On the Road Again

Harney Range in the South Dakota Black Hills
A foggy morning in the Harney Peak Range near Mount Rushmore

After a brief (and disastrous) attempt at temporarily sitting still and working a full-time job, I am once again back on the road full-time. While I never expected the arrangement to last long, it did serve a purpose after some financial setbacks over the winter. I also learned a few things from this recent attempt at “normalcy.”

I am not “normal”

I could start by arguing that “normal” is subjective (it is, by definition), but if you are reading this on my website there is a good chance you already agree. “Normal” is really just a state of acting like most other people and subscribing to the status quo. Life is too short to forsake my dreams and interests and act like most Americans.

Of course, this brings up another point. The standard for what is a “normal” lifestyle varies considerably by when and where a person lives. Different cultures have very different ideas of what constitutes an acceptable lifestyle, and these ideas evolve (or devolve) over time. As it happens, I am often told that I was born in the wrong time. Perhaps, but I still choose to pursue my own values. This is facilitated by the amazing, modern technologies that we so often take for granted.

There is no going back

Sometimes we mature, grow, or achieve a new level of experience from which there is no turning back. My recent experiences have illustrated this for me.

Always moving

I am (and have always been) a nomad at heart. I have always loved nothing more than being on the road, traveling to a new place for a new adventure, and seeing new things. Had I lived in the 1800s, I would have been a cowboy, mountain man, or explorer. Had I lived in the Middle Ages, I would have been a voyager. Since I live during the late 20th and early 21st century, I am a nomad/rubber tramp.

My most recent attempt at a stationary existence (though it was still only intended to be temporary - perhaps through the brief, Wyoming summer) made me crazy. While I have always traveled and moved around as much as possible, in December last year I set out on the road full-time. This was pivotal and, as it turns out, not something that I could reverse even if I wanted. Having tasted the freedom of being a nomad, trying to manage a stationary lifestyle was unbearable.

Jobs suck

I often hear about the benefits of a “real job,” things like benefits, financial security, and a steady paycheck. These supposed benefits are often pitched to me by well-meaning people who apparently think that I have lost my sanity and become mentally unbalanced. Since they are “normal” by modern societal standards, my chosen lifestyle is as far outside their understanding as theirs is outside mine. Allow me to briefly highlight some of the fallacies of this line of thinking.

One of the traditional advantages of having a steady job is the benefits. Depending on the job, these benefits may include subsidized medical insurance, paid time off, and a retirement plan.There are several problems with being dependent on employer-provided benefits, including the fact that they can and do change on an employer’s whim. Additionally, reliance on these benefits ties you to a certain lifestyle (and sometimes employer), gives control of your schedule to an employer who must grant permission for you to take time away from work, assumes that your retirement plan is properly managed, and assumes that your employer’s financial situation does not negatively change. In other words, benefits tie a person to a job without any guarantee for the future. Self-employment allows a person to manage their own schedule, medical insurance coverage, and retirement planning.

Financial security is an illusion for everyone, even in the best of times. Assuming that a job will provide financial security is, for the most part, wishful thinking. A job provides an illusion of financial security at best. Just perform a Google News search for layoffs or businesses that are closing if you doubt this. Self-employment provides far more financial security for a number of reasons.

A steady paycheck is most valuable, and even essential, for those who choose to live a highly leveraged life. Periodic fluctuations in income are manageable without debt and monthly payments. The dependence on a steady paycheck is a result of our debt-fueled economy. The potential income fluctuations that may accompany self-employment are not a concern if a person lives within their means.

Living life

Ultimately, I am trying to truly live my life rather than just endure it. There are a few values that I hold that inform my decisions. These will be different for each person, but it is important to live in accordance with one’s values. While I cannot claim that I always get it right, these values do inform my decisions and shape my priorities. My own core values, in no particular order, are as follows:

  • Family - I have family spread across the country, including children in four states and grandchildren in two states. Family is very important to me. I could certainly have more money or a higher standard of living without this value, but I would not have a better life. Spending time with my family costs money and takes time. As a self-employed nomad, this can be achieved.
  • Nature - Spending a lot of time in nature is essential for my body and soul. This value does not mesh well with most jobs, but it fits nicely with my chosen lifestyle as a self-employed nomad.
  • Travel - I have always loved going new places and pursuing new experiences. One or two weeks of vacation each year does not work for me. Life is too short to spend it in an office while missing out on all that there is to experience in this world. Since I am in control of my schedule and have been building a location-independent business, I am able to work from anywhere with a mobile data signal or wi-fi.
  • Freedom - There is a continuum between freedom and the illusion of security. Whether we are talking about personal security, national security, or financial security, there is always a loss of freedom in any effort to increase security, and vice versa. As a self-employed nomad, I have chosen to live with more freedom.

Living in accordance with my values would be impossible with most jobs. As a self-employed nomad, I am able to earn a living while still being true to my values.

Are there costs associated with pursuing an ideal lifestyle? Of course. There are always costs to doing what is in one’s heart to do. These may be financial costs (earning less money) or opportunity costs (we can only do one thing at a time), but there will always be trade-offs with any choice. For me, the costs are insignificant compared to the gains. I would rather earn less money and be able to live the life that I want. I would gladly suffer some minor discomfort or inconvenience to gain freedom.

On the road

My first day back on the road I went to the Black Hills. I have always loved the Black Hills since I first saw them in 1999. I spent a couple of days exploring, and camped in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. In addition to driving, I also hiked a bit near Mount Rushmore and cycled on the Mickleson Trail from Deadwood toward Lead.

After a couple of days in the Black Hills, I migrated to central Montana to take care of a few necessities. I am currently camped on the Yellowstone River for a few days.

Looking forward, I plan to (more or less) continue to be based around Wyoming through the summer months before migrating to Arizona and/or California (perhaps visiting Slab City again) for the winter. There is also a good chance that I will head down to Arizona in June. The summer Rubber Tramp Rendezvous will be held in mid-June near Flagstaff. After the RTR I will likely head to Sedona to hike and bike for a while before migrating back to Wyoming for the rest of the summer.

Let me know if it sounds like our paths may cross this summer. It is always nice to meet fellow nomads.

Digital nomad, minimalist, writer, photographer, and videographer. In my spare time, I like to hike, read, or study maps for ideas about where to visit next.


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Terri Ann Witham

Terri Ann Witham
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