Home. You know that place, right? Where you have your favourite cosy duvet and your squishy pillows, your collection of novelty mugs from different holidays and a cupboard full of different half-eaten packets of biscuits…
Or is that just me?
Home is the place where you can feel safe, where you can relax, where you can store all your hoards of clothes, books and old stuffed animals. It’s the place you come back to every day after work and no matter what you do and where you go, you always come back.
But what if you don’t have a home? I’m talking about people who, like me, are nomads. It surprises me every time I’m asked the question ‘so, where do you live / where are you from?’, or when I have to fill in the ‘address’ field on a form. And I don’t know what to say. The whole world is built around the assumption that everyone has a ‘home address’. Even if you travel a bit, surely you have a ‘home’ somewhere, right?
Well I don’t. When I left the UK I didn’t have much to leave. I’ve never owned a lot of stuff, partly because I’ve never had much money, and partly because I don’t really care that much about material possessions. I’m not even exaggerating when I say everything I own fits into a suitcase. My ‘home’ in the UK was a room I rented in a shared flat in Hammersmith. Whilst I found it pretty cool living there, it wasn’t exactly a permanent home – I didn’t own it, and as soon as I decided to move out, someone took my place and that was the end of it. I’ve actually never lived in one place for more than a year since I moved out of my mum’s house at 18. As a student, then an intern, then a badly paid London professional, I was constantly moving from flat to flat for different jobs or with various friends.
In some ways, I think this ‘home address’ concept is a bit outdated anyway. In my parents’ days, by my age (27) you’d be married with some kids and a mortgage. But nowadays, in London at least, almost no one my age owns anything more than a duvet, and even that’s a bit of a commitment. Due to studying in different cities, moving around for work, travelling, making and breaking up with friends or partners and money issues, most of us move around quite a bit, and I don’t know anyone below the age of 30 who even stands half a chance of putting down a deposit or actually ‘owning’ anything. So the idea of settling down and staying in the same property for the rest of your life isn’t particularly relevant to us 20-somethings in the modern world.
But there’s still this expectation that you have to have something to write down on forms. Even when I was in the UK, the words ‘proof of address’ sent a cold shiver down my spine. You need this mythical ‘proof of address’ for lots of things: signing up for a GP, getting a bank account, registering to vote and much more. And even when I did have an address I wasn’t really able to prove it. I moved around too much, I didn’t have my name on the bills and most of my agents and landlords would mysteriously lose copies of the tenancy agreements. It was enough of a hassle trying to prove I was a legitimate, tax-paying person even when I was a legitimate tax paying person.
Nowadays I’m not a legitimate anything. I’ve lived in 3 different houses (all in different countries) in the last 5 months, not to mention the times when I was travelling and had no fixed address whatsoever. I don’t own or even have a real contract for any of these. Mostly we rent AirBnb places for the few months that we’re in one place. And you can’t register an AirBnb apartment as your permanent address somewhere, for obvious reasons. I’ve already had loads of problems because of this – translation agencies getting suspicious of me because I was staying in Ukraine, freelancing websites blocking me because my IP-address didn’t match the ‘home address’ that everyone forces you to fill in even if you don’t have one, not being unable to register for anything or get anything sent to me. Now I’m in Sweden I’m actually entitled to get a Personnummer (equivalent to an NIN) and get healthcare and so on, but because I can’t ‘prove’ my previous address to show that my partner is really my partner, I don’t have a chance of getting one. So of course I’m without access to any type of services or medical provisions. I’m still registered self-employed in the UK, where I still do my tax return and pay my taxes even though I have no idea if or when I’ll ever come back. If you want to remain even a peripheral part of any type of system you have to write something on the forms, even if it’s inaccurate because the angry guy on the other end of the phone doesn’t get the fact that you really don’t have an address.
Now, I’m not really writing all of this to complain about my life or the fact that I’m essentially a gypsy with nowhere to call my own. I don’t really want any of that stuff. Every place I’ve stayed in so far, whether for a night or a few months, has been my home. Wherever I may roam, where I lay my head is home. Sometimes I wonder if one day I might feel sad that I don’t have anything to my name, or that I have no roots and no stability. Dan from Dan Flying Solo writes that quitting his job to travel wasn’t right for him, because it means you can’t build up any type of savings for the future, or put down any kind of roots and build a ‘real’ life for yourself. And this stuck a chord with me, because whilst I wouldn’t give up my lifestyle for anything in the world, I am aware that I don’t earn enough to make substantial savings for the future, I’m not settling down and building up a life for myself in one place, and if I ever did want to settle down (it’s unlikely, but still…), then I wouldn’t have anything put in place for this to happen. If you place any value on stability, savings, owning property, starting a family or building up a pension etc, then this life is not for you.
Sometimes it makes me a little sad that I can’t have any of those things. I’ve closed off almost all the doors of having the kind of normal life that I think is what most people end up with sooner or later. Because of my addiction to travel and freedom I’ve had to give up everything else, from seeing my friends and family regularly, to earning good money and saving for ‘big’ stuff, to having any chance of a settled, normal life or a family. But at the end of the day, I made the choice to live in a way that was true to myself, where I can focus 100% on building up my own freelance business all about the things I’m passionate about, where I can be my own boss and manage my own work, where I can see new things and meet new people all the time and never get bored. I get to live in all sorts of counties and cities in all sorts of houses. Sometimes my house is a tent, and I don’t even care!
After all, home can be wherever you want it to be. Mine comes with me on my back like a tortoise wherever I go, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Are you a home-loving type, or does being nomadic appeal to you? Let me know in the comments!