7 Powerful Lessons From 7 Years of Vagabonding

“Vagabonding is about using the prosperity and possibility of the information age to increase your personal options instead of your personal possessions.”

Rolf Potts

I started my vagabonding journey close to 7 years ago when I decided to drop out of school, quit my full-time job, and go from the central coast of California up to rural Alaska. To those that don’t know, vagabonding is a nomadic lifestyle that incorporates working job to job and long-term travel. My first leap into vagabonding was through the fishing industry in Naknek, Alaska.

It was a seasonal position in a remote village with virtually no connection with the outside world. The only internet access available took a three-mile walk to the bar. I made the journey a few times and crossed paths with a few grizzly bears along the way.

Once getting to the bar, the internet was disappointingly slow as it took 2 hours to load one picture. Because we would work a minimum 16 hour day seven days a week, there wasn’t much time or reason to make it out to the bar anyway.

That seasonal position lasted about two months before I took some time to explore Alaska and take a job in the Alaskan Arctic. It was a rural kitchen job in the Northernmost region of Alaska, at the dead-end of the Dalton Highway in Deadhorse, Alaska.

The rotational work schedule up there is uniquely its own. We would work three weeks on, usually about 90 hours a week; then, we would get three weeks off. While working up there, the room and food are covered, and at the end of the rotational shift, they fly the crew back to Anchorage, AK. This job gave me the ability to travel, to live life on my own terms, and gave me the money to do so. 

In the past seven years, I’ve worked five different jobs, which allowed me to travel to 48 US states and five countries and find myself in the process. It’s nothing to brag about, but it has been a unique life, and I’ve learned many lessons along the way. I’m just here to share my perspective. I’ve chosen to include seven insights simply because I like the way the title flows. 

7 Insights From 7 Years of Vagabonding

People Are Not Their Politics, Beliefs, Races, or Religions

“I believe there is only one race – the human race.”

Rosa Parks

No matter where you go in the world, people’s beliefs are shaped by their experiences and environments. Politics, beliefs, and religion are always controversial topics between different demographics, but our perspectives are not who we are.

Where you come from, or what demographic you identify with, doesn’t change the fact that we’re all one species living on a rock. Dogma and group-think limit perspectives and do nothing but add to the “Us vs. Them” fire.

Nobody will agree with everything you believe, but if everyone around you does, then you’re probably in a cult. We are all human, living on one planet, and each of us is viewing life from a different perspective. We need to learn to accept each other; to realize that we all hold different perspectives, and that’s okay.

Mainstream Media is Full of Shit

“The picture of the world that’s presented to the public has only the remotest relation to reality. The truth of the matter is buried under edifice after edifice of lies upon lies.”

Noam Chomsky

I feel like most people realize the mainstream media is composed of lies by now, but if not, you really should know it. It’s like Pro Wrestling, everybody knows it’s fake, but it’s still a popular source of drama and entertainment.

I ran into a few people at a bar from one of those Alaskan Reality TV shows (I forget which show, I never watched it), but to quote him straight from our conversation, “Reality TV is not Reality.” The portrayal is obviously fake to the people that live in the demographic, but usually not so apparent to someone living in a different part of the world.

Often, when I hear about something terrible going on wherever I am, it’s usually from my mom, who’s in a different state watching the news. The purpose of the mainstream news is to exacerbate fear, greed, hatred, and separation in an entertaining manner. Corporations fund the mainstream news for the purpose of power, control, and profit. Please don’t believe everything you see on TV to be a reality; you’re smarter than that.

Materialism is Slavery

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

When I first moved to Alaska, I was in pursuit of the American Dream. The dream of accumulating nice things, and building a business big enough to satisfy my ego. I spent all my money collecting more and more material possessions and investing as much as I could into growing the business.

One day, while I was away at work in the Arctic, I was informed my apartment was robbed. Everything I spent years accumulating and building was completely wiped clean. I lost everything, but I was left with an unexpected sense of liberation.

Once I lost everything, I remembered my intention to start the business in the first place was to travel the world. Inadvertently, the pursuit of building the business was preventing me from doing so. I decided to fully embrace the minimalist lifestyle, and I was free to travel with my time off.

