Nomad life

A housing alternative, a lifestyle alternative

Another alternative to the housing crisis is nomad life. This is a lifestyle that is being increasingly pursued around the world sometimes by choice and sometimes not. There are too many people who against their best wishes are forced to live in their car, tent or even on the street. However, there are also those who make a conscious choice to shun the high cost of housing by finding cheap alternatives.

More and more people are fitting out cars, vans, trucks, RVs and caravans (travel trailers) and hitting the road. They stay for free (or cheap) on public land or camp grounds. Some are retired, others may travel around to get temporary and seasonal work, or they might work remotely with the use of telephone and internet.

The nomad life not only reduces their housing costs, it also frees them from the shackles of mortgages or rent and simultaneously simplifies their life and minimises their environmental impact.

A (very) short history of nomad life

The word nomad comes from the French nomade which means a person without fixed habitation. Once, all humans were nomads. Humans first evolved as hunter gatherers and throughout the year they would move around their territorial homelands in small bands hunting seasonal game and gathering seasonal fruits and edible plants.

Later, as humans developed animal husbandry skills, they became pastoral nomads rearing a variety of domesticated animals including reindeer, goats, camels, cattle, sheep and alpaca. In the present day there are still many pastoral nomadic societies, although numbers have continuously dropped in industrial times. These contemporary societies mostly live in various parts of Asia and Africa and include Sami in northern Scandinavia, Evenk in Siberia, Bedhouin in the Middle East, Tuareg in Africa, and Mongols in Mongolia.

In addition to pastoral nomads there are peripatetic (or itinerant) nomads who might offer various craft skills and/or the trade of craft goods to the settled populations among whom they travel. They might travel seeking seasonal work such as fruit-picking and farm work, or other temporary jobs. There are yet others who offer entertainment in carnivals, fairs, circuses, travelling theatre shows, and the like. Peripatetic nomads are the most common nomadic peoples you come across in industrialised places. Examples include Romani gypsies, Irish travellers and New Zealand housetruckers.

Contemporary nomad life

The more recent nomad movement in North America and elsewhere has been brought to light with the publishing of the book Nomadland written by Jessica Bruder as well as the subsequent movie based on the book which won three 2021 Academy Awards for best picture, best director and best actress. This author, who is a very occasional traveller, has watched the growth of this movement through the many Youtube channels and videos that have sprung up in the past decade. These channels offer a way for nomads to document their lifestyle and to potentially make some money on the road. Indeed, many of these new travellers call themselves ‘digital nomads’, referring to the fact that they can make money through a variety of online income streams.

There is a large community of new nomads that has steadily grown over the past few decades. Many of them congregate at times and then disperse again, some choosing to travel alone and others in small socially supportive groups.

The freedom of nomad life

Nomad life is not for everyone. Many of the basic comforts and services that you have in a static home are not available to nomads; hot running water and flushing toilets, for example. However, nomads make do with what they have and are able to thrive in spite of the apparent discomforts. They can make do by filling up water tanks, using composting toilets and installing solar panels on their roofs for power. Those in cold environments may have heating systems that use gas or diesel and some even have woodburner stoves.

The key point is that what the nomads might lose in comfort and convenience is more than made up for by freedom. They are largely free from the cost of housing, including many utility bills, maintenance costs and land taxes. They are also free of the nine-to-five rat-race that comes with those costs. They are free to make their own agenda, take their time, meet new people, test themselves and stay in beautiful places wherever they like.

As well as freedom and autonomy, another common driving force is the will to have a low impact, low-footprint lifestyle. Like anybody nomads are responsible for their own footprint and practice the unwritten law of ‘leave no trace’.

40 years a nomad

Hear Bob Wells (of Nomadland, Without Bound and CheapRVliving fame) interview Randy Vining who has been a nomad for 40 years: