Pros & Cons of a Nomadic Lifestyle

Nomadic Lifestyle _ Moving Day

Nomad. Gypsy. Wanderer. Vagabond. Location-independent travel ninja. All these terms describe a person with a nomadic lifestyle. They loves variable scenery. They move from neighborhood to neighborhood, town to town, or country to country, doing what human evolution tells them to do: keep moving.

What is a nomadic lifestyle?

Characteristics: Low expenses.  A willingness to move anywhere. Affinity for air mattresses. The ability to fit your possessions into a suitcase, a backpack, the back of a truck, the back of a garage. A high-mileage vehicle. An aversion to mortgages and debt.

A nomadic lifestyle is whatever you want it to be, whatever works for you, but here’s a key trait:

Knowing you won’t be in one place forever.

In that sense, aren’t we all nomads?

My style of nomadism

Since ’03, I haven’t kept an apartment for more than a year… but I’m not (yet) one of the cool digital nomads, bouncing around from country to country, earning their living from elance or information products. All my apartments were in Huntington, West Virginia, then Korea, now Thailand. Next, who knows? Maybe I’m a lazy nomad, but I like staying put…for a little while, until I don’t. Let’s call my style a hybrid local-global nomadism.

While this lifestyle might seem strange to a lot of people, others may find it appealing. You know who you are.

If you’re thinking about selling most of your possessions on craigslist and setting out for destinations unknown, you need to consider the pros and cons of such a lifestyle. I’ve tried to make the following list applicable both to those living inside and outside their home countries.

Pros of a nomadic lifestyle

  • You can live anywhere you want, provided you can support yourself.
  • New places are exciting, full of new people, ideas, sights, tastes, experiences.
  • You’re more careful about the physical stuff you bring into your life. Knowing everything you buy will have to be boxed, packed, moved/stored, you’re less likely to buy frivolous things.
  • Without a lot of stuff, you can devote more time and attention to the things that really matter (relationships, work, creative projects, reading this blog ;)
  • Living in a different culture increases creativity, according to a recent study. Why? New environments offer new challenges, forcing you to re-examine basic assumptions and seek out novel solutions to problems. I wonder if this is applicable to new places in your own country…
  • Keeping in touch is easy and cheap. With skype, email, facebook, it’s hard not to keep up with the people at home. People who want to relocate but also stay in the loop have options unimaginable in decades past.
  • A nomadic lifestyle is cheap. When you’re not caught up paying mortgages and car loans or buying the latest piece of digital wizardry, you find yourself with a lot of extra cash.
  • Being organized is easy when your possessions are few.
  • Out of necessity, you learn to open up to people and be more outgoing.
  • You learn a lot about yourself and the world around you…whether you want to or not.

Cons of a nomadic lifestyle

  • You may miss important social rituals; weddings, birthdays, funerals, grand jury indictments.
  • People grow apart. While it’s easy to communicate, it’s challenging to stay close when you’re separated by a thousand miles.
  • You have less social support. If something goes awry, you’re on your own.
  • Some stuff is nice; if you want to keep it, you’ll need a storage space. I’ll admit I miss my music gear and books, and would like to take a moment to thank my folks letting me throw some stuff in their attic.
  • It’s hard to host parties when your friends live in different time zones.
  • Dealing with bureaucracy can be confounding when you don’t have a fixed address. Ever tried to get a driver’s license without utility bills?
  • (Potential) employers, despite what they say about wanting innovative and creative employees, are suspicious about people with strange employment and residential histories. Their loss.
  • If you’re reckless or less-than vigilant, saving for the future can become a challenge.
  • My wife points out that your kitchen will probably suck. I concur. We have a very traditional relationship. She speaks. I agree ;)
  • Moving a lot can be physically exhausting. (I reckon) there’s something relaxing about having a long-term place all your own.
  • In a foreign country, even the simplest tasks can become confounding ordeals when you have the life skills of a ten-year-old.
  • For  some expats, being a foreigner long-term does strange things to the psyche.

