Call Michele Roldan-Shaw a wanderer. Or a nomad. Or even a vagabond. But she prefers the term "rambler."
The 31-year-old Blufftonian has been flitting around the South and writing about her adventures since 2010, when the recession drastically cut her freelance journalism work to the point where she could no longer afford to pay rent.
"I knew that in order to move into an exciting direction in my life, I was going to have to think creatively and not get whatever 9-to-5 job I could settle for," Roldan-Shaw said. "I just needed to reinvent myself."
So she gave up having a permanent residence and began shuffling among friends' couches and guest rooms, sometimes camping in their yards or sleeping in her truck. She got used to the itinerant lifestyle and decided to hit the road and travel. Thus, The Rambler's Life project was born.
Roldan-Shaw spent time in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Smokies, in Louisiana's Cajun country, the Mississippi Delta, rural Georgia, Florida springs, and all over the Lowcountry, backpacking and accepting food and shelter from the people she met along the way.
She searched for rubies with gem miners, hiked South Carolina's 50-mile Swamp Fox Trail, got her hair braided in the West Birmingham hood and participated in the Carolina Martial Arts tournament, to name just a few exploits.
All the while, she documented her experiences, approaching everything with an open mind and journalistic observation.
"Some people perceive me as being constantly on vacation. And what they don't know is how I get up at 4:30 every morning to write. What they don't know is that when I'm out in the field, I'm not laying down getting a tan, I'm taking notes," Roldan-Shaw said.
She has since turned her personal experiences writing into two self-published books, "Ain't a Rambler's Life Fine: The South" and "Rambler's Life: The South Reloaded," which she just finished. The books are $30 each, are hand-bound and have hand-printed covers. Roldan-Shaw will be reading excerpts and signing copies at various locations in Bluffton, Beaufort and Hilton Head Island during the next two weeks.
"I've realized that my path in life is not one that requires rootedness," she said.
Roldan-Shaw admittedly doesn't have any lofty career goals. She eschews anything that might tie her down, such as marriage or children. She can easily fit all her belongings into the bed of her truck. And she gives away just as much as she is given.
"I find it's less challenging than a normal lifestyle," she said. "These people that have two houses, three cars, five kids, like, whoa, how do you manage all that?"
By simplifying her life to writing and traveling, Roldan-Shaw said she is happier than ever and more open-minded.
"A big part of rambling is learning to be at peace with every situation," she said. Even situations the average traveler might shy away from, such as wandering alone in the wilderness for weeks on end or strolling through the Memphis ghetto. Overcoming uncomfortable scenarios is more about conquering your own feelings of uncertainty than it is about what is happening around you, Roldan-Shaw said.
"That sounds crazy, but when you're on the road, you just know what to do and what not to do. I've never had a bad experience. The people that I meet are always so wonderful. I'm a big believer in the kindness of strangers."
Roldan-Shaw said she would eventually like to write a third Rambler's Life book about taking a cross-country road trip. But she's not sure. She doesn't like to make firm plans.
If she did ever settle down, she said she'd want to live in a treehouse, but writing and rambling is on the agenda for the foreseeable future.
"There are naysayers, but I rarely run into them," she said. "Almost everybody enjoys the concept of adventure, freedom and faith.
"Everybody relates to that."
Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.