The story begins in 2011, a woman named Fern was working for a company called US Gypsum for quite some time. This was a company that was located in Nevada and she worked there with her husband. Fern’s husband died and then she was fired from the company. Now without a job and without her partner, Fern decides to sell all of her belongings and live on the road. She packs all of her things in a van that she bought, this van is named Vanguard. She says goodbye to her close friend and hits the road. It’s the middle of winter so traveling is a bit hard. Fern spends most of her days on the road until she eventually gets a job at an Amazon shipping center, she decides to stay there through the winter. She meets a couple of new friends there, her closest friend is an older woman called Linda May. Linda introduced Fern to all of her friends while they were working at the Amazon warehouse. Fern enjoys the work as its really simple and relaxed.
When she has free time she spends it with Linda. They sometimes do puzzles and talk. One day Fern shows Linda her items that she values a lot. Some of the things are from her late husband and from her father. When Fern isn’t working she often goes exploring the city. On this particular day Fern goes to a sports store and just sits there. She almost falls asleep in the store. Eventually she meets her friend Aubrey and her two daughters in the store. Fern’s friend is really concerned about her and wants her to call if she needs anything. Everyone thinks that Fern is now homeless but this is something that she wants to do.
Fern later goes back to her van and there she folds laundry and listens to the radio. In the evening she meets up with Linda and Fern listens to her life story. Linda raised two daughters and worked her entire life but still ended up with no money. Eventually things got so hard that she thought about suicide. Linda then realized that the best solution is to buy a van and just travel. Linda shows Fern a video of Bob Wells, he is a man that works in Arizona and helps fellow nomads with their start in life. Fern is at first not very interested in this man’s help.
Fern does her last few days of work at the Amazon warehouse and now comes the holidays. She is totally alone in her van, she even catches a cold. After New Years day she finds a dog and takes it back to the owner of the parking space where her van is located. The owner is called Patty and she informs Fern that Amazon will not be paying for her rent of the parking space so she needs to find almost 400 dollars. Fern desperately tries to find a job and goes to see a social worker. The woman there is nice but informs Fern that nowadays its very hard to find any sort of job. Fern wants to start work as soon as possible and she cannot retire because she likes working.
Soon the conditions become too horrible for Fern. She loses her parking space and also the winter is just too harsh. Its getting too cold to live in her van so she decides to take up Linda on her advice and she drives to the desert where Bob Wells and other people in vans are living. She travels for many miles and soon arrives in the desert. She joins Linda and they listen to Bob give a rousing speech to many nomads. He talks about the dollar and how it makes slaves out of people. Bob thinks that people should look after each other and he wants to help. After the speech all the nomads grab some food and they talk. Fern learns many life stories there, she realizes that every single one of these people has some tragic backstory. She decides to stay and learn from them so that she can better survive no the road.
Fern goes to talk with Bob and he tells her that this community will give her security and hopefully she can move on from her life. For the next couple of days she spends time with her new friends in the desert. She meets a nice man that lives in a nearby van and he gives her some tools she needs. Fern, Linda and another nomad then go to a giant festival and have fun there. They go and see many giant vans that are brand new and they imagine their new journey. After that they dance and have fun. Fern likes her new community and learns a lot from them. Eventually some of the nomads decide that it’s time to move on so many of them leave. Fern is left alone in the desert and she starts to work on her van. One day she notices that there is another van in the desert nearby her. She sees that the owner is putting up a giant flag with skull and bones on the side of their van. Fern is kinda creeped out but she continues to live her daily life.
Fern continues to live a pretty relaxing life. She lives in her van and goes to work with Ron selling special rocks. She spends her days making sure the rocks look great for the customers. While working there she meets some young nomads as well. They are just singing and enjoying their time. One of them is called Derek and he gets to know Fern.
Fern later gets into trouble when the tire of her van blows. She then has to go to her neighbor Swankie for help. Swankie is the one with the giant skull flag. She is very grumpy and when Fern tells her that she needs a ride, Swankie gets angry. Swankie thinks that Fern should be better prepared because she is living in the desert after all. Swankie decides to give her a ride into town anyway.
