- We Americans love the open road.
- We have over 4 million miles of roads and spend more time behind the wheel than any other nation.
- For some road tripping means fine dining.
- One thing about America is that they give you so many napkins.
Thought I should tell somebody.
- [Ali] And maybe some roadside attractions.
- [Man] Oh my God!
- [Ali] But for a growing number of Americans, life on the road is just that, life.
- There is just this community.
See new places, exploring, in a home on wheels.
- So I think of myself as a nomad.
I live on the road full time in a vehicle.
This is a way of life that I choose.
I'm living outside of the rules and bounds of conventional society.
- [Danielle] Nomadic YouTuber, Bob Wells, has been on the road for decades.
- I first moved into a van in 1995.
I was going through a divorce.
And so I moved into the van to have a place to live.
- [Ali] And aside from a brief second marriage, he's been all about van life ever since.
- When people find out I live nomadically, some people automatically kind of think, well you're homeless, you must be, there must be mental illness.
And of course, none of those things are true.
I guess what I love most about living in a van can be summarized in the single word, freedom.
If you don't like where you're at that moment I can just turn the key and drive away.
- [Danielle] Bob chooses life on the road because it suits him best and he's not alone.
- Hi guys, we're at the Grand Canyon and oh my gosh, it is grand.
I feel like I'm nomadic at heart.
Being static does not bring me any joy.
I earn full-time income.
I can pay for a home or apartment.
I prefer to explore and choose experiences over things.
- [Ali] Allecia Gordon has spent the last two years traveling the country full time in her RV with her daughters.
- [Allecia] Hi girls.
- I like living in an RV so I can travel places.
- We've been to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, California and... - Nevada.
- I home school them on the road.
The difficult part would be I would say, them not having their friends constantly that they would have access to had they been in a regular school system.
But the benefits of traveling exploring are more advantageous than not.
A lot of people choose nomadic lifestyle because they're living in a house or apartment where they find themselves confined to four walls, overworking, overspending.
I prefer to live on the road.
- But some Americans are turning to the road to avoid dire financial situations.
- I believe that being a nomad is going to be more and more the way of the future particularly in light of the pandemic.
I see it exploding.
I remember back so well in 2008, people were losing their jobs and then they were losing their homes, their apartments.
Facing homelessness, they searched and found my website.
This was the fastest, easiest, cheapest way to live a non-conventional life.
And I think that's going to happen all over again.
There's going to be a massive growth in the number of people out here, living on their own.
- A recent survey found that due to the economic stress of the pandemic more than half of Americans would consider living in a vehicle to save money.
- In the last few months, I've been seeing more and more people living in their cars.
It's nice having a car because you have shelter.
- [Ali] Sober Lou has spent his time during the pandemic in the driver's seat, exploring America.
- I'm at White Sand, New Mexico, Texas, Winslow, Arizona.
When it's not pandemic I'm usually an event photographer and there are no more events because of COVID.
Here is my sleeping setup, very messy, I know.
I don't just pay rent and live in an apartment like everyone else because I can't afford it.
Slept under this bridge here.
It's kind of loud, but it's pretty good.
Would sleep again.
Three out of, three and a half out of five stars.
You don't need money to travel.
You just need to be really uncomfortable and you need to not eat very much.
That's how I travel.
I should have brought warmer stuff.
People ask me all the time.
Why am I always traveling?
For me, it's always about the people.
Just wanted to get out there and talk to people and see how people are living.
I'm in Tulsa seemed like an interesting place to come.
(tires screeching) (laughing) There's so much about people just don't ever see.
Americans, you can live your whole life in one spot and never see it.
I'm ready for more of it.
This is the Arkansas River.
What kind of fish do you think that is?
- [Man] I don't know, bro.
- We camped out that night.
The fish was surprisingly delicious.
Damn that's really good man.
Could use some salt but it's delicious.
- [Danielle] Sober Lou has been able to make life in a vehicle work.
But Bob knows that others could use some guidance.
- If you want to make someone else happy show them compassion.
And if you want to make yourself happy show others compassion.
- [Ali] To help others, Bob started a nonprofit, the Home On Wheels Alliance.
- One of the things we do is we accumulate money and we buy minivans and we donate them.
That's why I'm here in the middle of the desert.
We're building two minivans.
We're converting them into homes.
- [Danielle] In October, 2020, they gave away two minivans to future van dwellers and spent two weeks in Nevada mentoring them.
- The people that are here today, one of them had already become homeless.
- [Ali] 52-year-old April Craren had been living in her SUV.
- It's almost 20 years old and it needs a new transmission.
I couldn't afford another $3,000.
I just, I couldn't do it.
- [April] There it is!
- [Mentor] Your new minivan!
- It's gonna be so much fun the next couple of weeks to get this thing pulled together.
- It is.
I have three sons and some grandchildren.
If I rent an apartment, all my money will go for rent and I'll never ever be able to do anything else.
Living in a minivan, I'll be able to enjoy my life even though I'm disabled and live on a very fixed income.
I will be able to be places like this.
And that makes me a lot healthier.
Back home, it's getting very cold at night.
Last night, it got down to 24 in Springfield, Missouri and there's people on the streets that have nowhere to go.
This is my home now.
I don't have to worry about where I'm going to sleep.
I'm not going to freeze tonight.
This is a life changing event and I want to make sure I'm getting my second chance.
I do it right.
- [Danielle] Out in the desert, April's learning survival skills to help make her van life more comfortable.
- At the end of two weeks, we will have trained these folks.
So they get overs some of the fear.
Cooking in the outside is no big deal.
- I'm just here to make sure I haven't missed something.
- And we don't blow each other up.
- And we don't blow each other up.
- Well, is there something you were most concerned about and you spent a lot of time on.
- I didn't really know how to organize it.
She really worked with me on that.
- Question I get all the time: Where do you go to the bathroom?
What did humans do a 100 years ago, 200 years ago.
What did they all do?
They had a bucket.
- [April] Down here you can see there's my potty.
- It's not going to win the awards, but it works really well.
- Good morning, I'm just waking up.
And today is going to be moving day.
Don't mind the crazy.
- [Ali] April is leaving Nevada with a slew of new skills.
- [April] This is my kitchen area and there's my bed.
There's my first item I bought for it.
I love this little chandelier.
I have a place to live.
- [Danielle] And while it's not everyone's idea of home, the support of her new community brings her comfort.
- I would say that nomads make the most deep and intense bonds.
- We'll definitely be friends forever.
- They're going to come out and find this life.
They're going to fall in love with it.
- Some people are here not by choice but after living the lifestyle made it a choice.
And so even if they find themselves in a position to merge back into a home or apartment, they chose not to.
- [April] I'm off to start my travels.
- In the past year, the way we live day to day may be forever changed.
But the need to call somewhere home remains the same.
- [April] Goodbye, beautiful area!
I'm off to live my best life.
- PBS American Portrait is a nationwide storytelling project.
A chance to be seen, heard and to give a glimpse into your own life.
Share yours at pbs.org/american portrait.
And starting January 5th, be sure to watch PBS American portrait.
A series made by you on the PBS YouTube channel, PBS video app or your local PBS station.
- Hello pigs.
Can I ask you a couple of questions?
So, how do you feel about COVID?
I noticed you're not wearing a mask.
It's my first interview.