The Woman Who Lives Nowhere Does the Middle East

Arrivals / Departures: 'America funds both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Weird, no?' ponders Nikki Spiconardi, who works summers and trots the globe the rest of the year.

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
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Nikki Spiconardi.
Nikki Spiconardi.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

Nikki Spiconardi, 30, lives nowhere, flying to Costa Rica

Hello, can I ask where you live and where you’re going?

I have no home. Actually, I travel most of the year. I only work in the summer, seasonal work that lasts four months, and save up money for the rest of the year. Usually I work at a bar or a restaurant in some national park – places that are open only in the summer. Last summer I worked in Alaska, this year at Yellowstone. I try to find a job in a different place every year.

How do you find the jobs?

It’s very easy. There are sites where you can search for those kinds of jobs. I do an interview on Skype, sign a contract and fly to the place. Housing is usually included, and I work and live there for four months, from May to August.

And the salary keeps you going the whole year?

Usually. I don’t do couchsurfing or camping, and I don’t hitchhike, so I have to “mix” the expensive countries with the cheap ones. This last round, I was in Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. I wanted to go on to Cyprus, but it was too expensive, so I went for Costa Rica.

Isn’t it expensive to fly to Costa Rica?

Not if you find a ticket here for New York that costs $500 and another one from there to Costa Rica for $100.

So cheap! How?

It takes a lot of work to find those flights, but I get very cheap tickets. I check Skyscanner regularly. A good tip is that it’s sometimes cheaper to buy tickets on the airline’s own website. Besides that, I get rid of all the internet cookies, so the sites won’t see where and when I’m looking for a flight. If you search the same sites over and over for the same dates, they know, and the price soars. I usually travel on flights that have a stopover. The flight I got to New York has a 10-hour wait in Moscow.

And at your destination, do you have regular tricks for getting along?

There’s an app called Triposo. It’s good because it works offline, so you don’t need WiFi, and it has information on every place. And there are also other tourists; people in hostels always recommend things to me. This week I went to Haifa by bus and met an Italian couple who told me it’s a waste of time and I’d be better off going to Acre. They were right. Haifa really is a weird place, with those geometrical gardens. There’s nothing there.

Do you always travel alone?

Usually, and it’s generally fine that way. It was only hard this year. It was fun, too, but it was probably the hardest journey I’ve done. It’s not easy to get around in the Arab countries, although some are friendlier than others. I’m not afraid, but there were a few dubious incidents in Morocco and Egypt. Bad situations. I was really harassed in Morocco, even though it was winter and I was wearing a jacket and a hat and everything. I was wrapped up, but they still shouted nasty things at me. In the United States, I’d have sued them. I wouldn’t recommend for women to go there without men. And besides, they think white people are rich – and my budget is $25 a day! Even for a bottle of water, they try to take five times the price. It’s tiring.

How was it here?

I tried to learn a little about the conflict, but it seems to me that the more I know, the more complicated it gets. In Palestine there are a lot of signs in English. Yesterday I was speaking to a barman who told me that it’s funny that I call it “Palestine.” I have no idea what the right terms are. In Jericho, America built a training center for the local police or other forces, which cost the American tax payer $9 million. We’re also funding Iron Dome. Both sides, I mean. Weird, no?

Definitely. How long have you been traveling like this?

For five years. I was a hairdresser – I went to a beauty school – but it’s been years since I worked in that. It all started when I was on vacation and decided that from now on I would travel. I bought a one-way ticket to Vietnam, and gave up my car and apartment. I invited my friends to come over and take whatever they wanted: dishes, clothes, furniture. I gave it all away. All I had left was a knapsack and two boxes of photos of friends that remained in the garage. After half a year, I was minus $12,000. I had no money left. I was in a hostel in Bangkok and I looked for work. I found a job in a bar in Australia and I went there. I worked in Australia and in New Zealand – they issue a one-year travel-and-work visa. I’m too old for that now. The visas are only issued to people under 30, so the only place left for me to work is America.

Where else have you been so far?

While in Australia I did Fiji and Samoa; in Southeast Asia I went to Thailand, the Philippines, Borneo, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. I’ve done Europe – England, Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Holland – and I rented a car to go from Madrid to Paris. I always try to combine several places. My next trip will be Burma, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka, or Mongolia, China, Japan and South Korea. In any event, it will take me another 10 years to see everything I want to see.

That’s the plan? Another 10 years on the road?

At the moment, I don’t feel a need to settle down. I always leave. Maybe if I find my dream job, or someone I love, or a city I really want to live in, I’ll stay. Sometimes I want to go and buy lamps and carpets. I miss peculiar things like that. I really feel like buying a pot for slow cooking. I will never have everything that I have in America.

Where did you grow up?

The city I grew up in is called Hudson. The members of my family have never left our city.

What destination have you most liked? 

Turkey was my favorite. Every region there is different, there’s sun and snow, really good food, and the people are nice, too. I also really like Samoa. People don’t go there much and it’s cool – peaceful and small. The last sunset in the world is in Samoa, and the first sunrise is in New Zealand, and I saw them both. 

What is the thing that every traveler must have – your “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” towel?

I actually have a kind of sheet that’s a blanket, or a towel, but is really meant to be a formal dress in Samoa. I use it all the time. Besides that – this will probably sound stupid – you should always have an empty water bottle, because you can’t go through security with a full one, and afterward you can always find a sink and fill the bottle with water. You save a lot of money like that. And also toilet paper – not every place has toilet paper.

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