Why We Need Nomads

Jamming and bumming around on the Homer Spit in Homer, Alaska

I recently stumbled on a Quora question in which the writer was thinking about quitting his job and selling his possessions to travel the world. He gave a brief description of himself (single, in his 20s, a job but no career), and asked whether he should go for it.

The resounding answer was yes, but not necessarily because it was a respectable lifestyle. Rather, because he was young enough to get away with it. Because he still had time to build a career, a family, and a real life. Because now was the time to get the travel bug out of his system.

I was glad to read the encouragement and travel tips he received, but couldn’t help wonder: what if a 40-something man with three young children also wanted to become a nomad?

A nomad is someone who travels extensively, with no real home to speak of other than the wide-open road. They usually carry all their possessions with them, and earn little to no income.

Truth from a reliable source

Truth from a reliable source

 

Nomadic travel is tolerated if you are young, responsibility-free, and trying to find yourself, but only for a pre-determined amount of time. Why isn’t travel—apart from age and status—worthy of pursuing in itself as a respectable (not just fulfilling) way of life?

The most common question we get from people we meet since hitting the road full-time is: “For how long are you traveling?”

We still aren’t sure how to answer that. “Um… forever?” Shacky says, and then we explain that we live this way. It’s not a vacation. It’s not a year-long project.

People are puzzled by this concept. Our contact with them usually expires before they grasp it, and as we walk away I can almost hear the wheels turning in their heads with a million questions.

Online, people have fewer questions and more opinions. We are called freeloaders or spoiled by people who don’t know us but dislike the concept of full-time travel. Some accuse us of contributing nothing to society, or worse—burdening it.

This isn’t surprising when you consider that although this lifestyle has many benefits, they are often described as personal fulfillments rather than contributions to the real world, giving us the reputation of takers, not givers.

What benefits do nomads bring to society? Do we really need them?

The answer is a resounding yes. As much as we need lawyers, doctors, and construction workers—we need nomads. Here’s why:

Social Benefits

A few weeks ago Jessica Kurti posted the following story on my Facebook wall:

Transported my first hitchhikers today… was AWESOME. Two ‘through hikers’ doing the entire Pacific Crest Trail. Gave them a lift to Sisters, Oregon, where they were going to eat, run errands, and meet a ‘trail angel’ who would give them a lift to the next trailhead. So, I would like to say THANK YOU, to you, Shacky, Honey Bird and Crockett (their trail names). I learned so much about what is possible! Although I love to help people, I rarely would consider picking up hitchhikers (in this country at least as a single female). SO GLAD I DID. And I wish *all of us* continued safe journeys and amazing adventures ahead! ‪#‎cannotbelievethisismylife ‪#‎LIVINGTHEDREAM

Much love from Bend, Oregon (started in Florida). Keep on keeping on!

She was thanking me because I had previously written about our experiences picking up hitchhikers, commenting on how unfounded our society’s fear of hitchhiking actually is.

Nomads are more trusting of strangers than your average person, probably because they spend a large portion of their time talking to strangers. They discover that strangers (and people in general) are inherently good, hospitable, and eager to help.  As a result, nomads serve as society’s connectors.

Nomads will:

  • connect people with similar interests to each other
  • connect people with resources to people in need
  • connect strangers in close proximity
  • connect Facebook friends in real-person contact

Nomads not only make frequent connections, but also improve the quality of those connections. The transition isn’t from stranger to acquaintance, but from stranger to good friend. Nomads have the time to really listen and understand the people they meet. They are not rushing to their next appointment or thinking about what they will cook for dinner. Their attentions are focused on the stories and experiences of others. Nomads allow us to feel heard and to feel like our stories matter.

Nomads connect us to each other, re-establish our faith in humanity, and dispel unfounded social stigmas.

Intellectual Benefits

I first learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in a high school Psychology class. As a child of poverty, it was one of my first introductions to the concept that there may be something more to life than living to fulfill our basic needs of food and shelter.

Abraham Maslow developed this theory in his 1943 paper describing the stages of human growth. While other psychologists of his time were studying the mentally ill, Maslow examined the healthiest one percent of a college student population. He named people like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass as examples he studied. Here is the hierarchy:

 

Our current society over-emphasizes the bottom two levels at the expense of the top three. Once we have met our basic needs of food, shelter, and security, we are pressured to over-develop those benefits: a bigger house, a nicer car, giving our kids everything they could possibly want (not just what they need). To achieve this, we sacrifice the higher levels of friendships, self-esteem, and the freedom to be creative.

Nomads embody the opposite, and as a result they balance society. We embrace the bare minimum when it comes to food, shelter, and security in exchange for the higher opportunities of self-actualization. We have the freedom to immerse ourselves into areas that the rest of society has little time for: volunteering, extensive travel, year-long projects with little to no financial return, and time-consuming works of art.

We learn from the nomad that happiness comes in different shapes, despite society’s insistence that more money equals more freedom. We see nomads working as their own bosses, or exploring their true passions. Watching them gives us the courage to do the same.

Nomads change the way we think and view the world.  

Environmental Benefits

Can you brush your teeth with two sips of water? What if all the water you had access to for the day was the amount you could carry on your back? What if all the trash you could make was limited to what you could pack out? What if the only light you had after dark was a headlamp?

