My Nomad Life: How I Became An Accidental Nomad

Nomad life by Cattie Coyle Photography

This is kind of a long story…

To be able to travel and live on photography full time was a dream of mine since I was a teenager. I was determined to not live a “normal life”, tied to one place. These days, when many are full time nomads, it doesn’t seem like such an outlandish dream, but when I was entering the workforce it was a different world. There was no Internet, cell phones or iPads. Nobody had a computer at home, and most of the time not even at work. Getting a regular job where you lived was what you did, and what I did.

But through various life twists and turns, I ended up going to France twice to study, then to the US as an au pair for a year, then back to Sweden to work for a few months, then back to the US to go to photography school. After graduation, I married my American boyfriend, and the plan was to start my own photography business. But I was young and not very business savvy and worst of all, didn’t believe in myself. So I went back to what was familiar and got a corporate job that I hated, and for the next 20 years I worked at various companies in corporate America. As you probably know, the vacation time there is very different from in Europe, and I only saw my family for a few short weeks every year. As time went on, I missed both them and home more and more, but I didn’t see a way to change what my life had become at that point, and I started feeling stuck, sad, and hopeless.

Life went on like that for many years and although I had my photography business on the side and my old dreams were always in the back of my mind, in reality, I had given up on them.

But then things changed. I started having strange health issues that nobody could explain. I went to doctor after doctor who couldn’t tell me what was going on, but often offered to operate on whatever the issue was. I developed so many food allergies that I lived on about 10 different foods, and after a couple of years of countless doctors visits and tests, I was diagnosed with TONS of allergies and chemical sensitivities. In addition to food, dust, pollen, etc., I was also basically allergic to being indoors and in city environments. Our house affected me terribly, as did exhaust fumes. At the time, we lived on a super busy street in Somerville, MA, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau is the 16th most densely populated city in the US. My doctor said I had to get out of that environment and find a place with cleaner air. We had lived there for many years, and had a basement filled with stuff, but after spending almost 2 years sorting through things, keeping only the most meaningful (Kondo-ing before it was hip!) and packing, we sold our home along with most of our belongings, and I lost my job.

At the time, it felt like a complete disaster and I spent many sleepless nights crying over it all. But then I realized that I had unexpectedly been given a unique opportunity to finally realize my dream, my chance to finally go for it and focus on my photography 100%. So I spent the next several years working like crazy to build up my photography business, trying to get it to a point where it could support me full time so that I could be in control of my surroundings and not have to go to an office where I might react to carpets, furniture, perfume, etc.

The nomad thing started as a result of trying to find a home that I don’t react to. I was nervous about buying a new place, or commit to a long term lease only to discover that I was allergic to that house as well, so we tried a few shorter winter rentals in MA in the winter, all by the ocean where the air is cleaner, and then me spending as much of the summer as possible in Europe. Some of the homes in the US worked better than others, but none as well as those in Sweden. There I feel great. I can even eat foods I react to in the US (like wheat, bakers’ yeast, eggs, chicken) and don’t have all those weird reactions to my surroundings. And Portugal was the same way. I have heard about others who have the same experience, are able to eat foods in Europe that they don’t tolerate in the US. And there must be something in the building materials in the US that is different from Europe.

This has been going on for a few years now, and even though I’ve been living that old dream and have had a fantastic time getting to see and photograph new places, the nomad life is very stressful. It’s hard to live and travel with all your belongings in a suitcase for months and months on end. It can be very lonely; my husband has family and work commitments in the US so a lot of the time we’re on different continents. You don’t really belong anywhere and you have to spend a lot of time figuring out where you’re going to be living next, and the logistics involved in all this moving around. You can never really relax.

Many say that I am lucky and “living the dream”, and I absolutely agree. I am very lucky in many ways and am really thankful that I had the chance to try this lifestyle. I wouldn’t change that experience for the world. But not having a permanent home base is really wearing on me. I miss having a place that is “home”, a place I can always return to and feel comfortable in, a sanctuary to relax and regroup in. And make my own. I daydream about puttering about the house, doing all those cozy things that you do in your home like put up summer curtains, have plants, arrange books on a shelf, put up photos, decorate for the holidays, etc.

It looks like that home base needs to be in Europe, and I think I would like it to be too. I’d still love to travel and spend at least a part of the year in the US. After 28 years there, it is home too, and I would hate to not be able to spend time there anymore.

But it’s all still a work in progress, I’m still working around the clock trying to get my business to a point where it can support me full time and give me the freedom to put down roots in a place where I am happy and healthy. I sometimes wonder if life would have been different if I had had the courage to make these changes years ago, before the allergies started. If the fact that I was so unhappy for so long contributed to the allergies.

Whatever the reason, it is what it is, and for now, I try to just roll with it and be thankful for the opportunity, for finally knowing what I want, for every second of feeling healthy, and for enjoying life!

If you made it this far, thank you for reading! If any of this resonates with you, if you dream of a different life, please believe in yourself and don’t give up on your dream! Try everything you can to make it work and don’t wait for anything or anyone to give you permission to live the life you want. And start today! Even if you just take one small step towards your goal, that’s one more than you took yesterday, and it adds up!

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