The Nomad is a series of stories, fascinations, encounters, observations, experiences, joy of the moments by me, Ulrike Reinhard – all around my travels. Stay tuned!
Ulrike Reinhard is The Nomad 🙂
In late March/early April 2023 I spent two weeks on the beautiful island of Zanzibar, a Tanzanian archipelago off the coast of East Africa. I was there before but never made it out of Stone Town, its vibrant and multicultural capital. Before I reached I connected via Facebook with Julie Gunn who moved here just after COVID. She asked me for an interview for a group of women in the latter part of their lives who followed a career or were mothers, who looked after their parents and now feel they’ve missed out a little on their dreams. She had interviewed other “older” women before me. Welcome in the club 🙂
Beach at the east coast of Zanzibar
Julie Gunn: Ulrike, I thought of you as somebody who totally embodies and lives of adventure and interest and fully lives life. Could you do an introduction to yourself, talk about who you are, where you’ve come from, and how you got into this kind of life?
Ulrike Reinhard: Well, that’s a long story. I was born and raised in Heidelberg, Germany. We were a middle class family. I was the first in the family to study. I studied economics, did a PhD and then moved to San Francisco for nine years, I gave birth to a wonderful boy, Tim, and back in Germany I founded a small publishing house and worked as a business consultant. I was always interested in what kind of impact the internet will have on the way we work, live, travel, educate our children, run our companies and nations.
In 2012 I was invited to a conference in India. It was my first trip to India and I got somehow stuck. After a short time of going back and forth I ended up being there for almost 10 years. I got involved in a village where I started a skatepark. This skatepark turned the village, especially its kids upside down and drove fundamental changes. I gave up everything I had and lived there. I had spent all the money I had, I gave up my apartment in Germany and re-started in India. I lived in a tree house overlooking Ken River in Madhya Pradesh.
My room in the tree house
Then COVID came and India pushed all foreigners out. I came back to Germany for a short period of time in April 2020 and stayed with friends. I had no place to go. The COVID mass hysteria drove me nuts and as soon as possible I left the country for Norway. And then I moved on to Italy, Portugal and France. After almost 1.5 years I applied for a new visa for India, they rejected the visa a couple of times until I finally decided not to go back. I kept traveling through the world. I simply don’t have money to settle down. No one would rent me a place in Germany because I don’t have a regular income, no health insurance, no pension. Without these things you are basically no one in Germany. But even if I would have these “securities”, I wouldn’t settle: I wouldn’t even know where to settle. I’m pretty much a nomad now.
Julie: I’ve known you as a nomad and it seemed like a very positive story. How did you come to a nomadic life? And what sort of life did you have before? What are the pros and cons?
Ulrike: In India I was living quite remote. The next village – which was also very remote – was three kilometres away. Staying in such an environment comes along with all kind of restrictions I wasn’t used to before. Lack of food variety – you could only get what was growing in the fields – very basic comfort, no kitchen, no intellectual conversations and basically no concept of time. Every few weeks I would leave to enjoy the better of all. I would jump on my motorbike and explore the long and bumpy roads of India. On these tours I never went straight from A to B, I would always include some detours and go slowly. Very often a trip took a couple of weeks or even a couple of months. I really started to enjoy this way of travelling.
When I returned to Germany it was very much unclear when I could go back to India. I left India with the intention to return. As it turned out this wasn’t possible. During this “process” I kept traveling. Settling down wasn’t an option for various reasons. Rather than spending my money on rent, I used it to travel. Luckily I’ve found jobs which I could do from anywhere. This kept me going. Every now and then I stayed at a place for a longer period of time.
For this “new” life, my travel experiences in India proofed to be a very good exercise. My mode of living had radically changed. Today, I often feel when people say “my home”, it provides them with an imaginary comfort/security – if you don’t have this comfort/security within yourself, I believe, nothing else can provide it. But you only fully realise when you let it go. It’s an imagination, a status symbol or whatsoever. I do not always find this comfort/security in myself, but more and more I do. And what is unfolding for me as I continue my journey is what I would call an interesting life based on trust.