As a nomad, I have learned to use less water, less electricity, and produce less garbage. I have grown resourceful enough to fix things when they break instead of throwing them away. Many nomads live this way. It’s not a weekend camping trip; it’s life. More importantly—it’s not that hard.

Nomads can teach us to respect, appreciate, and preserve our resources. They can show us how to live comfortably with less, how to save hundreds on unnecessary products, and how to stop draining our planet.

I have only experienced two city-wide blackouts in my life: one in Toronto, and one in San Diego. Both times, it felt like mass panic in the neighborhood. As a society, we are uncomfortable with the concept of living with less. We tend to imagine extremes: either we live large or live in a cave with nothing. Nomads know there is a sweet middle ground. We can drastically reduce our carbon footprint yet still fit in with civilized society.

Nomads teach us to respect our resources and show us how it is possible to live comfortably with less.

Global Benefits

A few weeks ago I posted this picture on my Facebook wall and it immediately sparked a flurry of comments.

avocado

The photo was taken in Healy, Alaska, just outside of Denali National Park, and was fairly consistent with the avocado prices I had seen in other parts of Alaska. When we began our journey from San Diego, avocados were a main staple in my diet. By the time we arrived in Alaska, I had been forced to give them up. I could no longer afford avocados.

The biggest purchaser of avocados that I know is my good friend Patrick Sweeney. This free-spirited California beach boy practically survives on avocados, hot sauce, and beer. He often posts photos of his fruit and vegetable purchases—mounds of fresh produce at obscenely low prices. Sweeney hates the concept that healthy food is too expensive and unavailable to poor people who want to eat well. This argument, according to Pat, is an excuse that perpetuates the obesity epidemic in America.

I agree with him partially, but not entirely. I have learned from our travels just how region-specific eating well actually is. My idea of healthy eating has evolved from primarily raw vegan to whatever the locals eat, and what the region offers. Along the Pacific Northwest, I enjoyed mostly fresh seafood. Now in Alaska, I eat fresh game meat (mostly reindeer) and salmon that was swimming only hours ago. Here, I would go broke as a vegan.

The avocado issue made me reflect on how many times we make wide, sweeping generalizations about the world based on our own tiny regions.

Nomadism infuses the world with people who can relate to different perspectives. We carry the message that there is more than one way to do things and we refute stereotypes wherever we travel.

Every community seeks to bond over common ideas. This is human nature, and it makes life easier. But every once in a while, every region needs a nomad to shake things up in places where everyone thinks the same, earns the same, and votes the same.

We need nomads to reminds us that our rules do not apply to every inch of this planet. We also need nomads to experience our own regional truths, and carry our stories off to places where our habits are considered strange.

Nomads fight stereotypes by collecting and delivering different world views across regional lines.

Physical Benefits

After watching the documentary Craiglist Joe, Shacky and I were answered a Craigslist ad to pick up a brother/sister pair of backpackers hitchhiking their way across the country. Eddie and Charlotte turned out to be amazing company. We took them to the Grand Canyon and picked up some great travel tips just by observing them.

One of the main things I noticed about Eddie and Charlotte was that they walked—a lot. I was used to viewing movement as a form of exercise in the form of a training plan, or something you needed to schedule. But Eddie and Charlotte walked as a way of life. In the months that followed, I would come to redefine movement for myself.

In my pre-nomad days, I would log all my exercise on a site called Dailymile. It tracked my running, walking, hiking, swimming, or movement of any kind. I could record the mileage and at the end of the week, it would give me a grand total and tell me I was awesome.

After we hit the road, logging workouts on Dailymile became more complicated. Without a GPS surgically attached to my wrist, I had no idea how far I had moved that day. I no longer went out to do a workout. I just went out to play.

Instead of running a pre-determined route, we would pull over to the side of the road intrigued by a hill or mountain, and climb it. We spend time on the trail or in a pool, coming home only when we were hungry or out of water. This healthy concept of movement was a welcome change and we seek to share it with others.

Eddie and Charlotte gazing down into the Grand Canyon for the first time.

Eddie and Charlotte gazing down into the Grand Canyon for the first time.

 

Nomads help us see exercise and movement as a way of life, not an activity we need to schedule.

Emotional Benefits

Michael Comerford was the second hitchhiker we picked up on the side of the road. He was surviving as a carnival worker, traveling the country to work various gigs. He told me stories that I’ll never forget about how much carnival workers loved making children happy, yet the irony that most of them came from abusive childhoods and were separated from their own children. He told me about the shocking lack of education and illiteracy in the industry, and the hopeless abandonment the workers would face if they tried to leave their carnival families.

Nomads often immerse themselves into the margins of society. We see, hear, and feel those who have no voice, no words, and no education. These experiences tune us into a full spectrum of human emotions that we can then share, speak about, or write about. They come out in our art, in our music, and inject themselves into the hearts of those we come in contact with.

Back in the “real” world, when I had a real job and a real home, it was easy for me to disconnect. Routine set in, and my emotions were dulled. There was nothing new or exciting, and there was nothing to make me angry or annoyed. I had tweaked my world for maximum comfort and slipped into a state of complete moderation.

Now in a world where anything can happen at any time, I have reconnected with the way I feel about the world. From intense joy to tremendous frustration, nomads experience a wide range of human emotions on a daily basis. We are good at feeling things in a society where emotional displays are often unwelcome.

Nomads expose us to a full spectrum of human emotions that feed our sense of humanity.

