To be a Vagabond – Words from a Master

Hitchhiking thumb U.S.As I prepare to embark on the first of three confirmed road trips for the 2009 Digital Vagabonding Roads Scholar program, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a vagabond. What is a vagabond? What is a nomad? Is vagabonding a lifestyle or mindset? Can something as broad and misunderstood throughout history really be defined anyway?

According to my Random House Webster’s Dictionary, a vagabond is “usually a homeless person who wanders from place to place; a tramp; vagrant.”

Not satisfied with what the dictionary fed me, I turned to a master on the subject.Ed Buryn wrote Vagabonding in the USA: A Guide for Independent Travelers and Foreign Visitors several years ago, but the desire to learn and discover through travel is as alive and real today as when Ed wrote his book. We may have advanced technology that makes it easier to stay in touch, more stoplights to slow us down and increasing urban sprawl (which makes those areas of wilderness so much more enjoyable), but I believe Ed’s definition of who vagabonds and nomads were and what vagabonding was still captures the essence of who and what they are today.

Here are some words from the master that I found particularly interesting as I mulled over my decision to wander, stroll, explore and journey to places I’ve never been:

“We’re deenergized and confused, afraid of the world, unsure of ourselves. Why? Because our sense of control is a complete illusion, however complex and pervasive. It doesn’t square with the world as it is, just some obsolete and chickenshit version we made up so we could ‘control’ it. Vagabonding is an effective technique for trashing this illusion, one that works because it makes you feel good. You can again make your life fun instead of fucked, and you do this by paying attention to change and chance, which manifest everywhere, in all persons and places. The vagabond accepts changes and welcomes chance, for they are the sure signs of energy flow, and the center of life.”

I am currently struggling with the confines of a full-time job and the desire to make the most out of every moment in my life. I work in a position that requires no actual human contact, yet in my attempt to become location independent, I’ve been told that “in our global world” it is more important than ever that I be “physically present in the office.” Perhaps this is the “control” about which Ed warns us.

“Vagabonding is not just moving over the Earth from one place to another in some kind of conveyance. It’s not about where you’re going, or how you’re getting there, or even about getting away from it all. … The special thing that all vagabonds have in common is simply an idea: ‘I am alive. I am here to dance. Strike up the band!‘”

I agree with Ed. If we aren’t open to the urge to play and dance and live and be now, then when? Why do we confine our urge to be adventurous?

Ordinary travelers through life try to control everything, in order to protect their delusions from the nasty shocks of reality. What they get is uptight and paranoid; the music is stilled. By preplanning every aspect of their trip, whether vacation trip or life trip, they think they can circumvent the unimaginable flow of natural process. … What they manipulate are puny imitations of reality, scraped bare of energy. Vagabonds know better, and book the details of their trip with an agent called Chance.”

In life, I admit to being a planner, but I’ve made an effort to let a lot more things just happen … and it’s made me happier, more open and pleasantly surprised at how well things work out. I’ve also come to discover that when I travel, it’s the unexpected moments—the ones I didn’t plan—that often turn a moment into a memory. I don’t imagine a vagabond would stick her tongue out at conventional plans, but she would shrug, smile and accept her unexpected moments, knowing she has a lifetime of memories that could never be planned.

Defining vagabonding leaves it as confined and flat as the words on the page of my dictionary. It can’t be defined. It shouldn’t be defined. Vagabonding is an outlook on life, a lifestyle and sense of self-discovery. Vagabonding just is … and that’s okay with me.

6 Responses to “To be a Vagabond – Words from a Master”

  1. Pat the Digital Vagabond


    I’ve struggled most of my life to strike a balance between planning life and letting it happen. I’ve seen my share of people who leave it all to chance and get their asses kicked. The motto “shit happens” is true for the loosers who let life happen to them rather than make life happen.

    We can’t completely control life. But we can increase our chances of getting what we want from life by setting a course and working to move in the direction we choose rather than hoping the wind will blow us to the next port.

    Then as we sail in the direction of our dreams we should be wise enough vagabonds to enjoy the journey and the chance encounters along the way.

    I admire your obvious competence, discipline and organization. I expect that as you combine these traits with creative inspiration and an open mind you will have a winning hybrid combination.

    I’ve met too many dreamers that didn’t have the self discipline or self control to fulfill their dreams in the real world. These fuck ups not only waste their lives but often are persuasive enough to waste other lives as well. Thank God you’re not one of them.

    The late William Burroughs expounds on the danger of such fuck ups at

    I look forward to seeing you find your optimal mix in life and on the road.

    Be Well and Live Large, Pat

  2. ed


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and mine).

    You’re right – vagabonding is just an attitude. Yet attitude is everything.

    The best and worst of things that happen to us in life are usually beyond our control; thus our attitude can be the best edge we have.

    See you in BRC-

  3. Marina

    Great post. It takes most people a lifetime to figure out that life is, in fact, a changing thing that you can’t control and only travelers know the truth of that nature from its basics. I think you will take the most out of this trip as you said that your job is trying to control you. Have fun, live freely, and let the moment happen.


  4. AR

    🙂 Good post. Balancing spontaneity with discipline is one of my greatest challenges…I’m always walking the line hoping I’m living as free as I can. I often have to remind myself that it’s really the attitude that matters most! See you soon, BRC



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