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New Age Traveller Film Discussion

New age travelers — as the typically young, typically European communities of self-made nomads were initially called — began traveling through the UK in the late 1970s, and continue to survive as a sub-culture to this day. The idea was that individuals from mainstream English heritage (non-Gypsy, non-Irish Traveler/ Tinker) could drop out of the dominant [...]

New age travelers — as the typically young, typically European communities of self-made nomads were initially called — began traveling through the UK in the late 1970s, and continue to survive as a sub-culture to this day. The idea was that individuals from mainstream English heritage (non-Gypsy, non-Irish Traveler/ Tinker) could drop out of the dominant social structure  and form a migratory culture for themselves modeled off various nomadic groups of history within the context of the modern era. To various degrees of depth, they were, and are still, successful in these ends: there are still remnants and revivals of the new age traveller movement throughout Europe, and some communities have even entered into their third generation.

Now simply called “travelers,” which is also the designation the English use for the Roma or Irish Travelers, this subculture peaked in the UK in the late 1980s, but still exists to a lesser extent all around Europe.  Though the methodologies, philosophies, and lifestyles of the various groups lumped together under the “traveller” banner greatly differ, the constant variable is that they move from camp to camp as communities in converted coaches, school buses, vans, trucks, or even horse and buggies. They tend to live off independent travel businesses, as roving tradesmen, artists, musicians, temp manual laborers, or receive government assistance. Generally speaking, modern travelers attempt to etch out a lifestyle modeled off of glory days of the traveling Roma, Irish Travelers, or other nomadic cultures of history blended within the modern hippie/ punk/ anarchist philosophical framework.

What is striking to me is that these modern travelers have taken a lifestyle that many people on this planet fantasize about — who hasn’t romanticized about living on the road in a community like Gypsies? — and have actualized it in practice. The first generation of these modern travelers were, almost invariably, born into sedentary society, but left it behind in pursuit of an idea that they could live a better, “freer,” way of life on the road. For many of these kids the traveling lifestyle isn’t much more than a youthful fancy to do for a while before going home and getting a formal job, but for others it is a substantial and full fledged way of life. The latter group has, in a very real sense, formed fully functioning nomadic communities which are currently spanning into their third and even forth generations.

New age travellers in a painting

The following three films are about new age travellers, which are the topic of this week’s community discussion. Please watch these films and tell us what you think of them, the new age traveller sub-culture, any ideas you have about them, or your opinions on this lifestyle in the comments below (important! please participate). Although I feel that none of the below films show the sub-culture very positively, they definitely show the inherent problems and difficulties that nomadic communities face in the modern era.

Please watch these films and tell us what you opinions on them. Be sure to reference the background information links below as well.

What do you think of the modern traveler lifestyle?

Do you think of their lifestyle in terms of legality?

What’s your take on how the police deal, or have dealt, with them?

What are your ideas as to the practicality, potential, or possibility of living as a nomadic community in the early 21st century?



New Age Traveller additional resources

Legal campsite in Brighton for New Age Travellers – BBC News
Photos of travelers
Photo exhibition of new travelers
Research paper linking new age travelers with nomadic groups of history
New Age Travellers Wikipedia

Filed under: Culture and Society, Europe, Traveler Culture

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3426 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Prague, Czech Republic

4 comments… add one

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  • Harold D December 17, 2011, 11:32 am

    They seem a little like kids who are just rebelling. Rejecting society is not enough to build a new one.

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  • Bob L December 18, 2011, 7:24 pm

    Excuse the following, I wrote it as I watched the videos, in bits and pieces and it may not flow well and might not reflect my overall opinion, but shows some of my thoughts as I watched. At the end, I answered your questions more directly. Thank you for giving me a place to rant.
    ===========================
    Wow. Interesting videos. What a great insight into personalities and cultures. At different points in the films I found myself rooting for the travelers, hippies, landowners, cops, politicians etc. I also found myself, at different points, rooting against each of these.

