21st-Century Nomads

21st-century nomads have adapted to the new world. Their life is odd in many different contexts, which is strange in today's dynamic world.
21st-Century Nomads
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Written and verified by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Can you imagine going from one place to another without fully settling down? Nomadic communities used to do it and some people are still living that lifestyle. But, it’s getting harder for them due to aspects such as industrialization, for instance. However, with these changes, new groups of people have emerged to live as the 21st-century nomads.

So, what’s the difference between these nomads and the past ones? The new nomads or 21st-century nomads don’t usually live this lifestyle as a community. In fact, it’s more of a personal or family situation that happens due to certain factors.

How do they live? What do they do? What inspires them to live that lifestyle? Let’s go over the curious facts about these adventurers.

Types of 21st-century nomads

There are different types of 21st-century nomads, depending on their context and the reason they decided to live such a lifestyle.

a 21st-century nomad: a backpacker in a foreign country

Nomads by culture or tradition

These are the communities whose tradition, practices and beliefs lead them to be nomads. One might say that they’re the “classical” type of nomad. In this category, there are also stationary nomads, who move to different places depending on the season.

The number of “classical” nomadic communities has decreased due to industrialization, exploitation of particular natural resources they can no longer use, and due to laws that force them to stay in one place. So, these nomadic groups have had to adapt to those changes.

However, there are still around 40 million nomads by tradition. They’re in countries like Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Spain, the Philippines, Kenya, among others.

Nomads by choice

These nomads have the desire of getting to know new places and that’s the reason they do it non-stop: they go from one place to another in order to explore it, but they don’t have a specific place to stay in. They’re eager to go around, meet new places and people, learn…

There are millions of reasons people do it, but they all have something in common: they want to break free from their routine and throw themselves into a new adventure.

The way they travel might not be exactly the same as “classical” nomads, but at least temporarily, constant relocation is a lifestyle to them.

This category also includes Knowmads or Knowledge Nomads, which have the ability to develop new concepts based on their broad knowledge. They’re flexible and can work with anyone anywhere.

Unintentional nomads

They move from place to place out of necessity. A clear example of this is the forced displacement, which refers to people who leave their home or flee due to the following factors:

  • Human rights abuses
  • Conflict
  • Persecution
  • Violence

Immigrants are able to choose the country they want to live in, and they do it to improve their financial situation, looking at aspects such as safety or weather. However, unintentional nomads don’t have much choice but to leave to the first place that accepts them.

There’s ongoing research about this, and in some studies, researchers refer to forced displacement as a new kind of nomadic behavior that arose as a result of violence and turned its victims into strangers of new cities.

Characteristics of 21st-century nomads

Nomads by culture or tradition

They’re usually hunters, food collectors, shepherds, or travelers who spend their time looking for resources to survive. Some of this type’s characteristics are:

  • Being “moving” groups- Hunters and food collectors.
  • Having some type of organization- Political, administrative or financial, although much simpler than those of sedentary communities.
  • Cultural values- They have their own art, music, and traditions. Also, many of them love nature and want to protect it because they know that’s where their resources come from.
  • Using displacement to look for resources- Either to look for food to sustain themselves and their animals, to collect what they’ve cultivated in other lands, etc.

Nomads by choice

They see each moment as a way to learn something new. Also, they’re characterized by:

  • Being dynamic- They’re active people who live to innovate and transform.
  • Adaptation- New nomads, by choice, have the ability to get the best out of the place they’re in. They’re flexible: a quality that helps them adapt to any place or situation.
  • Creativity- Constantly coming up with new ideas for their trips or projects.
  • Empathy- Putting themselves in other people’s shoes helps them relate to others better and make new friends quickly.

When it comes to Knowmads, they’re professionals who know a lot in their field of expertise; they’re always available and value working in any place with anyone. Plus, they work on projects they’re passionate about and make use of new technologies, including social media.

21st-century nomads on a beach

Unintentional nomads

Forced displacement’s characteristics are:

  • Spontaneity- It’s an issue they don’t plan out in advance. Instead, something’s pressuring them to leave their homes and move from time to time depending on the situation.
  • Dispersion- Each person chooses the path they think will guarantee them survival.
  • Semi-legality- Because they’re victims of terror and have been threatened, displaced nomads tend to hide.
  • Invisibility- Beyond the fact that they try to hide their situation, it’s an issue not many people talk about.

Why are there still nomads in the 21st century?

The answer is simple: because of globalization and industrialization. Thanks to the changes these phenomena have caused, this lifestyle has re-emerged and it’s transformed. In fact, some nomads by tradition have had to change some of their dynamics to adapt to new conditions. Others have managed to keep their traditions, but are struggling to do so.

On the other hand, unintentional nomads, victims of forced displacement, have emerged due to conflict and war in their home countries.

Furthermore, nomads by choice travel because they live in a world where it’s easy to move, and with technology, they’re able to keep an online job, so they adapt to a certain place and then work from it. Others simply decide to explore the world without depending on only one job or place.

All three 21st-century nomads have something in common: they’ve adapted to the new conditions that the world offers to them. Will they still exist in the future? Will new groups start to emerge? Each context brings change, which can have a huge impact on the lifestyle you know today.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.