7 Revealing Lessons: Powerful Habits of the Nomadic Lifestyle

7 Revealing Lessons: Powerful Habits of the Nomadic Lifestyle

BBC presenter Kate Humble and her team have put together an incredible documentary series about people who are currently living the nomadic lifestyle. 

These are not your modern tech-savvy nomads living and working from exotic beaches around the world. Instead, the documentary focuses on the lives of tried and true nomads living remotely in Mongolia, Nepal, and Siberia.

Continually moving about, and never really settling anywhere longer than a season, these people understand a deeper meaning of living in accordance with nature. While it all can seem a bit romantic, those who are born into living the nomadic lifestyle have no easy quest ahead of them.

From merchants to livestock herders, and the earliest traditions of hunting and gathering, nomads have relied on these subsistence methods for thousands of years. The developments of agriculture and civilization are relatively recent in comparison to the nomadic lifestyle.

Indeed, civilization has only existed for a tiny fraction of how long there have been nomads.

But even then, the development of the internet is even more recent. Not only has it allowed us to look in and share insights about the lives of nomads, it has also offered civilized humans vast privileges in other ways. 

Many today are learning to travel with a “location independent” mindset while regularly making an income online.

They too are calling themselves nomads.

With these two seemingly opposed traditions of nomadic lifestyle, a revealing question arises. What lessons can these modern tech-savvy nomads learn from the earlier ancestral traditions living the nomadic lifestyle?

Ancient Nomads

Perhaps at one time, following the signs of the seasons would have come as intuitive to virtually everyone that existed on Earth. The knowledge of where to find green pastures, when a storm was coming, or how to consume edible plants all would have been in the ancient nomad’s repertoire.

Today, due to societal pressures and the emergence of cash economies, many tribes with a heritage in nomadic living have ceased to exist. Many of them have instead found greater comfort by moving to cities and working for an income.

But there are a few authentic instances of the nomadic lifestyle still existing.

Although they are often disrespected by surrounding societal groups, these nomadic tribes provide an inexhaustible source of wisdom for living outside the normal pressures of civilization.

From the Mbuti people in the Congo of Africa, to the Bedouin people of the Arabian Desert, and the contested group of the Irish Travellers, the tradition of nomadic living has never been more challenging.

Fortunately, for many traditional nomads the lifestyle is absolutely sacred, and a deeply entrenched part of their culture. They persevere to safeguard that heritage in a number of ways.

These are the lessons they have to teach to the contemporaneous tech-savvy nomad.

Herding camels in the high desert of Mongolia.

Lessons of the Nomadic Lifestyle

1. Go where conditions are ripe.

Agreeably, the most obvious lesson in living a nomadic lifestyle is to go where conditions are best. This can mean anything from warm weather to strong internet connections for the technological nomad.

Many traditional nomadic tribes travel from place to place depending on what the weather is doing. While one camp may be suitable for grazing yak in the summer, the cold and bitter wind could render it undesirable in the winter.

Still, other nomadic groups sometimes travel every couple of days.

Sometimes the tribes decides that it needs to change its proximity to the nearest city, or that there is a predatory threat affecting the livelihood of their herd of animals. Other times, it may be that there is a bad omen and the area simply doesn’t feel right.

The biggest lesson here is to confidently go in search of better conditions. 

There is simply no sense in staying in an area where the resources have grown thin. Sometimes, environmental circumstances are just outside of our control.

If you’re truly going to live the nomadic lifestyle, you’ve got to let your sense of mobility find the best opportunities anywhere around.

2. Learn to make friends everywhere you go.

The currency of kindness never goes out of style no matter where you roam.

The lesson here is two-sided. Friendliness has the possibility to lead you to establishing a strong alliance, and it sometimes can lead to a valuable experience. But in addition to this, friendliness can teach you the value of travelling in a group.

Many nomadic tribes are what they are today because they work together in a group. They live together, they work together, and they travel to town together to sell goods.

While it may be more than simple friendship that holds these tribes together, their formal agreements of cooperation reveal that there is strength in numbers. Even if you’re not travelling with another 24/7, it can be good to have others that you can go to in times of need.

This is especially so when arriving in a new and novel city. 

Just like traditional nomads know where to find edible plants, pure drinking water, and safe passages, a local friend can show you where the best deals are, how to find hidden excursions, and what the local laws are.

If time is you’re most precious commodity, knowing others in the area is the second most precious commodity for how to effectively use your time.

3. Only pack what is necessary.

Anyone who has ever traveled and lived out of a backpack knows this important lesson.

If you’re going to living the nomadic lifestyle, many commercial commodities will have to be narrowed down so that you only have the essentials.

Indeed, most nomadic tribes bring everything with them when they’re travelling to a new area. Although some traditional nomads have vehicles, many of them do not. This makes the modern day backpacker and the traditional nomad nearly identical.

The only difference is that the backpacker and the tech-savvy nomad can usually afford to rent a place of residence. The nomadic tribes, on the other hand, oftentimes carry the entire structure of their house with them, along with any additional amenities needed.

Usually, even when you think you’ve reduced your items to the bare minimum, you still have too much. This is what truly makes living with less so important.

The best practice is generally to look at every item you intend on bringing, and ask yourself if your life depends on it. If not, sell it for cash to extend the adventure. 

