Living Life As A Vagabond

The word vagabond seems to carry such a negative connotation in our society. (thank you Wikipedia) It is often used to reference a drifter, a grifter, a bum, or a hobo. Truth is it is little more than a person who wanders from place to place without a settled home. That is the definition anyway. If the tiny house movement has taught anything though it is that home is more a state of mind and less a physical location. A house is not a home. A home doesn’t have to be just a house.  I like to think of a vagabond as someone who travels about needing little more than what he can carry; a sojourner by trade.

Why Do We Look Down On Vagrancy

I have had a very hard time trying to figure out why being a vagabond is perceived as negatively as it is. I think the real difference though is deciding if you want to refer to a vagrant or a modern vagabond. The difference? A vagrant is more often than not characterized as an outsider or a person to be mistrusted. They come in to communities looking for help and charity and if they are met with passivity they steal what they want or need and are gone in the dark of night. A vagabond is a nomad or someone who feels no need to set down roots in any one particular place. They are not against working hard, making money, and moving on to the next adventure. Their lives are free of clutter and they feel no need to tie themselves down to possessions. It can even be argued that our human sense of minimalist traveling can be traced to the teachings of Jesus Christ who himself was a wanderer, resisting earthly possessions and focusing on more innate truths.

The Art Of The Vagabond

Some of the more notable vagabond groups existing at the turn of the 19th century were actors, singers, and stage musicians. They entered a community, setup their theatre, performed, and left. Their desire was to make honest money entertaining where entertainment was welcome. From this discipline Europe and North America have come to enjoy slapstick comedy, dance troupes, light opera, and even Shakespearean theatre.

Play's Cast

Living life as a vagabond means so much more than being a troubador or a vagrant or a bum. It is about traveling the world and interacting with the local cultures in a way that won’t break the bank. The 21st vagabond is embodying that mindset and actually taking the tiny house lifestyle to its absolute tiniest. What can be more compact than your entire life contained in less than 4000 cubic inches (or 1.7 sq.ft.) Today’s vagabond is more refined and more connected than ever before. They prefer to be called digital nomads, world travelers, or – as I like to say – location independents. The common thread though is the love of living simply, sustainably, and anywhere one fancies.

How To Vagabond

Living as a vagabond can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. There are three very specific areas that must be examined before taking even the first step. They are:

  • Self-Actualization. How do you see yourself? What makes you tick? When do you feel full and when do you feel empty? What encourages those feelings?
  • Finances. How can you generate some income to continue traveling?
  • Lifestyle. How are you currently living? Do you already travel to some degree or are you stepping out on faith? What tools and resources do you have to help you vagabond?

The life of a vagabond is very similar to life in a tiny house. Being confined to limited possessions brings about an unparalleled freedom. It can give you access to harsh environments, nonconventional travel arrangements, help you stay healthy, teach you about yourself, and allow you to experience the world as it is. There are no luggage straps or packing cubes to tied you down.

What do you think? Is it realistic to be a modern day vagabond? Could you “give it all up” and take to the open road with little more than what is on your back?

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

27 thoughts on “Living Life As A Vagabond”

  1. There’s plenty of us out there, living the life. I know more rubber tramps than I do leather tramps. In a vehicle, not necessarily an RV, you can own a few more belongings. and have some creature comforts.

  2. You are correct in saying there are some basic facts of reality to identify before undertaking such a journey. One’s health is a big factor. Your health can determine if you are able to carry your belongs, how much/heavy those possessions are and the method of carry. Some people are strong enough to walk and carry quite a bit on their person. Other people may have to resort to wheels, including a wheelchair and pull their belongings in some sort of cart.
    I do remember the days of yesteryear walking down the street pulling a little wagon setting out on some new adventure or riding a bike towing a little cart. Our minds were so full of life and dreams then. Adults have a right to relive those dreams as well. Happy adventures as you set out on yours….