It wasn’t until I lost everything that I realized I was previously a slave to what I owned. That was about five years ago, and I have kept up the minimalist lifestyle since. Embracing the minimalist lifestyle liberated me to live on my own terms. 

Wild Dogs Need Love Too

Growing up in the US, I’ve become accustomed to the only dogs on the street being on leashes with their owners. In most countries, that isn’t the case.

About three years ago, after a plant medicine ceremony I attended in Cusco, Peru, I ended up walking a few kilometers to my hostel around 10 pm. I came across a dark alley when I noticed a car parked at the end with five guys leaning around it.

I decided not to take the risk of getting mugged, so I took the rural path. I continued down the path, onward toward the waterfall. (I call it a waterfall, but really it was a human-made drainage system.) 

As I approached the waterfall, I heard a bark in the darkness; it wasn’t a loud bark, and it didn’t sound very close, so I continued. I heard a growl from maybe 10 feet beside me as I cautiously continued walking further.

Suddenly, five dogs were growling from behind me. As I slowed down, I realized I was surrounded by at least twenty dogs, furiously growling as I approached the middle of their territory. The barking echoed throughout the city as the dogs in the streets joined in.

I knew I couldn’t outrun a pack of twenty wild dogs, and I wasn’t going to try. My eyes began to adjust to the moonlight as the dogs’ growling continued to intensify. 

So, I decided to trust my intuition. I scoped out the Alpha male as I narrowed down the biggest and most aggressive dog I could find. I approached him slowly with both my hands in front of me.

With complete calmness, I reached out my hands to the Alpha; as he was ready to snap, I pet him as if he were a dog from my childhood. You could see the instant shift from the dog’s expression from a state of fury into acceptance as he began whimpering and licking my face. 

I could feel the entire atmosphere shift from palpable threat into an atmosphere of acceptance as the dogs entered a playful state. It was a beautiful night, so I decided to sit by the waterfall with the dogs and overlook the city.

They accepted me as a part of their pack for about 20 minutes until I decided to carry on. I probably wouldn’t have believed the story myself if I hadn’t decided to take a picture. Leaving the dogs behind, I pondered the thought that wild dogs need love too.

Five of the 20 dogs I came across. I probably would have thought it was a dream if I hadn’t stopped to take the picture.

Ayahuasca is not Recreational

In Mid 2017, as I approached the end of a construction job in the Alaskan Arctic, I decided I had put myself through enough misery of the 90 hour work weeks in subzero temperatures.

It was a significant crossroads in my life as I knew I couldn’t keep up this work forever, but I had no clue what I was going to do next. I was utterly lost. So, like a responsible adult, I decided to quit my job, fly down to Peru, and drink Ayahuasca with Shipibo Shamans in the depths of the Amazon Jungle.

If you’re not familiar, Ayahuasca is a psychedelic plant medicine used by indigenous tribes for its many mental and spiritual medicinal benefits. Ayahuasca was something that I had been looking into for a few years before deciding to go down to Peru for the experience, but I still had no idea what to expect. My only previous experience with psychedelics was recreational.

Deep in the Peruvian Amazon, our group gathered into the Maloka (the traditional ceremonial space) as we prepared for our Ayahuasca session. To make a long story short, this was the second of six Ayahuasca ceremonies.

The previous session was one of pure bliss, a dance with the divine. Little did I know that the second day I would experience my death and rebirth, destroying everything I thought I knew.

I won’t go too deep into the experience, but it brought me to my worst possible fear and forced me to face and overcome it. It was one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever had, but it was also one of the most rewarding.

The person I once was died in that jungle, and I was reborn a new person. Every plant medicine ceremony I’ve attended has been a completely different experience, but each experience has been precisely what I needed at the time. 

The Unpaved Path is Rich with Synchronicity

“I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path.”

Dalai Lama

The most significant synchronicities happen when you are paving your own path, following your intuition, rather than following someone else. Once I truly began embracing my own path, it led me to circumstances I could never have fathomed apart from experience itself. 