Psychological Benefits

When I read Jennifer Pharr-Davis’ book Becoming Odyssa: Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail, I was a new nomad struggling with the concept of inactivity. Well-trained in the art of office multi-tasking and accustomed to starting each day with a “to do” list longer than my arm, I was now immersed in a world where it could take all day to do one thing. Sometimes that thing was as basic as finding a place to sleep that night.

I was starting to work on my second book, and if I wasn’t pounding away at my keyboard every spare second, I would feel guilty. The guilt puzzled me since I had no deadline, no boss, and I was writing for fun, yet those societal values of ceaseless “productivity” still lingered in my brain.

In Becoming Odyssa, Pharr-Davis wrote about her own transition from constant movement to sitting still. She describes one incident where she was at a friend’s house, just sitting there. Her friend asked if she wanted a magazine? Did she want to watch TV?  But Jennifer just wanted to sit there, as she often would in the evenings on the trail, and that concept made others uncomfortable.

These days I do nothing just as often as I do something. And shockingly, it has made me more productive. I have better ideas, and when I work I am faster and more eloquent, because I have had time to organize my thoughts.

The biggest psychological stress plaguing our society is… well, stress. This goes hand in hand with the concept that we need to be doing something every minute of the day, and any minute resting is a minute wasted. Even when we do stop to rest, we are burdened by thoughts of what productive things we should be doing instead.

Rushing, multi-tasking, and stressing out are now things that only exist in my past, and that is something I learned from a nomad. In return, I seek to pass it on to others. It is a message that our society needs to make time to hear.

Taking it slow and drinking in the views on the Alaska Highway

Taking it slow and drinking in the views on the Alaska Highway

 

Nomads encourage us to slow down and de-stress.  

Survival Benefits

Residing in what is now Lebanon, the Phoenicians enjoyed a rich, civilized culture based on lumber exportation in 300 B.C. They grew to obtain great wealth due to their enormous and beautiful cedar trees, whose infamy is Biblically referred to as “the cedars of Lebanon.” Their land was plentiful, their people were strong, and their soil was rich.

The Phoenicians were self-sufficient and prosperous, but as they started to clear-cut their cedars trees over time, the quality of their soil decreased. It became harder for them to grow food, and their people started to go hungry.

The leaders of the time decided to go to war to expand their borders and rose up against Alexander the Great. Alexander squashed them like bugs and conquered their entire civilization. Historically, nations who could not feed themselves would never survive.

“Food sovereignty” is the term used to describe a nation’s ability to feed itself—a skill we are rapidly losing in our society. Socialized with the idea that if we need something we must buy it, we commit Phoenician sins at an alarming frequency.

We need people who know how to be self-sufficient. Through programs like WWOOF, many full-time nomads are learning to work organic farms in exchange for free room and board. Nomads are also experts at acquiring the things they need without using money. They barter and trade their services, goods, or skills. No matter how industrialized we become, these ancient survival skills are always useful.

Nomads bring us back to our roots of self-sufficiency, trade, and simple survival.

Irrational Benefits

Philosophically, does the constant supply of information steal our ability to imagine or replace our dreams of achieving? After all, if it is being done somewhere by someone, and we can participate virtually, then why bother leaving the house?

This is the question that Ben Saunders attempted to answer in his 2012 TED talk.

Saunders is a polar explorer and the youngest person to ever ski solo to the North Pole. He ponders his purpose of nomadic travel:

“Nothing will come of it,” he wisely admits. “We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, and not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. So it is no use. If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy, and joy, after all, is the end of life. We don’t live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means, and that is what life is for.”

Nomads understand this to be true first-hand. In a society that demands a purpose and a rational explanation for any expenditure of energy, nomads represent travel, movement, and adventure as worthwhile pursuits in themselves. Theirs are the adventures that inspire books and TED talks. This is where original ideas are born and lives are changed. There is no other job or career on earth that operates on this principle: that the destination is senseless but the journey is everything.

The benefits of living vicariously through your local nomad are also abundant. Not all of us need to ski to the North Pole, but some of us have irrational dreams of our own that we’ve muted with society’s expectations. Sometimes it takes a nomad to come along and uncover them. If we pursue those ambitions, our own adventures will inspire others, and so the circle continues.

Nomads feed our inherent sense of curiosity, wonder, and adventure; they give us permission to follow our own senseless dreams.

While nomads are not the only people on earth who benefit society in these ways, they are important, underestimated, and rare contributors. Just as some of us aspire to bring home a steady paycheck and live in comfortable homes (society needs that too), there are also nomadic spirits chained to their cubicles because they are convinced that travel would be selfish.

It is not selfish. Nomadic travel can never be selfish, because for every benefit you receive, you give away everything—your entire heart, your mind, strength, and life—to forever change the people you meet and tenderly touch the places you visit.

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,

To gain all while you give,

To roam the roads of lands remote:

To travel is to live.”

- Hans Christian Andersen

You May Also Enjoy:

Seeking Dispersers: A Call to Embrace a Wild Life

The Pacific Northwest: Finding Humility at the Waterfall

4 Powerful Lessons From a Nomadic Life

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Check out my book: The Summit Seeker

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146 responses

  1. Just pure awesomesauce…..of course I agree wholeheartedly with you! Actually my career has a lot of the same attributes,especially because I am self employed. Just a wonderful glimpse into your world!! Such a precious pic of Ginger too!

