Skip to content

5 Lessons Nomadic Travel Taught Me About How to Spend My Energy

Edmond Lau
Edmond Lau
7 min read
5 Lessons Nomadic Travel Taught Me About How to Spend My Energy

One year ago, my wife Candace and I started traveling the world as nomads, with just a carry-on and a small backpack each.

It'd been both a dream and fear of mine for a while.

I dreamt of the freedom — an opportunity of a lifetime to create an epic adventure together, where we felt at home, no matter where we were in the world.

At the same time, I feared the uncertainty. I worried that the paradox of choice — about what to do, where to go, and how to get there — might overwhelm us.

Both the dream and the fear have come true.

We've felt through the invigorating highs from feeling free to be anywhere in the world and the dreaded lows from feeling lost and not knowing where to be.

And I'm so grateful we're doing it.

Open-ended travel has forced us to live intentionally and to understand what it truly means to live.

For an entire year, we didn't have any of the typical structures that often come with life — a 9-5 job, kids, a physical space to call home, friends or family who lived nearby — or the default routines that surround them.

We'd permissioned ourselves to fund our travels with our savings — knowing that this would be a rare opportunity before starting a family.

The experience has deepened our trust in and understanding of ourselves and created a firm belief that there isn’t anything we can’t figure out together.

And it's also taught us many lessons about how to more intentionally spend our energy in life.

Here are five of the top lessons.

1. Orient life around what lights you up.

When you can be anywhere in the world, doing anything, understanding your biggest levers for joy becomes critical.

Early on, we reflected on the question, "What brings us disproportionately more joy?"

We share three big levers for joy:

  1. Investing in our personal growth as individuals and as a couple.
  2. Spending immersive time connecting with loved ones we want to deepen our relationships with.
  3. Experiencing awe and wonder from beauty in nature.

By arranging our travel around our biggest levers for joy, we created mile markers for our open-ended journey.

At any given time, we would have multiple things on the calendar to look forward to — a dance retreat in Costa Rica led by one of our favorite instructors, a heart-centered gathering with family and close friends, a festival in Bali, or hiking in the Swiss Alps.

Hiking in the Swiss Alps.

Those mile markers gave structure to what might otherwise have been a formless nomadic year. And it ensured that our travel — and our lives — would be filled with both the joy of anticipation and the joy of the actual experience.

The practice of doubling down on what brings us disproportionately more joy is one that we'll continue doing for the rest of our lives.

2. Give yourself permission to be different and want different things than other people.

The first international trip in our nomadic journey took us to Bracciano, Italy, for a week-long training on conscious sexuality.

Afterwards, we made one of our first big travel mistakes.

We need to stay longer in Italy and see the places that everyone talks about, we told ourselves.

And so we spent a month visiting tourist attractions like the Amalfi Coast and Venice — it's what Lonely Planet and travel websites said we absolutely had to visit.

The problem? Venice is a touristy place and a city, and neither of us really enjoy touristy things or spending time in cities — too busy, too high-energy, too many people.

By the time we left Italy, we felt drained. Our bodies felt slow and bloated from a carb-heavy diet we weren't used to.

There will always be an abundance of places to visit and see, just like there are infinite things that we could be doing with our lives.

Don't do something just because you think you should be doing it.

Do something because you want to — even if it’s different than what others want.

For us, that meant spending more time in smaller towns and in nature.

One of our favorite trips was living in the small town of Dominical, Costa Rica for an entire month. We only did one touristy thing — visit the gorgeous Nauyaca Falls where we had exchanged our soul union vows.

The rest of the time, we embraced our daily spiritual practices, wrote, danced, practiced tantra, did yoga, enjoyed each other's company, and even invited a dear friend to live with us.

And we loved it. Our bodies felt wonderful and healthy — we dispensed with what we thought we should be doing and followed our hearts.

3. Embrace intensity — but only at a sustainable pace.

Five months into our nomad life, I felt stressed. I had trouble sleeping through the night. I felt too overwhelmed to call friends. My wife and I had moved through a lot of difficult emotions that put our relationship through the wringer.

We'd been going from place to place and thing to thing non-stop:

Living with a community of friends for a month. Getting married. Navigating very tough conversations of feelings of attraction outside our relationship. Starting a company together. Co-creating leadership workshops for top Silicon Valley companies. Taking an immersive 8-week online personal transformation course together, where we were invited to embrace intensity.

We wanted to make the most of our year, after all — there was so much we wanted to do and so many places we wanted to visit!

But I lived a pace that wasn't sustainable, and I burned myself out.