  3. The biggest challenge I found in vagabonding is romance. Most people will not get close to you if they know you’re “just passing through.” But if romance isn’t important to you, then I think vagabonding can be an excellent learning experience.

  4. Is it realistic? Sure, I know of people who are doing it. I’m not sure where the negative connotation comes from but I can say while reading your post I thought of gypsies. From what I understand historically gypsies were feared because of their non-Christian faith. Well, fear, anger, misunderstanding over hundreds of years could maybe be distorted to the view we have of vagabonds now. Maybe?
    I have thought a lot about what I would like of my life and I can say with some certainty that living a nomad lifestyle would be scary for me. Scary enough that I’m not sure I could ever take the steps to experience it. That said, there is a romantic notion to it and in its simplicity that draws me to it, even if just to watch others in wanderings.

    • This is a rather difficult undertaking Earl. Most of our countries laws deal with “rogues and vagabonds” in those words. Many of the practiced laws instead use wording such as homeless, without domicile, and wayfaring. You would have to be very specific starting with

      * Crimes AGAINST vagabonds -or-
      * Crimes committed by vagabonds

  5. Andrew, your post reminds me of a story about an immigrant from Cold War Eastern Europe who was thrilled at the prospect of freedom in America, but confounded by being harassed by police when he tried to sleep on a park bench. I think tiny-housers can relate as they seek to break the bonds of material excess while navigating barriers of building codes, zoning restrictions, and negative reactions.

  6. Nowadays, we prefer to be called “Digital Nomads” lol

    There’s a huge movement out here in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

    I’ve been a nomad unofficially since I was 19 in my own country (Canada, east coast to west coast) while holding down suit and tie jobs, until I started my own location interdependent business (gethonest . ca).

    After over a year in Asia, I’ve come to the conclusion you can’t fail here. Much unlike Canada/US. It’s easy to make quick gains if you’re able to work via the internet. $50 bucks can last you almost a week if you really had to.

    I wouldn’t suggest vagabonding unless you’ve got an income that works no matter where you are.

    I’m 33 now, and I’ve got one banker’s box back “home”. Vagabonding isn’t dirty, you can still have creature comforts, and it doesn’t mean sleeping in a tent beside a 7-11.

    In terms of health, it’s also pretty low risk. Google “medical tourism” and you’ll see how easy it is to get world class health care, the world over.

    It isn’t homelessness. It’s homefulness. You carry it on your back.

    Curious though; has the author ever partaken in the practice?

    Two key ingredients: Read The Art of Non Conformity, and Four Hour Work Week. Put it together.

    P.S. If you’d ever like me to volunteer a guest post, I’d love to. I’ve already posted on other Tiny blogs, too. Just shoot me an email!

    Keep the great posts coming.

    – Michael

  7. A term I have come to like is “sauntering” Henry David Thoreau discussed this in his essay “Walking”. Quote:
    “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre” — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a sainte-terrer”, a saunterer — a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all, but the Saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which indeed is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit (1) in us”

    Another ultimate vagabond in current literature is Lee Child’s Jack Reacher who after leaving the military took to explore America. He had his pension deposited in a bank and used ATMs when he needed money, or did day labor. e owned no car (never had a license), no phones, and no home. He bought cheap clothing as what he was wearing got funky and tossed those. So he did not even carry a backpack. His only ID was an expired passport and he only possessed a folding tooth brush. Interesting life style to contemplate. I wonder how many could do it an for how long?

    • I love your thoughts Swabbie and if I were a single man I would like to think I could fold up that toothbrush and head out without looking back or feeling like I was missing something. Thank you for the brief history and etymology.

  8. I’ve always had a wandering spirit. I move around a lot, but don’t think I can go full-on vagabond. It just seems too unsafe for women. Wish I knew how to make that work. Am reading up on the tiny house lifestyle and may go in that direction.

