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Minimal living

At the present time, I have no fixed abode. This has happened before, given I’ve been between addresses for the odd week or two in the past; negotiating the London rental market tends to have that side effect. But this time is different, for I have no imminent plans to seek out a new permanent address.

This state of affairs is the result of thoughts and ideas which I began to explore around New Year. Yet it’s more than that; the dream behind it was probably in existence long ago, tiptoeing around in my mind since I was a child. So far, I haven’t ever felt the urge to settle down somewhere. Since moving to London six years ago, I’ve moved once for every year I’ve been here — admittedly some of those moves were prompted by circumstances other than personal choice, but I suspect I would have felt the itch to move on anyway. My Mum’s father — my Papa, as I called him — moved back and forward from Canada to the UK when she was a child, and I think I inherited some of his restlessness. As I grew up, my day dreams were full of all the different cities and countries I would live in throughout my lifetime, and I was eager to make a start.

And yet I didn’t make that leap as early as expected. I won’t say ‘it never happened for me’, for I know that, technically speaking, I could have made it happen. But life… distracted…me, and I kept putting off the daydreams for another day. I have no regrets, for I’ve found and am building a career I love. But over the last couple of years, I began to feel frustrated with only ever surviving, just keeping my head above water. London is a wonderful, vibrant, exciting city, and a great place to be in the UK for literary translation events. But it’s also expensive, and this translates to high rents and, as a result, less of a travel budget. My brief sojourn to Berlin in December reminded me of the resolution I made in early 2012 to spend more time there, perhaps a couple of month-long trips each year. But doing that while spending on rent in London is a galling, uneconomical prospect. And moving each time, putting things in storage, is time-consuming and fiddly. Sub-letting isn’t always an option, either, if your flatmates want some consistency. Over the last ten years, I’ve had a grand total of three holidays: a long weekend in New York, two weeks in Argentina and five days in Italy. All great trips, but not quite the adventurous future my younger self had in mind. So I started to explore unconventional solutions, by searching online, thinking, talking to people, day-dreaming again. And thanks to the joy of the internet, I found blogs by people extolling the benefits of being location independent, digital nomads. These people need nothing more than a wifi connection to run their businesses, and move around from place to place, incorporating travel with their freelance careers. There are varying degrees of digital nomadism; some globe-trot all year long, whereas others are based in one city for the majority of the year but work elsewhere for 3 months or so — but the key is that they have all created a freedom in which they are able to choose and take charge of their own lives. I was inspired by the ingenuity, by the refusal to conform to society’s suggestion/expectation that you work relentlessly and expand your outgoings to match your income as the years pass, thereby pushing that freedom further out of reach. That first night, I stayed up into the early hours researching and jotting down ideas. The inspiring blogs included: hecktictravels.com and globetrottergirls.com, and I’m very grateful to them for sharing their experiences and encouragement. It gave me new hope, for I had long assumed that having the career I love meant less holidays and the inevitability of a long hard slog before saving enough to invest in property (otherwise known as the freelancer’s pension scheme). But a whole new world of opportunity opened itself up to me that night, and I began to envisage a different future.

The life of a digital nomad is nothing new. Many have been doing it for years, long before the term was even coined. And I’m not doing it to the extreme just yet — for now, I still want London to be a regular base, but with the freedom to move around and travel more. So at the end of April, I moved out of my flat. In the first few months of this year, I sold/gave away/recycled around two thirds of my possessions (Skoob in Bloomsbury now owns the books I could bear to part from). A couple of good friends are looking after some of my remaining things for me, and I’m currently house-sitting while living out of a suitcase; a liberating feeling, as it’s making me realise how little I actually need. This week, I’m taking care of a lovely flat and two cats in N16, along with my friend and fellow translator Rosalind Harvey. Two weeks ago, we did the same in Walthamstow, and before that, I was doing a solo house-sit in Putney. House-sitting is something I’ve done before, and very much enjoyed — in both the UK and Germany. But now I’m embracing it as a more long-term lifestyle choice. It allows me to move around flexibly in the UK and abroad without being tied to a letting contract, leaving me free to explore new areas and travel more, to satiate the inherited itch to hop around, and also to be more ‘green’. This last one really appeals to me, as it makes sense for us all to share the world’s resources whenever we can, particularly housing and energy. When you house-sit, you give the homeowner peace of mind by caring for their home and pets, and in return you can keep your own living costs low, enabling you to save more money for the future.

For some, that means retiring early. But my personal dream is to carry on translating and working in the literary world for as long as I can read and write, but eventually in a more relaxed way, so I can really take my time without financial pressures, incorporating travel and relaxation into my lifestyle. I’m already feeling the benefits now, for even though work is still busy, by removing myself from my comfort zone in London I’m spending more time exploring. Stoke Newington, for example, was for me a hitherto unknown gem, but I’ve fallen for it hard this weekend. And the next step is coming in just a few weeks, when my minimalist suitcase and I will be heading off to Berlin for a month. I’ve arranged a sub-let there and hope to spend those weeks going to literary readings, working in sunny cafes, exploring and taking the time to work on translating some short stories and other enjoyable projects. Hopefully I’ll manage to fit in a Cuban salsa course too. In late July, I’ll head back to London, where I’ll be teaching the Academic German course at Birkbeck’s  Use Your Language, Use Your English summer school.

And after that? I really don’t know. And the little girl who used to dream of  a future rich with foreign shores is joyous with anticipation.

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4 thoughts on “A new adventure

    • Thank you, I’m really glad you enjoyed reading it. And it’s so great that the online digital nomad community is so encouraging — I’m sure it would have taken me a lot longer to take the plunge if I hadn’t found your blog and gone on from there. Maybe see you somewhere on our travels someday!

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