October 3, 2012

Living Simply - Nomads

The Bedouin are stateless nomadic desert dwelling herders.
If modern life is all it's cracked up to be, how come there are still millions of people choosing to live nomadic lifestyles? There are up to 80 million nomads in India alone, and tens of millions more in the rest of the world.

Up until 10,000 years ago, all humans were nomads, roaming the wilderness and living off its abundance. Many people around the world are still living a nomadic existence, whether it is the millions of current traditionalists, or more modern versions of life on the road.

When Linda and I met it was a chance encounter of two wandering souls, and we recognized that fact at first glance. Our first 5 dates all involved traveling and camping, and our wanderlust continues unabated to this day.

Whether it is a voyage around the neighbourhood, or a walk around the world, we are perpetually curious about what is up ahead, and around the corner.

30% of Mongolia's 30 million people are nomadic
10 years ago we went nomadic for a full year. We had sublet our coop unit for the year, so had essentially made ourselves homeless. There is something about not knowing where you are going to sleep at night that adds a whole new urgency and excitement to life.

In the course of the next year we logged some 10,000 km (6,000 miles) driving and commando camping in the back of our small pick up as we travelled from the Pacific to the Atlantic in Canada.

We travelled a further 30,000 km (18,000 miles) by plane, bus, horse drawn cart, train, boat, scooter, foot and ferry as we zigzagged our way to the other side of the planet, then back again.

While overseas we each carried a mid-sized backpack, and over the course of 7 months their meagre contents were all we needed. We washed our clothes in sinks, and bathed out of buckets of steamy hot water. We lived on bread, cheese, cheap wine and whatever the locals were eating. Fortifying stuff for people on the move.

Gokarna, India
We usually spent one or two nights in a location, then moved on. It was all pretty organic - when it felt like time to move, we would go, and when it felt good to stay, we would linger.

The longest we stayed in one place (4 weeks) was in India where we temporarily settled in Gokarna, a small temple town on the Arabian Sea.

While nomadic we were as disconnected as we could get, and the lightness and freedom of movement was exhilarating. It was a constant source of satisfaction that we lived as well as we did with the minimal possessions we carried with us.

I remember thinking, "If I can live for months on end with the things I have in my pack, do I really need all that stuff in storage back home?" We came to realizations during our year on the road that would forever change the way we viewed our lives.

We could see that there is a good reason that so many people spurn modern life and voluntarily choose to live traditionally simple lives on the road. It is a light and unfettered existence, and it is more sustainable than sedentary, high-consumption lifestyles.

40% of ethnic Tibetans are nomadic
You can get a taste of the nomadic lifestyle wherever you are by jettisoning the unnecessary baggage and keeping things light.

It is not so much about being on the move as it is knowing that your life is so unburdened that you could be on the move in a moments notice if the mood struck. To me, that feels like freedom.

Nomadic Rules For Living Simply
  • keep possessions to a minimum
  • walking is the best way to get around
  • relationships are important, things are not
  • what your shelter looks like is not as important as whether it is light enough to carry, and keeps you warm and dry
  • self-reliance is more secure than dependence
  • enjoy the view, and go with the flow
  • be creative, use your hands
  • be finely tuned to the cycles of nature
  • be in charge of your food supply
  • use music to bring people together - dance, sing!
  • always offer assistance to fellow travelers


  1. Anonymous10/03/2012

    SIGH............. I have that kind of freedom in my soul and that will have to do. Sounds captivating.

    1. "I have that kind of freedom in my soul..."

      That is the only place you really need it.

  2. This was a beautiful article and I agree "having that freedom in your soul" is the only place you really need it.

    For me as each year passes "stuff" becomes less and less important......this has been a long journey coming from a long line of pack rats but the shedding more and more stuff each year and wanting to get down to minimal basics is a liberating direction!

    Great job on another great article!

  3. You stated: "It is not so much about being on the move as it is knowing that your life is so unburdened that you could be on the move in a moments notice if the mood struck."

    My husband and I have moved 14 times in the last 5 years and also had a four year old along the way. Though we have only moved 4 times in the last 3 years (most of our moving was done before that)we still live as you described in your post. No matter where we live or what we live in (a house, apt. van etc.) our goal is to stay unburdened so that moving is easy. Freedom is what is important to us and if we wanted to get up and move today we could. This is one of the reasons we home school our child as well. We love traveling, are adventurous, and believe time together, no matter where it is, is what is important, not things.

    Your statement means freedom to me; unburdened by stuff, bills, or material possessions!

    1. Wow! That is a lot of moving. It sounds like an unconventional, but interesting life.

      We have been living very locally for the past eight years, but can feel a move coming on lately. With winter coming it could just be a natural reaction to want to flee to a warmer climate till spring.

      Travel, adventure, and time together are important to us as well. Of those, time together is the most important.

      Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

  4. I like your sentiment, but it seems like you are projecting your own choices and intentions onto people whose ability to "choose" something alternative to "modern life" is not the same as yours - and they're people from entirely different cultures (who are in fact living "modern" lives, albeit ones different from ours). So I seriously doubt they share the motivations and values of North American simple livers like us, and I think it's important not to flatten massive contextual differences.

    1. It is difficult to ascertain what individual's motivations are in choosing the way they live, whether in our own culture, or others. It is different for everyone.

      However, freedom is a human need, and we will find ways of maximizing it wherever we live.

      Whatever the reasons, some people choose to live as nomads in our modern world, such as the Bedouin of the Sinai Desert (Egypt).

      Permanent concrete structures were built to house them in the 1990s, and they were coerced to stay put. For a while they built small structures against the outside walls of the concrete boxes, but they did not use the inside.

      Although they were threatened with violence if they moved, they said, "La, shukron", packed up their tents, and ventured back out into the sands of time.

      You are right, and we can not gloss over differences in context. We also can't ignore the human universals that bring us together to show how similar we all are.

  5. Anonymous3/10/2016

    I find it very, um, interesting that this nomadic Bedouin has a large, disposable plastic water bottle next to him. You can run, but you can't hide from civilization.

    1. That is tragi-funny. Thanks for pointing out this oddity of modern mixed with age old lifestyle.


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