    Forget New Age traveling. Look at what this says about societies as a whole. All parts of this. Try to live as you like. That’s fine. Get a whole bunch of people like you together to live as you like, and it shakes up the officialdom. This attracts the worst parts of society to join in, making your fairly innocent lifestyle illegal and no longer fun.

    These films can be taken in so many ways. It is easy to take either (any) side. To see where each group is coming from. To arm chair quarterback and say “What did you really expect” about any sides reactions.

    I remember going to Grateful Dead shows, where those without tickets decided that it was not right to put up fences and therefore destroyed private property. Most of the people I talked to felt that was fine. Alternative thinking is always interesting, more so if you don’t agree with it, or even more so if you agree “up to a point”..

    I fought the law and the law won…….

    I like the guy getting unemployment insurance saying he just wants to be free to go where he wants and live the way he wants. If someone ELSE is paying your way, you are NOT free. You are expensive. As one of the suits said, if you are doing this at others expense you are not being a free spirit.

    The laws/rules are seldom fair for everyone. But they are the laws. If you are surprised that you get resistance, you are not paying attention. If you are doing something legally, but law enforcement says you cannot do it, don’t expect decent treatment. It is not good, but it is a sad fact of life. Life ain’t fair.

    In some cases, the officials (cops) went WAY overboard to harass. In other cases, they went WAY out of their way to accommodate them, within the limits them chose. Such as telling them in one way station that they are there illegally and must leave by the next day.

    In the US there are a lot of areas where you can stop almost anywhere and sleep, assuming you are only one or two vehicles. But, even in these places, you are ALWAYS subject to being told to move on if the cops choose to for some reason. In many places, it is illegal to park your vehicle to sleep in it. This came about partly because of the 60’s and 70’s where people thought they could park anywhere and party. This really hurts those that truly are just travelers.

    With most of what is in these videos, few people would have a problem with a few caravans/families. It is when it becomes BIG that it becomes an issue with some.

    ============================

    ANSWERING YOUR QUESTIONS
    What do you think of the modern traveler lifestyle?
    -In reference to the films, it is not for me, but I would have loved it when I was young. For a short bit. I would like to caravan around many places now, but not quite the way they are doing it. I would go for organized campsites mostly. Preferably free or cheap, but organized and legal none the less. The fact that some of them (maybe a lot????) are doing this on the public dime, that would piss me off. If you are capable of work, and are not actively trying to get work, then NO public money should go to you. NONE.

    Do you think of their lifestyle in terms of legality?
    -Laws are laws. Just because something is legal does not mean that people won’t try to stop it, and if someone does not like it, a law will eventually be created that hurts more than just those that it was intended for. The last film showed small numbers of people trying to live on the road wherever they can. As long as they move along when requested, at least try to get permission from land owners, and don’t do things that hurt others, then that’s fine. Unfortunately, it only takes one instance to cause a bad name for all. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be a real instance, just people getting worked up about imagined issues.

    What’s your take on how the police deal, or have dealt, with them?
    -Using these films. They went way too far at one point (a few of the cops needed to be arrested themselves). Not far enough another. And then started using the most effective stonewall tactic to kill the large movement as a whole. Don’t beat them, don’t arrest them. Just move them around and inconvenience the heck out of them. Most of the people will just give up, the rest won’t be much of an issue. Not saying this is right, just how they dealt with it.

    What are your ideas as to the practicality, potential, or possibility of living as a nomadic community in the early 21st century?
    -Similar to communes. A community like this is doomed to failure. Too forced. Too…… I can’t find the right word. It works in the way that it does in this country of snow birds and RV’rs. Everyone on their own, but still kind of a community. When a community is created out of thin air, as the gypsies tried to do, there will always be resistance. From the inside and from the outside. Even the Burning Man festival uses all the trappings of a true government, plus works withing the rules and with the officials. What could work, but would lose it’s following, would be if a group of travelers got together in small groups and went from one legal location to another together. Take out the all night parties. Take out the visible drug use. Set up toilet facilities, medical, etc. Make sure the land owners are OK with you being there, and are compensated for any damage, and things are good.

