The Indicator from Planet Money - Seeking Refuge On The Open Road

Living on the open road is more than just an Instagram photo opportunity; for many it's both an economic necessity and a countercultural movement. Just ask Bob Wells, the evangelist of nomad life.

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Content Keywords: Bob Wells story NPR
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NPR

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influencer or how do you describe what you do YouTube videos and the people seem to like them a few people. Do I have 467 thousand subscriber, so

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Yeah. Yeah, I'm in torture. But Bob Wells does not look like your typical YouTube influencer. In fact with his flowing white hair and bushy beard Bob at 65 looks not unlike Santa Claus if I had decided to close up shop at the North Pole and move permanently into his van and start evangelizing about how great it was to be a bearer of good news. If you have to boil down the good news that you're bringing what what is it that life doesn't have to be monotonous drudgery and you don't have to be broke. Wondering if you're going to make it next month. You can actually save money. All you have to do is own a car.

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This is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith Biloxi Horwitz Gauzy today on the show the story of how that wasn't of Americans ended up living in their vehicles on the edges of the economy and how many of them with the help of people like Bob are reframing that predicament into a lifestyle.

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When we reach Bob Wells. Camped out Off the Grid and his white GMC Savana van in the middle of the California desert some 25 years into his experiment in Mobile living. How did this whole journey start for you? What was your life? Like before you discovered this this lifestyle depending on your point of view Bob was living in Anchorage Alaska or he'd worked for over two decades in a union job at a Safeway. The job is father would work until his retirement at the time. Bob was going through a divorce after alimony and child support payments. He says he was no longer making enough to clear his rent. He was desperate and that is what he noticed an old beat-up box fan for sale on the side of the road for $1,500 and he decided he had to go for it. That was all the money I had left in the bank, but I had to have a place to live and so I bought it and that night I threw a backpack.

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Sleeping bag down and I began my van dwelling Adventure in the winter in the cold man. And I that first night I cried myself to sleep. I literally cried myself to sleep or when you go into a divorce. You you cry yourself to sleep on a pretty regular basis. And this was of course greatly confounded here. I wasn't almost bomb living in a van on the streets and how much lower can my life get a lot of camping in his life and you want to make a small space cozy and after a few weeks. He figured out how to cook and stay warm. Bad cabinets YouTube gym membership to shower you figured out how to make it sustainable in the money. He was saving on rent meant he didn't feel like he was always on the knife's edge is slowly and subtly shifted from I despise my life to this isn't really that bad to hey every month. I keep the money and put it in my pocket.

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I kind of really really like this and that's the way it's been ever since was it difficult at all to kind of switch Grand narratives about what trajectory you're supposed to take as a productive member of the economy. Absolutely. It was a traumatic transition, you know, we are trained from birth to death. Our purpose in life is to be good productive citizens. And so it made me question everything I had done exactly what Society told me to do. I got the job. I want a house we had kids. I was following the American dream to the best of my skill level and ability as I could and then I was forced into living what Society told me was the life of failure homeless in the van. And for the first time in my life, I was happy with that raises a lot of existential question. And when I looked around at all, the people I work with work eat sleep work eat sleep work eat sleep. I said what Society has told me was not true.

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I finally found a way this happy for me. Let me try to understand that for my life and for the life of others enough to quit his job at Safeway and buy supplementing is union pension with seasonal stance as a campground host. He was eventually able to take to the road as a full-time Nomad about a decade after he moved into the van Bob decided to pay for some of the techniques he developed. He started a website called cheap RV living to serve as a kind of online resource for other people interested or in many cases forced to move into a vehicle. I started it with the sole intention of letting people know there was an alternative you didn't have to live under the tyranny of the marketplace and the way to do that was to eliminate your biggest it cost in life, which is your housing live cheaply live frugally and then you can live well for a long time the site just kind of mosied along picking up a few pages here and there.

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He was inundated with desperate messages lost my job. I moved in with my family know my family's lost their job. Now. We're all losing our own. What are we going to do? And that was the question. I got over and over and over again, even after the economic recovery started to pick up the number of enquiries and pageviews and people in the community continue to grow fueled partly by the rise of social media Bob started his cheap RV living YouTube channel in 2016 and has since become one of many popular Nomad influencers, but unlike a lot of the glossier more glamorous content associated with the hashtag than life crowd. Bob's videos are all about helping people struggling to keep their head above water financially and they're filled with the nitty-gritty details of living behind-the-wheel talk about

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Cheat day when I talked about taking showers. The topic of today is poop. You know, there's a lot of Corners you can cut your beehives. One of them you want that thing to be clean all the time you profiles of people living in different kinds of vehicles cars to trucks two buses running back for the nomads. Today. We're going to be the new friend of mine and everyone out there. It doesn't look like there's a bunch of people out there because I didn't want that video for the record 2.5 million views and counting videos have become so popular that he's not making more money than ever before on Amazon, which is why I'm recommending it help him bring it over $150,000 a year to full-time assistant helping him with his work. And because he says he never plans to live in house again. He makes a very healthy profit or much much more money than I ever thought. I could possibly make in my life and

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My expenses are pretty darn low without extra money Bob started a non-profit homes on Wheels Alliance to support people transitioning into living in their vehicles. They started to outfit and give Vans to people in dire need of a new vehicle and pop said he's saving up to buy a plot of land for an in-person Resource Center. How many people are living on the road at this point? But back in 2010 when Bob started this annual Gathering of van and car dwellers in the Arizona desert called rubber Tramp Rendezvous. It had a few dozen attendees by 2019. They had an estimated 10000 people show up and is owed in this growing Community has had a kind of front row seat to the massive economic disruptions of the past decade and he's watched as certain demographics have borne the brunt of those changes. It's a surprisingly large female contingent older women their 60s and 70s when they were girls. They were told get married stay home and raise a family and so they never built for

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And then now they're living on $500 to $800 a month Social Security and you cannot live in this country on 502 1000 Watson Social Security and living out. She just can't do it. And so they all desperately needed a solution as well. And I told them all if you move into your van you can live reasonably well on that you won't be rich but you won't be eating dog food and there's hope what is p has seen an uptick in views and enquiries about van dwelling over the last year. But so far he says that stimulus checks in the Nationwide moratorium on evictions have slowed the number of new Nomads still he says as the Baby Boomers continue to age in to Social Security and as the effects of climate change intensify but expects the movement towards vanlife to Surge and PCs. It is his mission to try to help. However, he can I've got to stream the lifeboats and I want to get as many as I can into the Lifeboat and I think the hammer blow of 2008 really put a crack.

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People's confidence and I think when you combine that with this cheers natural disasters and then the epidemic I think people are just going to be abandoned during the American dream in droves. That's all I'm trying to do is get people out of the dead and dying system. If you want to learn more about life on the road check out the book nomadland by Jessica Bruder a new film adaptation of the book is also out now.
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