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150 days of living and coding in a van (ruby-on-wheels.github.io)
720 points by hwartig on Oct 10, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 436 comments

Nice writeup.

I also live in a vehicle. I have a 25ft (7.6m) former airport shuttle bus I've converted to my home. It took me over six months of full time work and it's still not complete.

I've lived in it for a bit over four months. Overall it has been good but not without challenges. I'm currently busy working which has led to neglecting stuff I need to finish on the bus. I can't travel far until I finish these things.

Here are some recommendations and tips if you're considering this life:

* If you haven't spent time camping in a vehicle rent one for at least a week and try that first. It's not exactly the same but similar.

* Don't jump in blindly. Do significant research into what others have done, what works and what doesn't, etc.

* If you decide to build something yourself expect it to take at least twice as long and cost 50% more than you plan.

* Evaluate if it makes sense to do the build yourself. I wanted to build something physical instead of just writing code. Financially it would have made more sense for me to continue working full time and have a place like Sportsmobile do the build. I wouldn't have learned the skills and had the experience though.

I have a lot of build photos on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/driverdan/

I'm happy to answer questions.

What do you do for internet? I don't have any intention to live full time in a vehicle, but I want to be able to take off for an arbitrary amount of time and work while away.

I've done a few test outings but generally end up reinforcing my conclusion that cellular is not overly reliable when you're more than an hour or so outside a moderate-sized town. I currently have to carry equipment for two separate carriers (AT&T and Verizon) and a signal booster to have a reasonable success rate at getting a strong enough signal to work.

The next avenue I'm exploring is satellite internet, but it is significantly more expensive.

i worked remotely for 5 months in a class C RV, in some really remote areas, across 36 states total. in my experience, internet was great 90% of the time. it was faster in rural/small town rather than metro areas, i'm assuming because there's less load on the towers. the worst parts were actually in national parks, which had almost no service. some mountainous areas were bad depending on which side of the hills you were on. deeply forested areas were hit or miss. usually, it didn't take more than driving a few hundred yards to to go from bad to acceptable service. anything near a highway was pretty much great. i also worked from a lot of parking lots in commercial areas, all of which had good cell service. i was able to skype and work over SSH fine. it was as good as broadband in most cases. i was worried about the internet the most when i started the trip, but it turned out to be the least of my problems.

i used ~150GB/month, with an unlimited verizon plan. i used a dual antenna hotspot, with an extra antenna extender. if i had 3g service somewhere, i could use the hotspot and antenna and usually get lte. i thought i would need satellite, but i didn't. its also slow and expensive. slower than 3g probably.

when done, i sold the RV for the same price i bought it for, saw a lot of the US, saved $12k on rent, spent $2k on gas and $700 on tires, $200/mo on internet... that's about it. i got a LOT for my money

I live in a fairly mountainous area of the country and prefer the more secluded spots away from major highways, which has been the main reason for the very limited cellular service. I'm pretty much the opposite of you -- I was actually more optimistic about cellular service before trying it and am now questioning its availability.

A week ago I was in northern Idaho on Priest Lake. Within my camp site I was unable to get a usable cell signal with the phone alone, but with my booster and a directional antenna I could get up to around -90-100 dBm. This worked until the rain came. That tower and other rural towers seem to frequently use microwave backhaul links to get connectivity, so the rain fade was sufficient to make that connection unusable for a couple days.

Not affiliated, but I just want to plug opensignal.com[1], extremely helpful when going somewhere if network coverage is something you care about.

[1] https://opensignal.com/networks

I use that regularly. I also use this [0] for a bit more accuracy in finding actual towers, though its search interface is kind of restricting.

[0]: http://www.antennasearch.com

You have to let go - I got 4G mobile wifi earlier this year, its fast as heck and sometimes when I don't get a signal.. I don't connect to the internet! Can always read a book, or go for a walk.

