Is Nomadland Real Life for Digital Nomads?

Part documentary, part Hollywood make-believe, is Nomadland a real depiction of this nomadic lifestyle? We had to find out so we watched it last week. 

We cringed when we heard Nomadland was being made into a movie. I wasn’t crazy about the Nomadland book, which I reviewed for RV Life Magazine. In the book, the author shares stories of people living through hard times, while workamping to survive. In the process, she did a spectacular job negatively portraying the workamping lifestyle, and all nomads in the process:

Nomadland is a respectable effort at telling the stories of a small segment of America’s full-time RVers and workampers. Unfortunately, it uses every opportunity to highlight the worst aspects of the lifestyle and paint it with the same brush. Anyone thinking about workamping will appreciate the book’s honesty but should also maintain a healthy dose of skepticism while reading it. — Is Full-time RVing & Workamping A Lifestyle Or A Prison?

What’s the Real Nomadland Story?

the real nomadland

Guess what? They’re nomads too!

Now that the movie is out, many people have asked us if we’ve seen it. We did. And although Frances McDormand did a great job in the lead (as usual, she’s awesome), we are annoyed by this movie for several reasons. Here are a couple.

Nomadland has ruined the term “nomad.”

The Nomadland book cover shows a picture of a beautiful vintage Airstream on the cover. Ironically, I can’t recall anyone mentioned in the book, nor anybody depicted in the movie, who has the financial resources to even afford an Airstream like this one!

the real nomadland story

The real Nomandland isn’t filled with Airstreams.

And now the movie gives an innacurate portrayal of the full-time RVing lifestyle, totally trashing the “nomad” adjective in the process. Before the movie, most people weren’t too certain what being a “nomad” was all about, unless they actually knew one of us. But thanks to Hollywood, the term “nomad” will forever represent something entirely different than the awesome full-time RVer lifestyle we enjoy.

vandweller personalized license plate

Eva “Vanta C” was a vandweller ahead of the trend back in 2008.

Today, if my mom told someone who has seen the movie that her daughter is a “nomad,” they would assume Jim and I live in a van down by the river, poop in buckets and do hard time working at Amazon. OK, I did work at that monster corporation once, and vowed to never do it again. 

Nomadland in Real Life is More Diverse.

On the plus side, Nomadland does a great job painting a picture of one small segment of the full-time RVing community, the vandwellers / rubber trampers. We have met many like McDormand’s “Fern” character in our travels. Her story is not uncommon. The young drifter Fern befriends is a perfect example of the kindhearted Slabbers we have shared many a drink with (pre-Covid!). Like Moth, pictured below, or a friendly houseless kid from the Midwest, appropriately named Shiny. Some are economic fallout victims, some are not, but we all choose to live as nomads.

real nomad Slabber Moth

Moth at the Slabs, with our friend Sam

But where Nomadland misses the mark on paper and screen (which people who are not real nomads will never understand), is in how it fails to depict the many different segments within this community. 

For example, many vandwellers can be considered nomads, but not all nomads are vandwellers. For instance, you’ve got snowbirds, retirees, overlanders, globetrotters, family roadschoolers, and so on. And we’re not all asking for rides to town to buy used tires, asking family for money, or bathing once a week.

funky nomad Class C motorchome

We are colorful, and not afraid to be different!

 

Most of the nomads Jim and I have met are just like everyone else out there working for a living, or living in retirement–only our homes have wheels. Is the general public astute enough to pick up on these subtleties? I doubt it. The movie has stereotyped “Nomads” for good.

slab city community

The Nomadic community is comprised of some amazing, authentic people.

And the Oscar Goes To . . .

Don’t get me wrong. The movie was slow, but well-directed and performed. The critics are right. But as Jim says, if Nomadland is to win an Academy Award, the category should be “Most Amount of Time Staring at Frances McDormand’s Forelorn Face.”

We give Nomadland a thumbs down.

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16 Responses to “Is Nomadland Real Life for Digital Nomads?”

  1. The RV Nomad Lifestyle has hit a formidable “Rapid Techno-Obsolescence” hurdle as a booming RV industry is further outpaced by higher costs and wide-ranging technological breakthroughs. In such a dynamic moment, the best an RV Nomad can do is to grasp on to the tail of what RV technology he can afford (mentally and fiscally) and zig zag through the nomad experience with joy every interim step along your way!
    As for my wife and I, we travel in a Dutch Star puling a long M-B Sprinter (both with DEF Eco diesel engines). Our rig is modified to stay unhooked from power for a month at a time. We have 2,400w of solar panels, two 100a solar controllers, two hybrid 3,000w inverter/chargers, an 8kw diesel generator, an LI-BIM alternator link and a 1,200a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery bank. For the last six years we have traveled coast-to-coast up into Canada and down into Mexico when borders are open.
    Our community and income generation is increasingly internet based enterprise level, techno-$$$-stuffed, laptop workstations and hi-$$-tech cellphones. As an octogenarian younger yearnings aplenty… there may be no time to wait for tomorrow’s next awesome!

