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  • Writer's pictureKimberly OLeary

The Benefits to Living a Nomadic Life When Best-Laid Plans Go Awry

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

When we embarked on our nomadic life, we knew we would be planning six months or so into the future at any given time, and we would have to be flexible. Because it was 2021 when we started our first bookings, we knew something like the Pandemic might affect or alter things. And, we built into our budget sudden trips home in case of illness or death of people close to us. Eileen Kay writes engagingly about travel during the Pandemic in her book, Nothing Went to Plan and Other Silver Linings (Noodle Trails 3),which you can find here: This summer (2022), we have come to appreciate how a nomadic lifestyle is a benefit when your plans "go awry." The season has been characterized by significant disruptions. In mid-July, Paul's motorcycle trip to Alaska was paused in Banff, and then stopped just as he was entering Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, B.C., Canada.

Years of planning were irrevocably altered when Paul had to conclude that the bike wasn't reliable enough to complete the journey. After exploring a variety of options, Paul chose to return south to the U.S. and take a slower trip across the Rockies to Seattle, where we had an Airbnb booked to begin a few weeks later. That way, if he couldn't ride the bike, he could have it shipped without the hassle and expense of Customs issues. Thankfully, his bike was able to make that trip.

The stresses of those events mostly affected Paul, and as he rode into Seattle on July 24, we both thought we would be back on track, staying a little over two months there, together again.

Unfortunately, we were only in Seattle a few days when Paul's dad landed in the ER and Paul had to fly back to Wisconsin. I opted to stay a week to spend time with our daughter and her partner, who had booked a week-long vacation in Seattle to spend time with us. Kate, Ben, and I had a great week, but both Paul and I realized as the week wore on that I needed to get to Wisconsin as Paul's dad took a turn for the worse. Long story short, we halted our Seattle stay, cancelling our Airbnb with some (but not complete) financial losses for the booking. I joined Paul in Wisconsin Rapids.

We've now been in Wisconsin Rapids almost two months. My father-in-law's health deteriorated rapidly, and he passed away in early August. We were both grateful for the time we had with him during those weeks. We were also grateful for the nomadic life that allowed us to spend as much time as we needed to first be with him, and then help take care of his affairs.

When my mother passed away, in 2008, I was working full-time in another state 8 hours away by car from where she lived and died. Settling her affairs was endlessly stressful. This time in Wisconsin has been very different. Of course, losing a parent always creates stress amid feelings of loss, and Paul has felt his share of all of that. But we are both mindful of the privilege our new lifestyle affords us to take as much time as we need, in this place and this space, to do what needs to be done. We have no home to maintain, no pets to house, no jobs to manage. We don't have to be anywhere else on any particular time-table. Instead, we can reside in my in-laws' house, where Dad poured so much of himself into creating a home. Each night, we put in movies from a collection he created and carefully displayed. Each day, we notice the enhancements he crafted to create a better living space.

We can take time to go through his things, lovingly noticing things even if ultimately nobody decides to keep them in the family. We don't have to keep his dozens of baseball caps, but we can honor his life by looking at each one, and remembering all of the places he's been (Hawaii, Las Vegas), the family who loved him ("Number 1 Grandpa"), the teams he rooted for (Chicago Bulls got 4 hats!) and other aspects of his identity (union hats, trucking hats).

By staying in town, we were able to donate boxes of unopened food to the local food bank, his hearing aids to the VA, and his eyeglasses to the Lion's Club. We have walked the trails along the Wisconsin River that he loved to walk, and eaten at some of his favorite restaurants. We have spent time with his friends. And, I think, he would have loved that. A farewell that has lasted just long enough.

As I write this, it looks like Paul and his siblings may have just sold the house (fingers crossed nothing goes awry here) and its contents. We may be leaving in a couple of weeks, a set of tasks concluded. Throughout our marriage, Paul and I have lived far away from family. Deaths in the family have been characterized by hectic, short, chaotic spurts. But in this new lifestyle, we can flex and adapt. In his poem, "To a Mouse", Robert Burns contrasts the life of a human to the small rodent thus:

But little Mouse, you are not alone,

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes of mice and men

Go often awry,

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!

Still you are blessed, compared with me!

The present only touches you:

But oh! I backward cast my eye,

On prospects dreary!

And forward, though I cannot see,

I guess and fear!

Perhaps, in this nomadic life, we are more like the mouse, blessed to live in the present. A condition linked to longer and happier lives. One more reason to love being nomads.


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