A word to the wise: Jessica Bruder’s Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century may induce anxiety if your retirement plans are less than reassuring. The Columbia journalism professor covered a growing group of mostly older Americans who took to a nomadic lifestyle supported by transient work opportunities. Living out of converted vans and RVs, the group members take to the road after traditional living situations have proved unsuccessful due to financial instability. Among these members are Linda May, whose multiple careers never provided her with a realistic savings plan; Bob Wells, who mastered the art of nomadic living after homelessness and now shares his insight through cheaprvliving.com; and “Swankie Wheels,” a van-dwelling blogger with a bucket list made achievable through her life on the road.
For research, the author converted her own van for traveling and enrolled in two seasonal, low wage jobs common among nomads: Amazon’s CamperForce at one of the corporation’s fulfillment centers and sugar beet harvesting. Both industries proved mind-numbing, exhausting, and often dangerous with no benefits and minimal intervention from HR. With monthly social security payments of less than $700 dollars and no medicare supplement, nomads are also faced with having to hunt down cheap healthcare services across the border or just forgo procedures completely making any work-related injuries hard to subdue.
Bruder’s report, however, discovers that comradery is often what makes the older nomadic lifestyle not only bearable but attractive. Group members meet all over the country either through their temporary jobs or organized events to share meals, living tips, and stories. The biggest of the meet-ups is the annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous that takes place in remote Quartzite, AZ. Bob Wells helps plan the event each year where it has been referred to as “Burning Man for baby boomers.”
While Bruder does not glorify this lifestyle, she does offer a voice to the many who have adapted to and experienced it as a much more viable solution than any other frugal living situation. Nomadland, to say the least, is insightful for those interested in a perspective from those suffering from the increasing economic divide in the United States.