of buying another property or even signing a lease makes both of us jittery. I’m not sure how we’ll ever overcome that. We’re not sure how to let go of this freedom of movement we enjoy today.

Our fear of commitment is very real. We’re not sure how to let go of this freedom of movement we enjoy today.

New Home

I suck at relationships

Those dark times I went through many years ago did another thing – they forced me inwards.

I can never say enough about the people in my life who love me and helped me through them. But the impact of those losses, and the failing of other relationships since then, still have a strong effect today. They enabled the creation of walls around me, and closed down my inner circle to just two people who really know me well: Pete and my Mom. Unless you are one of them, I have probably let you down, or I will. I sometimes even find it hard with my friends of old. It is increasingly more difficult for us to connect like we used to – not from lack of trying nor dear love and concern that still exists between us – but it’s just getting harder to relate when our lifestyles are so very foreign to each other.

And our online community, I have shirked them as well. There is a vast network of people who are doing exactly what we are, who help make us feel normal and belonging, but in the seven years that we have been doing this, I feel close to just a handful. I’ve let in so few.

This self-enclosure may have started from a place of grief, but traveling has enabled it further and even amplified it. Without a local community of family and friends to be consistently responsible to, I can hide away for days at a time if I like. I don’t have to speak to anyone else.

And the most appalling part about this realization is that I am comfortable with it. I am terrible at relationships and I am apparently okay with that.

The thought of stopping travel worries me. It would make me actually have to talk to people on a more regular basis. What if we land ourselves in a community where we have nothing in common? What if no one has traveled and they can’t relate to us (because that is now all we know)? What if I just don’t like the people around me and want to hide or move onto the next town but suddenly I can’t? It makes me feel like a pretty awful human being to say all of this, but it’s the truth.

I can hide away for days at a time if I like. I don’t have to speak to anyone else.

Dalene Working

The cost factor

We’re not poor, and we don’t need to be overly concerned about money, but we need to be aware. We have ~15 years until we can tap into our retirement savings and so need to make it stretch between now and then. We also need to consider emergency funds and support our businesses as they grow.

And you’ve heard us say this many times before – we spend way less money living on the road than when we were in one place. Housesitting helps, as does staying in lower cost destinations, and keeping our possessions limited to what we can carry definitely makes a big difference.

We could make it work if we settled, for sure, but it also feels like it could be a waste. What if we rent a place for a year, and then decide to go housesit in New Zealand for two months? Rent money = wasted, and I also couldn’t be bothered with subletting. Sounds messy. Moving as we do keeps it simple and more cost effective.

We spend way less money living on the road than when we were in one place.
On the move!

On the move!

We’ve got a long way to go

We just don’t feel done yet. Our enthusiasm for travel is not the same as it was when we first started, but it’s definitely still there. It may be a little more subdued and the world may seem a little blurrier, but we are far from sick of this lifestyle, which I think is the verdict that many of our fellow travellers come to eventually.

The world is simply too amazing. Our travels have become a long and comfortable book that we just don’t want to put down. And as long as we keep taking it slow, I just don’t see how our opinion will ever change. Our to-see list just continues to grow.

Seven Years - Luggage

This could all change tomorrow – I don’t want to rule out either of us changing our minds, or as sometimes happens, other factors in life just take over and force us to change paths. And if that is the case, so be it. We’re so fortunate to have had these seven marvellous years already, and as we’ve had to prove to ourselves in the past, we would find a way to adjust.

But I suspect that in another twelve months, we’ll be pausing to reflect on another year of travel once again.

51 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • I don’t know what impresses me the most: the fact that you’ve been nomadic for seven years or the fact that every single one of your belongings fits in those bags. KUDOS, on both achievements!
    Marie @ To Europe And Beyond recently posted..Bratislava – My New Favourite City In Eastern Europe

    • June 1 2016

      Haha, well we do have a few things tucked away in my sister’s basement. 🙂

  • May 30 2016

    Thanks for sharing your introspection. Just hit my own 4-year anniversary of travel and am not feeling done yet either. Also interesting: I’ve been diagnosed with adjustment disorder. Wonder if it’s a common nomad motivator?
    Gigi recently posted..Four Years on the Road…And No Longer Alone

    • June 1 2016

      I do think it is – diagnosed or not – I know of many nomads who also had some traumatic events spur them into action. It forces us all to think quite differently, I do believe.