    • I agree 100% Ed, your positivity is contagious. Your setup sounds sweeeeet! Hope to see you on the road sometime. Thanks for reading.

  2. I saw it and thought it to be slow and sad and painted a very broad brush those of us that RV permanently. Painted badly. There is a huge difference than a class A 40 ft Tiffen and an old van on bald tires. And many inbetween. The acting was fine and ther are peole who have to live like that, but by no means all RV’rs.

  3. Dear Jim and Rene,
    As Communications Director for the Francis McDormand “Forlorn Face Club (no “e” in forlorn as an FYI) we take deep and serious exception to your critique of Ms. McDormand’s performance. For the past twenty years we at the FMDFFC have shared our enthusiasm for her repeated portrayals of people unreal but real to us, however, in the film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, many of us felt cheated by the lack of forlorness in her character! However, with the release of “Nomandland” we savor Ms. Dormand’s perfect character exploration of our favorite emotion from this highly acclaimed actress (or is it actor?) and would hope others would offer support rather than judgement with regards to what we value as “the actor’s palette of emotive expression”. We request that you cease and desist from further commentary regarding her exacting capture and conveyance of abandonment and dejection in this fine drama. Best regards with all of your future endeavors, Nigel M. Rothman, Founder of The Francis McDormand Forlorn Face Club

    • Return of the Wombat! I’ve been wondering what it might take to garner a witty comment. Thanks for the laugh.

      • I’m glad to read you’re both still letting the rubber hit the road. Juli and I have retired to an island in the Pacific Northwest, let me know if you ever pass through? Give Rene my best, oh, and we met someone here who has a three legged dog on our island, well, he has four legs but they duct tape one leg to his torso and make him dance on his hind legs for money and beer in front of our local coffee shop, it’s a cute act. Eric

        • You always know how to make me laugh! Be careful what you ask for…hope to see you again, once the world returns to some state of normal.

  4. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, and I probably won’t. I’m seriously tired of all the unrealistic tropes that pop up about nomads. And I’m sick of the judgment coming from people who usually have zero experience in the lifestyle but assume everyone is the same.

    Is everyone who lives in a sticks-and-bricks home the same? So everyone either has a mansion or a shack? They all either live off food stamps or are billionaires?

    Many of the happiest times of my life happened as a nomad, and I can’t wait to get back to that lifestyle. I did it by choice when I had other options for living arrangements, and the minute I can, I will choose it again.

  5. It’s a good thing I don’t care what people think, or I’d be very irritated at the broad brush used to paint nomads in both the movie and the book. I travel in a vintage 4×4 RV that’s in perfect condition, as I’ve put a good amount of money into making it so, but people could easily look at it and think I was poor. I really don’t care – I’m retired and have a really good income, enough that I could easily buy a house for cash. I’ve owned several houses and don’t want another.

    The problem is, nomads see enough discrimination based on their lifestyle and what kind of rig they have that we don’t need any more negative perceptions. And you’re right about the movie giving the definition of nomad to a negative slant.

    • Liz, you are spot on. All those neighborhood restrictions about parking, well, those restrictions start with a few perceptions of an entire community and a few bad apples who ruin it for responsible RVers like you and I. Your rig sounds great! Keep on truckin!

  6. I have been waiting to hear your opinion of the movie. I have not seen it and probably won’t till it becomes more easily seen. All I’ve heard from were people who have never RV’d before. I need to catch up with you sometime soon!

  7. Even as someone who works full time, remotely, and lives in a big ol’ 44 foot fifth wheel with a shiny new 2019 F350 to pull it, I found the movie to be likely indicative of van life for the downtrodden. Sure, not all nomads live in a van, but the story felt “real” to me. Remember, this is someone who has lost their husband and worked in a blue collar city that has shut down and dried up. There are likely many, many stories just like that portrayed of Fern in the movie.

    A single movie (and I haven’t read the book) couldn’t possibly portray the vast, vast array of lifestyles, rigs, family compositions that occur in the true nomadic life. But there absolutely *are* people who live just like Fern does.

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