There are a lot of different ways we could categorize 2017 (political dumpster fire, perhaps?), but for Trevor and I, more than anything else this was the year we got to try on a bunch of different lifestyles to see what might fit best going forward.
As uncomfortable as it was at times being so transient, we’re thankful for the opportunities we had to really think about what we want, and then try each new idea on for size. We’re conditioned from a young age to follow a certain path; chances are, you were, too. You will finish high school, then either choose a trade or continue on to university. You’ll work the prescribed hours, and take vacation when it’s given to you. You’ll find a partner and settle down, go to the bank and take whatever they’ll give you on paper and commit to 25 years of mortgage payments. You’ll probably have a few kids together, and their extracurricular activities will dictate your social circles for the next 15 years or so. You’ll try to put away what you can and save for a rainy day, but increasingly, you’ll feel like you’re constantly treading water and each new unforeseen circumstance will threaten this lifestyle a little bit more.
Sometimes we colour a little outside those lines, but not too far. And it’s a good life, when it works–don’t get me wrong. We enjoyed it just as much as the next guys, when that life was ours. But like so many others, we were obviously living on the edge of a precipice that was a lot closer than we thought. In the end, we were pushed over.
Being forced wayyyy outside of those lines in 2017 was a game-changer.
Security and stability were stripped away, yes. But in their place, we found new choices and the freedom to experiment. It’s liberating, once the worst of the pain and grief of the loss is over, to realize we can choose a new path, if we want. And when we looked at what it’ll take to get right back to where we were (the house, the car, the routine, the brand new 25-year commitment to the bank), suddenly it didn’t look all that attractive anymore.
So what’s next? That remains to be seen. But here’s hoping we can all step a bit further outside of our comfort zones in 2018 and be a lot more intentional about what we want out of life. That’s our plan, and it’s our wish for you, as well.
As crazy as it was, I think we’ll look back on 2017 with thanks and kindness. Although I’ve been working online for nearly 15 years now, this was the year I truly became a digital nomad. My clients have been 100% okay with my location-independence (some actually prefer it), and being able to travel more has really enriched my writing and photography. As for Trevor, he’s closing out the year in a new job he’s finding not only satisfying, but also personally rewarding and even fun.
Who knows what’s next? We used to think it needed to be planned to the letter, but being open to better things and new experiences has served us well this year. Here are a few of the different lives we got to try on:
Doing the Digital Nomad Life in Nicaragua
Nicaragua provided a soft place to land after the worst of it. I think I was still in shock over my dad’s rapid decline and death when we got there, and we had just lost the house. We were really doing little more than surviving at that point, so we focused on our work and decompressed and that was about it. As gorgeous and wild as it was, Nicaragua is still a third-world country in many ways. The level of poverty and treatment of animals really bothered me, and we came away not entirely sure that being the “haves” in a have-not place is the life for us.
Apartment Life in Grey Bruce
Coming home to summer weather meant road trips, Exploring the Bruce, lazy days at the beach and blissful, much-needed family and friends time.
A much-loved friend to whom we are eternally grateful immediately put us up in a furnished apartment we’ve all grown to love. We took barely anything out of storage (which has us questioning lately, why do we have so much STUFF?) and that stability gave us a chance to stop, breathe, and think about what might come next.
Van Living Around Quebec & the East Coast
It’s trendy and cool, I guess, but living in our car for a few months was actually a matter of necessity. I’m past being ashamed about it, so there you go. If you’ve followed along, you might remember that we were asked to do a housesit in British Columbia for a month. We had packed away the RV, put everything we weren’t taking in storage, and packed the SUV for a 6+ week road trip when they cancelled at the last minute (literally the last minute… I think it was 12 hours before our departure time late in August).
It was too late to get a refund on our ferry tickets, so we thought, screw it. We’ll take a long weekend and go north.
Once we hit Manitoulin Island, we thought, screw it. We can’t afford to just go slap down first & last on a place, and no one’s expecting us to be anywhere in particular until mid-October, when we’d committed to housesitting. Why don’t we just keep going? Armed with my portable wi-fi device and laptop, we were all set for the digital nomad life again, so we just kept driving.
Staying on the rail line allowed me to come home often to see the kids, so we went east. We stayed in hostels when it was too cold to sleep outside. Some days were spectacular; others, not so much. But it was all an adventure, and I think served as an important reminder of how hard it is to focus on anything other than your basic necessities when you’re in that situation. Every meal is a chore. Staying clean and dry is a challenge. Keeping cold food cold, getting your clothes cleaned, creating personal space, even finding washrooms to use when you need them… all of these things we take for granted become time and energy-consuming activities.