    Now…. If you had asked me 30 years ago, my answers might have been very different. But maybe not. We usually think that what we are doing is right at the time, and that no one should interfere.

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    • Wade Shepard December 19, 2011, 1:36 pm

      Excellent insights here.

      “They are acting like a bunch of 15 year olds.”

      That’s how my wife described the neo-traveler’s behavior, and, to a large extent, I have to agree with her. Many of the elements of these sub-cultures seem bent on rejecting the ways of the society in which they grew up, not as a creative force but one of simple rebellion. Blind or indiscriminate rebellion against the ways of your society, though normal in the youth of Western culture, is not going to lead to a solid, mature way of life. I’m a full time traveler and have been for many years, I live a life somewhat removed from that of the culture I left behind, but I do not reject elements, practices, and outlooks of that culture which can improve and make my life better on principle. It is my mission to live well while traveling, not to rebel against anything.

      You can see this a lot with the hippie travelers in Latin America. They are so bent on rejecting the ways of their acculturation that they often do the exact opposite of what they’ve been taught — ignoring all aspects of potential wisdom that was otherwise gifted to them. So bathing is unfashionable, cleanliness/ hygiene — forget about it, working jobs that could actually get them money rather than selling cheap jewelry in the streets — that’s just not cool, ruining their intelligence with near constant use of drugs — that’s deemed as having some kind of higher value. I had a friend of the hippie persuasion who seemed genuinely surprised when I mentioned to her that drug use could have led to her miscarriage. The all out rejection of the ways, wisdom, and yes, rules, of your society really just produces “communities” based on being fashionable. The result is often wanton stupidity, self-induced brainwashing, and the expressing of only the dominant opinions of the group. It does not take me long before being ostracized by such groups. Though I may look like some sort of traveling hippie, my opinions and the deeper elements of my lifestyle do not mesh very well within their sub-culture — few groups in this world are able to accept members with opinions and worldviews that run contrary to that of the group.

      From my experience of meeting members of neo-traveling communities, they seem as if they are made up of kids intent on being cool, to put it basely. I’ve found them rather arrogant, as though they feel they are part of an elite counter-culture, and others outside the group are not worthy of consideration. This is how many sub-cultures — clubs that people choose to be members of — operate, so this is not unique and is not meant to be specifically critical of neo-travelers. I read in a research paper on punks a long time ago that sub-cultures attract members because they offer potential initiates status that they could not achieve in dominant society. This insight struck me on a very personally level. Like most sub-cultures, I’ve detected this structure with new age travellers to such a degree that I’ve never really wanted to have much to do with them. Then again, I have not yet had deep contact with any of the mature communities of neo-travelers, so my opinions are based on rather circumstantial observations.

      The pursuit of the idea of freedom was one main themes that kept coming up in the films as to why the travelers choose the lifestyle they do, but the pursuit of freedom ends when you trample on that of another person. If you trespass on someone’s land, damage their property, harm them economically, personally, or socially, then you are not free, you’re an asshole. If a group of travelers are essentially rejecting the values of the communities they travel through — even if they don’t necessarily hold these values themselves — then it is no wonder they are often not welcomed. But the videos above only give brief looks into the neo-traveler lifestyle. Other groups seem less bent on partying and rebelling and more intent to make a good, solid life for themselves and they interact with the communities in which they stay by offering goods, services, and other benefits.

      Sort of like what Bob said in his comment above, it is against the tides of legality to restrict some groups from doing some onerous actions, so governments make up laws that restrict everybody. The example of overnight parking restrictions for everyone in the USA because of people partying is a good one. If the neo-travelers quietly operated within the bounds of legality, then I don’t think there would ever had been a problem with them traveling as a lifestyle, and they would, ironically, more than likely be able to travel far “freer” today.

      It is not the traveling/ nomadic lifestyle that seems to be the problem or has ever been the problem, but what some groups of neo-travelers do when they park. How else can you expect to be treated when you are seen as part of a community that has large parties without permission on private land? If I tried to do this where I grew up, I probably would have been shot long ago. It is my impression that some major elements of the neo-traveler community made the bed for the entire group — and anyone else who wants to travel in this way — so to speak.