  9. I’m approaching the “senior” years and am now an empty nester. Being a woman, however, people think I am off my rocker when I say I just want to travel around in a small camper and see the world. Very hard to convince people that it’s an ok thing to do. It’s much more acceptable for men to be vagabonds then a woman.

    • I can totally relate to your dilemma. I’ll be an empty nester single mom who will then be on the cusp of 61. I plan to take early retirement and also am planning to hit the road and travel. Hoping to purchase a smaller motorhome of some sort mostly because I’ll be bringing the dog, too, and it’s going to be my home when I’m not at the one attached to the foundation. I have a fair amount of support, but, then, I live surrounded by numerous vagabonds and folks who have lived a variety of lifestyles and most have been tied to a home with a foundation. Some live in Chiang Mai, others moved to Oregon, one has been biking with his girlfriend for the past 6 months in Europe (and he’s 62, she’s 28) so there’s plenty of room for you. Just be smart travelling as woman on your own. Keep the pepper spray just in case, and use your whits about you where you camp. If you’re a westerner you probably already know this, especially if you’ve camped or backpacked on your own. Have fun on your next adventure! I’m sure planning to.

  10. Michele, why do you care what people think and want their acceptance. It’s your life and you only get one go around. Satisfy yourself as long as it isn’t at the expense of others. You will be sorry if you don’t do what you really desire. Who knows, maybe once you try it, you’ll decide it’s not for you and then can move on with your life and not keep thinking about ” I should have” . There’s nothing wrong in pursuing your dreams regardless of what others think. I find the most interesting people are the ones that are doing what is best for them. Why does society put everyone in the same mold??? We are all different. I find the same attitude towards my dreams which is to travel and experience what the U.S. has to offer us. However, my next purchase will be a tiny house and then I’m off…. Good Luck

    • I think I understand why it’s annoying to have people disapprove of your choices, especially people you care about. It’s very tiring to deal with over and over and over again, not just from strangers but from good friends and relatives. They can be quite well meaning in their constant attempts to get you to see things their way but after a while you don’t even want to talk to them any more because you know it will come up. You’re even sometimes faced with the possibility of being unpleasant to them because they can be so relentless and it saps your energy and causes dissension.

      It can even cause you to lose friends. Sure, it’s easy to say good riddance to friends like that or some such, but it still hurts that it had to fall out that way. You have to decide how strongly you want to stick to your own choices even if it loses you the good will of some people. Not always easy.

  11. Great article… I really resonated with it and many of the resposnses… I work for the weekends … but am in hopes of retiring soon… In the mean time I am getting my Vagabond fixes by adventure cycling (backpacking on wheels) and have a 16 passenger van tinted windows that I converted for my use in stealth (and not so stealth ) camping! I have found that an inexpensive campground membership system was the ticket to provide for a degree of safety as a base station for exploring surrounding areas. I am in the habit of making the camp staff know me and that I leave a “flight plan” on the front seat when I wish to travel into more remote areas. Its amazing the security that my droid phone, a credit card, a medical insurance card can provide… as for the rest… a smile works wonders…

  12. I feel a burning passion to become a vagabond. I’m fat, lethargic, drowning in student loans, and going nowhere with a mundane 9-5 desk job. I want to get out and see the world, and be healthy, and escape the confines of the American dream.

    How does someone in my position get started?

    • First change your negative view of your self. Think that you are fluffy, efficient and have a small hump to cross over, but just on the other side lies freedoms pearly gate! Then simply just get out there and do it. If you have wheels, then pick your best favorite items, slim your clothes down to nine pairs, throw in a few pounds of rice, beans, canned luncheon meat and a gas cooker and hit the road, figuring on covering a hundred miles a day or so. Stay in the nearest camp ground, preferably a discounted one or Walmart parking lot….and it is on…I have done this many a time over the years, and with the employment situation deteriorating as it is in my area, I see no reason to stay and will be doing it all again…You’ll meet friends along the way. You might even find a fellow vagabond like yourself….good luck!


Leave a Comment