How I Learned Nomadic Resilience

I think resilience is part and parcel of being a TCK and a serial expat. Resilience is also a paramount survival trait for being able to live — happily — anywhere in today’s world. I learned resilience growing up as a TCK, honed it in the military with decades of working around the world, and even now, continue to try to improve it.

I don’t have a lot of detailed childhood memories, but I led a varied upbringing moving from country to country every few years, generally in what was then referred to as the Third World. It developed my resilience to a high degree. I learned at a very young age that flights get canceled, baggage gets lost, water and electrical outages are a part of life, not everything can be purchased in a grocery store, military coups happen, and sometimes one gets evacuated from war zones. These things were part of my life before I even entered my teens. I have to give credit to my parents — they knew how to handle this stuff. They took it in their stride; they dealt with it and they moved on. And I believe I picked it up from them.

Resilience has two inextricably intertwined aspects to it: physical and psychological.

Physical resilience, regardless of your age (although I think especially as one gets older), is crucial. The healthier you are, the less likely you are to get sick or get injured in the first place, and if you do get sick or are injured, you will recover faster. There are a few basic tenets and all of them have a direct impact on your psychological resilience as well: eating right, not abusing your body to any great degree (alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, junk food), getting enough sleep and exercising regularly are some of them. The main point here is that if you don’t keep your body in a good state of physical health, your ability to be able to handle physical or psychological stressors is severely impacted. These aren’t hacks per se, just common sense.

And the most important physical factor? I haven’t been in the corporate world for many years, but I remember the unspoken pressure that going without sleep to ‘get the job done’ was considered a ‘good’ thing. What rubbish. I can’t think of any single factor more likely to impact one’s mental and physical performance than lack of sleep. There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as an enhanced interrogation technique. Make sure you are getting enough good sleep.

As for psychological resilience, we all have stressors in our lives. Resilience is the ability to not let them get you down permanently.

I think that psychological resiliency is founded on adaptability, flexibility, a positive outlook, and preparedness. People who have rigid mindsets and can only see one course of action or one possible set of outcomes suffer accordingly when things don’t go as planned. And if one has a negative outlook on life, when change comes or trouble strikes, then one can get into a vicious circle of ‘doom and gloom’ that can cause paralysis and a sense of helplessness.

As for preparedness, in the military we referred to this as contingency planning. I’ve rarely seen time spent on being prepared go to waste. These traits are more than important for survival, they are crucial for leading a contented life.

So how does resilience weave itself into my life as a nomad? Well, there are two parts to this; the journey itself and settling into wherever one ends up.

Let’s discuss traveling first. I have seen people take great care to try to make the traveling process as efficient as possible. They minimize things like layovers, traveling straight through so they don’t have to worry about spending money for a hotel room. They pack their bags to the ounce of being within baggage weight limits. This is almost like setting yourself up for failure. You miss one connection and that can set off a domino effect of other issues: you might miss other flights completely, you might have to repurchase tickets if you bought restricted fares, you might have to then spend money on hotels. So, this is where preparedness comes in. Plan for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours if you’re making a connection between two different airlines (or even the same airline) or two different termini. Anticipate flight delays, problems with immigration, or waiting for your bag. You never know.

My primary hack is to NOT be in a hurry to get there. Make the journey part of your experience. I like strolling through airports, not running as if the Hound of the Baskervilles was hot on my heels. People watching, having a cup of coffee and a pastry and browsing through the overpriced Duty-Free shops are all good options. Don’t treat your trip as something to be endured. (Not to mention the virtuous feeling that comes from seeing other people hurrying.)

Another facet of being resilient is your luggage. Make sure you have enough in your carry on that if your bags get lost or there is an unplanned long layover, you have at least two or three changes of clothes. And, because of the insanity of security theatre that has run rampant in the aviation world since 9/11, many years ago I stopped trying to travel just with carry-on baggage. Check that you have what you need to be comfortable on your trip and plan on waiting for your bag. It isn’t that big of a deal. I recently read a blog article by a guy that traveled for a year with a single small backpack! Yes, yes. To each his own, but when I read he only carried one change of clothes I couldn’t help thinking how I wouldn’t want to be seated next to him under most circumstances.

But—the KEY to resilience? If you’ve tried to leave yourself plenty of time, were prepared, and still have a major issue, ACCEPT that you’ve done the best you could. Whatever has happened was most likely beyond your control. Think about your situation carefully, weigh your alternatives, and take action. Don’t waste your energy being too hard on yourself. (And, if you already prepared by having contingency plans, then you have less to fret about.)

At your destination, take the time to research your location thoroughly. I do this even if I’m going to a country where I’ve been before, especially if staying somewhere different than my usual lodgings. Personally, I have a checklist of what I want to know about the locale I’m staying in. The closest laundry (I have a pet peeve about paying hotel laundry prices, and I really like having clean clothes), gym, pharmacy, cozy coffee shop, and shopping centers and/or grocery store. As soon as I arrive, I get out of my room and walk to all those places to make sure I know exactly where they are and what their opening hours are. Then I can relax and am pretty much at home.

Although it is certainly easier than it was years ago to do online research, sometimes that doesn’t give you all the information you need. In that case, as long as you know what your personal checklist is, you can ask a local resource like a concierge or your Airbnb host for that information either in advance or as soon as you get on the ground.

Being out of your regular environment is a stressful thing for most people. Settling yourself in as I have described can greatly reduce this and increase your resilience. It may seem like a small thing, but, for me at least, it is not.

Although I discussed how resilience has been part of how I relate to travel, I wanted to close with my thoughts on how important it is for everything in life. We live in stressful world. It may be far more peaceful than 80 years ago (take WWII and the approx. 92,000 casualties!), but it is still stressful and very much faster paced than even when I was growing up. Terrorism, politicians, nationalism, intolerance — it’s a long list. I have embraced minimalism over the last few years. I have stopped being a relentless consumer. I wouldn’t want to be misunderstood: I do like my comfort and I do like my lifestyle. However, I have realized it doesn’t take much to make me content. It is kind of like building resilience into the fabric of your life. For me personally, flexibility, adaptability, a positive outlook and preparedness, combined with a new-found joy in minimalism, have done wonders for my personal resiliency. But as always, it is still a work in progress.

A few extra notes from Anthony:

  1. I ran across an ebook by www.artofmanliness.com called “Building Your Resiliency”. When browsing the website, you will see a popup with access to five free ebooks if you register with them. My experience is that they seem to be an ethical website (I have not seen any spam because of registering with them) with a lot of good content. I found these books to be well written, succinct, and germane if you are interested in resiliency. [Full disclosure – I have no connection with this website whatsoever, other than as a consumer of their content.]

  2. Just for fun: Google “resiliency quiz”. There are numerous ones you can take online. Here’s a link to one I tried recently: http://www.resiliencyquiz.com/index.shtml

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