August 24, 2011

Modern Nomads

Yesterday I began my post by stating that we are nomads living in a sedentary society. This raised a few eyebrows from people who wondered how any nomadic group (collective or individual) could exist within such a structured culture as the United States.

As both a western and organizationally agricultural society, we aren’t use to people who are not in some way tied to land. Private property is a cornerstone of any free market and a home has been presented as the ideal for so long that we sometimes forget that nomadic people existed long before what we consider neighborhoods.

The life of nomads is a source of both scientific and popular fascination, so there have been hundreds of anthropological studies done on the social and economic organization of tribes.  I've included a short list at the bottom of some of my favorites, but I highly encourage people to read about the nomadic lifestyles that are still in existence today. Gypsies are still very active in many countries as well as the five animal people of the Gobi Desert.

Vehicle dwellers are one of these groups of modern nomads and share their basic needs with nomadic groups around the world. They move according to the temperature of the seasons and the availability of work. This causes us to adapt quickly to changing situations, plan far ahead, and give up comforts that have become expected in our society.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of nomadic people in the United States existing within the structured society that has been created here. A reader who stumbled across this sight recently expressed surprise there were so many vehicle dwellers. This is a byproduct of the “myth of the nomad” which has existed in every culture for as long as there have been stationary communities (Khazanov 1984:2). People are weary if not outright afraid of nomadic people. They are viewed as somewhat unnatural in their detachment from common housing and orthodox values. They have historically been labeled as disease carriers, uncivilized, and undesirable. In WWII 231,800 gypsies we executed because they were believed to have criminal tendencies and spread sickness.  

As a result of the attached societal stigma, most modern US and European nomads stay somewhat hidden behind a facade of “respectability”. You will find that stealth and staying hidden in your host community is necessary and widely discussed. We don't do this for our comfort, but because it makes the people around us less nervous and therefore less likely to forcibly move us or cause other problems. It doesn’t help that vehicle dwellers have in recent years been lumped into the all too broad category of “homeless”, which comes with its own stigma.

Just remember: “The sharp contrast that separates nomads and sedentary peoples does not mean… that these two human groups live independently of each other. They are two parts of the same social mechanism, and its progress is dependent upon their collaboration” (Gautier 1921:7). I was talking to my nephew a while back about what an awesome world he lives in. There are pirates in Somalia, nomads in Mongolia, and we’ve put men on the moon. How cool is that? Maybe at no other time in history have there been so many people living such different lives in such close proximity.

Recommended Reading on Nomads

 TIP: I'm lucky in that, as a college student, I have access to tons of articles that normally require an expensive subscription. Google Scholar is a great source for free academic articles about nomads, past and present, and their role within cultures.


  1. Great post Ash...I sure enjoy following your blog...

    I always have thought that we as a society here in the US are far more nomadic than we let on...we like to think we are stable but a little search on Google will show that the average American (US citizen) will move 11 times, some way more than that. That is among those who think of themselves as stationary.
    Kit and I moved at one point 5 times in 4 years. That is not counting any time spent traveling or living in a vehicle.
    Amazing really.

  2. Great post, Ash.
    Here in the UK, gypsies are seen in a very negative light, because of their nomadic ways andnrefusal to conform to common law and tradition if not cooperating with the police.
    This makes things a lot harder for non gypsy car dwellers like myself, to find somewhere to park, as most car parks and common land has sophisticated measures to stop gypsies setting up camp on their land. According to British common law, if you occupy land for a certainnammount if time (x years ) it becomes legally yours. So, obviously, the gypsy community carries a very bad stigma in this country, which is more reason to keep my car dwelling lifestyle a secret.
    Back on topic, I think that our ancestors were naturally nomadic, until the introduction of modern faming methods, which were introduced
    , here in England, by the Romans and the Normans. The Norman invasion of 1066, set up land ownership in this country for the first time, and a survey was commissioned called The Domesday Book. You maynwish to spresearch these topics, Ash.
    Hope the gogo mobile is keeping you safe.

  3. Most people in the US don't realize that, besides all of us vandellwers and fulltime RVers,there are traditional nomadic cultures living and traveling here - the Irish Travelers,based mostly out of the south (google Murphy Village) and the Roma. I recently read a good book about the Roma " Gypsies in the City: Culture Patterns and Survival ". It was published in 1975 so obviously it's out of date but still a interesting look at a culture that operates under the radar of the predominately sedentary US culture.

    Great post by the way - I've been enjoying reading about how you're making car dwelling work!

  4. Great post! Most if not all of our forebearers were nomadic peoples at one time or another. Fortunately, some people still heed the call of what we often call wanderlust, the drive or pull of the road, to see what lies around the next bend in the road, or over the next hill. For me the call was always strong, disreguarding convention, and supposed normalcy, willing to endure society's centure, for real freedom's sake.

  5. Since I left the army I have not had a job. I have always been nomadic. When I became tired of a place I would find somewhere else to go. it didnt matter how I got there, I just knew I was going. August 2012 We moved out of the city. a few acres in the country of Georgia and we determined we couldn't maintain the eco farm we were building so we sold everything we could not fit in our trailer and truck. 2-10-2013 We left Savannah, GA and lived on the road for 2 years. Now I live in Colorado on over 5 acres. Been here over a year. I live off the grid in a 30 foot airstream. I am getting back on the road. I am inviting others to join me. Check out the website
    I am working on a trip to Nimbin, Australia to attend their Hemp fest. Mardigrass. Check it out. let me know if you are interested. Thanks. Rick


I love mail so leave a message, ask a question, or give me some advice. You can also email me at