While the new tire is being loaded up, Swankie and Fern start talking. Swankie thinks that Fern needs to be careful and learn how to change a tire on her own. Fern is not really interested but then Swankie tells her that she needs to help her with something. When they return to their vans, Swankie needs help to paint her van. Fern tries to help but its a bit complicated. The two start to become really good friends. They spend the next few days together, Swankie sells a lot of her things and she gives some of them to Fern. Fern tries to learn the flute but she gets interrupted by stomach problems.
One day while talking with Swankie, Fern learns that Swankie is very sick and only has a few months to live. She doesn’t want to spend any more time in the hospitals so that is why she is on the road. Swankie tells Fern about her life and how she just wants to travel to Alaska to experience something new and beautiful before she goes. Fern is really emotional and wants to help Swankie with everything.
Fern spends all night thinking about her life, her parents and especially her late husband Bo. The following day she gives Swankie a haircut and talks about her husband. Fern thinks that he suffered a lot at the end and she wanted to help but couldn’t. Swankie gives her words of encouragement. Soon after that the two friends say goodbye and Swankie leaves for her journey. Fern is now once again alone and she travels some more. She goes to an abandoned town and starts to explore. She soon goes to teh river and swims there. After that she takes a long walk in nature. Fern is very much enjoying her life on the road, the nature is amazing and she sees a lot of wildlife.
At some point Fern gets a new job, she is now working as a camp host at the Cedar Pass Campgrounds. This is located in a national park in South Dakota. She likes her work and spends time with various people. Eventually one of the nomads from Nevada arrives, its the kind man with the beard. His name is Dave and Fern and him spends more time together. Fern is also joined in her work by her old time friend Linda. Fern and Linda spend their days cleaning up the camp, the bathrooms and enjoying nature. While driving Linda remarks that this is the most beautiful place to work. They have a lot of fun working together. Fern and Linda even help a family organize a birthday party for their daughter. Later Fern finds out that Dave also works at the park as a guide. Fern joins Dave and other tourists on the tour of the rocky landscape. At some point Fern goes to explore on her own and almost gets lost. Dave finds her and she is happy to talk with him. After a while Linda decides to move on and leave. Her and Fern say their goodbyes and Linda drives off.
Fern spends more time working in the camp and things start to get more difficult. Cleaning toilets and the camp is a very hard job and she feels alone a lot of the time. Fern spends more time with Dave. Soon he gets sick and ends up in the hospital. Fern goes to visit him and she learns that he had to get surgery. After he recovers, Fern and Dave start working at a restaurant. There one day his son arrives and wants to talk with Dave. Dave’s son has a new baby and wants them to reconnect. Dave is not really willing but Fern tells him that he should be with his family. Dave seems to have feelings for Fern so he asks her to come with him. Fern thinks about it but declines his offer.
Fern then continues her life on the road and gets a new job at a sugar plant. She works there for a while but her van starts to break down. She has no money to get it repaired so now she is in trouble. She can’t get any more money so she goes to visit the family of her sister in California. When she arrives her sister helps her and gives her the money. Fern fixes the van but also has to deal with her sister. Her sister wants to know why Fern was so distant and why she spent so much time in the town of Empire when her husband died. Fern then goes to visit Dave once more and she also meets his family. Dave has decided to stop traveling and he wants to live with his son. Dave and Fern talk and he admits that he is in love with her. Fern decides to leave and she thanks Dave for everything. Fern goes to work for Amazon once more. While working there she finds out that Swankie has passed away. All the nomads gather around and mourn her passing. They all throw a stone into the campfire and Fern joins them. Fern goes to talk with Bob and they share their stories with each other. Fern tells him about her late husband and how much she loved him. She also admits that she wasted a lot of her life after he died. Bob tells Fern that his son commited suicide a few years back and his life was really painful but he decided to help other to honor his son. Also Bob reveals that in this nomad life, nobody is really gone, there is always hope that they will meet their loved ones down the road.
Fern goes back to the town of Empire. The town is now totally empty and abandoned. It’s covered in snow and the buildings are run down. Fern goes back to the factory where she worked with her husband and she visits their home. Finally she gets rid of all of her stuff and continues her journey on the road.