Nomads and Human Ecology

We may freak out the residents in most neighborhoods, especially if we’re driving the popular white cargo vans many nomads convert, but when it comes to the noble nomad, we’re actually a benefit to the ecology and economics of the areas we frequent. The nomad lifestyle is often looked down upon, but responsible nomads conserve the Earth’s resources and contribute to local economies.

How are nomads and human ecology related? Ecology is a system of relationships. Put simply, Nomads and human ecology is how nomads interact with, and are affected by, their environment.

When my daughter and her husband took a trip to Scotland, she found that Scotland allows camping anywhere … as long as you don’t interfere with the sheep! She saw lots of vans out in nature, and said that camping was legal just about anywhere.

Sheep in Scotland – pic by Janel Robichaud
We Definitely Don’t Have That Situation Here In the States.

There are wide expanses of land in the Western U.S. where it’s still legal to camp for free. In areas where there are high concentrations of nomads, like the nomad mecca of Quartzsite, AZ where the population goes from 3500 to 250,000 or more in the winter, we’re mostly just tolerated by the locals. We give their winter economy a huge boost, but when the winter season ends, they’re ready to wave goodbye to the crowds.

Folding into nature
Folding into nature
The Downsides of Nomads and Human Ecology.

There’s always been a small number of nomadic humans that trash the land and bring in a criminal element. With the onset of Covid, it’s gotten worse. People stuck in their homes during lockdowns went outside looking for recreation, with zero knowledge of how their activities affected the environment. Another problem was created when the economy tanked, creating a new breed of homeless. With dwindling resources and already in survival mode, they migrated out to free public lands. It’s hard to care for the Earth when your own existence isn’t valued. With that came appalling amounts of trash and waste left at campsites, giving nomads a terrible reputation.

In the areas with high concentrations of nomads, the Earth gets overused. We wear down the soil with foot and vehicle traffic, and affect the ecology of plant and animal life. In my opinion most of this could be minimized with proper management.

I was encouraged this year returning to Arizona when I saw free camping areas previously decimated by homeless residents and yes, obvious meth labs, cleaned up and with increased enforcement of stay limits. It’s too bad our public land needs more management, but if we want to keep using the areas we love, we’ll have to put up with it.

Responsible Nomads Help Conserve the Earth’s Resources.

While it only takes a few piles of trash to give nomads a bad name, most nomads are a benefit to the economy and ecology of an area.

Did you know, the average daily water usage per person in the U.S. is an astounding 80 to 100 gallons of water? Most of that is getting flushed down toilets! After that, it’s showers and baths. (From: The USGS Water Science School: How much water does the average person use at home per day?)

One of the positives of nomads and human ecology is that nomads use 1 to 10 percent of the water of an average U.S. household! Like many nomads, I use spray bottles for cleaning and daily hygiene. In the past I used a bucket shower pump for showers, but found it wasted too much water. Instead, now I just pour heated water over myself to “shower.” I can get squeaky clean with less than a gallon! Of course, when we really need it, there’s showers at truck stops, aqua-centers, fitness centers, and some community centers.

Ivation Portable Shower Pump (not an affiliate link)

In these days of increasing water conservation, we’re seeing more water-saving toilets and shower heads. So as nomads, our water conservation is on point! Many nomads in smaller rigs don’t have water tanks, and use compost toilets, or other hygienically safe means of handling bodily waste. It gets disposed of in regular garbage just like baby diapers, adult diapers, dog poo bags and kitty litter. The amount of waste from nomads is miniscule compared to these other sources.

I’m also OK with nomads using public dumpsters to get rid of their garbage, and here’s why.

As nomads, We’re Using Fewer Resources, More Efficiently.

Another positive effect of nomads and human ecology is that as a group we produce WAY less garbage than an average household. Living in tiny spaces requires we practice less unnecessary consumerism … there’s just no room for non-useful items.

Most nomads are adept in reusing, recycling, and repurposing. I cut up old clothes for cleaning rags. I’ve cut up old tents for shade cloth and tarps. I use an old poncho to store my little outdoor rug. Before anything gets thrown out, I consider how it might be repurposed.

This material conservation reduces our contribution to the immense piles of waste on the Earth and in our Oceans. Not only that, nomads are adept in economical food storage and preparation, with less resulting food waste. Nomads are conscious consumers!

As far as using local dumpsters, the small amount of garbage we deposit is more than offset by our contribution to the local economy. Many of us, including myself, never leave our trash behind. We often clean up garbage that’s been dumped where we camp, increasing the beauty and value of the area. Most nomads aren’t out to cause trouble and in fact are beneficial to the locals.

And yes, we use fossil fuels, but our reduced consumerism in other areas means our carbon footprint is generally smaller.

Living as nomads, we become immersed in nature. We’re not occasional outside observers, but engaged participants in the natural world. We see first-hand the effects of human occupation on the Earth, and the unsustainable practices damaging Earth’s precious ecosystems.

Nomad Life In Nature!

Traveling as a nomad and living close to nature gives me the opportunity to give back to Mother Earth. I make it a habit to pick up cigarette butts, broken bottles, and other assorted pieces of garbage humans have left behind. I commune with nature’s spirit wherever I go, and feel honored to be able to care directly for this incredible planet that gives me life!


600 Days As A Nomad: How the Mystical Power of Nature Healed My Body, Mind, and Soul. Click to find on Amazon.
Wild Women On The Road: A Women’s Guide to Nomadic Freedom in the Modern Age. Click to find on Amazon.

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