February 3, 2012

Why Do You Wander?

“All men are lonely. But sometimes it seems to me that we Americans are the loneliest of all. Our hunger for foreign places and new ways has been with us almost like a national disease. Our literature is stamped with a quality of longing and unrest, and our writers have been great wanderers.” 
-Carson McCullers 

As you guys might have noticed, I'm very interested in nomads in general and modern American nomad in particular. They have been a subculture within almost every society in the world for thousands of years. While Romani and Travelers are normally family groups, there are an extraordinary number of people who have chosen this lifestyle with no established family connection to nomadic lifestyles. I'm not just talking about today, people have been taking to the road for a variety of reasons for generations.

I think that people, in general, seem to take the path of least resistance and, as a sociologist, modern nomads interest me because this is not an easy path. Vehicle dwelling, or non stationary dwelling in general, is abnormal (I say that in the nicest way) and it seems to me that very few people would take to the road (live far outside social conventions and open themselves to ridicule) voluntarily. This means that there must be a reason. For me the reason was partially monetary (I didn't have the money to go to school and have an apartment) and partially due to my nature (a very short attention span for places and occupations).

I was an anthropology major (a long time ago) and my anthropological side has questions about nomads as well. This is an ancient tradition that crosses boarders, culture, nationality, and gender. We wander, we stop, we settle, we pick up stakes and wander some more. America is unique in that we are almost all the decendence of long distence wanderers. Maybe your family crossed the land bridge between Russia and Alaska, maybe they came on a ship from England or Ireland, maybe they emegrated from Denmark or China or Inida. With nomadic traditions from around the world we were all thrown into the American melting pot and it is no wonder that wandering continued to be a valid (if highly stigmatized) option.

I'm very lucky that in this, my last semester of college, I found an awesome proffesor who is willing to sponsor an independent study. The general topic is "Houseless Vs. Homeless" and he is giving me a long leash so my research can go whatever direction it needs to. I plan to spend the next few months reading lots of books (Check out the Helpful Books section of this blog) and asking lots of questions.

So here's the question that I put to the peanut gallery today:  

Why do you wander?  

It it necessity? Nature? Is it wanderlust, like the Sea Gypsy? It takes a lot sometimes to examin our own motivations.


  1. I wander in search for meaning. There seems to be something inside of me that drives me. That's about as simple as I can put it. I never had much of a family life and moved a lot as a child, so no real friendships/community ties were formed. As an adult I made extremely questionable decisions and actions. These led me to be more on the outside looking in. I wander because I know my tribe is out there waiting for my return/arrival, and that is the place where I belong. I am able to function in society, hold down a job, make good money etc., but after awhile I become self destructive and for lack of a better word "bored". I too feel the pressures of society in general telling me to get a real job, a house, a family, "set down some roots". I want those things as well, but I want them on my terms. I guess what I am saying is I wander because I am a nonconformist and want it my way, but I do feel that there is something there at the end; The family I always wanted and the life I always dreamed of. Maybe I have all ready found all I desire and a place to belong; I just do not realize it, or just maybe, I am chasing pipe dreams. Hope that helps.

  2. For as long as I can remember I've been moving. From elementary school straight to college was a different school in a different city or state just about every year. Instead of being the jock, or the cool kid, I was always the "new kid". So being alone is something I've kinda gotten use to. No reason like military brat or anything, it just kinda worked out that way. So I guess it is pretty much encoded in my DNA at this point. For a brief period I did enjoy some stability, but simply put I screwed it up. I made some really bad choices (something I seem to have a natural talent for) and now that world is gone to me forever.. I can never look back. So I figure why be homeless in one place.. I might as well be homeless -everywhere-. That's all a nomad or drifter really is, just a traveling homeless person. A hobo with "wanderlust". I wish I could say that wonderful quote at the top of this post applied to me, but the truth is I really am lost. I just keep moving, making this whole thing up as I go, hoping to one day find the answer at the end of the road.. if there is one.

  3. I wander because I'm curious... I have a low threshold for boredom and I'm weird. Weird because I don't fit in ... lord knows I've tried and still try.

    I'll be 69 March 28th... and I'm ready to roll again. Just waiting on family stuff to clear... Haven't a clue why I'm different. I just am. I've begun to accept it and not fight it.

    So, therefore, I wander with wonder .... ;)

  4. I wander because I am Rom. At heart, and by ancestry. Is it a genetic trait? Not so. We Americans are always seeking new adventure, unless we are stuck in the syndrome that organized society chains us with. We seek to be free. Free in mind, free in spirit. And some will never break free. Fear of the unknown will keep many of us enclosed in boxes and jobs that will take us nowhere but a vicious circle of debt and paying bills. We Rom hail from the mighty Carpathian mountains and knew no borders, and expanded west from there. The American west is the modern version of the last bastion of the semi-free, where in relative freedom you can wander and explore, and live off the grid. Try that in the east, and you will find it very difficult to exist in this lifestyle. For many, society dictates our path in life, and I find that untenable.

