There are days where one finds oneself imagining a different life, one where you could simply pack up and leave for a more peaceful and relaxing place far away from the hustle and stress of the modern urban lifestyle. That being said there aren’t many people that actually act on the impulse but are instead
There are days where one finds oneself imagining a different life, one where you could simply pack up and leave for a more peaceful and relaxing place far away from the hustle and stress of the modern urban lifestyle. That being said there aren’t many people that actually act on the impulse but are instead content with merely dreaming about such a life. Well this is the story of one woman from Miami who was not content to simply dream but chose to commit and settle in a small village in Northern Pakistan. Samantha Shea was a college student when she first visited Pakistan in 2014. It was not until 2021, after a lot of travelling through India and Pakistan that she finally settled in the Hunza Valley and there she has lived ever since. Samantha has often been asked about what it’s like living in Pakistan and what it is that she does and this is the response,
Samantha Shea ready for the journey ahead
“When I tell people from back home that I live in Northern Pakistan, I’m usually met with shock. Their disbelief escalates when I show them pictures of the snow-capped Karakoram mountain range that surround the village where I live. “I thought Pakistan was a desert” is the most common response. As wrong as they are, I don’t blame them. I didn’t know much about Pakistan before traveling there after college. I live in Hunza Valley, 8,500 feet above sea level on the border with Western China, where I work as a digital nomad.”
According to her electricity is only available for a few hours each day and buying necessities requires long walks to the local market, a big change from the Miami lifestyle, but the sense of safety and low cost of living make it all worth it.
College Years and A love of Travelling
India, A major tourist destination for solo woman travellers
Samantha’s love of travelling began during her college years at the University of Miami.
“While I loved my school, being by the beach, and Florida’s eternal summer, I never felt settled in Miami….I had never traveled outside the US growing up, but I fell in love with backpacking at college. My trips became more and more offbeat. I was traveling through India the summer before my senior year in 2018 when I decided to pursue a career in travel.”
It was during this time that she began working towards her goals and started working multiple part-time jobs to prepare for the trips In 2019 she again travelled to India and from there into neighboring Pakistan. In regards to the general perception of Pakistan as an unsafe travel destination and other such concerns she says,
“Despite media negativity and concerns from family and friends, I didn’t feel nervous crossing the border from India. I traveled from the historical city of Lahore to the Hindu Kush mountains of Upper Chitral — a region that directly borders Afghanistan — and felt comfortable everywhere I went. I found it easier and more fun to travel here than in India, a much more “mainstream” backpacking destination. I encountered fewer scammers traveling in Pakistan. I also found Pakistan had less trash on the streets, and the roads were in better condition.”
Learning Urdu, the Pandemic and Humza Valley
Urdu, The national language of Pakistan
Hunza Valley, A tourist’s paradise
Visiting Pakistan had convinced Samantha that she wanted to move there but the Covid-19 Pandemic in 2019 put a delay on her plans. So during this time she decided to focus on learning Urdu and earning some savings for the inevitable move that was to come. She also managed to establish a significant online presence as a blogger and online content writer. The waiting came to an end in 2021 when she arrived in Islamabad with no concrete plans but a passion to make it work.
Her travelling led her to Hunza Valley which contained many qualities that made her want to call it home,
“My 2021 journey brought me to Hunza Valley for a reason. I’d head it was well known as the safest destination for solo female travelers, largely due to its liberal culture toward women. Hunza Valley is a remote area in Northern Pakistan. The Gatorade-blue Rivers and snow-capped mountains make Hunza a popular tourist destination. The local community is known for its hospitality, and I immediately felt at home – something I’d never felt in big-city America. The community is welcoming of outsiders — respecting and taking care of guests is a core value here…..I settled in Hunza and have lived here for nearly two years.”
The Positives to living Off-the-Grid in Hunza
Local Cuisine from Hunza
A shepherd in Hunza tending to his flock
Samantha has cited that the safety she felt living in Hunza was even greater than back home at Miami, despite the warnings that the US government gives it citizens travelling to Pakistan. Even lost on the trail she received help from a friendly local shepherd who guided her back to the correct route. According to her the cuisine of Hunza is also something she greatly enjoys and is familiar with owing to her Polish ancestry. The peace she feels living surrounded by massive mountain peaks is unmatched.
Lack of stable power, a constant struggle in Hunza
Load-shedding and power outages are routine for most Pakistanis and these problems are only more exacerbated in rural areas. There is also the lack of stable internet services in many such parts of the country and Samantha had to find work arounds for these issues. Initially she attempted to use power banks as backups but these would sometimes break or get lost especially when she was travelling. After a lot of early stress and trial and error she finally decided to invest in a UPS car battery that powers the necessary lighting and WIFI router when the power goes out. She has also invested in heavy duty power banks as backups. In the absence of Amazon Samantha has found that Daraz, the local equivalent, is able to deliver what she needs to Hunza Valley within 2-3 days.
Work and Life in Hunza
A colorful view of Hunza Valley
Samantha found that some accommodations can be more expensive than others, which is to be expected due to Hunza being a popular tourist spot for a wealthy clientele. On the other hand there were a lot of affordable options to choose from with rates for long-stay hotels being quite low. Currently Samantha lives with her partner Fareed in Aliabad, central Hunza, in a home owned by his family. The availability of high-speed internet has allowed her to continue her work online and the access to ATMs, restaurants, shops and hospitals has made daily life a lot easier. Regarding life in Aliabad Samantha described it as such,
“The main roads are paved, but many residential areas have dirt roads. Everything from the doctor to my cellphone provider is within a 15-minute walking radius…..A meal at a restaurant is usually between $2 for local spots and $7 for Western fare, but cooking at home is much less expensive and often tastier. WiFi costs around $8 for unlimited data each month, and I pay $4 for 10 gigabytes of data for my SIM card……Hot water is also not a given in Hunza — but an $80 gas-powered water heater solved that, with refills totaling about $20 a month. The electricity that does come is only about $2 a month, and the cold running water, sourced from a glacier, is free…..The coldest month is January, with temperatures averaging 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Frequently frozen pipes and a lack of central heating mean winter can be difficult…. Winter limits my daily activities, but it almost feels like a cozy hibernation period.”
Conclusion and the Road Ahea
A peaceful view with boundless possibilities
Samantha’s story is one that many people would look upon and wonder if that is another life we too could strive towards. A life away from the stress of the city and the urban work culture. A life off-the-grid with a bigger and more colorful world not bound by a heavy and repetitive routine.
This sort of life may not be for everyone but reading about Samantha’s journey does give us reason to at least stop for a second and take the time to smell the roses. The world is a lot bigger than we think and has a lot more opportunities than we know. Samantha concludes her story with these words,
“Though my solo journey to Pakistan started as a trip, Hunza Valley is now my home. I’ve even obtained the equivalent of permanent residency. With the money I’ve saved, I hope to travel to other countries, with Hunza as my base.”
Samantha Shea ready for the journey ahead