I believe wherever dreams dwell, the heart calls home.Dodinsky
Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.Parker Palmer
Recently there was a program on our local public radio station about guilty pleasures, defined as something one enjoys regardless of it being seen as unusual or weird. Being attracted to unusual and weird, I had to think what I would offer as my guilty pleasure. Then it came to me, Nomads. #Van life. #Social Science Project. That is what it is for me, a study in human nature, in peoples’ ways of living, of creating home. Not the sticks and bricks type home but the home on wheels.
In many ways it is a natural for me as I feel captivated by homes in all styles and locations. I find it fascinating to see how people make home, what is important for them to include to feel safe, grounded, and in beauty. Having lived in 17 homes, I understand the resilience it requires, the creativity, and the trust that one places in these walls that might have seen generations before me.
I also love travel and, owning a travel trailer, I have some experience making a small space feel comfortable and stable. What I don’t know is what it feels like to live in my car, a small van, or an RV (Recreational Vehicle) full time and in many cases, alone. This I find intriguing. Not that I desire this lifestyle for myself, but I enjoy the captivating and inspiring questions of who chooses this type of home, what brings a person to this choice, what encourages a person in this living arrangement, what is a person giving up and what are they gaining, in what way is the aspect of the spiritual engaged in this person’s life, where is community, who do they count on.
So where does a person go to research and study this interesting topic? YouTube. Of course. Where I can get lost in time and preoccupation. Many of us have seen the movie Nomadland but If I want to add to my growing list of who is doing what, where, and how, I go to CheapRvLivin, or Glorious Life on Wheels. Both Bob Wells and Carol offer short interviews with people they meet on the road. Each one interviewed is unique and sometimes their situation is eye popping, concerning, or simply well done.
Then there are individual channels like, Lady Bugout, Ad-van-tures Over 50, The Dawn of Van Life, Life Simplified by Mai, and Carolyn’s RV Life, to name a few. These vlogs give personal experiences on a day-to-day basis of the life the individual is living and what changes they have made to their setups. The challenges as well as the joys of living on the road.
Out on the road are millennials, couples, women, and men who are each solo traveling, families who are home schooling. There are many seniors, ones who are out for adventure and those who are trying to stay afloat on Social Security. Some who are ill. Some who have been evicted from home. It was estimated a couple of years ago that there are over a million people living full time on the road. In that estimation, they were counting all types of RV’s not cars and vans, so the number has grown.
I see women and men older than my 71 years with declining health and finances, losing most of their money to a health issue, or rising rent and facing eviction, and who are now facing the daunting question of how and where to live. Many are found on the street while others prepare and head for their vehicle.
What I have learned:
- I hear a firm statement from each person that they do not consider themselves homeless; even the ones living in a compact car. Each one has created a different home, one where they can feel secure, afford, and feel a sense of freedom. I see pride in their interviews as they show what they have created either from a build or a no build, using materials from their former home to create a space to sleep, store food and water, prepare food, and ways to keep clean.
- Overall, there is a repeated statement of feeling more connected with other people now while living on the road, different than in their sticks and bricks home that they left. Whether a senior or a young person starts the journey because they find they are just sitting within walls and still have dreams to pursue, or because they are forced out, there is an across the board feeling that they now know so many more people, and have a community that helps them learn, repair, and find resources. For some, living a life of travel with their own accommodations brings them closer to family who live throughout the country, and whom they can now visit.
- Beauty is being found in nature. When asked if they would ever go back to a sticks and bricks home, the answer is a clear, “No. Just look around here. How could I give all this up to go back and live within walls? I was lonely there. Out here I have only found kindness.” Many state that while they are alone, they do not feel lonely.
- Living like this is hard work. There is always something to repair. There can be dangers and the learning curve can be big. When I hear the young one’s state this, I wonder how the elders are making it. Resilience, determination, and being able to ask for help, play a big role here. Those who make it long term state the importance of asking for help.
- We take ourselves with us wherever we go and by this, I mean our joys and our sorrows, our regrets, and our successes. Geography does not offer a cure, but it might offer the space and change needed to heal.
- People can make and keep their own home on wheels with just their Social Security income.
- After a period of living on the road, some try to buy remote land giving them a place to anchor. The general rule is one needs to move every two weeks, even on free BLM land (Bureau of Land Management). Some make it in this fashion for 10 years and more, others find the constant moving too much.
- Most often I hear, “I had a vision of doing this.” I always wanted to travel and now I can every day.” “This is where I want to be.”
Recently, I watched a video of those we would consider truly homeless in Oakland, California. These are very different images, all manner of vans, cars, motorhomes, trailers, tents, and cardboard structures creating a home, all surrounded by garbage strewn about. The interview of one gentleman who has lived here for about 15 years revealed that while a few are addicted to some form of drug, most of those living here are lawyers, tradesmen, doctors, businesspeople, homemakers, those who survive a life changing circumstance, with many moving here with a good paying job but unable to afford the first and last rent down payment which is required to rent an apartment. Some that cannot afford the current going rate of $3,000.00 per month for an efficiency apartment, meaning you need $6,000 for the down payment. These are the folks too young to receive a social security check. Those who are working cannot make enough to afford rent. There are those who are not working as their life is too unstable to get hired.
Here the need for focus and determination is paramount to moving on. It took the gentleman interviewed 15 years of persistence to finally procure an apartment for himself with assistance to keep him living there. At one time he and his wife were serving meals to homeless, now he was the one needing support. In the video, what looked like a shambles of pain and hopelessness to the viewer was community for this man, a place where people were helping each other out and helping each other to get out.
This was not the sense of freedom I experienced in the voices of those fleeing the cities for the desert, those who have the bare means to buy gas and move on, or those who find jobs along the way, or those who have the skills to work remotely while living in their van. These were very different images with each one tugging at my heart in different ways. Some of these folks will not move on. Some will struggle beyond my sense of what it is to be human. Some will lose hope and many more will find a way to move forward. While there are stories of those lacking a sticks and bricks home that are shocking and disturbing, there are also stories of those creating a new idea of home that are uplifting and inspiring.
For all of us, the future is found in this moment. It all starts with the heart/mind, the vision, the dream, the possibility of something more. The woman facing eviction after losing her job begins to search within herself for what she can do to live with less than $1,000 a month. It is more than survival; it is being able to open to a future where one can breathe with ease. Something settles into her heart, it is nurtured, and it grows, creativity is freed, and then the will is activated allowing her to move forward. She studies carefully what others have done and thinks, “I can do this.” She creates home in her minivan carefully thinking of how she will sleep and eat. She feels pride, contentment, and fear as she moves into the unknown. Then the fear resides as she becomes more confident, meets others, creates community. For now, she has home, is home. Created from within. Creating a new future.
Having known challenging and adverse situations in my life, I feel fortunate in not having to face the choice of how to physically survive and having a stable home with the joys of travel when I choose. Whether one has chosen the nomad life out of adventure or was pushed to create an alternative home, I find much to admire and learn from their experiences.
I don’t know where this trend is headed but beyond what it is saying about our US economy, it seems to be telling us something about our intrinsic connection to nature, living small, living day to day, living with resilience, a feeling of possibility, and the need for our own space within the work of creating community, relying on community, and supporting community in whatever way it appears for us. It is not only survival training in body, mind, and spirit it is a model for resilience and adaptability through the creative spirit.