Sheltering on the Move
This is life as a nomad in the time of coronavirus.
Today, my cell phone buzzed about the new shelter-at-home order just as I was stepping out of the shower at my friends’ house in the mountains near Yosemite.
I listen to the news, so I knew there would be a mandate by the state of California to combat the spread of COVID-19 announced today. I was happy to comply. I had enough toilet paper and food. I always do.
I’ve actually been abiding religiously to shelter-at-home orders since March 1, 2020. That’s the day I bought my RV. I’ve been traveling extensively throughout the United States of America since.
I shelter on the move.
Yes, I’m a full-time nomad. I have no other home, and the only possessions I own are here in my solar-powered, 23-foot RV. My rig is fully self-contained with a bathroom and kitchen. It’s basically a little apartment, which just happens to have a truck attached to it that can squeeze into a parking space. Although, trust me, it’s not good practice to squeeze this rig anywhere.
It’s a pretty controversial existence these days, and I’m not the only one in this position, either. In 2018, there were a million people in the United States living in RVs, according to the Washington Post. There are probably a lot more now.
We’re all outlaws. Is parking my rig somewhere and renting a $1,000-a-month apartment somewhere in a town somewhere for a year a healthier option? I don’t see how it is. Besides, it would be a lot tougher to save for retirement with those kinds of expenses.
I’m caught in a loophole. I’m a single female with no children and no home, but I don’t consider myself homeless. When I have to provision food at a local produce stand, do laundry or work on library WiFi in a random town, I’ve seen homeless people. I put on a mask and drop a bag of food, extra masks or toothbrushes a few feet from them as an offering. I stay six feet away from everyone, to the best of my ability, all the time.
I live mostly for free on public lands throughout the U.S. There are free, crowd-sourced apps I use to find where it’s generally safe and accessible for a medium-sized rig like mine. I’ve spent nights listening to coyotes howl and sniff my gray water in the middle of the Mojave Desert. I’ve watched the sunrise in the big skies of Montana and the sunset over the bayous of Louisiana. I’ve taken hikes in the firefly-rich backcountry of the Smokies and watched stars fall through the cosmos from an International Dark Sky Sanctuary in New Mexico.
Solo travel lets you go wherever you want to go. Since I don’t need to hook up to shore power and have a 30-gallon water tank that can be filled from random spigots in dog parks and gas stations, I certainly have no interest in spending $30 a night to be near other people in campgrounds.
When states closed campgrounds earlier this year to combat the coronavirus, it didn’t impact me at all. I’d rather travel through the extensive national parks and forests that expand with the western horizon of the U.S.
A few times this year, like now, I’ve spent time with friends around the country, but only after two weeks boon-docked somewhere away from other people. I spend the vast majority of my time either outside — I love to hike — or working in my rig.
I work online as a writer and marketing consultant, and also as a yoga teacher and life coach. But I don’t actually meet with people. I knew about Zoom and other remote work hacks a long time ago. I’m one of these “digital nomads,” and I have been for almost six years.
I had been living abroad since 2015. That’s when I made a big life change, sold all my things and started international adventures. Maybe that’s cliché now, but I was just going with the flow back then. I still am. It’s divine timing, and purchasing this RV to shelter-on-the-move is yet another example of it in my life.
Before March 2020, I had lived throughout the Caribbean, South America, Asia and Oceania, filling up my American passport with visa stamps. My flight from Medellin, Colombia to Miami, Florida had been booked for March 1 — exactly two weeks, if you remember the 2020 timeline, before the first global lockdown.
I purchased the ticket because I had an appointment with the Italian consulate on March 11, 2020. I am reclaiming my Italian citizenship with plans to travel extensively throughout Europe. That appointment was set two years prior.
Since I knew I had to return to America, I decided to buy an RV. You know, #vanlife and everything. I couldn’t find a ready-to-roll van, so the less-cool RV had to do. But I’m sure grateful now for the extra space to roll out my yoga mat inside, cook food, and have my own little bathroom.
I decided to stay nomadic because I didn’t have ties to a particular place. My parents are older and live in Pennsylvania. My legal residence, for tax purposes, is at a friend’s house in Florida. At the time, I realized I had never seen the Grand Canyon. I kept meeting foreigners who would ask me about famous places in the United States; it was strange that I had seen more of New Zealand than, say, Utah.
So, in February 2020, blissfully ignorant of Wuhan and bats and toilet paper shortages, I set about to buy my first RV. I hired a mechanic to review the rig’s engine and purchased all the tech needed to install 400 watts of solar to the roof. I scheduled solar installation to begin March 3. I flew into Miami — wearing a mask as I always did, because I had lived in Asia for years and once fell asleep on a plane with my mouth open and caught a cold.
I had a stash of masks in my 20-kg pack, which I threw in my new RV along with my ukulele and computer bag to complete my move. All my systems worked by the date of my consulate appointment. Two days later, on March 13, I was on the road north to explore the country where I was born.
I’ve been constantly on the move since, and now it’s December.
You may be thinking I’m some sort of super-spreader. You may think I’m leading this horrific, reckless existence in the name of having immature adventures. Maybe you want to yell at me or wag your finger. I haven’t had a coronavirus test, it’s true. They don’t administer those in forests, and I don’t really stay in towns long enough to find a testing facility.
Is there something a nomad is supposed to do to be socially responsible?
I don’t deny the severity of the coronavirus. I hate to read about the hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths in the United States. Compassion and respect for science aren’t incompatible with my alternative lifestyle.
I wear a mask when I’m indoors, like during yesterday’s biweekly trip to the grocery store. I followed up immediately with hand sanitizer. Throughout each day, I practice many long, sudsy hand-washings. I don’t touch my face. Before March, I used to nervously bite my cuticles. I don’t do that anymore. I also don’t pick my nose. I remain really good about that.
I also take vitamins daily: a multi-vitamin, a calcium supplement, natural Vitamin E, flax seed oil, a probiotic, Vitamin C, liquid B-12 and magnesium. I either practice yoga or take a long walk most days. I am a long-time vegetarian. I care about my health, and I care about the health of everyone around me.
That doesn’t stop people from being outraged at me and people like me. There’s a lot of anger and anxiety today. It’s normal in the time of a pandemic, I guess. It’s my first.
I haven’t been sick at all this year, nor have I been around sick people. I actually haven’t been around a lot of people at all. I spend my days working on my personal projects, chatting with friends from around the world on the phone or through social media and playing my ukulele. I brew kombucha and cook vegetable soup in my little kitchen.
I live a fairly simple life, except when I’m hiking to slot canyons, paddle-boarding on lakes or enjoying all kinds of natural wonders this country has to offer. I’ve seen many fields filled with amber waves of grain and, at sunset, purple mountains majestic. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, cave dwellings, public art displays and so much more.
I’m grateful that I’m not in an apartment or even a mansion. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be trapped inside building surrounded by a swatch of grass, if you’re lucky, before the asphalt begins its path to the strip mall. There is plenty I love about America, but there’s plenty I’m happy to avoid.
So, as the nation hunkers down for yet another shelter-at-home mandate, I’ll do the same. Except I’ll be staying safe while continuing to explore inside my little home on the road, sheltering on the move.