Meet the Nomads – FB Fabulously Broke in the City!

Meet FB, a consultant, nomad and blogger who maintains her anonymity for her blog, Fabulously Broke in the City. A recent college grad, FB is passionate about paying off $50,000 in student loans before 2009. In fact, that’s a lot of what her blog is about – how to save money. A big part of FB’s answer for how to do this is to have a 100% nomadic lifestyle. Interested? Read on….

A lot of people aspire to a nomadic lifestyle because they are drawn to the romance of traveling. You seem to have adopted this life to pay off your debts and start some savings. Can you tell us how you got into being a nomad?

It was really more out of chance than anything.

I graduated almost 2 years ago, and just happened to accept an offer and a career that meant 100% travel. At the time, I didn’t really understand what 100% travel meant, but after the first year of paying $1600 for an apartment that I only stayed in and saw 2 months out of the 12, I realized it was A) stupid to keep paying for such an expensive storage unit and B) it was an opportunity to get rid of one of the biggest living expenses in most people’s lives ? shelter.

So one day, I looked at my husband and said: Oh my god, we could be modern nomads?. He laughed at first, but he slowly came around to the idea, and now has full embraced it in the name of paying off debt. Modern because we are very into technology and this is a new way of living for us, and nomads because.. well, we don\’t have a home.

So, less than a year later, we finally made the decision to give up the apartment early 2007, and have only been doing this for a short amount of time, but so far it’s worked out quite nicely for me. I\’m hoping to be on a client project 100% of the time next year so I don\’t have to worry about paying month-by-month rent, and /or any of that other stuff. I’d willingly give up all of my vacation weeks for that opportunity to be working 100% of the year. How strange is it to be saying that?!

What kind of education or experience does someone need to do the kind of work you do?

Well as a consultant, they generally hire from big name colleges (not all do, mind you), and I got an undergraduate honors degree in business administration, with a specialized concentration in management information systems.

I think anyone could be a consultant. You just have to be given the chance to get your foot in the door. All it takes is the right frame of mind, and perspective, and whether or not you have an affinity for what a consultant does on a day-to-day basis, which can range anywhere from being a project manager of sorts, to having a specialized knowledge in your field ? be it strategy and change, human resources, airlines and their tax schedules and laws, supply chain management, finance, information systems, etc., and to be dealing and treading lightly with client members you are not familiar with yet and/or executives who will question your decisions on a daily basis because you have to constantly prove and sell yourself every time you go to a new client, as they don\’t know you and what you can do yet. So if you are a person who doesn?t like a challenge, or constantly having to prove themselves, this may not be for you.

But in general, there are many types of consultants in the world, with different skills and specializations, you just have to find the right combination that resonates with your skills and strengths.

As you say in your blog, you have put your personal belongings into storage and you really don\’t return to your home base. How does this work?

I put all of my furniture and all the sorts of things associated with an apartment (decoration, towel racks, furniture, etc) all into a storage location in another more rural city because it’s cheaper and you get more space than if you rent a storage location in an urban city. My clothes, shoes and day-to-day things that I need to access on a regular basis but cannot really travel with all the time, are kept in my home city’s storage location, where if I go back, I basically go to the storage location, pick up what I need, and rent an apartment month-by-month when I need to be in the office. Then when I\’m on another project that isn’t in my home city, I put everything back into that urban storage location, and leave.

What do you bring with you when you travel?

Generally? clothes (work outfits and a pair of jeans with a sweater ? I tend to wear work tops with jeans anyway, so everything I own is multi-purpose for work and play), a frying pan, a kettle, a gaming system (like a Nintendo Wii), 4 pairs of shoes (winter boots, running shoes, ballet flats and a pair of heels), my toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, facial lotion, razor, etc), makeup, perfume, an umbrella, jewelery, a wireless router, 2 laptops (one work, one play), laptop bag, iPod, 2 RJ45 LAN cables, a cellphone, a PDA, etc etc. Basically everything I need.. IMMEDIATELY. I don\’t bring things like furniture, a special pillow, décor, none of that. I only bring technology, clothes/shoes and toiletries.