I'm kind of extreme though; I've been using cellular data almost exclusively since 2001 so its nothing new. I've spent plenty of time out of range. I think that if you are out of range and you need to connect; its time to move on.

Problem is, I can't let go. At least, not all of the time. I'm a remote employee rather than it being my own endeavor, so there's a certain expectation of communication in addition to needing to interface with our various services from ticketing to source control. My ultimate goal is to be able to work from a beautiful place, and once I'm done for the day, to go out and explore it.

How do you handle sms and voice over data or do you forego it all together?

No I have a mobile phone for voice calls. In the beginning I used dialup, then GPRS or EDGE directly through the phone (cable and later Bluetooth connection). Then I got a separate device for data, first an ICOM 3G USB dongle which I used for many years but as of this year I'm on 4G, with a Huawei 4G mobile wifi thing.

I have a raspberry pi setup as router with a USB Alfa wifi adaptor for rebroadcasting free wifi. I also have a 4G hotspot as a fallback.

I've found the pi doesn't work well because it's having power or IO issues where the external adaptor is slow when rebroadcasting on internal wifi. I'm upgrading to an Intel NUC when I have the time to finish setting it up.

That's a cool van!

In Australia I built a van out of something like a Toyota Hiace for less than $500 + the cost of the van. I travelled in it for a year, living in it for well over 6 months of that, and sold it at the end. I actually didn't really need $500: I made money building the van as I bartered a deal to help out a carpenter with some basic office IT stuff, and ended up learning and helping a little bit around his shop, whiche he gave me cash-in-hand for at the end.

I also used second-hand and bartered items for the interior, and even a little bit of left-over lumber, tiling and cloth, which saved at least $1,000.

I have 2 pieces of advice: the first is that the most important thing is a comfortable bed, real bed. I bought a new, cheap one at Costco. Not fold out cushions, or a pad, or anything like that. A big bed with extra blankets, good sheets, and pillows. Consider that you want to be outdoors right? Ostensibly, you will use the van for driving, carrying a surf board and mountain bike (or your hobby of choice), and sleeping. That's the big 3, and you don't need much to make that possible, other than a van with a nice bed inside.

I did also have bench inside for working, an electric cooler, and kitchen setup, but even all that was superfluous: I prefer to work in coffee shops, libraries, or laying in bed. I ate out or bbq'd. I showered at beaches, gyms, campsites, or at new friend's places (for some reason, most are very eager to help travellers and invite them over).

The second is how much do you care about not looking poor? I have travelled in a ~$5,000 camper and a ~$200,000 camper. I slightly preferred the $5,000 camper. It is pleasant to drive rather than worrisome, doesn't give you motion sickness or pollute as much, easier to maintain and manage, and you can take it into the city, to the supermarket, and places the RV can't go. There is a reason those old Westfalias are so expensive other than them being rare!

However, most people care mostly about not looking poor, or their status, especially in America(1). You will see, and be seen by other people differently living in a $5,000 camper, and that unfortunately presents challenges here.

However, in the end I sold it for even more than that, and it taught me a lot. If you are thinking about doing this, you could always start with something basic, like this! Especially if you are young and want to go surfing, mountain biking, and snowboarding every weekend, I really recommend it.

1- content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1974718,00.html

>It is pleasant to drive rather than worrisome

That resonates. I scaled down my daily driver to a beater Toyota because every time I drove the amount of anxiety around the car getting stolen, broken into, dinged in a parking lot, or any number of other small injuries became unbearable. I ended up not enjoying driving, so what was the point?

After a year, I still enjoy driving this beater more than the one that cost forty five times more to purchase.

I guess it's a lesson about things you own ending up owning you? :)

Any photos of your setup? Did you mainly hang around East coast Australia?

Has living in a shuttle bus at all affected your relationships or love life?

Not the OP, but I had more and better relationships living in a $5,000 camper than a $1,700/mo apartment. Go figure. It was enough of a difference that I went from 30+ mins a day on multiple dating apps, to deactivating them all.

