What is a Dirtbag? An Insult Turned into a Social Movement

What is a Dirtbag? An Insult Turned into a Social Movement

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Who you calling a dirtbag? Depending on who you ask, being called a dirtbag might be a badge of honor or a rude insult… If you aren’t familiar with the climbing world, then you might be curious to know what is a dirtbag and why I named my website Desk to Dirtbag…

♪ Now this is the story all about how,
My life got flipped-turned upside down,
And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there,
I’ll tell you how I became a dirtbag and what the word means. ♪

What is a Dirtbag?

What is a Dirtbag?

Dirtbagging emerged in the early climbing days when the most dedicated rock climbers ditched the traditional work world and the traditional constraints of a job, mortgage, debt, and the rat race. They lived in tents or automobiles in places like Yosemite Valley, Joshua Tree, and beyond, where they lived in the dirt to be close to the rocks and the grandeur of Mother Nature.

Yvon Chouinard by Tom Frost

Names like Yvon Chouinard or Fred Beckey come to mind as some of the original, “true” dirtbags, scraping by with whatever bit of little work they could find (often seasonal), sometimes eating canned cat food or whatever in order to maintain their adventurous lifestyle.

Fred Beckey, about 1990

These were people that dropped out of the normal world and wore their “dirtbag” title with a badge of honor.

Dirtbags Today

Dirtbags today have it much easier, of course. Some might even say that dirtbaggery is dead. Some argue over who is a “true” dirtbag, I’m sure some might even say that I’m not a “true” dirtbag.

While that all may be true in the old traditional definition of the word in terms of surviving on the true margins of society with little to no money and no comforts, I’d also argue that the meaning of dirtbags has evolved along with the changes in the world today.

What is a Dirtbag? A Dirtbag Definition

Namely, the advent of technology and the internet has opened up the world of dirtbagging to the masses — if it is something they want, and they’ve been yearning for an alternative lifestyle that goes beyond endless consumption.

Thanks to the internet, people can work from anywhere they can get WiFi, maybe not earning a lot of money, but earning enough to live in a bit more comfort and security than the old school dirtbags, but still one that is either nomadic or semi-nomadic, and allows them to free up our most precious asset, time, in order to do more of the things that make them come alive.

What is a Dirtbag? A Dirtbag Definition

The modern dirtbag doesn’t necessarily need to be a climber. I’d consider digital nomads to be a type of dirtbag… Living out of a backpack on the cheap in Southeast Asia or South America. I’d consider people in the Tiny Home or Vanlife world to be a type of dirtbag.

(Psst... Wanna know the "secret" to traveling forever or being free to do what you love? Here's the answer, in five simple steps)

The Dirtbag Manifesto

When I first started this site, I wrote a Dirtbag Manifesto which I believe best encompasses the underlying values and desires of the modern dirtbag.

Dirtbag Manifesto - How I Aim to Live My Life via www.desktodirtbag.com

Dirtbag Definition

The main defining features of a dirtbag today are:

  1. A lack of traditional employment: It could be seasonal work, but more often it is some sort of online endeavor, whether a side-hustle gig, freelancing, or something entirely different. Dirtbags are not rich, but can still find ways to travel and do what they love, even with little money.
  2. Alternative housing: It could be living out of a truck or van, it could be house hacking through geoarbitrage, or something different.
  3. Semi-Nomadic: Dirtbags have always tended to move with the season, and that is still true today, but they may settle down in a particular location for a few months or longer, but don’t usually have a permanent home base.
  4. Minimalism: The semi-nomadic existence necessitates a minimalist lifestyle and thus a reduced level of consumerism, allowing them to travel very affordably over long periods of time. The key thing is to buy less & do more.
  5. Love of Nature: This could be the defining piece that differentiates dirtbags from some other similar lifestyles, but generally it means a need to be close to nature, in the mountains, in the hills, on the trail, etc.

What is a Dirtbag? A Dirtbag Definition

Desk to Dirtbag Meaning

My own story may be different than others, but it follows a familiar pattern. I had a good job, a prestigious job even, working in the hallowed halls of Congress in Washington D.C., but every free weekend or vacation time I had, I’d spend heading to the mountains, going hiking or climbing. I needed that time in nature to balance me after a hectic and stressful work period. I’d spend my work day daydreaming about “someday” when I might be able to break away and travel or see more of the U.S. and the rest of the world.

What is a Dirtbag? A Dirtbag Definition

Then, I suddenly found myself facing unemployment when my boss decided to retire rather than run for reelection. My initial dismay soon gave way to relief at the chance to finally take the leap into the unknown and do what I’d always said I wanted to do.

What is a Dirtbag? A Dirtbag Definition

I spent my first year on the road, living out of my truck and hiking and climbing across the American West. My planned year-long sabbatical turned into an ongoing journey as I discovered new ways to sustain my lifestyle thanks to freelancing and other online endeavors, and then embarked on even bigger and more ambitious journeys.

Read More: How I Afford to Travel Endlessly

Join the Movement

More and more, people are getting fed up with the traditional advice in life to work, work, work, consume, consumer, consume. The Dirtbag Way offers up an alternative lifestyle that embraces simplicity and freedom.

Of course, the life of a dirtbag isn’t always easy or without struggle… Nothing ever is. But for some people the choice is obvious when that fork in the road presents itself to them and they see that road less traveled by.

The bottom line is you don’t have to follow the traditional script for life, and the alternative isn’t as hard as you think it may be.

Read Next: Five-Steps to Travel Forever

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What is a Dirtbag? An Insult Turned into a Social Movement

Who you calling a dirtbag? What is a dirtbag? The story of how one word turned from an insult into a growing social movement of alternative lifestyles.
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What is a Dirtbag? An Insult Turned into a Social Movement

Ryan

Author, Writer, and Head Honcho at Desk to Dirtbag
Ryan is an author, adventurer, perpetual wanderer, and self-proclaimed dirtbag (but that might not mean what you think). Originally from Seattle, he headed to Washington D.C. where he spent five years working for Congress before heeding the call of the wild. He set out living in his pickup truck to road trip across the American West. Since then he backpacked through Colombia, drove across all of Central America, and also wrote a best selling book: Big Travel, Small Budget. He just finished driving his old truck across all of South America -- support the adventures by visiting the D2D Shop. Follow the adventures on social media or read more about me.

Comments 3

  1. This is a really fun read, and it’s so cool to hear your story! You turned a potentially devastating life event upside down and made it a new beginning. I love it!

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