  • May 30 2016

    I have never traveled for longer than 6 months at a time. I truly believe that I would love it, but certain relationships hold me back.
    I don’t think not being able to relate to others would make you an awful human being. Just honest.
    Brooklyn Murtaugh recently posted..Things To Know About Australia

    • June 1 2016

      It just doesn’t feel great, I guess, to feel myself drifting a bit in that way. And knowing that it probably hurts some people too. 🙁

  • May 30 2016

    What a beautiful, honest post, Dalene, and I totally can relate what you described at the Relationships part, the days I’ve wondered if I’m just solitary or simply can’t connect with the people even though we’ve come a long way in terms of the years. Anyway, here’s wishing the both of you a great journey ahead no matter where it goes!
    Kristine recently posted..FIRST Solo Trip – How to Do It & Have A Great Time!

  • May 31 2016

    Of all the things I worry about with starting a life of full time travel, it is the impact on our long term friendships. I would like to believe that, as with most of our old friends, time and distance will not have too much of an impact on our underlying friendships. People have moved away and we’ve remained friends.

    But I fear that starting this completely different lifestyle will create different stresses. It worries me to think we’ll be out on the road without our old friends to hang out with. But, we can’t do what we want to do without giving up something great.

    Anyway, thank you for this post. It really crystallizes some of my concerns, but also shows why we want to do this.
    Laura recently posted..FAQ

    • June 1 2016

      It is an absolutely valid concern, and honestly, it’s taken us quite some time to fully realize the impact. We’ve fully lost some good ones along the way, but at the same time, I think others have even gotten stronger. Basically because they HAD to – everyone (including us) has to try a little harder – and it makes me appreciate and love them all the more.

  • Such a phenomenal, vulnerable post. Travel has such a restorative effect on so many people, it’s incredible.

    Will you guys be doing a meetup with readers during one of your trips to AB this time?
    Victoria | Girl Tries Life recently posted..Here’s My Issue With “Meternity”

    • Patt
      May 31 2016

      Please say yes! I would love to meet you both. 54 countries? WOW.

    • June 1 2016

      I’m not sure we’ll be spending enough time in Calgary to do one this time! If not, then I am pretty sure we’ll be back in September. Hope you and new babe are well!

  • Lori Taylor
    May 31 2016

    Hi Dalene, this is such an honest and introspective post. Probably the first I’ve read! I am just now getting ready to lead the kind of life you have been leading for 7 years, I am 62 and for the first time unencumbered by anything! I am excited but have wondered how long I could do this without needing to feel settled again? You two are a whole lot younger but did you feel any adjustment time to being on the road constantly?

    • June 1 2016

      Oh yes! It is a major adjustment and constant evolution. The first few months it was all about figuring out how our relationship would work being together 24/7 (that was tough!) But I think the key overall is to move slowly. I think speed of travel makes a huge difference in enjoyment over time.

  • Jackie Purkess
    May 31 2016

    You do what works for you and Pete right now, it will change in some way at some point. Many people plan long term and that’s okay for them, you do it short term and that’s okay for you. I am glad you’ve found what feels right for now. Always keep your doors open and listen to your heart and gut. They’ll never steer you wrong.

  • Wynne
    May 31 2016

    As someone who loves spending time alone and appreciates my own company, I can also appreciate where you’re coming from in terms of the solitude.

    I can also relate to the exhaustion of constant travel, though my measly three months through Europe in 2013 (and two mos. in Italy in 2015) can hardly compare! Slow travel is definitely the way to go, as I’ve learned from the two of you, Sherry, etc.

    Question for you: I know you’ve been in Mexico and Spain lately for about a month or so; what is the longest amount of time you’ve spent in a place that wasn’t Canada, and where?

    • June 1 2016

      We had a six month housesit in Honduras early in our second year of travel. That was too long – especially since it was on a tiny island where we ran out of things to do! After that, three months has been the longest. 2-3 months is pretty ideal for us – enough time to rest up from quicker travel, yet our feet are pretty itchy at the end!