Most of that probably had to do with better work/life balance and all that came with it: a happier life (and the more glowing, confident, adventurous and risk-taking personality that comes with it), far better physical fitness and appearance, and more activities (and places to meet new people).

That said, you will get bad reactions and experience negativity. I agree with OP: they come from people that are not the type of people I want in my life; but those people also exist on this earth and there is no escaping that fact.

For most people, living mobile means that you're going to encounter or have opportunity to encounter far more people on a daily basis than living in an apartment, house, condo, etc. Meeting more people means there are a lot more people that you could send up in a relationship with whether romantic or simply friends, and you're going to have met them in places where you and they have at least one shared interest.

I haven't had a partner while owning the bus so it hasn't been positive or negative.

I've encountered very few negative reactions to it, mostly positive. I've had a few people respond with shock, as if they didn't understand it at all.

People who would be negative about it are not people I want in my life. I expect friends and family to support my decisions, even if it's not something they're interested in themselves.

> People who would be negative about it are not people I want in my life. I expect friends and family to support my decisions, even if it's not something they're interested in themselves.

On the other hand, it's unhealthy to surround yourself with yes-men. I personally think it's pretty cool, but I can't say I support the decision since I don't know if it's good for you in the long run.

I wager you take criticism better than that sentence indicates, though.

> On the other hand, it's unhealthy to surround yourself with yes-men.


> I wager you take criticism better than that sentence indicates, though.

I think constructive criticism is extremely important and solicit it. It's a good way to discover mistakes or better options.

Where do you park ?. I love to explore this idea considering how high the bay area rentals are. I guess this could be a faster way to payoff your student loan. -N

Parking depends on your location. I currently live in Austin and can park anywhere I want. Since my bed goes across the width of the bus with the head on the passenger side I have to find fairly flat places to park. Many of the streets here have a steep slope at the edge for drainage so I have to be careful. Sleeping with your head lower than your feet is a great way to get a headache. I often park in store lots (eg Walmart).

Some cities have NIMBY laws that ban living in vehicles. This is especially common in the south bay area. You'd have to lookup your local laws.

This may have been asked before but I can't seem to find it: where do you typically shower or use the restroom? Truck stops? Or just ad-hoc as the situation allows?

I have a shower. I don't have hot water right now though so I've been showering at my gym and coworking space.

Most people who don't have showers in their vehicles join chain gyms with a lot of locations (Anytime Fitness, Planet Fitness, etc).

I am doing something somewhat related.

I built a Jeep Wrangler into a house on wheels [1], and am driving around Africa for two years.

I am freelancing for Magazines, and earning money through my website and social presence. I have not done any coding on this trip, mostly becuase I find it hard to get remote work that meets my flexibility needs - i.e. weeks off-grid and only occasional checkins/calls.

Last time I drove Alaska to Argentina, doing more-or-less the same thing.

[1] http://theroadchoseme.com/the-jeep

I think work is the big issue with this sort of lifestyle (leaving aside children, as others have mentioned). Many remote gigs still want a daily standup, a weekly sprint retrospective and planning session, etc, and none of that really works if you're truly nomadic and can't really guarantee where you are or how good your Internet connexion is at any given time.

The article talks about the flexibility of his lifestyle: "instead of following a fixed plan, I get inspired by random ideas: When the waves are great, I go surfing. When it’s chill and fresh, I work. When it’s hot, I go for a swim." ... which sounds lovely, but I can't see how that works with a full-time job, to be honest.

There are, of course, freelance jobs you can do where you have a task to do and a deadline and (hopefully) not too much real-time conversation required... but it may be hard to get enough of that work to support yourself.

I work in a remote team, and even my co-workers who work from home sometimes have bad internet days. It's just something you learn to deal with.

In my team there are two others (there are a handful of teams in our company - all remote), sometimes we need to work together (e.g. to solve a bug) but most of the time we are all just working on our own tickets. If we were in an office we'd be the same - eyes down, headphones on.