      “We just want to live our lives,” some of the neo-travelers yelled at some points in the films. It is not my impression that anybody would give a shit about them living their own lives, if it was clear that they would not going to impact the lives of others. Traveling in a huge convoy of vehicles in groups of dozens or even hundreds is going to impact any community they stop in — for better or worse. Though I do believe that the media hype has shown the travelers as being far more invasive than they really are, and has stirred up a lot of irrational prejudice against them which truly does unjustifiably impacts them.

      Any tribe with an “us” and “them” dichotomy is dangerous — it breeds fear, misunderstanding, and inter-community strife. Unfortunately, this is almost a rule of how human communities work. The landowners in the videos above have denoted the travelers as “them,” and look at them with fear and loathing. While the travelers also seem to view the landowners as “them,” and they don’t respect their property or way of life. Both perspectives seem to lead to misunderstanding, assumptions, and problems on both sides.

      I also sense that a tinge of jealousy may be involved here to. The travelers are sort of shown as free traveling individuals who have flipped the switch on the rest of society by living some kind of fairy tale life outside the bounds of taxation, rule of culture, and responsibility. To some extent, this is true, and I can see how it could easily breed contempt. Sedentary cultures have a tradition of fearing, resenting, and being jealous of migratory peoples all the way back to the time of Cain and Abel. Didn’t Cain become enraptured in a murderous rage because he was jealous of the seemingly laid back and simple life of the nomad Abel while he was tied to a life of toiling the land?

      Little has changed in culture, little ever changes in culture. The fact that some groups of travelers have existed into their third generation proves that their way of life IS sustainable, that they HAVE found ways to create their own culture and mature it. They present an alternative way to live, and this, I believe, is viewed as dangerous and/ or is resented by dominant society. Just as groups of hippies in Mexico don’t seem to take kindly to someone spouting off a worldview they don’t agree with in their midst, when a group presents an alternative way to live, a different value system, and an option out of the dominant path of life there is going to be resistance from broader society. It is probably difficult to tell your kids over and over again that they need to study hard in school, go to university, in order to get a good job and a good life, when a group of people who did not do this appear to be living pretty well over the hill beyond. There is a jump in human logic that makes people think that because they toil at one way of life because they think they have to everyone else should too. The manifestation of other ways to live, of lifestyle choice, is sometimes very much resented by people stuck on the path of Cain.

      Nobody seems to like to be told that they are not living the best way of life they could be, nobody likes working their balls off when they think other people are lazing around enjoying the good life at their expense. It is understandable why migratory groups from the Gypsies, Jews, Tinkers, to the hippies and neo-travelers of today (me too) have continuously been resented by dominant society: they show an alternative lifestyle, a way to opt out of the toil of sedentary living. This is perhaps dangerous.

      As far as living as Gypsies or neo-travelers, traveling in communities in the modern context, I believe that it is VERY possible. I believe that there are huge economic niches that a group of skilled and hard working travelers could fill. Irish travelers and Gypsies prove to this today as they move around the USA blacktopping driveways and offering other home maintenance labor that is otherwise expensive. With the ever falling economies of the developed world, the need for good and cheap labor is going to been needed more and more. As I’ve mentioned over and over on this site, travelers can run businesses with less overhead and can essentially, for a while at least, out compete more sedentary businesses on a low level. If groups of neo-travelers moved from town to town offering services to the locals rather than just partying and talking about freedom, I would think this could be a very substantial way of life. Some groups of modern travelers are already doing this and have been quietly doing so for a long time now. If the partying/ hippie/ permissive/ rebellious elements were removed from the traveler lifestyle, it could truly be an excellent way to live.

      I have to admit that this would be the ideal way to raise a traveling family.

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  • Bob L December 18, 2011, 7:26 pm

    Sorry for that long post. I wrote it, and did not scan it to see what all I wrote.

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