  5. While l do love to find and see and experience new places, that alone is not the full reason why l do wander.

    It's more of, if l stay in one place doing the same thing every day, it would be like death to me. So l wander and move ot stay alive, to keep feeling.

  6. Hi Ash. Exploring and camping has been a journey of self-discovery and personally enriching.

    I love living in a van because it effectively helps me manage what was a very problematic case of bipolar disorder without the need for medication. It allows for an affordable, productive, independent life in my own "home" without having to go on disability. I can only envision how exciting it was for the pioneers!

    It is so fun to explore new places and see new things, learn new skills, eat new foods, and make new friends.

    Every day I see so many miserable people lamenting on Facebook. I used to be one of them but got rid of all the shackles.

    Take care! I sure enjoy your blog.

  7. Growing up my family never traveled much. I lived in Ohio and rarely left Ohio. All my mom's relatives lived 3 hours away, and all my childhood she always wished we could live closer to them. It was embedded in my mind. I went to a local college, and my friends were practically horrified when I moved 2 hours away after college to get a job. Every single one of my high school friends moved back in with their parents, or at least back to our hometown.

    After working in the suburbs of Ohio with an 8-5 job for three years, I couldn't take it anymore. I realized that moving city to city around Ohio is not enough for me. Cutting my hair and changing my clothes was just not enough change. I was bored, and I couldn't think of a single reason to stay.

    So last year at age 25 I moved into my van and started slowly traveling the US. I plan to get my passport soon so I can expand my travels. One of the best perks of living in my van: I can finally get my college loans paid off a lot faster. Once they are gone, I'll really be free to travel anywhere, anytime I feel like it.

    So I'd say that my main reason to wander is boredom and saving money.

  8. I wander when I can because I know there's SO MUCH MORE out there than what I surround myself with at home. Most of my family is content living in one place. My dad has only left the state of Maine a few times in his entire 67 year life. My 43 year old brother is currently building a house a few hundred feet from the house we grew up in and my dad still lives in.

    I am just not content with such a small window of the world. I may never get to visit foriegn countries (flying is too claustrophobic for me) but I'll see much of canada, the US and hopefully Mexico in my lifetime.

    When I was 23 I travelled from Portland Maine to Fairbanks Alaska (and back) on a little 450 honda motorcycle. I went alone and tented the entire trip. It was awesome!

    I see my dad (who's now in a wheelchair almost permenantly) wheeling himself around his home and he's still talking about how he wants to buy a 5th wheel trailer and travel the ccountry with his wife. I think deep down we all know that's never going to happen. I say to all who can travel and who want to travel... just go do it. Find a way. Tomorrow it may be too late.

  9. I wander because I know who I am and exactly where I come from. Nothing threatens that so I can accept everything and everybody.
    I can afford to go away because I know I can always come back.
    I possess a completely comprehensive genealogy research down to the 17th century (thanks grandpa) and I seem to be the only one who ever walked away from it all.
    So I do.
    Because I can.

    Love your blog! Keep writing! Be everything you can!

  10. I cannot tell you exactly why I wander. Hoping not to sound pompous I would say in part it is for wisdom, for poetry and for fun. We are all innately better than we think, and we are all more enlightened than we know. But we are social beings who take our stamp from the world and culture around us. Wandering allows us to escape from that stamp and come closer to truly being ourselves. It also teaches us lessons about what we truly need and don't need. The Te Ching teaches that the person who knows that enough is enough will always have enough. We forget that sometimes. We need open space to breath and to love and to enjoy our brief fling upon this planet. For those who believe that we are here to learn, wandering is a way of following the instructions handed us by the Universe. In wandering we meet new people, places and new ideas. And we return to become the child again that we really are. There is nothing more delicious than watching the sun come up over a sleepy mountain and making coffee and sipping it as if it were the first, best and only cup of coffee there ever was or ever will be -- and that is the fun and the poetry above and apart from the wisdom of the open road and the open life.


  11. Hey Ash !
    With me its the excitement of the open road. Seeing new places that I have never seen before. Meeting new people that I have never met before. Basically in a nutshell .... "PURE FREEDOM" ... to go where ever I want to go. Go
    whenever I want to. Visit whatever I want to visit without a time frame and a job that says I "only" have two weeks vacation. Spend "quality or quantity" of time when needed.


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