You just need to trust people enough, to know that they are going to do, what they say they are going to do. Admittedly that's hard for some people (the trust and being trustworthy), which I'd say is why remote work often gets a bad rep.

After having done this sort of lifestyle myself.. I've realized it can be GREAT for finding a quiet place you can really go deep and concentrate. I'd say it's better to keep the job & have a mobile office like this set up so you can disappear to the forest or lake for a week at a time to get serious work done.

You need the job & others around to stay in touch with the pace of what is happening and to keep up your friendships. And then having a quiet place to go, surrounded by nature is also vital.

I am struggling with this on my current employer. I really want to go temporarily nomadic (spend a couple weeks in a travel trailer and then a couple weeks at my house/in office).

The challenge is that I was trying to soften the remote aspect by working from home more often, but then caught significant flack from my managers that "it kills teamwork." The most frustrating thing about it all is that I, as a Data Scientist, work on a lot of "skunkworks" types of projects where I spend almost zero time collaborating with others.

The challenge is finding some of the freelance or fully remote jobs for data science work.

I've done almost completely remote freelance coding for a few years now & the only thing that you really need is to mostly stick to places with a reliable internet connection (which is still a pretty big chunk of the world).

Awesome! #vanlife is becoming a big thing it seems :-)

I also made a video recently about "3 Years of Living in a Camper Van and Running a 20 People Remote Business" [1]

Now I'm in it for 3.5 years already and thought I'd settle down eventually, but I still love it as on the first day if not even more.

[1] https://optimizingforhappiness.com/3-years-of-living-in-a-ca...

I found your webpage three years ago when preparing for my silk road motorcycle trip. Never thought that you were a HN member as well. Beautiful Jeep, if somewhat overengineered for my taste! :-D

haha, thanks!

Yes, this Jeep build got a little out of hand, and some day I miss my bone-stock two door I took from AK to Argentina!

I'm planning on doing the silk road (well, actually Bali to London) in the next year or two. Do you have a writeup, or any crucial tips that I wouldn't find elsewhere?

Nice, I'm envious! I have a writeup at [0]. A short summary of the things I wanted to remember for next time is here [1]. Be sure to cross through Mongolia, the landscape is astonishing. Save travels!

[0] https://goolge.io/motorcycletours/

[1] https://goolge.io/mototours/silkroadmadness/epilogue/

Oh shit, that's some great information there!

I don't plan on doing the whole journey on bike, the main 2 parts I want to do on a bike is Vietnam (tried doing this last year, but had to give up due to the weather), and Mongolia. The rest, we'll see what happens!

Have you done #vanlife as well as life on a bike? Wondering if you can compare the two?

This sounds both interesting and audacious. I'm nearing retirement and considering various options for what to do next. Could you explain how you earn $$ from 'social presence'? I'm a personable guy, but I don't know that I could convince anyone to give me money just for showing up to something.

#Vanlife, the Bohemian Social-Media Movement https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/24/vanlife-the-bo...

Previous HN discussion on the article: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14138438

Once you have enough of a following brands will contact you for product placement, ads on website, etc. etc.

Wow that is great! We are in a camper now 3 years & one of the biggest annoyances is that you must stick to the paved or flat dirt roads. What this means in practice is that there are often plenty of French retirees around in their campers too.

Then again, if we could go off road, I think it would mean that we'd be hanging out with more Germans. Germans love massive 4x4, ex-military campers.

Are you the guy who got flak for putting a Mercedes engine in a Jeep and was then told to take an AK47 with you to Ivory Coast? Those discussions were inspiring, funny and tragic all in one, here and on reddit.

Yep, that's me.

I'm in the DRC now, country number 16. Having the time of my life.

Glad to hear it's working out well for you and that the naysayers were wrong about everything (incl. the AK)!

The internet is full of "experts".

