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The Nomad Life

I have a passion for the work of Homes On Wheels Alliance (HOWA). This lifestyle that I lead, traveling and living in nature, feeds my soul and, from observation and experience, is the chosen lifestyle of many thousands of others for the same reason. It’s both fulfilling and frugal, living large with a small carbon footprint. I both hope and anticipate that HOWA and its partners will be able to help many people be successful as they move into their safe and secure nontraditional homes, within a lifestyle that’s fulfilling and honorable.

This vandwelling experience, be it in a car, van or RV, is often misunderstood by the general population. We are sometimes lumped together with the addicts, alcoholics, and the mentally ill homeless on city streets and along railroad right-of-ways. For me and my nomad friends, however, it is a choice of a quality lifestyle entered into with full knowledge that some in society will associate us with the former.

Jessica Bruder’s 2017 acclaimed book, ‘Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” has dispelled some of that myth. Bruder, an immersion journalist, wrote this documentary after she lived and worked among us. It’s about a significant segment of the vehicle-dwelling population — retirees who support themselves by working physically demanding jobs while traveling in their RVs. These senior citizens, often victims of the 2008 Great Recession, have chosen a quality lifestyle on the road in lieu of senior housing or a room in their child’s house. Yet, this itinerate work is hard and the lifestyle is unsustainable in the long run. Bruder raises some hard issues for us to grapple with on behalf of our US senior citizenry. Similarly, HOWA is also starting to grapple with solutions to help our nomadic elders, those whose bodies will no longer allow them to travel or be itinerate workers.

The book is eye opening for those that read it, yet the movie, also titled “Nomadland,” will touch a much larger audience. The revolutionary message that a quality lifestyle is out there for the taking, with a cost-of-living significantly less than a traditional household, will resonate with many who have never considered such a radical departure from the norm, young and old alike. Impressively, this docufiction movie stars awarding winning actors Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards) and David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck, Temple Grandin). Yet, Director Chloé Zhao is known for her unconventional employ of “real people” as actors. I’m especially proud to say that two of my nomad friends, Linda May (protagonist in the book Nomadland) and Charlene Swankie, are supporting actors. Myself and many other nomadic friends were extras.

As HOWA’s Executive Director, I want to do whatever I can to position ourselves and our partners as resources for those exploring the nomadic lifestyle. Filming is now complete; after a year or two of editing, the movie will hit the theaters*. I want us to be ready – ready to help new folks determine if the nomadic lifestyle is for them, ready to teach requisite skills to be successful, ready to support a culture wherein we care for and honor nature, ready to provide assistance when the unexpected happens to a vehicle dweller, ready with a supportive community of fellow nomads. We have much work to do.

I’m so excited to view Nomadland, the movie. Yet, I know this next year or two will go by in a flash as HOWA works to set a supportive and sustainable infrastructure for our new and growing nomadic community.

*In addition to this movie, we expect documentaries featuring Bob Wells (President of HOWA and owner of CheapRVLiving) to continue to be in the media and raising    

Suanne Carlson, Executive Director, Homes On Wheels Alliance, February 17, 2019

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