I used to think that burnout was limited to overworking professionally. The experience was a powerful and humbling lesson in pacing ourselves even in life.

Yes, I want to make the most of my one precious life — but I can only do that if I prioritize my health and am honest about how much I can handle.

It took me a few months of focusing on my daily and weekly self-care practices — meditation, journaling, dance, exercise, calling or voice memo'ing close friends, and just being in nature — to restore my health.

Now, I'm much more deliberate about tracking my sleep quality (with an Aura ring), my physical and emotional health, and my relationship health — they’re all barometers of living life sustainably.

Without our health, everything else suffers.

4. Be still enough for true desires to move you.

Having decided that we'd be traveling for at least a year, it was easy to go into autopilot and just travel for the sake of traveling.

That’s how we once ended up in the middle of nowhere in Brazil.

We didn't know where in the world we wanted to be. I just knew I wanted a cozy and romantic space with a fireplace — and we happened to find one on Airbnb in the Brazilian countryside.

After hours of bookings, a trip to the travel clinic for yellow fever vaccines, and a 13-hour flight later, we arrived only to ask ourselves, "WTF are we doing here?" We could be anywhere in the world, and we chose to be here?

There was nothing wrong with this adventure per se, but we felt aimless. We exerted all this time and energy, only to wonder what it was all for.

The silly experience made us wonder: How often do we live life on autopilot, without asking, "Is this actually what I want to be doing right now?"

Checking the next thing off the to-do list. Going back to a job that we know isn't bringing us the joy or fulfillment we deserve. Continuing to date someone we already know isn't the right match for us.

To break free of an autopilot life, we need to be still enough to question what we're doing and for our true desires to spontaneously arise.

Now, when we don't know where we want to go next, we'll often just stay extra nights wherever we are, until an activity or a place in the world pulls us there.

It's a thing I'm learning in life in general — to start moving only when an energetic desire pulls me toward action.

My days turn out way better when I take 5-10 minutes to sit still in the morning and meditate on the question, "What do I actually want today?"

My best and most easeful writing happens when the creative spirit activates within me — and a piece almost writes itself.

My favorite dance experiences happen when I quiet the mind long enough that the body feels an impulse to move.

When I move and act from a true desire — rather than from autopilot — I feel at ease, grounded, and in alignment with myself.

5. Create space for solo adventure time.

My wife and I LOVE spending time together. We're each other's favorite person to spend time with.

We're also recognizing the importance of intentionally carving out solo time for ourselves — where we're not traveling with each other.

As much as we're getting better at creating win-win situations where we both get what we want, sometimes, we just want to do different things.

And without an outlet for those different desires, we abandon the things that we want, which only leads to resentment over time.

And so earlier this year, I took a 3-week trip to Tanzania with my brother to hike Kilimanjaro and go on safari while she spent a month supporting close friends through egg freezing and running a women's initmacy program. This week, I'm training in Muay Thai boxing in Thailand while she does a silent meditation retreat in Bali.

Traveling separately creates the space for us to miss each other and for us to get our own needs met — so that we can feel reinvigorated when we reunite again.


These lessons apply as much to travel as they do to life, because life ultimately itself is an open-ended journey.

There's no "right" or "best" destination, and living life on autopilot or following what others want may only take us to some place we don't want to go.

The more intention we bring to how we live, the more joy and aliveness we can create for ourselves.

Thank you to Chris Wong, Syeda Aimen Batool, Leo Ariel, Ismael Adekunie, and Matthew Villwock for reading early drafts of this post.

travelpersonal development

Edmond Lau

Entrepreneur. Bestselling author. Engineer. Leadership coach. Dancer. World traveler. Adventurer.


Related Posts

Chasing Freedom

I spent much of my life chasing freedom. Growing up, I chased the freedom of escaping my family’s roots in San Francisco Chinatown and living a richer life. I felt so proud when I graduated from MIT and landed my first engineering job at Google — they were my golden

Chasing Freedom

Build Your Tension Muscle and Create the Success You Want in Life

Several years ago, I committed to a daily Uncomfortable Conversation challenge. At the time, I was working with an amazing coach on taking up more space in conversations. I'd been struggling with telling engaging stories, with interrupting when I had something to add, and with being more vulnerable about my

Build Your Tension Muscle and Create the Success You Want in Life

I'm Quitting Engineering and Taking My Next Big Leap

The conversation that would change the trajectory of my life's work happened just before the pandemic hit. My dear friend Elenna and I were celebrating at E&O Kitchen and Bar in downtown San Francisco — we had just finished running a workshop for leaders in tech on reprogramming beliefs. That's

I'm Quitting Engineering and Taking My Next Big Leap