Finding Happiness in Being a Nomad

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by Erin Michelson

Vagabond. Homeless. Drifter. These are just a few of the names thrown at me. But what I am is a nomad: someone with no permanent home base, instead living my life on the road. Sometimes I stay a few months in a city for a consulting assignment, but then I pack up my bag and am off to the next city, country, or continent—the next adventure beckoning.

While there are some drawbacks to this peripatetic lifestyle, such as loneliness and a limited wardrobe, I think the pros far outweigh the cons. Here’re just a few of the benefits of a nomadic lifestyle:

Fast Friendships

Erin quote (1)Usually we nomads are pretty outgoing. We don’t hesitate to introduce ourselves and generally don’t hesitate to jump right in and join the fun. See a game of beach volleyball? I’m sure they need an extra player! Overhear someone’s going to cycle around the city? They might like company!

This overt friendliness helps us to not only establish relationships quickly, but achieve a deep level of intimacy fairly easily. When you know that time to of the essence, a candor results that can lead to fast friendships.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met people for only an afternoon and now we’re lifelong buddies even though they’re in Dublin, Cairo, La Paz, or Kathmandu. The ability to focus on what’s important and embrace the intensity of a new relationship is part of the fun of living a fluid life.

Living Light

Another advantage of a nomadic existence is embracing minimalism. One suitcase is really all you need to sustain yourself for months or even years on the road. It’s amazing how little “stuff” we really need.

When packing I try and only take those things that are essential. To make it into my pack an item must meet a couple of criteria. Does the item have multiple uses? Is it something that I will use every day? Is there a timeliness to the item (like intestinal medicine)? Do I need this item to do my job? Think: small, compact, and necessary.

When you have very few material possessions, you not only fixate on the essential, but also on the things you really love. Some of my most prized possessions seem incidental. A small leather purse with an intricate aboriginal design from Australia. A headband made of bamboo carved with a Tibetan prayer bought in Mongolia. A traditional white scarf hand-embroidered with violet flowers given to me by a friend in Ethiopia. These are things I truly cherish and choose to carry with me.

Cultivating Curiosity

Living on the road is the best way to learn. It’s like living in a library. Around every corner is a new community. Turning left leads into a new neighborhood. Taking a boat instead of flying means you see the life of rural villagers up close.

If you have an insatiable curiosity like I do, then a nomadic existence is one way to satisfy the itch of discovery. Nearly every day you can learn about a new culture, practice an unknown language, and eat a baffling array of food. When I’m overseas, I’m constantly surprised and amazed at the world around me. Traveling feeds my addiction to the unknown.

Canvasing the World

After more than three years living on the road, I’m still thriving on my nomadic lifestyle. The best part is going to bed each night and dreaming of where I’ll travel to next, that my itinerary is only limited by my imagination. My creativity knows no bounds is only starting to express itself as a canvas that is a map of all continents.

About Erin

Erin Michelson ParaglidingErin Michelson is a social entrepreneur and the author of Adventure Philanthropist: Great Adventures Volunteering Abroad. The book chronicles her 2 years traveling to more than 60 countries and all 7 continents volunteering with nonprofit organizations along the way. Leaving the world of corporate finance to work in the nonprofit arena, Erin currently runs a consulting firm specializing in growth strategies for international nonprofit organizations. Living a nomadic life, Erin continues to write, speak, volunteer, and travel widely. You can follow her “living and giving” adventures on

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