SIX MONTHS AS A VAGABOND

I am not a courageous person by nature. I have simply discovered that, at certain key moments in this life, you must find courage in yourself, in order to move forward and live. It is like a muscle and it must be exercised, first a little, and then more and more. All the really exciting things possible during the course of a lifetime require a little more courage than we currently have. A deep breath and a leap.

John Patrick Shanley

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Four years ago, my financial situation gave me the opportunity to live an impermanent life of resourceful minimalism. I was living well below the poverty line as an instructional assistant, and, when I owed more in my taxes than I made in a month, I could no longer afford the roof over my head.

I’m a make-lemonade-out-of-lemons kind of person, so I took this as a unique opportunity to leave my home in Virginia to explore, travel, and cultivate friendships—some fledgling and some forgotten.

I began by selling, donating, or trashing most of my belongings. Since I had planned to find a more permanent place to live in the fall, I rented a storage unit to house a few pieces of furniture and heat-sensitive musical instruments. Everything that was left fit into four 18-gallon storage bins that would soon be secured in a custom-made wooden box that fit the length of my truck bed. With only a week left and a near-empty house, I practiced living out of those bins with only my books, clothes, toiletries, and camping gear.

(In hindsight, I was practicing minimalism before I knew what it was called.)

For the next six months, I rotated a predesigned couch-surfing schedule. Every Monday, I stayed with one friend, and we played music for hours. Tuesdays, I was with another friend, and we talked food and books. Wednesdays, I stayed at a local campground and ate dinner by lantern-light. So on, so forth…

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When the summer was almost over, I finalized plans to visit friends in Maine. Since my truck barely hit 22 miles-per-gallon on the highway, I opted for a less expensive route north. I housed my truck with a friend and bought cheap bus tickets instead. When my itinerary gave me a layover in Boston, I tweaked my schedule to make that layover even longer. I had six hours of unscheduled exploration in Boston—a city I’d never seen. I ate breakfast at a food truck that sourced local, seasonal food and composted what most people throw away. I drank coffee on a bench and people-watched the hustle and bustle of the early-morning weekday commute. I found an urban arboretum in the middle of high-rise buildings. I rented a bike and promptly got lost while pedaling farther and farther away from South Station.

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In the fall, two friends offered to rent me the spare room in their apartment for a price more aligned with my salary. I let go of my vagabond summer for a set of roots I never would have planted without having cultivated those friendships.

While I remain planted even today, I reflect on that summer often. I don’t long for transience as much as you might think. Instead, I remain completely grateful for the strength of my friendships that made those days possible. And I owe a significant amount of my newfound level of confidence to my ability to step away from a life that wasn’t working, trust in the kindness of others, and explore without hesitation. I challenge you to do the same.

My family wanted to keep track of my adventures, so I kept a microblog for a short period of time. You can still access the site if you’d like to see more pictures and a funny video of herding horses with a four-wheeler.

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