I’d love to hear from all of you, whether you’re a past-or-present nomad or a householder.

  • What are other pros and cons of a nomadic lifestyle?
  • Any parents out there? You can’t exactly throw kids in a cardboard box. What’s your take on this?

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Photo credit: mshades

 

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  • JA Lineberry

    I’m finding it difficult to part with my DVD and video game collection, and other entertainment-related items, considering they have some good memories attached to them, or in a few cases some degree of sentimental value. Not that I’m setting out on the road anytime soon – I just think I have too much stuff that I do not use. I think the nomadic lifestyle is romanticized a great deal (to say the least), and I imagine the actual lifestyle is often challenging and lonely – punctuated by some very brilliant moments, of course. I really enjoyed this article.

  • http://arewerethereyeti.blogspot.com Ahimsa

    Interesting article–if anything though maybe a little too balanced. The rewards for most nomads far outweigh the minuses, and not to be overlooked is the constant reinforcing of appreciation for small things. A restaurant in Korea with a menu partially in English, for example. Meeting someone who has an actual oven in their kitchen. In Nepal, finding a lodge that has hot water and power some of the time is reason for celebration. What a nomadic lifestyle does, to me, is teach how easy it is to enjoy life.

  • Brooke

    Another pro: For family members of the nomad in question, it sounds much nobler when taking extended vacations to faraway lands. (I.e., “Yes, I’m taking several weeks off work for travel to Thailand. My brother lives there, and I haven’t seen him for over a year.”)

  • http://www.happenchance.net Seth

    Hello all,

    @JA Lineberry. There’s some romanticization of the nomadic lifestyle going on, but, as Ahimsa said, the rewards are so worth it. The thing about being lonely, for me, that’s mixed. My wife is back in America now, and that’s a big change for me. I miss her, of course, but I’m okay.

    Why? As I said, it’s easy to keep in touch with her (and others). And, for the most part, nomads and travelers are pretty open people; if I want people to shoot the shit with, I can usually find them. The hard part is introducing myself to complete strangers, but that’s gotten a lot easier over the years.

    @Ahimsa Proper ovens in Korea?!?!?! No. Such. Thing. Only a broiler for medium-sized fish;) At least with the people I knew.

    You make a good point; I’d like to think I appreciate little things more now, especially that I’ve learned just how little I actually need to get by. Your example from Nepal…that’s way cool.

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  • BGordon

    well I found this article to be of most intrest to me..I am currently married to a ‘nomad’ tho I havent seen him in a year. I thought he was the most bizaar man I had ever known. When I met him he was pretty much homeless. Upon getting to know him better I found out this lifestyle is one that he had been living his whole life. Virtualy no belongings, bouncing from ‘spot to spot’ and when things dint feel comfy to him for what ever reason he bounced right out the door..no good byes..only taking his wallet. in our 3 1/2 years of marriage he has dissapeared 3 times. The last time being the last for me..(I guess all of our marriage counciling didnt work)..as Far as I have heard he has been staying at 2 different hotels..almost no belongings still. The most devestating part about my story is we have a 3 year old daughter who has Autism. he lives less than 10 mi. from us and does not even call on her birthday. He also has a son out of state that he has had a pattern of dissapearing on as well.

    I guess this life style is glamoures to some..but it can be devistating to others. Its a shame I didnt realize that it is a lifestyle , not just a coincidense .

  • Anonymous

    Yikes!

    It’s one thing to move around a lot and live with minimal possessions, but neglecting your family is a completely different issue. Sorry things worked out the way they did for you.

    Not all nomads are irresponsible jerks.

  • Terri

    I dreamed of this lifestyle again last night. Why not? I am single, healthy, and of retirement age. What I need to know is how to get snail mail while on the road. Should I buy a motor home or a pull trailer; I don’t want or need anything big.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Terri, thanks for stopping by.