To really determine if you can do something, talk to people that have done similar things. I know at least 50 people that have done what I am doing, and loved every second. They all said without hesitation the only crazy thing would be not doing it!

Nice to see the prices of most of the things. How much has the car itself and all of the additions cost you total up until now, and how far into the two year period are you?

I'm about 18 months in, though I have not even made it half way yet (Cape Town, South Africa.)

I'm in the DRC right now, slogging through the mud!

I have no idea, though it looks like the trip will grow beyond the originally planned 2 years.

The price of the vehicle is hard to pin down, I bought a lot of parts by partnering with brands, so I got discounts.

The important part to remember is I drove AK-Argentina in a $6000 Jeep that I sold for $5000 at the end !

Depending on mileage and where you're at (plus any number of other "it's a jeep thing" factors), KBB puts the 2011 Wrangler Unlimited 4dr Rubicon at around $19-22k USD - which sounds about right to me (that's with standard options, white color).

You might be able to find it for less, but it is doubtful.

i look at your videos from time to time. awesome

I didn't know there were mall parking lots in Africa XD

I keep meaning to take a photo in a mall parking lot. They are few and far between on the West Coast, though all the capital cities have them.

Where did you think they parked their cars when visiting the mall?

> The amount of water that I used in Berlin to brush my teeth is probably enough for a whole day in my van. Maybe 80% of the water just flowed from the tap right into the drain without even touching my body.

I hear things like that time and time again, and I can literally not understand it. Why would any sane person leave the water running while brushing their teeth? When I brush my teeth, the water runs for one second to wet the brush, then for another second to draw water into a glass for rising my mouth with, then for another five seconds (on a low setting) to clean the brush. That's maybe 100 ml. I literally drink 15-20 times as much per day.

> Why would any sane person leave the water running while brushing their teeth?

a) the price of tap water being cheap enough that the difference in consumption between efficient and wasteful behavior not causing a meaningful enough difference in the bottom-line cost of the monthly water bill to affect a change in behavior

b) sanity not being the same thing as morality, with the sane person not considering the waste of fresh water to be a moral or ethical violation.

I'm not really sure how wasting a bit of water while brushing your teeth in Berlin could be considered particularly immoral or unethical. Berlin is, as far as I know, in no danger of water shortages and being more frugal with water in Berlin does nothing whatsoever for the billions of people in the world who have no or limited access to safe water supplies. Am I wrong?

It is not being wasted.

It is being paid for, and then goes back to the earth.

It is not like it is being contaniminated with mercury.

Wonder what the harmful emissions from my flat and walk to work were vs the van. /s

Smug statements about how wasteful people not living in these fringe conditions are always remind me of the Soylent founder lecturing about how doing laundry wastes water while also reordering all his clothes from china when they get dirty. [1]

[1] https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2015/08/op-ed-how-i-gave-up-...

I was incredulous that someone could be so obtuse, so I went and eventually found the quote. You've done a really poor job of paraphrasing him.

He reorders his clothes on what we can presume is a similar time scale to normal folks', and he washes them with "less water", "thanks to synthetic fibers."

It's interesting that you've included your source and managed to totally misrepresent it.

I remember reading the article awhile ago and came across the same passage (and remember having a similar reaction):

"I have not done laundry in years. I get my clothing custom-made in China for prices you would not believe and have new ones regularly shipped to me. Shipping is a problem. I wish container ships had nuclear engines but it’s still much more efficient and convenient than retail. Thanks to synthetic fabrics it takes less water to make my clothes than it would to wash them, and I donate my usedgarments, helping out those in need."

To me that reads like the author just buys a bunch of clothes new, then donates them when dirty because the cost of washing the clothes exceeds replacement value.

I really think he's saying he doesn't use a washer/dryer.

He states very clearly that he washes and reuses them.

> He states very clearly that he washes and reuses them.

