The movie—which won an Oscar for Best Picture in April—tells the story of a woman in her 60s who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.
Brooke entered van life under different circumstances.
As she was easing into her 40s, “I bought a van for weekend adventures and longer road trips,” she says. “But the more I grew to enjoy my travels, and the less I enjoyed homeownership, the more I warmed up to the idea of moving into the van.”
Brooke sold her three-bedroom house in Portland and jumped into a 60-square-foot living space. She lasted a couple of months in a Eurovan.
“I needed a bigger van to make this lifestyle work,” Brooke says. “The Eurovan just wasn’t big or spacious enough. That was the impetus for building out the Ford Transit.”
With help from her supportive family, Brooke spent six months tricking out the Transit in hues of blue with everything she needed: rooftop solar, cabinetry, an elevated bed, wood floor, walls and ceiling. Every inch serves purpose, and no space goes to waste.
With her new rig ready—and despite pandemic concerns—Brooke set out on the road in June 2020. She has traveled through Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada and California.
“Because my electricity comes from the sun, I can’t stay in the Pacific Northwest through the winter,” Brooke says. “It’s too gray. Turns out that being in the warm sunshine during the winter feels pretty amazing.”
Although van life has not always been easy, “it’s balanced by the amazing benefits of living on the road, living outside,” Brooke says.
“You aren’t going to wake up to an amazing view every day, but when you do, there’s nothing that quite compares,” she says. “Whether it’s the mountains or the desert or the ocean, every landscape has something different and unique to offer. It’s so worthwhile to be able to see so many places while you’re alive on this beautiful planet. It’s an incredible way to feel like you’re taking full advantage of your time here.”
In addition to using proceeds from the sale of her home, Brooke sustains her lifestyle with sales of her artwork. She says she has been drawing ever since earning a bachelor’s in fine arts from the University of Oregon.
“I find myself working more consistently into the night now because I have less access to movies and TV shows, but I don’t work as consistently during the day,” Brooke says. “I’ll take breaks for long walks with my dog, or to go clean up a campsite or just dance in the sun. My days are varied and without routine, which can take some adjustment. But I enjoy it this way.”
Brooke says having the flexibility to work remotely makes living in the van easier.
“I can continue to work as I move around,” she says. “As long as I have decent cell service, I can work on a pretty regular basis.”
Limited space prompted her to shift from more traditional to digital art.
“I’d been considering trying my hand at digital painting prior to moving into the van, so this was the perfect catalyst for me,” Brooke says. “It took me a long time to grow comfortable with the new medium. But I’m glad I stuck with it because I love how versatile it is and truly appreciate how little space the iPad takes up in the van.”
Brooke depends on a Portland-based friend, Jassimine Dixon, to store and ship the cards, stickers and prints she creates. Other friends—including her California-based best friend, former University of Oregon classmate Jasmine Ash—provide her emotional support to keep her rooted.
“I couldn’t do it without her love and support,” Brooke says, noting Jasmine also is a talented artist who writes music. They are in contact almost daily.
Brooke says working on the road fuels her creativity.
“It not only inspires me to draw pretty pictures,” she says, “it inspires me to be more vocal about protecting these beautiful places, and that shows up in my artwork.”
Brooke says her Instagram follower count—which numbers more than 58,000—is ironic for someone who describes herself as an introvert.
“I think because my Instagram presence grew really slowly over many years, I was able to adjust pretty easily,” she says. “I’ve become a lot more comfortable with who I am and stopped caring as much how people viewed me online. However, I am still pretty sensitive, so when I receive hateful messages, it still stings. But I try to move through it and move past it as quickly as possible and try not to let their words prevent me from letting myself shine.”
Brooke says she is still having fun but is not likely to live on the road forever.
“The only two things I truly miss about living in a house are my vegetable garden and the oven,” Brooke says. “I’ve completely forgotten about all the other things, which shows me they really held no value in my life. But gardening was one of my favorite hobbies, and I will be elated to return to it when I put down roots again.”
Whenever she needs a break, she heads home and stays with her parents.
“I always really value the time we get to spend together,” Brooke says. “Everyone has been incredibly supportive of my choice to follow this life for a while. I have a couple friends, including Jasmine, that I still talk to on almost a daily basis. It’s so important for me to keep those friendships intact because it can get pretty lonely out here at times.
“I have no idea how long I’ll be out here. I take it day by day. I give myself permission to give it up whenever I get to the point where I’m not enjoying myself anymore.”
Brooke says she really liked “Nomadland.”
“It shows a different side of van life,” she said. “Everyone sees this glamorized version on Instagram—a romanticized version—and there’s really so much more to it than that. And there’s a lot more different kinds of people who do it for many different reasons. I think that was really amazing to see.” n
Epilogue: Life on the road is on hold for Brooke after a recent mental health scare. Brooke shares openly about her struggles, hoping to help others, at
Inspired to Try This Lifestyle?
Brooke Weeber has advice for those considering ditching a traditional brick-and-mortar home and taking to life on the road.
“Do your research and try it out first,” she says. “This lifestyle can seem really glamorous if you only see the pictures posted on Instagram. I highly recommend renting a van and doing a long trial run first. Make sure to read lots of blogs about the pros and cons of van life.
“Go into it without any expectations. You’ll be a lot more prepared for what may come if you remember that there are bad times that come along with the good—and that you don’t have to fit into any kind of vision of what you think van life is supposed to look like. Do it your own way. There’s room for everyone.”
Read about Brooke’s adventures at www.artandexploration.com/blog.
ABOUT THE SERIES: Pioneer Utility Resources, publisher of Ruralite magazine, will shine a light on rural arts in the Northwest and West, revealing how the arts enrich communities and sharing a comeback story in these challenging times. The series, the Heart of Community, receives support from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust—a private nonprofit foundation serving nonprofits across the Pacific Northwest.