Painting and traveling as a couple: Interview with Heajung
Meeting fellow travelers is consistently one of the most rewarding aspects of living a nomadic lifestyle. Whether in a café, hostel, or bar, conversations between like-minded people can yield impactful insights and valuable advice. Most recently, I sat down with Heajung, a painter, blogger, and fellow nomad here in Chiang Mai. Check out Heajung’s paintings and extraordinary stories on her blog, Fly High Oyster.
Heajung left behind a career as an occupational therapy assistant in 2016 to travel with her husband and pursue a nomadic lifestyle. Their journey has taken them to enchanting destinations such as Cartagena, Colombia, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we met in a bustling coffee shop to chat about their adventures. Our conversation touches on a variety of helpful themes including how to pursue a nomadic lifestyle as a couple, what it means to lose your anchor, and how to find purpose in travel.
After moving to the United States from Korea in her 20’s, Heajung pursued her education and a career in occupational therapy. For many, steady income and a happy relationship with her husband would have been enough. But, after a 3 week trip to Croatia in 2015, something changed. Although Heajung and her husband had traveled before, Croatia felt different. After exploring Dubrovnik, Zadar and the surreal waters of the Croatian Coast, they began to discuss what it would take to transition to a fully nomadic lifestyle.
How to Pursue a Nomadic Lifestyle as a Couple
Decisions grow by degrees of complexity based on the number of individuals involved. Whereas many nomads simply choose to travel by themselves, Heajung and her husband had to weigh two personalities, two lifestyles, two visions of what their future should look like, before taking the nomadic plunge. Their shared inspiration, though, was concrete.
Heajung remembers the months following their trip to Croatia clearly. Her husband, who had established a steady remote-working career, firmly supported the idea to leave life behind in the United States and start traveling continuously. Heajung, on the other hand, was not quite sold.
This highlights an interesting point. Beginning a nomadic lifestyle requires that we take the time needed to understand our motives and plans for the future. Specifically, What exactly do we want from life? What are we here to do? Answering these questions, or even better understanding them, will help frame our subsequent life and career choices.
It’s not often that we take time out of our daily routines to step back and analyze where we’d like to go, what we’re currently doing, and if we’re on the most appropriate path. When planning to live a nomadic lifestyle as a couple, these decisions are significantly amplified. If handled responsibly, they can lead to enriching conversations allowing partners to learn more about each other’s personal outlooks. If not addressed, they could lead to challenges and conflicts further down the road. The key takeaway – begin talking now. Don’t wait until you’re on the road to learn about your partner’s idea of financial freedom and future ambitions.
It took Heajung and her husband 6 months to agree to begin their nomadic journey – half a year of planning, deep discussions and organizing their next steps. Importantly, being so attentive and purposeful in the beginning has allowed them to thoroughly enjoy time spent traveling together. After 9 years of marriage, Heajung made it clear that traveling solo is not something she enjoyed in the past and traveling as a couple now allows her to share her experiences and avoid the loneliness that is so common for digital nomads.
Finding an Anchor
In our lives, we have certain “anchors” that define us. A career, a title, perhaps even a salary. By embracing a nomadic lifestyle, we leave these anchors behind. Consequently, determining a new purpose becomes our focus. Before beginning her nomadic journey, Heajung had worked as an occupational therapy assistant. Leaving that “anchor” behind forced her to consider how society would perceive her and how she would perceive herself. She realized that chasing “social trophies” was not her purpose in life. Instead of merely responding with vague, cookie-cutter answers to questions like, “What do you like to do?” Heajung decided to find her true calling – “I’m not just here to work hard and wait for retirement. I’m supposed to be here to find something just beyond it.”
After leaving her old life behind, Heajung was free to explore her passions and develop hobbies. During the weekday grind, Heajung explained that she rarely had time to pursue specific interests, she was just “chasing the daily routine.” While enjoying her newfound lifestyle Heajung began to experiment by painting landscapes she had experienced in her dreams. Heajung connected deeply with her nightly visions and had a moving realization. “I found painting was my calling. I just know, this is what I’m supposed to do. It doesn’t matter anymore, that I’m not pursuing my career at home.”
Many of Heajung’s travels serve as inspiration for her work. She has an eye for detail and as mentioned in the show, enjoys sketching and painting in cafes where she can learn from people. In Heajung’s artwork, one can see a delightful mix of rich colors, inspiring landscapes, and a surreal, dreamlike quality that adds a degree of magic to everything she paints. Make sure to check out her work, you won’t be disappointed.
Most of us have a few activities that make us extremely happy. However, we don’t often discover what those activities are. The inspiration, and sometimes the shock of living as a nomad can dismantle our comfort zones. Once removed from our cyclical surroundings, the world is new again. All roads are fresh and opportunities seem to find us. Thank you, Heajung, for a great discussion! It was inspiring to me and I trust it will be for others as well.