    I don’t know where you live, but in the U.S., you can use General Delivery to get snail mail. With GD, the post office will hold your mail for up to 30 days.

    For any checks you receive on a regular basis like pension or social security, you could check into direct deposit.

    Here’s some more info about general delivery.
    http://www.usps.com/receive/choicesfordelivery/receivemailinotherplaces.htm

    I think a small motor home would be easier to manage than a pull-behind, but I have little experience in this area.

  • matt

    Hi all,

    I am currently studying in my 3rd year of a Design degree in Leeds, England and looking to to base my final project around the digital nomad lifestyle. By the end of the project i aim to produce a new product/piece of furniture/accessory to aid a digital nomad. Can anybody help with with my research by identifying what some of the most useful pieces of equipment and why, and more importantly if there is anything that does not work well/could be improved or even invented! The sort of thing when you say “if only I had that” or “that would be useful” !!!

    Any information would be much appreciated, or if you can’t help do you know anybody that could aid me in my research. Thank you.

  • Sethmbaker

    Terri, you could also get a PO box and use General Delivery for any parcels. Also, I think some UPS and Mailboxes ETC. will hold packages.

    Let me know how the used motor home search goes.

  • Jenne_norris

    Hi there! I have basically lived a nomadic lifestyle for over ten years. The last five years have been the most intense. My children are now 14 & almost 13 years old. This lifestyle is not for my son as he had made the decision to live with his VERY non-nomadic father. My daughter, on the other hand is slowly embracing the over 20moves in her life. School is hard, she changes every 3-6 months. Since we are starting high school next year, it’s decision making time for mama. Do I continue to live MY life Ichoose or suck it up and stay put for 4 years? That thought makes me hyperventilate. But it’s just 4 years, right? Or…I make the choice to pull her out of school all together and finish high school online.

    I don’t want a mortgage or a car payment. I despise “excessiveness”. But is it okay to force this lifestyle on my children? I only say that, not because I think I’m doing anything wrong but because society says I’m crazy, irresponsible, untrustworthy, “shady”, etc. I am none of these things. I don’t think you can be a successful nomad without being exactly the opposite if all mentioned!! THIS is what I want my kids to learn. If I don’t follow my dreams how can I expect them to follow theirs?!

    I sure would like to hear feedback! Say what you need to say. :-)

  • Anonymous

    Jenne,
    Wow, that’s one heck of a dilemma, and being a young(ish) married guy
    without kids, it’s hard for me to say what’s right for you and your family.
    I’ve been in the same place for a year now (no mortgage/car payment), but
    I’ve still been able to get around.

    I think there are two questions to address before making a decision. One,
    what is best for your daughter (and what does she want to do)? Two, is four
    years really that long? Everything is temporary; only the time scale
    varies.

    Hopefully you find this helpful.

  • momfairy

    We homeschool our 11 year old daughter and use my parent’s address on all school forms ect for legal hoopla we also have our drivers licenses and everything else set to that address as well as some of the utilities for that occasional “required proof of residency”. Our daughter will be starting 6th grade this fall again homeschooled and we travel “home” for the annual required tests the state requires to be sure she is on track as well as see family and old friends. I don’t know if your parents or a close friend would let you do the same but it has made our lives a bit less stressful.

  • momfairy

    we have a subscription to netflix and gamefly so we have no need to buy games or dvd’s/blueray we have a flat screen that we can hook both the game system and the laptop up to and it works very well for our small family. as for sentimental value we use photo’s and photo albums instead of actual objects. And I love the lifestyle and don’t see it as more challanging or lonely than when we lived in 1 place for 6 years. There is always so much to do and see and learn and so many brilliant moments however we are very active outdoors and you sound like more the indoors type that could be the difference you could be missing the brilliant moments while inside.