How often have you had to rent month to month in between consulting gigs?

Usually once in between every gig. I usually beg for projects right away, or try and be staffed on a project immediately after leaving my last one, but sometimes that isn’t feasible. I’ve been lucky so far, and if it’s only a week or less in between projects, I crash at my friends? places, or my parents? house.

Your husband travels with you. What are the pros and cons about this? Do you have any advice for people making a decision about traveling alone or traveling with others?

PROS: He cooks sometimes, sort-of cleans (tidies up), organizes the travel arrangements and logistics of all that, and drives me everywhere. Plus, he’s fantastic company and he is my best friend ? I can always relate to him, tell him how my day is going and basically have my own support at home when I’ve had a tough day.

CONS: You always have to consider his feelings and needs when you’re accepting offers to go out to company dinners, or outings, and whether or not he can come along. I sometimes feel restrained and guilty because he doesn?t know ANYONE in the city, whereas I have work colleagues on the client site, and my own company colleagues. It gets to be pretty guilt-inducing. Oh, I guess to reduce debt further, he could be working part-time here and there, but? to be honest, I couldn’t care less if he did or not.

As for advice about traveling alone or having others with you.. I’d totally recommend that if you are someone who NEEDS a familiar support and network , then bring someone along. But they have to also be in the same mindset and love to travel and/or deal with challenges, and they have to also be OK with being alone for very long periods of time. But if you are someone who is more independent, and can adjust being by yourself for a long period of time, then you don\’t need anyone to go with you, you just need to be sure that you really are a self-entertaining, self-sufficient sort of type.

You must know hotels better than 90% of us. What makes a hotel better or worse for a nomad? What do you do to make the room your home?

I basically treat interviewing hotels like I\’m looking for a permanent apartment.

MUST-HAVES for Nomad Hotels
– Have a full-sized kitchen (stove, sink, microwave, fridge, and an optional dishwasher)
– Has laundry facilities on-site (the coin operated machines as well as dry cleaning)
– Have a rewards program, because you’ll be there for 5-7 months, and racking up the points at ONE hotel is better than having lots of points across different hotels
– Has security and front-desk staff 24/7 with a keycard lockdown, MANDATORY for entry after midnight (i.e. you have to swipe in your hotel room card before even entering the hotel after midnight)
– Has a clean bed with fluffy pillows preferably in a separate room, very apartment-like
– Has a couch and a TV
– Has a decently sized bathroom that you can fit into
– Has storage ? dressers, cabinets, drawers, closets. Some hotels really lack this
– Has cleaning staff that come in every day, not once every 2 weeks ? the reason being that having the option to have them come in and clean whenever you want to fit YOUR schedule, is better than not being able to let them in on that ONE day, and missing your chance for 2 weeks
– Looking at who stays there on a regular basis ? business people, families, no shady characters and party-animal college students who just want to trash a hotel room for a weekend
– Location is important: near a grocery store, near a pharmacy, near a post office, near a Starbucks (*grin*) and near a couple of restaurants is nice because you can just walk to get a meal if you are too tired to cook
– Has indoor parking if you’re driving
– Has a voicemail system so people can dial your room directly and leave you voicemail messages instead of always going through the front desk
– Has internet/high speed connections in the room
– Is close to my client site ? close as in 5 km or less away, so I can walk in the mornings
– Has a list of fees and different charges for things like telephone calls up front

OPTIONAL for Nomad Hotels
– Has a gym or a swimming pool
– Has a complimentary HOT breakfast in the morning (no Continental Breakfasts, thanks. They end up being cold fruit, cold cereal, cheap trans-fat-saturated muffins and coffee and tea)

Have you been traveling only within Canada or internationally?

I have only been in North America, but I\’m still hoping.

Any thoughts on what makes a city more or less accommodating for you as a nomad?

If it’s more urban, I’ll be fine. Most companies are located near urban centers, and I tend to ?live? and stay downtown, so everything is within walking distance for me. I\’m happy if I just have a hotel, pharmacy, grocery store, a couple of restaurants and some form of entertainment or a park, or SOMETHING to walk around and look at.

