Are You a Nomad de Luxe?

The romanticism of life on the lam

Words: Lee Tulloch

The marvellous American bohemian Isadora Duncan once threw a house party that started in Paris, continued in Venice and concluded weeks later on a houseboat on the Nile.

Isadora danced around the world, in obscure halls and palaces, frittering away a fortune. Often penniless, when she had $2000 in her hands she would spend it on lilies. Her friend, The New Yorker’s Paris correspondent Janet Flanner, called her a ‘nomad de luxe.’

The late 19th and early 20th centuries are filled with the stories of flamboyant women who ignored conventions of the time and escaped to wilder shores, such as Isabelle Eberhardt, who dressed as an Arab cavalier and travelled with the Berbers through Algeria in 1900, and the scandalous Jane Digby, a British aristocrat who married, at age 46, a Syrian sheik 20 years her junior.

These days, we can only marvel at their nomadic adventures from the comfort of our A380. Now every desert camp has a five-star spa and 4×4 dune bashing adventures and Anthony Bourdain is still alive on TV to tell us what sheep’s eyeballs taste like before we’ve even booked our airfares. No wonder, then, that many of us secretly yearn for the romanticism of a life lived on the lam, where nothing is familiar, everything is unpredictable.

That’s why the concept of being a ‘nomad’ has acquired great cachet of late. There are proud Grey Nomads, who roam the coast in their Recreational Vehicles, and Digital Nomads, of no fixed address, who operate businesses on the run with the aid of smart phones and laptops. And there are Global Nomads – growing numbers of well-heeled early retirees in their 50s and 60s who spend several months of each year living in a country where they are not citizens.

Cashed-up and unwilling to grow old, with cheap airfares and house-sharing opportunities like Airbnb to back them up, the generation now over 50 is an unrivalled position in history to make a run for it. And with their grown-up kids refusing to leave the nest, who can blame them? When they were teenagers, they couldn’t wait to get away from their old fogey parents. Now it’s the reverse – they’re happy to leave their ‘young fogey’ kids in their wake.

a critical mass of people has decided that it’s experiences, not material possessions, which matter

The other evening, I invited five guests for dinner. One lived partly Hawaii. One couple had returned from running a hotel in Sri Lanka and were off to live in Barcelona, and another couple, who had spent many years in Hong Kong, were now living in Paris and house swapping for a few months each year with friends in Sydney.

The talk was not about real estate – the kick-starter to so many 21st Century inner-city dinner party conversations – but about visas.

Only a decade ago, everyone was busily cocooning, acquiring property and Smeg kitchens to make the home the focal point of modern life. Thanks to the financial crisis – or was it boredom with shopping for cushions – a critical mass of people has decided that it’s experiences, not material possessions, which matter.

My friends are modern nomads de luxe. For them, a ‘luxe’ lifestyle is nothing to do with price, but everything to do with richness of experience. They may have retired early from conventional careers but they haven’t retired from life. If that means narrowly escaping being macheted to death in Sri Lanka or finding themselves in the deadly grip of the sadistic French bureaucracy, then they consider that a fair price to pay.

Like Isadora, they are dancing on the edge. I’ve lived in Paris and New York and I know uprooting yourself doesn’t always satisfy restlessness, it can create more of it. And if you sell up your home to fund your travels, as many do, there’s a real risk you may never get it back.

And yet, the prospect of running out of money and living a potential sad old age in welfare housing (Baby Boomers aren’t counting on the Millennials to look after them) is merely a passing shadow across this landscape of unfettered adventure. ‘You can’t take it with you,’ they argue and both Richard Dawkins and I would agree that the philosophy is sound.

The nomadic life takes some courage. It may not be the level of courage required to dress like a man and travel with the Berbers but it’s the best anyone can do in the age of Tripadvisor and Google maps.

  1. I am a conventional traveller becoming more nomadic as the years speed past. That is why this site holds interest, fascination and a certain frisson of excitement at the prospect of moving out of my comfort zone. I believe it is a win/win situation. Thank you for sharing the ideas and opportunities.

    Jenni Gross

  2. by Jennifer Gross on October 25th, 2013 at 5:29 pm

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