The perpetual nomad

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It’s been a long time since I last used this blog.  Not that this was unexpected of course.  Millions of people create blogs and then fail to keep them updated.  But a lot has happened since then, and I decided it was time to revisit and report on the changes, especially since lots of people requested it!

I’m now single.  I had a six month break from painting.  I went to Africa and back.  I’m still homeless.

And being homeless is actually rather nice.

Of course, it’s not real homelessness, the sort that so many people have to endure for years, living on the streets, hungry, cold and desperate.  This is more a sort of travelling homelessness, like a modern-day gypsy or happy hobo. My ‘homelessness’ is entirely a lifestyle choice.  And after labelling it so, a friend suggested that I write about it, so here I am.

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It occurred to me whilst on the road that I had been living out of a bag for almost five months.  I was on a minibus, hurtling through the wilds of South Africa in the Eastern Cape, staring out at the dramatic mountain landscape zipping by.  I was feeling incredibly introspective and reflective.  Travelling alone does that to you.  You meet all sorts of similar wanderers on the road to keep you company and share amazing experiences, but there is a lot of time spent in your own company: tramping through forests, strolling along deserted coastline, enjoying a meal by yourself in a restaurant.  A lot of people find this sort of idea sad and pitiful, but if you’re a traveller and a lover of the road, this sort of experience is quite empowering and serene.

As I sat on this bus, staring out of the window at the incredible landscape, I realised I was completely and utterly serene and happy.  The happiest I’d felt in a long time, in fact.  It’s easy to romanticise and perhaps hold the beautiful weather and holiday-mood accountable for this feeling.  But this was something else.  I was happy because I was free.

And then I started thinking about my return to the UK, which would happen a month later, after my adventures in Africa.  I had a job waiting for me, and a new course to start.  I’d be back in the city, working long hours, constantly busy but enjoying the buzz of metropolitan life and all it entails.  The return to civilisation and departure from such a spectacular country didn’t phase me.  Things aren’t meant to last.  We move through spaces and periods on a journey.  Too many people focus on an end point, instead of enjoying the moment and living in the present.

No, the thing that filled me with a tinge of trepidation and inkling of dread was that I would have to live somewhere less temporary again.  I’d have to acquire a room and a bed that I slept in for more than a week, and pay money to have a space for the contents of my bag (which, aside from a few boxes of books scattered around in the UK, is pretty much all I own).

This idea appeared ridiculous to me.  I thought back to my life in the UK before Christmas and before I flew to Cape Town.  After leaving my partner of four and a half years, I’d rendered myself homeless but had resolved to sofa-surf it out until I could spend the festive holidays with family and then start my adventure.  There was absolutely no logical reason for paying rent.  I was lucky enough to work in a job that only required me to work three days per week, so the rest of the time I could journey around the UK visiting friends.  Between October and December in 2014, I found myself in London, Nottinghamshire, Dorset, Surrey and Cornwall, and even a week in Edinburgh.  I was on the move every week.  And I was beginning to love it.

So there I was on the road in South Africa, realising I’d been living out of a bag for so long it had actually become normal.  It came with a sense of freedom, liberated from possessions and responsibility to manage or pay for real accommodation.  Of course, there are sacrifices too.  In the entire five months, especially during my time in the UK flitting between friends’ houses, there were feelings of being an imposition and a ‘sponger’.  Feeling like you were only showing up to see someone because you needed a bed for the night.  It’s difficult not to feel like that, even when you’re welcomed with open arms.  And I’m fortunate enough to know enough people who are welcoming.  By December, word had spread of my ‘plight’ (a word other people might have used, not my own description of my situation!) and I ended up having more offers of a place to sleep than I could accept!  It was genuinely heartwarming.  The other sacrifice I should mention was not having anywhere to invite people to; not being able to host friends or family.  These two feelings were always strongest.

Many people have asked me “Don’t you feel tired all the time?  Doing all that travelling would exhaust me.”  Sure, there are days when I’m ready to sink into whatever sleeping place is waiting for me that day, but usually that’s due to work!  I would actually say I’m looking fairly energised recently.  Lots of people have passed comment that I’m looking very well.  I’m putting it down to feeling happy, rather than just the result of a two month holiday, lol.  But you get my point.

The other question I get is “Don’t you miss having somewhere for all your stuff?”  But what ‘stuff’?  I barely own anything any more.  I downsized years ago, having sold a house and emptied it of six years of accumulated knick-knacks and furniture, and reducing my possessions to all I could fit into a suitcase I was taking to Australia.  Everything I own can go into a backpack.  I actually find it really hard to go shopping now, because every purchase is accompanied by thoughts of where I would put the item.  This lack of possessions and detachment from material things is very liberating and totally separates you from advertising.  I end up watching TV and wondering why on earth anyone would want to buy anything.

I’m sure there will come a day when I will want/need/have to settle into a less temporary living arrangement.  It’s not an impossible thought for me.  I did have a mortgage once!  But perhaps it will be somewhere small, and on wheels, with just enough space to contain me.  I’ve seen some amazing houses on the internet, like the woman who built her own cabin and pitched up in the garden of a friend, or the man who built a tree house and lives off-grid in the forest.  These sound up my street, for wont of a better phrase!

All I know is that my unconventional, travelling lifestyle suits me right now and works for me right now.  And as soon as that feeling starts to change, then it really will be time to lay my hat.  Until then, the road beckons!

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