    • wooow……it’s long articles

      “Nomads can teach us to respect, appreciate, and preserve our resources. They can show us how to live comfortably with less, how to save hundreds on unnecessary products, and how to stop draining our planet.” —> like this quotes

      i see avocado price is 2,99…….yummy

      televisionshowepisode.com/2013/08/the-conjuring-2013.html

  2. LOVE this article! I’m on the front end of my own nomadic journey and so far, I’ve been justifying my actions as ‘age-appropriate’ and ‘temporary’. I think this is partially due to societal conditioning and partially because people can barely understand my motivations when I tell them it’s temporary.

    But here’s the thing, I don’t know that my journey will be temporary.

    I guess I just never thought of the benefits that nomadic living provides to society. It’s hard to when you are bombarded with terms like selfish and free loader. It will be hard to sell these benefits and this lifestyle to the average person, but I thank you for opening my eyes and allowing me to see my own actions from a different perspective. :)

  3. Great article. I especially like your take the psychological benefits. It shows the rest of us that maybe living stressed out isn’t the way it’s supposed to be!

  4. Until about 40 years ago Irish gypsies, often known as travellers, itinerants or tinkers, led fully nomadic lifestyles. Living in beautifully crafted barrel-top caravans and tents, they presented a colorful spectacle when they set up camp on the roadside, with their horses and dogs, cooking on an open fire. They were skilled tinsmiths, hence the name tinkers. They could mend pots and pans, make buckets, ladles, saucepans, etc, and provided a valuable service to local farmers and housewives.
    Another interesting aspect to their nomadic lifestyle was in the spreading of folk songs and music throughout the country. Local singers and musicians learned from the tinkers songs and tunes from all over Ireland while they themselves might rarely venture beyond their nearest town. While there were many unfortunate aspects associated with their lifestyle, like lack of education and poverty, they did live life on the edge, surviving on very little, and depending on their own resourcefulness, albeit often outside the law and unhindered by normal societies many restrictions.
    Your article also reminds me of the writings of John Muir, the first great environmentalist, and the long walk he undertook south to Mexico. Good luck to all you wandering free spirits. The world needs people like you.

    • Great point about the gypsies. I began this blog post thinking it would discuss traditional nomadic cultures, and enjoyed what it turned out to be actually about. But the gypsies are a fascinating example of something mid-way between nomad groups and the modern young voyager.

  5. I think the world needs nomads in the same way we need artists: because they remind us that we are free to chose. It takes great courage to be a nomad (or artist, for that matter). It’s not for me right now but I think it’s a totally valid life choice.

  6. Brilliant. I could relate to so many details, but I was most excited to share this with people who just don’t get me or my lifestyle. Great read!

  7. Very interesting. I’m in the early stages of Jennifer Pharr Davis’ book and it resonates. I hurt my knee a few weeks ago on “The Long Trail” and had to come off trail to heal, but even the short time I was out has made me less tolerant of my “life”. I literally came home, looked around and wondered why I need “all this stuff”. No answers yet, but I have once again begun getting rid of it.

  8. I guess there are some nomads that are okay. But there are also a lot of gypsies that aren’t okay. They are thieves and beggars, where they make their camp (illegally), they also leave area littered of rubbish.

  9. This is a really great post Vanessa. Not everyone can live as nomads, but reading your blog makes me feel like I live through you and Shacky a little vicariously.

    I particularly liked your part about how you eat what’s regional. In cities we are spoiled by the available food and competitive prices. I didn’t think that a vegan would go broke in certain regions. Very useful insight.

  10. Vanessa, I enjoyed reading your post as I sit in a coffee shop in Buena Vista, CO on a fifty-something degree, rainy day, away from the river for the first time in a very long time. The river season will be departing here near Labor Day, when I will depart for the Gauley in West Virginia, then the Grand to Grand Ultra to work medical, return to the Gauley, then South Carolina for rescue conferences…. then…. ???? Again, thank you. May I share this blog post on my blog at solxplore.com? Thank you, Bear

  11. Vanessa, after raving about your post, I finally have time to leave a comment. You’ve done an investigation that is unique, like none other I’ve ever read. Of all the thinly veiled attempts to explain nomadism (including my own), yours systematically addresses each fear, terse argument and fallacy against this lifestyle.

    I may not remain far from home forever, but what I’ve gathered will stay with me for the rest of my days in every form you’ve covered here.

    Nomadic tribes entered history thousands of years ago and industrialization became a standard, a benchmark of being civilized, yet the nomadic way of thinking adheres to respect of nature, of all forms of life, different choices, ultimately cultivating love and connection. If you ask me, that’s civilized. :)

    Kudos again for this!

  12. Very interesting and well written article. I always wonder how it feels to live like that. I’m valuing the option of trying it out some day.. and no I’m not in my 40s :)

  13. Very cool article. I got to be a nomad this summer (but I am a teacher and gainfully employed, so I am not sure it counted). I lived in various sections of New England, with various relatives, and did not pay rent. I bought a lot of housewarming gifts, though. I must say it has been liberating. It has got me questioning, like your article alludes to: why is it that taking a “gap year” to travel is only seen as acceptable at 22 or 23, or 24? There is so much to be said for doing it later in life, when you no longer have as many hangups to get in your way of enjoying the scenery. Now that I am in my 30s, I feel safer traveling alone, and I feel more grounded. If I had done it in my 20s, I am not sure I’d get as much out of it.

