“Home, is it just a word? Or is it something you carry within you?” – is Morrissey’s invitation to reflect on the meaning of home. And while the definition of home is something intrinsically personal, the social concept of it is changing in the US. What does home represent now? A house? A neighborhood? A car? A van?
Living off-grid, off-road is highly becoming more popular in the US. More than 1 million Americans were living in RVs by the end of 2018. This number could be significantly higher today. Shifting away from traditional stability and fixed location, people are giving a new meaning to the American dream – Nomadic. Let us dive into the perks and challenges of being a nomad.
Why is the nomadic life becoming so appealing?
“No, I’m not homeless. I’m just houseless. Not the same thing, right?” – says Fern in “Nomaland” – the winner of the Best Picture at the 93rd Academy Awards. Establishing the difference between a home and a house might be a logical first step towards choosing a nomadic life.
The feeling of self-sufficiency and liberation from the need to live in a traditional house grants independence and freedom. Living in a van, while working a dream job and not having to pay monthly rent, sounds like a great value proposition.
Who are these modern-day wandering souls? If you look around, you’ll notice that there is no typical profile for a nomad. People in their late teens, divorced women, older men, and even families with small children are joining the nomad club.
Their stories and reasons to join are different. Some are just trying to avoid homelessness after losing their jobs and as a way to preserve dignity. Others see the nomadic life as a means to save more money and live more carefree, while also reducing their carbon footprint. Then there’re wealthy nomads who are there for the sake of freedom and flexibility with a touch of luxury. Everyone has a story to tell.
Among nomads, these differences do not matter as everyone becomes part of a community that goes through similar challenges. So perhaps, the off-grid, off-road path can serve as a social equalizer, defying capitalism.
What challenges do nomads face in modern America?
Being a nomad may seem exciting at first, but probably not everyone can easily adjust to it. After all, having to use public showers, frequently change parking places, or live with the minimal amount of clothes and other personal items is not a lifestyle that fits all. This is why many people who choose vanlife, first try to test if they like it, by renting RVs for a short period of time.
Another challenge is related to adjusting legal paperwork regarding taxes, driver’s license, voting, etc, which in traditional scenarios require a fixed address. Thankfully, during the last years, community networking groups such as Diversity Vanlife, National African American RVer’s Association, or Escapees RV Club have been created to facilitate some of these transactions and to enhance the sense of community. They also provide consulting services and organize webinars and workshops guiding nomads on these issues: for example, how to establish a permanent address. As more services have been moving online, it became easier to file paperwork and ultimately stay connected.
Is the nomadic lifestyle here to stay?
Living in a van is more than just adapting to logistics limitations. It is about keeping the true nomadic spirit alive. The phenomenon of hipsters traveling across the country, or even across the world, is not new. However, the fact that people from all walks of life are now joining this community is a novel trend.
This raises the question of whether being a nomad is also a form of escapism, which will end as one gets bored or improves his or her financial situation. Downsizing to a van can reduce so much of the “regular” life stress, but will it be enough?
After all, some of this stress will still persist for digital nomads who work and learn remotely. Constant traveling and relocating can also be exhausting, and people might get a call back to fixed-location stability.
What does all this mean for the American dream? Is this dream nomadic, risky, stable, or balanced? I think there is no single answer to this.
However, I believe there is one thing that is inherent to the American dream: and that is pursuing happiness. The path towards happiness varies across people, and for some, it is being a nomad.
What is your take on the new American dream? Is it nomadic? We’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.