Like most nomads, I tend to extol the virtues of the nomadic life. This is natural since we who choose this life on the fringes obviously believe it to be the best choice. We are doing what we want to be doing, and living as we want to live. The nomadic life, for many people, is an ideal life.
Despite the excitement that a nomadic life provides, it is not always perfect. Of course, no life is perfect. Nomads face challenges, stresses, and difficulties just like anyone. That being said, most nomads seem to accept this as a normal part of the lifestyle in the same way that many people accept full-time jobs, mortgage payments, homeowner association dues, utility bills, and two weeks of vacation each year as normal.
In the interest of full disclosure, this essay will explore some of the unique challenges of life as a nomad. Hopefully this will not dissuade anyone from embracing a nomadic lifestyle, but it should paint a more rounded picture of life on the road.
This life does not make your issues go away
There is a popular idea that somehow just changing the environment or lifestyle will make all of a person’s problems or issues disappear. The truth is that your issues will follow you wherever you go, and that includes on the road.
The catch, however, is that a nomadic lifestyle is so radically different from what most people are accustomed to that it does provide the opportunity for some real personal growth. Those who are willing to grow and mature will be presented with many opportunities to do so, whether that involves dealing with fear, learning to meet new people, becoming more skilled at mechanical repairs or DC electrical systems, acclimating to varying weather, or any of a number of other challenges.
This life is not one long vacation
There are certainly nomads who are retired or living on disability, but many still find it necessary to balance work and travel. Living without a fixed abode can definitely lower a person’s cost of living, just as it can also raise their cost of living if they think they are on a permanent vacation. Despite the high profile of expensive Class A motorcoaches, many nomads keep a low profile and live frugally.
Nomads tend to meet their need for income in one of several ways. The first option is to work temporary or seasonal jobs as needed to rebuild the bank account while living free in a vehicle or in cheap, temporary accommodations. The second option is work camping, often at a campground or somewhere similar. The third option, and one that is becoming increasingly popular, is freelancing or operating a microbusiness that is location independent.
In any case, the need to work does impose some restrictions on location and travel schedules, but it still provides a lot more freedom than is enjoyed by people living more traditional lives.
This life can be unpleasant
Living as a nomad provides many pleasures and rewards that cannot be found living a stationary life. There are many pleasant experiences and opportunities to be had with a life of travel, but there are also times when it is unpleasant.
Showers are a luxury reserved for the occasional stay at a motel or visit to a truck stop or campground shower. A few creative and adventurous nomads rig improvised outdoor showers to their van or RV and rely on solar-heated water. Many, however, rely on wet wipes or a washcloth and bowl of water.
Bathroom facilities most often consist of a wide-mouthed jug (with a tight-closing lid) and a bucket with a plastic bag. A few nomads with the room to spare may have a portable toilet, but the volume of waste still needs to be monitored so that it can be dumped periodically. Even those with self-contained RVs need to monitor a waste tank.
Hot meals are possible, but often not worth the trouble to prepare and clean up after. Unless you spend a lot of time in town, your food will tend to be pretty basic.
Refrigeration is also possible, but requires an expensive 12 volt refrigerator and a larger battery bank. Batteries are expensive, as are the solar panels or generator to charge the batteries. Many nomads either get by with a cooler or only stock nonperishable foods.
Temperature extremes and changes are noticed in a way that they are not when living in a house. When the sun is beating down and temperatures pass 90 or even 100 degrees in a house you can just turn on the air conditioning. Nomads look for shade, consider driving to a higher elevation, or run a small, battery-powered fan (always mindful of the state of charge in the batteries).
This life can be “boring”
Living as a nomad means foregoing a lot of the mindless entertainment that many people have come to consider normal. If you are not comfortable being alone, this life will likely drive you crazy sooner than later.
Television is a possibility if you are parked somewhere with a good signal, and if you have the spare battery power to run the television. Otherwise, forget about watching television.
Internet access is readily available in towns and cities, and is also available anywhere with a good mobile phone signal. This also means that some places you might want to go will not have Internet service. Tethering a laptop or tablet to a phone’s WiFi requires a phone that can be used as a mobile hotspot so cheap pre-paid phones are not an option if you need to use your phone for data access. Mobile hotspot devices can provide Internet service to those without a phone that can be used as a hotspot, but typically increase the monthly cost of service. Using either a phone or hotspot for Internet access also depletes the battery quickly, so a close watch must be kept on the battery charge.
N.B. I use my phone and laptop primarily for work and information, as well as to keep in tough with family (who for some odd reason think I might disappear off the face of the earth).
Streaming video (Netflix, etc.) is a luxury usually reserved for those times when a nomad has access to a free WiFi connection. The cost of cellular data makes it unrealistic to watch video while in remote locations.
Despite the fact that some popular, modern entertainment options are not always available to nomads, there are a host of other opportunities that are more rewarding, fulfilling, and meaningful. Reading is one oft-forgotten entertainment option. Just yesterday I was visiting with some fellow nomads and the subject of reading came up in conversation. More than a few have read more classics and philosophy than the average college graduate since they were on the road. There are also opportunities to host or attend a campfire gathering or barbecue to connect with others who are also on the road. Hiking and cycling provide endless opportunities for adventure, exercise, and recreation, while also providing the chance to become more familiar with a place. Travel to or through towns and cities provides further opportunity for adventure as you meet new people and see new things. Finally, many nomads take to blogging or vlogging to share their adventures with family, friends, and anyone else who is interested.
There are no shortage of entertainment options for nomads. Those who are not comfortable alone, however, are likely to find the lack of mindless entertainment stressful. The ability to create your own entertainment is a valuable skill as a nomad.
This life can be stressful
Nomadic life has its stresses just like stationary life. Those stresses are frequently different, but no less real. Still, most nomads would agree that this lifestyle is far less stressful overall than what was left behind.
Vehicle breakdowns are annoying and potentially stressful for anyone, but when your vehicle is also your home the stress increases. The importance of being alert to any developing problems and preventative maintenance takes on new significance as a nomad.
Encounters with law enforcement can be stressful because we are living on the fringes and often not understood. Despite the fact that most nomads do not consider themselves homeless, much of society does. In most cases, particularly in areas with a lot of tourism, business owners appreciate nomads as customers. Law enforcement, however, sometimes views nomads more as homeless, and hassles can ensue. While most nomads that I have met respect law enforcement (of all types – police officers, rangers, etc.), there is still usually a wariness and effort to maintain a low profile and not attract attention. This is usually more of an issue in urban areas where vagrancy and loitering ordinances may be brought into play against those without a fixed, permanent residence, whether homeless or nomadic.
Weather can certainly be stressful for a nomad. Extreme temperatures (hot or cold) can make it challenging to stay comfortable, while summer or winter storms can alter plans with little notice. Learning how to stay cool or warm, depending on the season (or time of day), is a skill to be learned.
Nomads are frequently in a new location. While this can be exciting and interesting, it also brings its own stresses. When you live in one place you know where to buy groceries or gas, where to have your vehicle repaired, or where to replace a mobile phone. Nomads also have the additional challenge of finding somewhere to fill water jugs and, for those with self-contained rigs, to dump holding tanks. Since nomads are always going somewhere new, each new location creates the same challenges of finding services and places to park. This stress is compounded when it is late in the day, when the weather is bad, or if there is a backlog of work that needs to be done.
Not always perfect, but still a great life
Life as a nomad is not always perfect. It has its share of struggles and challenges like any lifestyle. Still, at the end of the day as I am watching a glorious sunset and enjoying a cool breeze starting to blow in a place where I want to be, I always think that it is a great life.