  14. What a thorough article! You had me at the paragraph about being more trusting to strangers. I loved the bit about discovering that strangers (and everyone) are inherently good, hospitable, and eager to help.

    I appreciate anyone who is living the life that they feel is right for them, on the road or off. Thanks for your positive contribution!

    • This reminds me of a friend of mine. She needed some work and left her hometown to find some. She had a rough time of it at first; her roomate’s poor decisions forced her out of a place. She’d served in the military and after utilizing some veteran services and working as a security guard (being technically homeless), she got into long haul trucking. My wife and I got to meet her in person when she took a load to the local Wal-Mart, and then we and the rest of my little family met up with her and her team driver in a small town 1 hour north of our area. She suggests that maybe when my kids are grown she’ll get a tour bus and show us all the places she’s gotten to see.

      I don’t know if long haul trucking meets Vanessa’s definition of nomadism here, but I would like to think it’s at least somewhat in spirit.

  15. Thank you for bringing to light the spirit of the nomad! They are a misunderstood bunch. I am currently in the process of transitioning into a nomadic lifestyle with my husband and 2 month old daughter. We are having to rethink our method a little bit, but its been an exiting journey so far. It’s articles like this that will help people to understand that nomads with children are not doing any harm to their kids by giving them a so-called “unstable” lifestyle. Thank you!

  16. It’s a wonderful article, it tells how some people can be adventurous with great benefit, but in my part of the continent and Nigeria especially, nomadic farmers are the Fulanis who move about grazing, can kill anyone, community that feel threatened by their activities.

  17. You’re absolutely right! Thank you so much for reminding me of this today. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this lately–you know as a college student about to graduate. There is nothing I would love more than to travel across the country, volunteering and collecting people’s stories but I’ve always felt the societal pressure that a life like that is somehow lacking and burdensome on the rest of the community.

    You lay out some excellent points that I completely agree with and have forced me to reevaluate my own preconceptions of nomads. I am incredibly inspired by them on an outward level–I love reading books about them and follow several nomadic blogs religiously, but I never felt like it is a life I could lead. I’m not saying I’ll pack up my bags tomorrow after reading this post, but it is refreshing to spend a moment seeing the other side of things. The nomads truly are the artist, the creators, the adventurers and the explorers of our society and I’m more grateful for their contribution today than I was yesterday. =) Well done.

  18. Nomadism has always been a part of different societies throughout history. No need to defend “nomadism” itself anymore than arguing whether or not the sun should rise or set. Being a nomad–living that lifestyle–does come down to time and circumstances relevant to the person in question. “Is it good for ME to travel, given the circumstances?” And, on top of that, there’s is certainly the whole list of social stigmas that apply to that sense of ethical choice.

    I suppose the important thing is that more people should realize, amongst the gazillion other choices they make, whether or not the choice to travel–either with purpose, or aimlessly–is governed too heavily by the stigmas of a society that has a lot of problems seeing things coherently to begin with.

    Nice article. Enlightening.

  19. This is an absolutely brilliant exposition on why more people should become nomadic, or at least give travel a thought. No one ever talks about travel being good for society–it’s always framed as a selfish act benefiting the traveler, but you’re spot on that so much good comes from people who backpack. One particular aspect of your piece that caught my attention was the excerpt about avocados. As a fellow native San Diegan, I try to eat them wherever I can but the bottom line as you point out is to find the cheapest, freshest regional food available! Yesterday I had the cheapest, best quality lox of my life (but skipped out on avocado), but that’s because I was in Iceland, not SoCal. Play to your adopted home’s strengths!

  20. I am a wandering soul myself (or rather, one that wishes she could wander). The thought of settling down is my nightmare. I want to be like Anthony Bourdain. He’s done it right.

  21. Great article, I love the idea of being a nomad, just dropping everything and going. I could walk to China, to the edge of Russia, to South Africa from where I am and for someone who grew up on a small island that concept is baffling. I think being a nomad is something only young people can do unfortunately. If you have a career, a wife/husband, kids packing it all in and going off into the wilderness is going to get you one ticket on the crazy train, unless of course your family joins you in which case wahey nomads for life :)

    If you go back far enough we were all nomads, everyone lived off the land, travelling around, not settling down, getting a steady job. There’s something really romantic about the lifestyle, it’s such an antidote to the modern bustling lifestyle.

    I think everyone has the genetic memory of their ancestors in them so the thoughts of being a nomad are there for everyone, just not everyone acts on it.

    • I love the concept of genetic memory. Sometimes we come across people who in no way resemble nomads and are very happy with their current jobs and lives, yet they still express an interest in what we do. Genetic memory would explain a lot :)

      • That’s it, for all we know our ancestors may have spent hundreds of years roaming the countryside, an in fact they more than likely did as that’s what life was back then. There were no cities, no high flying jobs, just life from one day to the next. Some would call that perfection :)

  22. Big fan of Maslow, however it leaves out some elements. Reaching the highest stage has the loss of prejudice and unfortunately the opposite can be true. People who have achieved great wealth or think they have reached the highest stage sometimes exhibit an elitist stage. They are so far above everyone else that they lose sight of their humble beginnings. If they achieved their status by being born into it they sometimes, not all the times, become loutish and feel the world owes them a living. Sometimes being on top means you can roll a long time before you hit the bottom and realize the top needs to be reinforced by good deeds.

  23. A fantastic read. The ideas of the nomadic lifestyle and self-sufficiency are intriguing ones to consider in this day and age. As you mentioned throughout, to not earn money is not being productive, and you need to use your money to buy all your goods. Sometimes it feels like life has been complicated far too much, and there isn’t really down-time as you must at least be thinking of what to do next.

    Keep up the good work =)

  24. I wonder sometimes if people who slanderize others ways of living realize we cannot all be blue collar workers in society, paying taxes and having babies. I think its amazing to have a different lifestyle out of the ordinary! Life is about the journey and to literally travel for a good portion of it as part of your daily life sounds like your journey would be more amazing than most! Such good information and a great story thank you for sharing :)

  25. I just returned from a month long Eastern Europe tour and I agree with all of it. You know what? The day after I got home, even though I was exhausted with sleep deprevation and just needed to lie down, I began to think about all the deadlines. It was terrible! My travel companion, who usually listens to music all the time, was without her headphones and ipod and learned to just stare out of the window instead.
    Nomads ARE important. They shake up the everyday. They shake up our dreams.

  26. Great article! Since I was a kid, I always dream to become a nomad. Now, I am a GP, but this dream always buzz inside my head, reminding me from time to time, asking to be fulfilled. I hope I can pursuing my dream. Thanks for inspiring writing :)

  27. This article is fantastic. So insightful and educational. The nomadic life has always been a fantastic day dream of mine. My mind wanders to what I would see walking through the rockies, or the people I would find under the open sky of Montana.

    I always felt the desire for the nomadic life to be selfish, and maybe at this point in my life it would be. But perhaps one day, I will break out of my practiced routine.

  28. Hey, addition to the list: Appreciation of food. I think you get a more healthy relationship with food while being on the road because snacking is not as easy as when you’re stuck in a house. When we travled we got three square meals.

  29. I’m still a nomad and in my early 40’s and getting away with it ;-)

    But to accomplish it I have “two personalities” – my real one: The Nomad the one I allowed to develop my traveling extensively over time.
    My alter ego – the professional (the one I developed early in my career, because I had to) the “well adjusted) bloke who is your colleague in whichever job I find myself at time (you would wonder why I move on kind of soon – and not realize I do that in all my “well-adjusted” jobs), although over time I’ve gone completely online with my work, which is an “office job”, but I don’t have to go into the office anymore. And I can take my job with me – which facilitates travel. So I find myself in foreign countries, exploring and living and being what you could call a “modern day gypsy”. Somehow I’ve managed to find a way to find a solution to be my real self and still “participate and contribute to the market” (since nomads need money to travel and need to work).

    Great post!

    Thanks.

    Jean-Jacques

  30. A very interesting insight to a different style of life. Remember, there isn’t just one way to live a life and your nomadic lifestyle is as valid as the usual surburban rat race. I used to have a more nomadic lifestyle just after graduating from university but I did feel an urge to settle down and try to seek out a career. The career part hasn’t really worked out as well as I hoped and I admit I sometimes wish I could just pack my bags and head out onto the road again. I guess the grass is always greener… ;-)

  31. Well at certain point it would be wise to stop. I suppose certain lifetimes you simply cannot be a Nomad because there is some work that has to be done. Life is not about going from one place to another. Life is also about responsibility towards other human beings.

  32. You’re my hero. When you’re so steeped in what you’ve built and you have your children and family, it’s nearly impossible to consider being a nomad, but how I love that life. When I eat right and stay healthy, I tell myself that I’m doing this for retirement so that I can be a nomad too.

  33. Reblogged this on Mad World and commented:
    I absolutely love this, mostly because I find myself in the same spot of wanting to wander off with practically nothing and seeing where I will go. I am young enough as well, and it makes me think hard on the chance that I should go for it as well! This is very insightful and beautifully written!

  34. Just today, I wrote a couple of tumblr posts about the inherent wilderness inside of us all, and the need to strike out and explore. Sometimes we are moving towards and sometimes away from. Other times, just traveling. I’ll be presenting on Into the Wild later this week for my teaching colleagues, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the mythical Alaska inside all of us. Something about America speaks to the open road. Something about our plugged in always on culture nudging us to just stop. Sit. Listen. See.

    I loved this part: “Rushing, multi-tasking, and stressing out are now things that only exist in my past, and that is something I learned from a nomad. In return, I seek to pass it on to others. It is a message that our society needs to make time to hear.”

    Great post and I’m glad I found your blog. :)

  35. Pingback: Why We Need Nomads via Vanessa Runs | Strucknwords

  36. I entered into this reading with ignorance, skeptical that there would be something gained. How could you justify your lifestyle?

    Thanks for reminding me that my world is small, my perception, even smaller. Earlier in life I understood the life of a nomad, even dreamed of living it.

    Have good travels, may life treat you well. Thanks for opening these eyes of mine. I have forgotten much and been reminded of even more by your travels.

  37. As a lifestyle traveler (though probably not a nomad by definition) who has been on the road for many decades, your piece warmed and gladdened my heart. This sort of lifestyle receives so little recognition. In my early days of travel when Americans were often looked upon as “ugly,” I became the ambassador, determined to prove that stereotype wrong. I know that I did this job well and am still at it! Thank you.

