Sal Santiago writes about travel, minimalism, philosophy, and living an alternative lifestyle.
Is it better to be nomadic, or to be rooted and settled in one place, and never venturing far from your home?
Everything is always in motion, everything is constantly changing, evolving, even if the changes happen at such a slow pace that things appear to remain mostly the same for long periods. Is it better to be nomadic, or to be rooted and settled in one place, and never venturing far from your home? I suppose it is more a matter of personal preference, what your nature inclines you towards, and the seasons of your life. For most of my life, I feel I’ve leaned towards being a nomad.
Even if I couldn’t always actually stray very far, due to a job, being broke, and other circumstances, I was nomadic in spirit. I did my traveling then through books, memories, the imagination. The desire to travel, to explore, to venture far from home, to see what’s beyond the horizon, was in me at a young age. It manifested, I believe, in the numerous times I ran away from home – sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone – striking out for new territories. That is, places we hadn’t yet been to in the city we lived in. I knew that as soon as I was out of school, I would be leaving my home town. I wanted to experience what life was like in other cities and countries.
It could be the landscape that draws you, you hear the mountains or the ocean calling you, or maybe the northern lights.
The place I grew up in seemed dull, narrow-minded (without an awareness of the larger world). To my high school self, the people were narrow, and indeed sometimes bizarre. Surely there had to be other places where people really knew how to live, and were doing interesting things. No one read books, only a handful of me and my friends, it seemed. We felt alienated, out of place, strangers in the town we were born in. Most of us knew we’d get out of there, as soon as school was finished, and likely never move back.
Looking back on growing up in this type of environment, I see more of the positives. It seems fruitful to be bored, to have to rely on your own imagination, to make your own fun, and find your own adventures. I feel we were probably one of the last generations to spend most of our youth outdoors. Today’s kids are raised in front of screens, and on a tighter leash.
What do I love about being a nomad? Perhaps it is the excitement in possibility. You get tired of the scene in one place, and you know in your heart that it’s time to bolt. It could be the landscape that draws you, you hear the mountains or the ocean calling you, or maybe the northern lights. Or another culture, another climate, on the other side of the planet.
Perhaps it was some of the people in my hometown who I knew growing up. You just knew they would never leave. (They were paying off the mortgage, working an uninteresting job). They spent most of their free hours in front of the TV. I saw that life and knew I wanted to avoid it – that I would do whatever I could to avoid it, to not become bored and bitter, to avoid the traps that so many people willingly walked into. In my heart I knew there had to be more to life. There had to be other ways of living, of learning, growth, experience, living life as full as possible and in a more creative way. An alternative to the way society told us we were supposed to live. I took jobs and lived around the US, and around the world.
Sometimes it’s good to throw caution to the wind – to take risks, to break out of your comfort zone, to leave your routine behind.
I had a minimalist lifestyle, making it a point to only own the bare essentials. This lifestyle made me feel most free. Many people say, if they had more money and time, the one thing they would like to do is to travel – to see more of the planet. We’re on this earth for such a short time. Sometimes it’s good to throw caution to the wind – to take risks, to break out of your comfort zone, to leave your routine behind.
Often, what you will find in your journey, is something that changes your life – opens your mind, gives you a fresh way of thinking, gives you greater understanding of yourself and the world. It’s in our DNA – for millennium we were hunters and gatherers, naturally nomadic – before the advent of agriculture. The cultural memory is still in our blood.
In the animal world – being nomadic is their natural way, the way they have evolved. The great caribou migrations of Alaska and Northern Canada, the migration of many bird species between the northern and southern hemispheres, the monarch butterfly. The vast territories in which many animals roam – deer, bears, wolves, bobcats, hawks, vultures. Roaming for food, and with the changing of the seasons. For humans, even just a season in your life, of being nomadic, can bring so many benefits. There is no better education than the experiences you will have.
Do we ever reach an age where we outgrow these nomadic urges? In my opinion, it’s highly doubtful.
As I’ve gotten older, I like to be rooted in one place for longer periods of time. Better to focus, establish my routine, and get work done. I’ve learned the value of having a home to return to after a period of traveling, especially after the death of my parents, since there was no home base to return to then. That has probably added to my feeling of dislocation and rootlessness. It actually forced me to be at ease with the rootlessness, at ease without stability, and the feeling that wherever I lay my hat is home. I became more adaptable, flexible, able to go with the flow, learned to live without a safety net. Though if I ever hit rock bottom, I have the support of siblings. So there is that reassurance, which is huge and gives great piece of mind. I have to remember not everyone has that much.
When you become more rooted in one place, all of your experiences as a nomad will truly help you appreciate it. Having pets, plants (two things I come to miss when moving around a lot), a garden perhaps, finding some sort of community, if you are able to. As you are looking back on the arc of your journey, all of your nomadic memories will be a great sustenance – a source of joy, laughter, strength, wisdom.
Do we ever reach an age where we outgrow these nomadic urges? In my opinion, it’s highly doubtful. Everything has its time and season, in the evolving eras of your life. And when you are old and grey, (perhaps rich in free time), longing for freedom and a life of adventure, you can once again say to hell with it all, hop into an RV and hit the road.
Sal Santiago (author) from Minnesota on September 15, 2021:
Hi Cynthia, thank you for reading and for your kind comments, I appreciate it. Have a wonderful day
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on September 03, 2021:
Nicely written. Although i am what we used to call a "homebody," i almost feel impelled to do some traveling in my old age after reading this motivational piece. Good work!
Sal Santiago (author) from Minnesota on September 02, 2021:
Thank you for reading, Liz. I appreciate your comments. Have a great day.
Liz Westwood from UK on September 01, 2021:
You have used your own experiences to great effect in this article. It gives a good insight into the nomadic lifestyle.