You will not notice anything strange about Stef Roberts when he is catching the train to work, as he looks like an ordinary civilian.
But if you think he has arrived to the station from his house, you are wrong. He goes to the station every weekday from the nearby forest where he chooses to sleep at night.
He is a representative of a new trend that is now growing in popularity – Generation Nomad. These are the young people who choose to sleep among trees, but not because they don’t have a home. They might already have a house that is fully insured, well-automated, fire defense strategies in place, and even well-furnished. But why did they give up that to stay in a forest? Perhaps, they choose such a way to change their lifestyle or save some money to buy a house in the future.
The 29-year-old Stef’s sleeping place is any wood where he can install his tarpaulin “roof” and hang a hammock. He sleeps there, packs his stuff into the bag after waking up, and drives to work, after which he chooses another place to sleep.
As surprisingly as it might seem, he has nothing hippie-like on his mind, and no, he doesn’t search isolation in his lifestyle. “It’s the opposite of being a hermit. I am interacting with people all the time as well as having the solitude of the forest. It is a nice balance,” he said.
He runs his own animation business, and technology allows him to work just about anywhere, from coffee bars to pubs and even on occasion a 24-hour McDonald’s. He meets clients around the country and then pitches camp in a nearby wood.
Roberts began “wild camping” in May 2014 when he was working in Bristol, and then did the same when he cycled around Europe. When he came back he carried on.
“I loved it so much. It is a lifestyle which I never believed could be possible,” he said. “I have no idea how long it will continue. I’ll move back indoors when there is a good reason to.”
He is not the only one to opt for the nomadic lifestyle.
Why one young man has decided to live outdoors
Earlier this year Alex Hill, 24, an IT worker in the City, told the Metro newspaper that he was saving money by sleeping in his van on side roads in London.
Another nomad – Jodie, from Devon – spent 10 months in a bell tent with her husband. “We’ve learnt a lot about tents, ourselves and life in general,” she told Marie Claire magazine. “And so far we have saved more than 8,500.”
Roberts, however, is not motivated by money.
“I could have happily rented – it wasn’t that I couldn’t afford it,” he said. “I spend the same amount of money now as I used to; I’ve never been a big spender. It’s not the wild camping that has allowed me to save: it is that my business is doing well.
“This lifestyle is a freedom from needing money, rather than a way of saving money.”
David Mattin, head of trends and insight at TrendWatching, a consumer trends analysis company, said that lifestyles such as Roberts’s would become increasingly common.
“We’re taking for granted technological advances that in the past were the preserve of science fiction films.
“Technology is liberating us from the need to cram into the Tube on the way to a nine-to-five job in an office that we spend 30 years in. We will have a generation of digital nomads.”
Many will not be quite as nomadic as Roberts, and he admits it is not an easy option. “It’s not a life hack,” he said. Everyday things, such as washing, can be a challenge. Roberts seeks out showers in gyms, swimming pools and even motorway service stations, and his appearance is far removed from that of many outdoor sleepers: he is neatly dressed and clean-shaven.
“I love standing on a rail platform [to travel into town] and an hour before I was in the forest. There is something really nice about bringing those two seemingly opposite worlds together.
“I love bushcraft, learning how to be outdoors, how to be comfortable with minimal gear.
“It’s about balance, being very present and active in society but also being connected to the natural world. Having that daily connection to nature is really important to me and it has done me a lot of good.” This is only the beginning, and if at all possible, I’ll relocate and try again.
One of my friends advised that I try this somewhere cold, and I’m considering heading north, as I’ve heard this is the best time of year to visit Iceland and other neighboring countries.
He is at ease with the noise and atmosphere of dark woods at night but admits that it was scary at first.
“The only thing to worry about is other humans,” he said, although he added that most were incapable of walking in a wood without making a great deal of noise.
He has four hammocks so that others can join him – “my way of inviting friends round for dinner”.
Do any of his friends think he is mad? “Well, no one has said it to my face,” he said.