Living nowhere isn’t for the faint of heart: it requires an act of courage, a willingness to defy expectations, and a constant logistical battle. It’s a challenging path that each person has to walk herself.
So nomads are highly individual, but they’re also shockingly alike, sharing many common personality traits, aspirations, values, backgrounds, and weird hang-ups. However much we think we choose this lifestyle, the lifestyle also chooses us.
Here are the most common features I’ve observed in those who live nowhere.
Craving for novelty. Nomads aren’t content to live in the place where they were born (or otherwise ended up by circumstance). They see the world as a giant place to be explored, and they crave the stimulation that comes from new people, places, languages, and experiences. They are insatiably curious.
Life-long thirst for adventure. At some point in a nomad’s young life, someone introduced him to the concept of adventure—i.e., willingly placing oneself in a state of discomfort in pursuit of a grand goal—as a positive and desirable thing. And the idea stuck.
Die-hard individualism. Nomads want to feel like masters of their lives. They want to do things their own way. They scorn those whose authority feels unearned or undeserved, and they’re fundamentally skeptical of large organizations and bureaucracies.
Fear of commitment. Nomads are deathly afraid of getting stuck somewhere (or with someone) they really don’t like. Many had a formative experience of feeling “trapped” in their young life that they never want to repeat. They keep their options open as long as possible, sometimes to their detriment.
Future orientation. Nomads live in their heads much more than the average person does. They’re always plotting their next move, trip, or project. This helps with long-term planning but hurts with experiencing and appreciating the here-and-now.
Countercultural bent. Nomads are skeptical of traditional careers, received wisdom, and whatever else the larger culture tells them to do. They’re attracted to nonconformist ideals and alternative lifestyles, even if they don’t personally believe in or practice them.
Early experiences with travel. Whether it was a road trip, international adventure, exchange program, or summer at grandma’s, most nomads were gifted with a positive travel experience early in their lives: something that showed them that the world is much bigger and more interesting than they previously thought. Their parents were probably travelers too.
Privilege. World travel and the freedom of migration have always been the domain of the privileged. This isn’t something to be ashamed of, just something to acknowledge. Nomads are overwhelmingly white, middle and upper class, able-bodied, and the citizens of Western nations (with passports that allow unrestricted entrance to most other countries). Male nomads enjoy the privilege of safe solo travel in more places than female nomads do. And most nomads enjoy the privilege of being raised in an individualistic culture that embraces the idea of personal development, instead of one that shames and condemns those who leave behind their family and homeland to explore the world.
Entrepreneurialism. Many nomads have an entrepreneurial parent (or other significant figure) in their lives: someone who convinced them to blaze their own path through the world.
Financial savvy. Travel presents a million ways to spend one’s money; therefore, a nomad will not remain a nomad very long if she lacks financial discipline. Those who live nowhere are typically better at managing money than their friends and peers.
Self-directed learning. Living nowhere demands constant self-education, whether you’re finding new places to live, adapting to new cultures, and devising creative ways to earn a living. Nomads are de facto self-directed learners. They’re typically great at googling their own questions, they relish any chance to do independent research, and they’re voracious readers.
Liberalism. Liberals and libertarians are more likely to be nomads than conservatives. As the moral philosopher Jonathan Haidt explained in his 2008 TED Talk, “The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives”:
It really is a fact that liberals are much higher than conservatives on a major personality trait called openness to experience. People who are high in openness to experience just crave novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel. People low on it like things that are familiar, that are safe and dependable.
Sensitivity to climate. Many nomads change locations in order to follow a certain type of weather that energizes them. For me it’s hot, dry, and sunny weather: the same kind that I grew up with in California. Others are drawn toward snow, humidity, ocean breezes, or a specific season.