  38. wow, i guess to really appreciate “travel,” you must appreciate freedom to travel, which has been lost to all of the freedom seeking nomads of the world through governmental terroristic licensing programs such as licensing, passports, interstate commerce laws, license plates, and governmental surveillance.
    Sure, hiking a trail is cool, but wouldn’t the world be so much happier, if we neednt have to ask permission to do it?

  39. This was amazing. I’ve never come across anyone living a nomadic life myself, and I’m not sure it’s an existence that appeals to me — that is, the freedom sounds great, but I actually kinda hate travelling, so… At the same time, I feel it’s the kind of thing you try and expect to hate but fall in love with. Maybe one day, when I’m actually old enough, I’ll try it. Thanks for illuminating me about some of its benefits, and congrats on Freshly Pressed.

  40. I completely agree, way too much emphasis is placed on the bottom two levels of Maslow’s heirarchy. Great post! Society might a much better place if people paid more attention to the other levels!

  41. Wow! Fascinating great article. I think one way or the other we are all nomads, we travel to great heights, journey to unknown places, all to discover that very thing that pushes us to live life to the fullest. Thank you for your post.

  42. This is such an interesting idea. Just because society says we have to be a certain way does not make it true. My husband and I have talked about becoming nomads when we retire. Perpetual travel and discovery! We will visit the kids instead of the other way around. But, do you miss having a place to call home? I will admit, I love travel, but I love the sense of familiarity that comes from walking in the front door to my home, pictures, garden, piano, and neighbors. Is that made up for by meeting people along the way? I am honestly curious (not judging). This lifestyle (or something similar) is on the table for us in the future.

    • I find that I miss people and places, but outside of a concept of home. For example, I miss my sisters in Ontario, but I would rather see them elsewhere in the world. And I very much miss the Grand Canyon, though I can’t call it home. Perhaps if I grew up with stronger ties to a certain place, I would miss “home”… I didn’t really grow up that way. Home for me was a place to escape from. I didn’t have the piano or neighbors or positive associations.

  43. Phenomenal article, makes me wonder if I can find a balance in all 5 aspects of the triangle to balance the two extremes.

  44. Lovely post Vanessaruns, so true and full of important reminders. I was a nomad in my ’20s, have been doing the career family thing, and now I’m setting up to be a nomad again.

    Thank you for this.

    Good to see an unashamed fan of the Oxford comma too ;)

  45. Lovely post Vanessaruns, so true and full of important reminders. I was a nomad in my ’20s, have been doing the career family thing, and now I’m setting up to be a nomad again.

    Thank you for this.

    Good to see an unashamed fan of the Oxford comma too ;)

  46. Reblogged this on And so she rambles, her thoughts run free… and commented:
    “We need nomads to reminds us that our rules do not apply to every inch of this planet. We also need nomads to experience our own regional truths, and carry our stories off to places where our habits are considered strange.
    Nomads fight stereotypes by collecting and delivering different world views across regional lines.”
    Well said, @vanessaruns. An incredibly eloquent and inspiring post. This resonated strongly with me and the feelings behind my “connections” post the other day. Nowhere is the value of human connection more evident than in travel; at no other point do you meet this many people and face as many perspectives. Its while travelling that you interact with humanity at large, and here where the worldviews of others’ mesh with your own. Or, perhaps, where your world view is shattered, to be put together in a new version of ‘you’.
    When we expand over geography we cross more boundaries than physical lines. We cross borders of nations and borders of mind, breaking down walls and leaving ourselves behind…
    Anyone want to go climb a mountain?
    I feel the sudden need for an adventure!

  47. Awesome! I’m experiencing a pause in my life and exploring some of the same ideas in my blog: https://divergentnature.wordpress.com/. I’m just writing not really living out my desired lifestyle. I’m having trouble making the leap. I fear I won’t have good social connections and end up a hermit, or worse, be seen as anti-social, a non-contributing member of human society. On top of that, I’ve paid in, my education is supposed to be an investment; I have to pay off my student loan. I hope I can live some sort of life in-between, for now, anyway.

  48. So happy we came across your post. We do need nomads! Having wandered together for the past decade, we come across many who question our lifestyle and choices. It’s wonderful to see many of our thoughts and observations set out so eloquently here. We look forward to browsing around your blog and connecting further int he future! Safe travels!

  49. Reblogged this on Wanderlushh and commented:
    I often think that people are too in a rush to join the rat race and pursue careers rather than just pursue life. Why have life experience and personal connections taken a back seat to salary and job security?

  50. I used to hitchhike for short periods but lately the thought of living out on the road has been playing in my mind. Not seriously, but I do miss the freedom and the sense of adventure.

    • Our expenses are pretty low – about 15K/year for 2 adults, 2 pets. I can support us through my book sales/writing. Food and gas are our main expenses – we don’t pay rent/mortgage/camping fees, I don’t own a cell phone, we get our power via solar panels on the RV roof, and we rely on free wifi.

  51. This is a kickass blog entry haha. You covered a ton, and I appreciate your detail. I left my full time job in January after almost 10 years with the same company, and since I’ve been to 13 countries, 6 different states, and have logged almost 100,000 miles. I love to travel, and I feel a freedom and clarity when I travel that I can’t seem to achieve while at home.

