The ‘Nomadland’ Guide to Living Off the Grid
The Academy Award-winning film Nomadland is a deep dive into the nationwide community of Americans who live on the open road. The narrative focuses primarily on Fern (Frances McDormand), a widow in her 60s who packs up her home in Empire, Nevada, and moves into her van. She travels from place to place, working odd jobs, meeting interesting people, and exploring the natural world along the way.
While Fern’s story is fictional, it’s based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Jessica Bruder, which introduced readers to many people who have chosen – or been forced by circumstances – to live in their vehicles. For some, going off the grid is an expression of freedom. For others, it’s an economic necessity. No matter what brought them to on-the-road living, they find kinship with one another and help each other out along the way.
If you’ve seen Nomadland (which, admittedly, is a somewhat romanticized version of how hard this lifestyle can be, especially for older people), you might be inspired to try saying “good riddance” to life underneath a traditional roof (and beneath the crippling weight of rent or a mortgage). We’ve researched the basics of saying “so long” to home-dwelling and making your humble abode mobile. This is the Nomadland guide to living off the grid.
Cover Photo: Highwayman Films
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Get a reliable ride.
Your home is on four wheels now, so don’t scrimp. The last thing you need are unexpected breakdowns and surprise auto repair bills when you’re on the road (and likely in unfamiliar places). Expect to spend at least $6 – 9K for a decent used van. If you want something newer or more customized, you’ll likely drop $15K+. Things you’ll need to consider for your particular living situation: van size, roof height, storage space, windows, engine size, and gas vs. diesel.
Outfit your mobile home to suit your needs.
The mantra of van dwellers is “business in the front, party in the back.” The front of your van is for driving, eating, filling out paperwork, and making phone calls. The back of your van is for comfort: it’s where you’ll cook, dress, groom, and sleep.
Don’t forget your bucket.
Stock up on air fresheners.
They aren’t going to completely eliminate all the smells associated with living in your vehicle, but they’ll at least mask some of the odors, especially if you have company.
Pick safe places to park.
Public land is your best bet. That could take the form of national parks or forests or BLM land. Rumor has it Walmart parking lots are also safe (albeit a gray area, legally speaking). Highway rest areas and truck stops are other options.
Store your valuables safely.
The glove compartment is no place for your most prized possessions. Get a safe deposit box if you can or at the very least be clever about where you stash your valuables in your vehicle.
Go where the seasonal gigs are.
Amazon, Wall Drug, campgrounds, amusement parks, state fairs, farms – wherever there’s a gig to be had, go get it.
Find your fellow nomads.
Just because you’re living an unconventional life doesn’t mean you have to do so alone. We all need community, and you’ll definitely benefit from congregating with people who are in similar situations. Make an effort to get to know the other nomads you meet on the road. You never know when your paths will cross again – or when you’ll need a friend.
Get out of the vehicle.
Yes, it’s your home, but if you spend too much time there, you’re bound to end up depressed. Make sure you have gainful employment, spend time with family and friends (new or old), and get outdoors as much as possible.
Don’t abandon your hobbies.
You can only spend so much time working, driving, and tidying up your living space. Make sure you have pleasurable ways to pass down time. If you were creative before moving into your vehicle, continue to do what you can within the constraints of your new living arrangement.
Be open to everything.
The beauty of living on the open road is that anything can happen. Embrace your wanderlust and appetite for adventure. Follow your whims and take advantage of unexpected opportunities. Don’t let the magic of this living arrangement pass you by!
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