Almost nothing disrupts travelling more quickly than realizing that those cool rocks you found and those eight books you decided to bring are absolutely annihilating the ligaments in your shoulders.

camel of a nomad
Although, if you do have a camel to spare they don't seem to mind carrying tons of stuff.

4. The value of hard work.

No one can talk about the value of hard work more than the nomads. 

Literally every ounce of work they absorb their time with directly effects their survival. Whether it be shearing livestock, carving utensils, assembling sturdy shelters, or finding reliable sources of food, traditional nomads make their living by staying alive.

There’s just no room for laziness when it comes to sustaining yourself while travelling.

Although there may be better conditions in one area over another, hard work can often mean the difference between starvation and prosperity. Labor may come in many different fashions, but it always amounts to improving upon any situation.

Imagine what would become of a tribe that simply tired of chopping wood to built shelters. In many cases, they would either be forced into permanent settlement, or worse yet, the whole tribe may perish from exposure to the elements.

This is also what makes the nomadic lifestyle different than a vacation.

When civilized people go on vacations, it’s simply to take a break from work. Those who are living the nomadic lifestyle full-time instead are finding ways to work. 

As worldwide traveler, Rolf Potts once wrote, “A vacation, after all, merely rewards work. Vagabonding,” which is the essence of the nomadic lifestyle, “justifies it.”

5. Endurance in the harshest of conditions.

Almost as important as the value of hard work, learning to endure when the going gets rough is where real strength comes in.

If the nomadic tribes of Siberia threw in the towel any time a harsh snow storm threatened to destroy their reindeer herd, they wouldn’t be known as some of the strongest surviving nomads in the world.

Similarly, if the modern tech-savvy nomad gave up every time money was lost due to a faulty internet connection, there would be vastly fewer people travelling to remote places around the world. 

This is a lesson not only in continuing to do what is necessary, but also in learning to persist when challenges begin to arise. Indeed, the true testament of a nomad’s thinking skills is in the ingenuity of constantly pushing forward, despite the emergence of difficulties.

This endurance allows for the survival of nomadic lifestyles adapted to infertile regions, like that of the steppe, the tundra, and the desert.

Endurance requires strength, ingenuity, and probably also, efficiency.

These three components are what allow nomads to persist in virtually all conditions. Nomads learn to withstand the tests of time, and to outlive any unfortunate circumstance that may arise.

nomadic men
These nomadic men of Mongolia are prepared for every season of weather.

6. An ability to work with the land.

Nomadic tribes focus on two principles when it comes to working the land: renewable resources and avoiding over-exploitation.

While work in the mining industry may offer more of a monthly income, pastoral nomads raising herds of animals are often reluctant to become miners. Aside from the fact that mining would require a mostly settled life, mining precious minerals is also a limited endeavor.

Sooner or later, a mine is exhausted of its potential. On the other hand, animals are constantly growing and reproducing. Their fur will always be a commodity, their meat a delicacy, and their milk a source of nourishment.

The lesson here is to learn how to focus on what will be renewable and rewarding.

In addition to this though, nomadic tribes excel at avoiding over-grazing pastures. They know to take only what they need, not only while travelling, but also while subsisting in any particular area. The same goes for avoiding deforestation.

Working with the land means protecting it while you are working it. Renewable resources are crucial to the nomad’s lifestyle, not only for subsistence, but also in managing waste.

For the nomad, utilizing every part of any particular resource is just as important as avoiding over-exploitation. Because of this, nomads have learned to invest in continually rewarding sources of assets.

7. Pride in what you do.

Finally, the nomadic lifestyle is a source of pride for many traditional nomads.

Although many nomadic tribes live in poverty by societal standards, they absolutely maintain a sense of dignity in how they’re choosing to live their lives. To many nomads, being able to remain mobile is the most precious way of life.

With governmental pressures, suspicions from settled people, and the development of pastoral lands, the choice to be nomadic is no easy one. In many ways, the temptation for nomadic tribes to become settled is encouraged by modern luxuries.

However, those that remain are surely proud to call themselves nomads.

There are many kinds of people that may additionally be said to be living a nomadic lifestyle, aside from the traditional nomadic tribes and the tech-savvy nomads. Indeed, anyone who is travelling long term has some amount of that spirit within.

It’s important to remember that there is pride in the decision to not live a settled life. After all, everything that’s gained from the nomadic lifestyle can often outweigh the dross of a settled life.

This sense of pride does not necessarily mean to tell others how to live, but rather to simply revel in the day to day adventures, and to be merry along the way.

nomadic life in the desert
There's plenty of reasons to be happy when every day provides a new adventure.

Living like a Nomad

While it may not be for everyone, the nomadic lifestyle has a whole host of benefits contingent to the challenges that arise from such a way of living.

Nomads learn to think on their toes with a sharp wit and a few basic tools. They learn how to live in accordance with Earth’s natural laws, rather than with restrictive societal regulations. They work hard and carry on the joy of an age-old heritage.

But above all, nomads have some of the most genuine smiles around. For them, life is just a passing through, and for that, they take immense pleasure in the honest joys of living.

The nomadic lifestyle takes many shapes and forms. From its ancient form to the newest modes of global travel, every nomad has something to teach. 

So no matter whether you’re working online from a remote location or just hopping on a bus to explore some new city, remember those nomads who have come before you. They’re the ones you really have to thank for imprinting the habits and techniques to successfully live a nomadic lifestyle.

As always, thanks for reading.


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