    Being a nomad unfetters us from expectation, relieves us from stress, and enhances our awareness of who we are and what the world is like. I encourage EVERYONE to travel aimlessly for long periods of time. I also offer caution that one’s mindset now may not be one’s mindset later, and to give up all possessions and all income to travel while in your 20’s may be fun and freeing, but if that individual has longer term ambitions outside of travel, then it may be a tough long term lifestyle choice.

  52. I just did a year at an alternative business school Knowmads in Amsterdam. In 1 year we take responsibility for our own education and learn how to thrive in any place through all different types of learning. It’s about living the life you want to live with passion and every one of us enjoyed the benefits you’ve described here and we also learn to make money doing what we love. Being a Knowmads/nomad is about having the courage to live on your own terms. http://www.knowmads.nl

  53. Great post. Travel extensively myself, but have never built the courage to become a nomad. Amazing how far you can go with so little and with such little impact on the environment. Thanks for sharing.

  54. Awesome. I so wish i had the courage to take that first step into the life you just portrayed so so very beautifully. The fear to fail shatters me down everyday .For me Its the same story everyday, waking up in stress , going to work hoping for a better shot at life , desperately trying to find happiness and inner peace. Well i envy you.

  55. I love the first point you make about “Nomadic travel is tolerated if you are young…”. So many people think it’s ok to do to “get it out of your system”.

    HA! By traveling (or being a long term nomad), it only increases your desire to see more! You think, “Well this place is really cool. I wonder how many more cool places there are!” We’ve been in Cozumel, MX now for almost a year and while we love it, we’re getting a bit anxious to hit the road again – oh yeah, I’m 35, married, and have 3 kids.

    Being a nomad isn’t for everyone – just the people that really love adventure and disdain monotony.

  56. This is very true. I don’t think anyone ever stops trying to “find themselves”. It seems as though society shuts down the idea of adventure because, to be frank, most people lose passion as they grow older – and maybe they’re the ones who need to travel the most.

    Thank you for this.

  57. Totaly inspiring… Travelled a lot when I was younger, and my dreams are made of those sights and sensations even now….and now that my kids are almost grown, your piece is making me ache to go on an adventure again…Yes, the journey’s the thing!

  58. Great Post! Almost 30, and haven’t lost the lust for the nomadic lifestyle, but hearing lots of “time to grow up’ comments lately. Thank you for the lifestyle validation
    .

  59. Great post. I use Maslow’s theory from a corporate perspective (the day job) and highlight to others that we seem to do the basics really well some times but never get to the point where we can say we have reached self actualisation. I have never really thought before about the ideas you have shared here but going forward I intend to embrace my travels so that, for part of the time, I achieve more.

  60. What a great post. Only yesterday I was flicking through some old uni notes and came across a definition of deviance that I scribbled down. It’s amazing how that definition gets expanded! I think a lot of people would see nomads as a social deviant, for no real reason!

  61. Wow, you took the words right out of my mouth! I myself thought of just abandoning my family’s expectations of me and travelling the world finding small, odd jobs to sustain myself. Seriously, this post is just absolutely amazing.

  62. Hello Vanessa,

    I don’t know if this is the best way to contact you, but I can’t find an email address or contact section on your site.

    It’s Katie here, from Je Suis Une Monstre. How do you dooooo? :)

    I’ve been following your blog since I (very happily!) discovered it. I particularly like this article Why We Need Nomads, and would love to be able to sit and chatter with you on the topic.

    In fact – maybe that will be possible? – I’m writing to ask you if I could interview you?

    I’m in Berlin for a few weeks (vagabonding around!) and I’m writing for an online publication called Sensa Nostra. It’s about changing peoples’ perspectives; and whilst everyone else is writing about sex, drugs and rock & roll, I am writing about living in tiny houses and the wonderful philosophies and freedoms it gives people! (The editor was pleasantly delighted that I wanted to write about something positive and different, and we’ve had many long chats about tiny homes and being ‘home-free’).

    I am writing three articles as part of a tiny home series, and would really love to have your perspective on it – why you do it, how your life was before, what your expectations are, what has limited and what has freed you, and everything else in between. I’d really love to focus on your passion of ultra-running, and how the nomadic lifestyle and ultra-running compliment each other. And of course I’d love to hear about anything else that you are interested in and want to talk about!

    If you are willing to, and have the time, I’d love to conduct the interview as a series of emails, like a discussion between us, which I will then craft into an article. I will of course show it to you before I submit it, to make sure that you are happy with it.

    Please let me know what you think.

    I wish you luck with all your beautiful projects, and hope to hear from you soon.

    Kindest regards,

    Katie. X

  63. I can relate as I was quite nomadic and homeless from time to time in our Rockies, Southwest. It’s all relative; one still has an identity, need for money/ food, passport if crossing boundaries, living within some rules, ethics to get along and connecting with others. Nomads can be beatniks, hippies, stowaways perhaps, certainly seniors with RV clubs, caravans even! Tourists travel because it’s the thing to do; nomads travel to assimilate the culture I think. We confront ourselves in the process, not just the destination.

  64. Hi Vanessa,
    Found your blog via Technomadia. This article really resonated with me as well, and reminded me of this quote:
    “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

    Traveling/nomading is what makes so many of us come alive!

    Best to you,
    Robyn

  65. Pingback: DAILY DISPATCHES 06/29/14 | Fayetteville Free Zone

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