      • Wynne
        June 1 2016

        Wow, six months WOULD be a long time in one place, especially so early on (and so tiny a place). I think 2-3 mos. would be just about perfect for me, too…enough to regroup and then time to move on.

  • May 31 2016

    I love your honesty in this post and I relate to much of it.Andrew and I would still be on the road now if it wasn’t for the need to be here supporting my family. As someone who has come back home, I’ve pushed hard against assimilating back into our old life, which is why I’m living in a motorhome; two days of looking at real estate listings made me physically ill. I think it’s very self-aware to understand yourselves as well as you do and brave to continue pursuing your dreams.

    PS If you do head to New Brunswick, we’d love to catch up with you two again and show you around!
    Alison recently posted..Review: The Maverick Room, Slow Food at the Crowne Plaza Fredericton, New Brunswick

    • June 1 2016

      Thank you so much Alison – and I can’t WAIT to catch up with you guys in NB.

  • May 31 2016

    “…I can hide away for days at a time if I like. I don’t have to speak to anyone else.

    And the most appalling part about this realization is that I am comfortable with it. I am terrible at relationships and I am apparently okay with that.”

    Um…can I come with you guys, because I feel exactly the same way.

    xoxo
    Teri Hartman recently posted..Writing for the Maybe

    • June 1 2016

      We can all hide away in separate rooms together. 🙂

  • Leah Ellis
    May 31 2016

    <3 <3 <3
    Only an incredibly brave soul could lay out their inner feelings over and over again. Dalene, you are a beautiful and strong person. You (both!) are loved more than you know.
    xoxo

    • June 1 2016

      Leah, as always, you are a bright light in our lives and you just brought tears to my eyes. Love you so much. xo

  • May 31 2016

    So many things you have said really hits home with me and my husband. Although we still have our house in Alberta, it’s falling apart and needs so many repairs but he said that we can get jobs again and fix everything up, or we can go away again for another winter! Of course going away always wins! We are trying for our 5 winter away now but do find that we are trying to see too much while we are away and are always tired when we get back. Need to slow things down! Also, we have lost some friends as I guess we just don’t have much in common anymore since we quit our jobs 4 yrs ago. But we have a TON to see yet, it’s our choice and will keep doing it until we run out of money, or have health issues.

    • June 1 2016

      Sounds like we may be travel twins Sandra! 🙂

  • June 1 2016

    This post is a breath of fresh air. More than the fact that you quit everything to travel I am impressed with the fact that you are able to do a honest retrospective . That itself is a true reflection of how much content you are with the current life … Good luck with everything

  • 7 years doesn’t sound so long (I’ve been at my current job for 10) but when you mention photo CD’s it sounds like light years ago!

    I’m hoping to set off on my own travels next year, although I have a dog, which is something I can’t walk away from, so after 6 weeks in Spain while mom dog-sits, I’ll be traveling state-side with the pup. Part of me thinks I will never go back to corporate life again, and part of me thinks I might miss having nice things and not worrying too much about money. I guess we’ll see…
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted..3 Nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia

    • June 6 2016

      You’ll know shortly how the lifestyle will work for you! Some of the things you worry about will no longer be a concern, and vice versa. The thing is you’ll never know until you try it. 🙂 Have you checked out http://theroadforks.com/? They traveled a lot with two dogs and wrote about it!

  • Sam
    June 2 2016

    I love your reflective posts, Dalene. It’s what I really love about Hecktic Travels, and what really sets you guys apart for me! I totally, completely relate to the relationships section. Even though I’ve only been nomadic for half a year (housesitting – following your posts!), I’ve lived abroad for over a year, traveled for months on end, etc. People ask me if I get homesick, and I feel awkward when I say “No, not really,” which is the truth. People don’t expect that; they expect you to say that it’s hard, that you miss you friends, your family, a steady income, a “home”. I do miss people, in moments, but I found that even staying in one place it’s hard to maintain relationships with more than a few. When I’m on the road, I send the occasional message or photo every few months. For now, a yearly catch-up maintains these friendships, but I wonder what will happen after years like this. That being said, like you, I’m pretty okay with that. I think that to be nomadic, we have to be fairly solitary by nature. Many people tell me how “lucky I am” to be traveling, but the same people say that they could never leave their friends and family for that long. It’s all about choices, and what works best for each person. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone!
    Sam recently posted..How to Eat Vegan with Friends

    • June 6 2016

      Thanks for your comment Sam, and reminding me that I’m not alone either. 🙂

  • June 3 2016

    I was most curious to hear about your relationships with other people. It seems like I have very few real friends after 10 years on the road.