But it’s when you don\’t get a company that’s urban, and is in a more rural setting, that you run into problems like finding a hotel that you normally patronize for the points, restaurants, and entertainment. I haven?t encountered that yet, but?. there’s a first time for everything. I hope I don\’t have to ever deal with that but..

Oh and if one of the languages is English, I\’m set. I\’m not against learning another language or picking up a couple of phrases here and there, but it’s going to be a hard road ahead if they only speak another language and I\’m supposed to do my job on time and under budget.

Any advice for other people who might want try this lifestyle?

Be prepared to be very lonely and frustrated. Sometimes not knowing the language, the local culture and customs, the slang, and constantly being in a new company environment without any support networks like your friends and family ? it can be daunting for those who hate constant change and take a long time to process/learn and absorb new things (like learning new business processes, systems, taxes, ways of thinking). Because once you know and learn everything, you’re off the project and on a new one, where you have to learn everything all over again.

You have to be quite social and outgoing as well, because if you’re an introvert who likes to keep to themselves, and only opens up after knowing people for a while and finally feeling comfortable with them, you’re going to run into problems making friends at work or at least getting on their good side and making going to a new work environment more bearable. You also have to be prepared to put up with company politics, budgets, and financial constraints ? meaning they may ask you to do things you don\’t want to do, like stay in a bad hotel, carpool with 5 other consultants, spend as little as possible, and deal with the headache of waiting for them to reimburse you for plane tickets, meals, laundry, taxis, etc. The bean counters will (almost always) fight you every step of the way. And then you have to be careful when you do your taxes at the end of the year to claim everything properly and by the book, and to make sure they haven?t messed up on anything on their end or on yours for that matter.

You?re already over half way through with paying off your student loans. Congrats! When do you expect to be done and what will you do when it’s all paid off?

Actually I\’m only at 38%. I messed up on my calculations when I re-ran the numbers last night. *embarrassed* I expect to be cleared my loans by December 2008 (all $53,000 will be done! DONE! DONE!). But I\’m realistically aiming for the end of December 2009, assuming unforeseen circumstances.

When it’s paid off, I\’m taking a 2-week vacation or a cruise (on the cheap, fun and frugal of course), and paying it in full with cash instead of on credit card which is going to feel very cool.

Then, I’ll buckle down, and start saving for a down payment on a home. I’ll be 25 or 26 by the time my debt is paid off, so I have 4 to 5 years to aggressively save every penny I can, before I turn 30, which is my deadline age to buy a home.

I have to note that it’s quite easy to get into the mindset of saying: Oh look, I don\’t have a $1600 gorilla on my back (rent), and I get a lot of the comforts of life paid for (food for example), so I can relax and start spending more than I did before because there’s more leeway?.

In fact, we were in that mindset for the first month or so of our modern nomadic lifestyle. It wasn’t until I started tracking my expenses that I realized we were A) wasting a lot of money and B) buying items that we’d have to carry on a regular basis on every project and/or end up putting it in storage. So essentially, we were spending our money on JUNK and STUFF that we’d have to just put and store away in our already bulging, overstuffed storage locations. We were spending money now, to enjoy the items later, which makes no sense logically, financially or economically.

Now, it’s more of a game for me (my husband is reluctant to see it as an enjoyable experience) to see how low I can get our personal expenses (clothing, overages on food, entertainment), and currently we?re trying to stick to a budget of $500 a month, not including our personal ?fun? money, debt repayments, retirement savings, or emergency fund savings.

I think it’s a great lesson for us to learn now and to KNOW that we can spend less than $500 a month in basic, personal expenses. So when we go to finally settle down, I have a good idea of what we can spend as the bare minimum then tack on the cost of the apartment, utilities, food and transportation. Which makes estimating our future living costs a lot easier.


  1. Another great interview for the NuNomad blog – congratulations!
    Having a goal or two is crucial for getting anywhere, and settling on a realistic one is even more so.

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  2. nice inspiring article.. 🙂 best regards! 🙂

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