photography by Chelsea Batten
A few weeks ago, through the magical web of social media, I met up with Chelsea Batten for an afternoon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Chelsea is the embodiment of what I value. With few possessions packed in the trunk of her car, she roams around North America as she pleases. When she’s not writing full-time for a magazine, she conducts her own interviews on the side for a project she calls The Connoisseurs. In essence, when Chelsea’s not writing for work, she’s writing to write. This is one of the main reasons I admire her.
Another is that she has lived nomadically for a year now. (I wrote “I’m all about that” in my notebook the day after we met.) And after talking to her, I realized we’re cut from the same cloth. I can’t help but be nomadic, and neither can she. We talked about how we’re both essentially homeless; drifting from one house to another, not paying rent in any official capacity. We talked about how people react when they hear that Chelsea essentially lives out of her car, and about how difficult it is for me to answer the seemingly simple question, “where do you live?”
I’ve resided in New Hampshire since April of 2012, but since August I have been jumping from place to place each night. From houses in the Seacoast region of NH to Cambridge, MA to Portland, ME. That’s what I mean when I say I can’t help but be nomadic; even when I’m settled, I’m on the move. Although living out of a duffel bag in spare bedrooms filled with the leftover possessions of past residents has drawbacks, I would not trade the freedom and ability to move from place to place for anything.
Talking to Chelsea restored the faith I’d lost in my ability and intentions regarding travel. I felt lost, wayward, but now I see this is a powerful and radical choice in a lifestyle that ultimately satisfies me more than a permanent address and a dining room set. I realized that lost, wayward feeling was derived from an unconscious adoption of common cultural and societal misconceptions about traveling and travelers. Contrary to popular belief, we travelers are not lazy, or ungrounded, or escaping reality. Our priorities and values are not skewed just because we’re not fully satisfied with a 12-month lease or a mortgage. I know plenty of people who derive satisfaction from saving for their first home, decorating a new apartment, and working forty hours a week in a cubicle. I’m just not one of those people.
But it bears mentioning that I was born into a white, middle-class American household, endowed with the trappings of privilege, and given opportunities (namely access to a good education and the ability to travel) that I realize are not available to everyone. I also recognize that the socio-economic conditions I was born into lends itself to my nomadic lifestyle.
I flew straight back to Lhasa, Tibet the day after my college graduation to continue studying the language. Yet something about returning to Lhasa with an undergraduate degree under my belt felt wrong. I couldn’t figure out why, exactly, but the situation in Lhasa was tense, so I chalked it up to the heavily-militarized region and returned to the United States. What I didn’t see then—that I clearly realize now—was how I caved under societal expectations, believing that an upstanding US-citizen with a Bachelor’s degree should have a full-time salaried job, instead of aimlessly traveling around the world. I bought into the assumption without knowing I was being sold, returned to the US, and moved to Brooklyn to work like hell. And it was hell.
Even now, I hide my insatiable wanderlust and nomadic spirit under my MFA-in-progress, because that is a more acceptable answer to “what do you do?” than, “I live out of one duffel bag, jump around from house to house and city to city, and work as a freelance writer and editor.”
And to those who brush it off with, “it’s just a phase,” here’s my ten-year plan, characterized not by “things,” but by places and experiences:
- Bhutan: teach; study Dzongkha, Buddhism, the ethnic cleansing during the 1990s, and the current tourism model.
- Sikkim: study Tibetan, reach a relative point of fluency
- Tawang, Arunchal Pradesh, India: visit the historically Tibetan territory and disputed region
- Burma: history and recent reforms
- Cambodia: Angkor Wat; genocide of the 1970s; travel overland to Vietnam
- Vietnam: railroad from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and Halong Bay by boat
- New Zealand: one year working holiday
- Italy: study Italian
- France: study French
Now that you’ve heard my side of the story, go read Chelsea’s account of our meeting in October, and tell me (in the comment section below): what are your views on travel, wanderlust, and ten-year plans?
Read more: on travel / wanderlust