I don’t have a bucket list. I travel to understand better, to really experience different cultures, different perspectives. I believe this is necessary to understand the world better. You can’t get this out of books, you can’t get this out of movies. The only way to achieve this is from experiencing it. To experience this entire spectrum of what the planet earth is offering, is really something which I believe is a beautiful way of living and making you a more complete human being 🙂
Julie: Amazing. You’ve touched on two really important issues. And they are super important for our audience. Many of them travel to satisfy dreams or aspirations they had when they were younger. So they have this kind of bucket list in their minds and often lack the understanding of integrating and embracing different perspectives and cultures. And the other thing you touched on, is that if you’re not centred in yourself, feeling comfortable in yourself, it doesn’t very much work.
Ulrike: In order to understand, you have to be at a place and soak it all in, you have to connect. Very often though travels are squeezed into your “not-working-time”, in your holidays. You follow a 9-5-job which is absorbing much of your life. And then you are “off” and you want to go somewhere. Just imagine doing it the other way round and say: I work wherever I am, and find and design the working process around this, then you will have time to connect and understand. And – and this is actually very interesting – the more you are centred and do not rely on these imaginary security kind of things,
the clearer and more focussed you become. Meaning you need much, much less time for doing the same kind of work than you would need sitting in an office in Berlin. I think our systems, our societies are not designed to create real understanding in a more and more complex world, they do exactly the opposite.
Julie: That’s really cool. Thank you for this!
Here in Zanzibar people are so respectful, helpful and kind towards older women. Even with the traffic police I can get sometimes through by telling them that I am a grandmother and so on. So being an older woman when you’re traveling, does this come with advantages? Did you find that in your travels?
Ulrike: Sometimes, yes. India is just like Zanzibar when it comes to older and foreign women. There is a lot of respect. So yes, I have experienced this, especially when I was out on my motorbike and NOT wearing a helmet for example 🙂 They would never stop me, yet they would stop and fine our young volunteers when they were doing the same thing. And yes, it happens that young people help you with your luggage or offering a seat.
In general I think it is maybe safer when you are older when it comes to sexual assaults; yet you are an easier target to be forayed depending on your physical conditions. So …. it has both sides.
I am also traveling in war zones and areas where there isn’t necessarily a traditional safety net. I think it really depends on how you “present” yourself, what kind of vibes you spread. I think what you send out, you get back. In most cases it is like this.
Julie: I remember living in Paris for two years. It really was quite dangerous at night, coming home. I had a long, fairly dark street to walk down after I got off the metro. And I quite often found you had people following you. You’re not sure if they’re following or not. And I remember somebody saying, you know, there’s something about the way that you hold yourself, the way that you walk that will keep you safe. So I really get what you’re saying about how you present yourself. I think that’s a really important one.
Ulrike: Just imagine you are living in a small village and a huge bus with 20-50 tourists arrives. All the people step out and invade this foreign space. This is disturbing for the villagers. If you like it or not, it is disturbing. People are taking over this space …. It becomes a different equation. Instead when I drive on my motorbike, and I see something and stop I come as a single entity, I am not being “shipped” there ….
Julie: I think that people sense what with what kind of expectation you come.
Ulrike: They sure do. Especially when you reach remote areas, these people are much more sensitive to these human vibes.
Julie: Can you give us information about how we can see more about your travels, because I’ve read your piece about the the train journey between Zambia and Tanzania, which was fantastic. And I’ve read the piece about Dr. Sadie, who you met here in Tanzania. And so if you could talk about the work that you do, and also give us some links to how we can read more ….
Ulrike: Ohh, thank you Julie.