    • June 6 2016

      Keeping up with old relationships has been hard, I found, but at the same time, those that have stuck it out with us are all the stronger – mostly because we know how much work it takes! But, like you, they are fewer over time, for sure.

  • June 4 2016

    Dalene:
    I will admit to this being the first time I’ve read your blog. After hearing you and Pete speak at TBEX on using an authentic real voice, I felt connected. I normally don’t read a lot of other blogs as I’m busy with the kids, family and trying to do my own part time. But your presentation really touched me so I thought I’d check it out.
    All I can say is “wow”! Your voice is so true, rich and caring. This post is beautiful and your honest, clear, authentic voice shines through. I am really glad I heard you speak and agree that we need more “real” voice out there. Sometimes I’m afraid to read blogs with tons of followers as I’m disappointed. But not with yours. Thank you for inspiring me to remain true to myself and remain authentic. I look forward to following your journey. It is quite inspiring! 🙂 Best, Nicole

    • June 6 2016

      Welcome Nicole! And thank you for your very lovely comment! I’m glad our presentation resonated at TBEX. 🙂

  • June 7 2016

    Hi. My first time commenting. Your post is so perfectly timed for us. We begin our nomad life this coming Sunday…three years after deciding to do it. Sold everything including house and cars. Retired in April. Storage unit full of things I probably did t need to keep. Excited. Apprehensive. Ready or not. Thanks for your post. Will keep in touch. PS starting off easy with a month in Hawaii. 😊
    Laureen recently posted..A Fond Farewell

    • June 7 2016

      Good luck Laureen and congrats on making the big decision! And I know what you mean about the storage – we did the same thing at first. Over time we got it down to almost nothing now. 🙂

  • June 7 2016

    Dalene, appreciate your reflection and that it is a constant reflection. Thank you for sharing!
    Dorene recently posted..Best Street Foods in Medellín

  • Ali
    June 7 2016

    While my circumstances are definitely different, I can certainly relate to sucking at relationships. I’ve been horrible about trying to keep in touch with friends in the US since I moved to Germany, mostly because I don’t know what to talk about with them anymore. I can’t relate to their experiences, and they can’t relate to mine. And I have a hard time making new friends here because I don’t know how to get passed the small talk phase, and I hate small talk. As for online friends, I feel like I’ve met quite a few bloggers (yourself included) who I could be friends with, but for the most part, I don’t know how to build a friendship online. I met Andy that way and I’ve become close friends with one other person, but beyond that it’s really hard to sustain. I need to be able to hang out with people in person, have a conversation. It makes me feel like I’ve missed so many opportunities to have good friendships because I just don’t know what I’m doing. Ugh. Anyway, Andy and I really enjoy hanging out with you and Pete. I hope our paths cross again soon!
    Ali recently posted..Understanding Food and Beer in Munich

  • Joanie Joan
    June 7 2016

    You have never let me down, quite the opposite! I’m sorry if I’ve let you down, though, I can cave as well with all the changes. You’ll always be an inspiration and I value you. Love you!

  • June 8 2016

    Hi Dalene,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It helps a lot to hear about your feelings and worries. We are in our 7th year of travels and living abroad and can’t stop either. The world is too fascinating.

    We are currently back in Switzerland, visiting our families and friends. The longer we are away the more people can’t understand our lifestyle. When we are on the road, it’s totally different. Meeting other travelers and overlanders help to feel ‘normal’ because they travel longterm too. We are as you not done with travelling and settling down is not an option at the moment. Our next big adventure is therefore a road trip around the world. Can’t wait going back on the road 🙂

    Wishing you good luck with your decisions and safe travels,

    Reni
    Reni recently posted..Road trip around Southern Germany

  • June 8 2016

    Such an honest post, straight from the heart. That’s the same reason why I have loved Hectic Travels from the day I first read it. The biggest treasure of any pursuit is the satisfaction that we feel once we put our soul into it and I am sure both of you are today 7 years richer with that. Many many more to go. All the very best! 🙂
    Arti recently posted..Places to see / Teerthas of Rameshwaram: Rama Teertham.