It was pure synchronicity that forced me into minimalism, freed me up to travel, and brought me to the Amazon. The synchronicity is consistent in my life when I follow my intuition, and it always leads me to a place I could never have found on my own.

This past year, synchronicities have brought me to ground myself in Denver, Colorado, for the time being. My truck broke down while driving through the Sierra Nevadas, and I was stranded in Reno, Nevada for about a week. I scheduled a train to get me to Salt Lake City (the home base for my job).

I missed the first train, so I had to catch one the following day. It seemed like a mess at this point, but then I ran into a girl on the train reading “The Red Book” by Carl Jung, and that sparked my interest. We got to talking, and it turns out we were both planning on going to the same obscure school (Naropa University), for the same subject.

It was this synchronicity that confirmed my ongoing interest in pursuing this path and made me decide to plant myself in Denver, CO. I don’t know what will come out of this, but I know I am where I need to be. 

When you’re living a life off the beaten path, you never know what to expect next. The unpaved path is a full embrace of the unknown. You might face the unknown with an intention, but you never know what tomorrow will bring.

You have no choice but to take action and move toward your goal, step by step. Those who choose the unpaved path are usually doing so out of some deep yearning too powerful to ignore. Call it what you want, intuition, the higher-self, source, or god; it doesn’t matter what you call it, but it is an ineffable internal drive guiding you.

When following and trusting this inner compass, you’ll find things line up and happen in a way you could never imagine. When everything seems to be falling apart, it is just making way for something new to come into being. But you have to pay attention and take action.

Intuition doesn’t do things for you; it guides you to opportunities you can either take on or ignore. If you chose to take action, the opportunities will teach you things you otherwise never would have discovered. It is seldom obvious before it happens, but in hindsight, you can connect the dots and see how each opportunity lined up with the next. 

There’s No Place Like Home

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.”

Rolf Potts

I tried, but I couldn’t leave out this cliche. Dorthy couldn’t have said it better in The Wizard of Oz. There’s no place like home. After traveling non-stop for seven years, I’ve come to realize that home has become my favorite place to visit.

The world is full of diversity, epic experiences, and vast opportunities to learn from, but there truly is no place like home. While traveling, you meet a lot of fascinating people, but they come and go throughout your travels.

It’s with the people at home that you develop a genuine connection. Even in my Ayahuasca ceremonies in Peru, one of the essential things the experience showed me is the significance of the relationship with my family.

Home doesn’t have to be where you grew up. Home is the connection with the family and friends you love. It’s is a place to share stories and life lessons, a place to connect with people on a deeper level. It’s the small things you learn to appreciate. It’s the things you once took for granted: a family dinner, or a beer with friends. Home can be anywhere. A true home is a connection with the people you love.

Last Word

“Those who travel the world hoping to get “blinded by the light” are often blind to the light that’s all around them.”

Rolf Potts

Among the most important lessons learned through vagabonding is traveling will not make you happy. Happiness is not a distant goal attainable in the future.

The only place you can ever find true satisfaction in life is here and now. No matter where you go, you are always here. No matter what time it is, it is always now. It can never be any other way.

To seek satisfaction in some other place and time is to make happiness unattainable. Happiness comes from being grateful for what you have right now and realizing it’s only temporary. 

The best thing to get out of travel is perspective and life experience. There are many ways to gain perspective: through reading, through new experiences, and through the exploration of ideas that are contradictory to your own.

The purpose of travel, and life in general, is the experience itself. You don’t have to travel to experience life; experience is something we do every waking moment. It’s how you choose to experience the moment that gives life meaning.

“The past is no more; the future not yet. Nothing exists except the here and now. Our grand business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at our hands.”

Bruce Lee

3 thoughts on “7 Powerful Lessons From 7 Years of Vagabonding

  1. This is a fantastic piece, Nathan!

    “Nobody will agree with everything you believe, but if everyone around you does, then you’re probably in a cult.”

    Amazing. Thanks for writing and sharing.

    1. Thanks so much! I enjoy your work as well!

  2. This is really good 🥰

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