Now I am going back 25 years or so, just when the Internet started and uploading videos took a tremendous amount of time. When I was traveling back then, I interviewed people who were trailblazers in how the Internet will change the way we live, work, travel, educate whatsoever.
I interviewed politicians and Nobel laureates on the increasing complexity in business, society and politics. Many of these interviews are still on my YouTube channel, others have disappeared on video platforms which no longer exist. It’s a nice library!
Today I write for two or three media outlets in the field of HR and management. I stumble upon interesting people/companies/projects on my way and then I offer them to the outlets and they cover them. I have the expertise in doing so because I worked for many years in the field of HR and Corporate Culture. For this I get paid.
Many people have asked me to write about my travels. I’ve started now. It’s on my blog and I gave it the title: The Nomad. You basically read the stories which I encounter on my way. You will find a story about a guy who walked entire Namibia. Or a story of three young women who worked in a hotel where I stayed. I visited them at home and over the course of the four weeks I stayed there, I really developed a relationship with them. Or projects I found interesting like Rural Revive. This one I also sold to a newspaper. And just this morning I was writing a post WHY I am travelling. You find these stories here.
Julie: Do you ever sell your travel stories?
Ulrike: I would like to start with this. It is difficult thought to place the first story. I am working on it. And it shouldn’t be a thing like the 10 best hotels in Paris or so.
Julie: We have about like 10 minutes longer. I’m going to ask two more questions. One is health and insurance. What have you done about that? And the second one – just any lovely story from troubles that you would like to finish up with.
Ulrike: I have no health insurance, I have no retirement money, and I won’t get any and I don’t have any property. That’s it.
Julie: Nice travel stories …. please.
Ulrike: I think the nicest thing is, if you’re open, you’re always welcome and people will treat you well. Surprisingly well. And this holds true wherever you go. No matter if it is Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Oman or Paris or Rome. When you boil it down to the people, there are nice people all over. Yes, there are always some not so nice people in between – but it’s the minority. Once you’re clear with this, I think then you can see the world with different eyes.
Julie: I think that’s true. One of the things about tourism travel is that it is a sort of planned out thing. And as much as I feel planning is essential, almost more essential is just being open, and being ready to experience anything. You’ll always find interesting people and invitations and one thing will lead to another.
Ulrike: Plans are pretty much like this comfort/security thing we discussed earlier. Even if you plan, you’re never sure, will the plan work out – and what is if it doesn’t? Has theatric trailed? Was it a waste of time? John Lennon once said: Life is happening, while you are busy making other plans. So what?
Julie: That’s beautiful. This is also my experience. So why making plans?
Ulrike: Our brains are trained to do this. This is what most people know. I don’t think it’s really necessary. it’s about having control. It provides comfort, you are in “charge” of your plans. It really relates to what you were talking about having an apartment or a base. If you are balanced within yourself you trust what will come – no matter if you have a plan or not. Life will happen its very own way. So why waste your time with making plans?
Julie: And do you feel that about the future when you’re saying almost courageously: I don’t have insurance and I don’t have a place or base. I don’t have anything for the future. Do you just feel that the future will work out and it’s okay. That’s part of your way of being?
Ulrike: I guess so. It’s not always easy, but I get better and better. And I’d simply trust.
Julie: That is interesting. I have a complete trust and it always works.
Ulrike: It absolutely works. It’s proven itself.
Julie: It’s interesting that we’ve sort of linked up with that same kind of sense of how the world is letting go of stuff and letting go of control. Yeah, I can see with that feeling you can wander through the world.
Ulrike: Absolutely. And you know, it’s what people always have been doing. When you look at those who really changed the world they usually do not fit in what great parts of society is suggesting us. They’ve done it differently.
Julie: Fantastic. Wow. On that note, I think we’ll finish!
That’s just so interesting. This is a conversation that went a great deal deeper for me than I expected. Thank you so much. It’s also really great for me to fill in some of the gaps on your story. I know much more now.
Ulrike: Thank you, Julie.