  • Adilah AM
    June 14 2016

    I have followed your blog for many years and I love it! I love how many places you have traveled to and love to follow you on your adventures (your Africa pictures were stunning). Ive read about your tragedies and think its courage and intellect that you knew what you needed to get to a happier place again. Honestly though after reading this post I now think your hiding from the world and from things/people that are difficult in your life. If you honestly can say that you let only 2 people into your inner circle…then honestly something needs to change. You say that you’re ok with being closed off from people(or to use your words exactly “that you suck at realtionships”).but to me that sounds like your afraid and that you have anxiety of actually putting yourself and your feelings out there again. Plain and simple your afraid of being vulnerable and I dont think thats anything to celebrate over. How can you truly be a positive force in this world if your only really close to 2 people? Im not saying stop traveling and settle down and buy a house. All I’m saying is that you need to give people a chance…you need to participate with your whole being…not just a little part of you that is comfortable for you. you will never grow as a person if you stay in your own personal comfort zone. Hopefully you realize I didnt post this with ill intent but with a desire to let you know that you can open yourself up more, dont limit yourself 🙂 Peace be with you.

    • June 15 2016

      Hi Adilah, thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment.

      I do appreciate that your comment comes from a good place, and I cannot disagree with much of what you have said. Of course I am afraid and of course I have anxiety – please remember the losses I endured – those would enable emotional walls for the strongest person on the planet, I am sure. I do not however, believe that I am “celebrating” that, as you suggest? And I don’t at all see the connection between my ability to be a positive force in the world and my ability to connect. There are many, many different ways to be a positive force.

      And of course I WANT to open myself up more, but this is not a switch that can be flipped, and I can not will it just because I want it. I don’t like that I have so few people in my life I feel that I have deep connections with – what if something were to happen to them? I would be awfully alone.

      But we are all works-in-progress, right? I do feel I am getting a bit better in this regard and it will take time. I am also a firm believer in not forcing such things – I am what I am. I need time to process and because my pace does not suit anybody’s beliefs of where I “should be” in my life – that isn’t going to help me get there faster. There is no right or wrong. There is only me.

      I put this post out in the world not as a celebration, but as a point-blank self-assessment. I’ve done that many times before on this blog and not only is the act itself a part of the healing (writing is so cathartic!) but it also helps me better connect with people, as you can see from many comments here and I also have received several emails that you don’t see.

      Peace be with you!

  • Adilah AM
    June 14 2016

    also there is a great book called “daring Greatly” by Berne Brown that will help you understand the jist of what im saying.

  • June 29 2016

    I can’t wait for the day that I can say this! 🙂

  • Larissa
    July 4 2016

    Dalene, this is the first blog entry I have read and I must say that I am so glad I stumbled on it. I have been following you and Pete for years but didn’t really delve into your blogpost until today. Your post resonated with me to a degree that I wasn’t anticipating. I am very much like you, and have only a couple of people in my life that I feel connected to. I spend much of my time alone and am usually happier this way. Sometimes, I wonder if I have painted myself into a corner with my lack of close friends, but I have such a difficult time making connections and it just seems so labour intensive for what probably won’t turn out to be a lifelong confidant. My “cocoon” is filled with my furry companions and the infrequent moments when I feel I am in the company of someone who I can really trust. For now, that is enough. I dream of travelling and hope that as my life situation changes I will, in the future, be able to jump off and explore the wondrous beauty that is out there. You are definitely not alone in your feelings and thoughts and I, for one, am happy to have read the words of a fellow human who feels similarly to myself. Happy and safe travels.

    • July 6 2016

      Thank you for your very kind comment Larissa! I hope to see you on the road soon! 🙂

  • Love this! Full-time travel isn’t for me—but neither is commitment—so I can relate to a lot of your sentiments. My solution: Marry a guy who allows me an independence, buy a home in a place that’s both affordable and has access to a large airport, and travel far and often, knowing and recognizing my limits when I need a long stretch of at-home time.
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate recently posted..The Cutest House on Martha’s Vineyard

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