  • Lulu

    Great article! I’ve been fed up with being classified as homeless and was searching for the right term when I landed here. I’m not homeless, the whole earth is my home! And I’m not houseless as, I am not “less” for choosing not to live in a box.

    Been on the move since I was 10 days old, born into a very nomadic family. As an adult and parent, spent several years living and traveling in converted school buses. Then, when my kids were 10 and 11, we gave everything away that wouldn’t fit in our backpacks, bought a tent and one way tickets to Hawaii. Spent 2 years straight camping on the beach. Grown now, they still say that I’m the coolest mom ever and that those years were the best memories of their lives.

    I’m currently living out of a backpack, renegade camping on the beaches of Kauai and loving every moment! Living outside is addictive and I’ve found that I have a very hard time staying indoors anymore.

    Being a nomad is being FREE!!!!

    (sitting on the beach as I type this). :)

  • Cherry

    I’m 21 yrs old and I just feel liike where I live is so small and close together. I look at the world as a playground. My home as a priison. I would love to get out and travel wiithout anythiing that would hold me back. Seeiing new places, meetiing new people, experiienciing diifferent cultures, and truely fiindiing myself iis not here iin Riichmond, VA. I thought thiis was a very iinspiiriing artiicle. Really consiideriing Afriica or Hawaii as my fiirst piicks.

    -Cherry
    Riichmond, VA

  • Anonymous

    reply

  • Cherry

    Thiis was great!!! Glad I found thiis.

    =)

  • Chelohi

    I have been desiring this lifestyle for several months now. I don’t want it to be a long term thing but want to live like this for a year or so. I also don’t want to loose my house, especially since my daughter was born in her bedroom (used a mid wife) and I love that house. I’m open to any ideas of how to pull this off and how to support myself during this journey.

  • Anonymous

    Have you considered renting out your house? 

  • Chelohi

    What’s funny is shortly after posting this, I found another blog that mentioned renting out your home. That is definitely an option.
    Still working on ideas for income. Student loans and credit card payments won’t go away. I’ve tried.

  • Shirah

    I am 18 years old, soon to be 19 on the 26th of December, and after college(4 years at most), I want to convert to the nomadic cyclist lifestyle for a year or two.  But I really want to start early on the nomadic lifestyle.  How does one do that when in college?  I want to study massage therapy and metal welding, as I heard there is good money in both (for a single person, anyway).  I honestly do not want to be living at my mom’s house when I graduate from college, so any bright ideas on how to prepare?

  • Tiara Murray89

    I wonder are most nomads, geminis? Im a gemini and this lifestyle is just calling my name!

  • Waynekigy

    been nomadic 6yrs loving it the only thing i find hard is explaining to my grand daughters where do i stay they see the conversion van they even sleep in it when i’m there they tell everyone that im lucky because i get to go camping alot  so if you do this first  have an income plan then make sure this is what u want to do

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amelia-Green/100000918486720 Amelia Green

    “…when you have the life skills of a ten-year-old”– I laughed so hard at this line! It’s just *so* true. You show up in another country and have to ask about things like how to use public transit, address a letter, pay the light bill and a dozen other things any normal adult should know. Never mind the language issues. The upside of that is that even the smallest things can give you a sense of accomplishment. It’s like, “Yes! I figured out where to pay the light bill today! Look at all this progress I’m making!” That’s half the fun. 

  • Asiawall

    Well, if God’s son came to earth and chose to live and minister as a nomad, there’s got to be something to it. :)

  • Larrissa KL Prather

    I grew up with nomadic parents. I would have to say that having kids and traveling is a con. I never had any stability and because we moved so much (every couple of months) I was unable to make any lasting relationships. I have found that the instability has carried on into my personal life. This nomadic lifestyle is my only memories and culture that I can relate to. It was difficult to always be on the go with 4 other siblings and 2 hippy parents who couldn’t seem to sit and think about their finances. I hope that if any one has kids you will not consider this lifestyle. It would probably be fun if you were unmarried and free from dependents.