That experience really made us more thankful than ever for what we do have, and I think more empathetic to those for whom that lifestyle isn’t a choice.
Housesitting on the Beautiful Bruce Peninsula
October brought a 6-week housesit with this beauty, in a gorgeous home in the woods on the Bruce Peninsula.
Basic needs met, I found myself sleeping better, taking walks, and able to focus on some things I’d been wanting to do for a while… reading a good book, painting, cooking healthier meals than you can usually manage on the road. Trevor’s stay didn’t last long, as this employment opportunity came up in Owen Sound. So Lady and I walked the forest paths, chilled out and wrote stories (she’s a great office dog), and looked forward to the kids coming over to liven things up for a few days.
But in that, I realized… I don’t think I want a big house. I don’t want empty spaces to keep clean. I don’t want things to look after. Wandering around an entire house alone left me feeling like I was clunking around the edges of our old life, feeling my way around for something that just wasn’t there anymore. The kids have gone on to live with their father, stepmother and stepsister and by all accounts, everyone is happy with this arrangement. For now, at least, it’s just Trevor and I. Downsizing has come early, and any second thoughts I had about that vanished during our housesitting experience.
Digital Nomad Life, European Style
As a Christmas full of change and reminders of loss loomed large (it would be my first without the kids, and the first without my father), I felt the need to do something drastic to avoid triggering a major depression. At the same time, I’m doing research for a tourism project and needed to get to a place with heavily-trafficked environmentally protected areas to work on that. The Canary Islands fit the bill.
We planned to have a late Christmas with the kids on the 27th, after the excitement of the 3 other family Christmases they needed to be at died down (best problem a child could ever have is a huge extended family who all want to spend time with them!). Trevor was working until a few days before Christmas, so armed with a plane ticket and a reservation for my first 3 days at a hostel in Las Palmas, I was off.
Thankfully, spectacular Gran Canaria kept me too busy to entertain any depressing thoughts of the season. In that first hostel, I met a cyclist I’d spend a few days with later on in the trip, so that was good fun. Other travelers who’d been there longer had great recommendations about where I needed to go, what to do, what to see, and where to stay. Finding wi-fi to keep up with my work was never a problem, and having some of the conveniences we hadn’t had in Nicaragua freed up more time for just enjoying every minute of being there.
So will we buy another house? Maybe a cabin, or a tiny home. Small feels cozy and right; minimalist feels manageable. If there’s one thing we learned in all of this it’s that as much as we loved that old life at the time, we don’t necessarily miss it enough to commit ourselves to recreating it.
2017 also reminded us how fortunate we are to have a massive network of loving, supportive people around us. Kids who are resilient and loving and turning into such amazing humans. Our parents, who have been there every step of the way with no judgment, only love and support. Friends who showed up in so many ways and said, “Alright then, let’s fix this shit.” And then magically, they just did! You know who you are, and we love you and will do anything for you. Always.
What a gift, this rare chance to colour outside the lines, live more intentionally and really think about what it is we want out of life. In all the turmoil and upheaval, one thing came through loud and clear… whatever comes next, Trevor and I want to do it together. There have been a million ways things could have fallen apart for us in the last couple of years, but at the end of the day, I can’t imagine rolling with these punches with anyone else and if nothing else, this crazy year cemented that.
Thank you, 2017, for that.
Cheers, and we wish all of you the very best 2018 possible! <3
You Might Also Like...
Motel Marcel on the St Lawrence in Rimouski, Quebec, looking like the dark side of the moon on a cold September morning. This morning, we find ourselves in a tiny and perfectly acceptable motel in Rimouski, Quebec, on the Lower St. Lawrence. We'd actually planned to...
Packing for a 6-week road trip in our SUV with only a tent meant we had to get pretty choosy about what to bring and what had to be left behind. One thing I wasn't putting in storage was the 2.5qt crock pot we picked up in Nicaragua. That's right, I packed it in my...
Me: "Maybe this is one you should write...?" Trevor: "You don't want me to write this one." Alright, I drew the short straw. We're sitting here in Owen Sound amidst a pile of clothes, camping gear, dry foods and everything else we'd prepared for our six-week trip to...