No, he very clearly does not state that he washes or reuses them. Here is the clothing section, in full:

--- I enjoy doing laundry about as much as doing dishes. I get my clothing custom made in China for prices you would not believe and have new ones regularly shipped to me. Shipping is a problem. I wish container ships had nuclear engines but it’s still much more efficient and convenient than retail. Thanks to synthetic fabrics it takes less water to make my clothes than it would to wash them, and I donate my used garments.

It bothers me immensely that all clothing is hand made. Automation is woefully absent from the textile industry, but I don’t think it always will be. For now a few new t shirts and jeans per month is not very offensive. I certainly buy less clothing overall than a typical consumer. Synthetic fabrics are easy to recycle and I believe will soon be made with biofuels. Still, this area needs some work. ---

The only reference to washing them is the water savings of buying new over what it would take to wash them; now, he also says that he buys "a few new jeans and t-shirts each month" and "less clothing than the typical consumer". Now, those descriptions appear to conflict, and either one of them seems to suggest enough reuse that many people would assume he must be washing them a few times -- going with the first (which is the one least indicative of reusing clothes a lot), and assuming "a few" is not more than 5 of each, he'd have to be wearing each at least ~6 times, which seems a lot without washing. But he doesn't say he is washing, that's just an implication that is easy, though not necessarily correct, to read into his statement.

"it takes less water to make my clothes than it would to wash them" rather implies that he does not wash them (otherwise the most logical wording would be "it takes less water to make my clothes than it does to wash them")

That is correct that he says he doesn't use a washer or dryer, however it is incorrect to saw that he washes and reuses them with the information provided. He says it takes less water to make the clothes than to wash them, not that he actually washes them. In fact, he says he donates his used clothing, not mentioning if they have been washed or not.

Agreed! The same goes for my solar panels: Yes, I use a renewable source of energy. But how many resources were required to built these panels and once they break, where do they go?

I'm not quite sure the ecological footprint of my life style is smaller than of someone who lives in an apartment in Berlin. However since I live in the van, I pay way more attention to where I and others waste resources. Maybe a first step to make a change?

Solar panels make their ecological footprint after 3 years of use and last for 30 years. 80% of the material in solar panels is recycled from old solar panels.

So no matter how you turn it, solar panels are a lot alot more environmentally friendly than convential energy sources.

>80% of the material in solar panels is recycled from old solar panels.

That doesn't pass the sniff test. Solar cell production is on a strong upwards curve, if 80% is recycled from other panels then supply would be bounded by old solar stock recovery, which is not the case.

I can't see how 80% of solar panel material, even if we're talking exclusively about the PV cells and not the surrounds, could be from old solar panels, especially not 30 year old solar panels.

In fact it is 90% http://earth911.com/eco-tech/recycle-solar-panels/ and there are nee processes that reach 96%.

That's 90% of the material being recovered from old solar panels, not 90% of new panels being made up of recycled material.

That's still great news, but nothing like:

>80% of the material in solar panels is recycled from old solar panels.

Which implies new panels rolling off the production line consisted of 80% recycled material from old panels. That's not possible. If you have 10 old panels coming in to be recycled, and you recover 90% of the materials from them, and you're producing 100 new panels (since production is increasing), at best you're gonna get 9% recycled material into your new panels.

> But how many resources were required to built these panels

You manufacture things like that near (nearly) free energy sources like rivers.

what does he mean with "It bothers me immensely that all clothing is hand made. Automation is woefully absent from the textile industry"?

I thought all clothing construction was automated in factories, like any assembly line automation.

I closed the tap while I was brushing my teeth, too. But sometimes I'd open the tap to spit out the tooth paste. Don't ask me why, but quite often I just continued brushing my teeth for a few more seconds before I finally spat out the tooth paste. During these seconds I probably wasted a lot of water.

Of course this is just an example. Maybe there are even better examples like flushing your pee away or ignoring a leaking tap...

At the end I just wanted to make a point. I'm definitely not a perfect roll model for a sustainable life. But the van life made me more aware of how we take things for granted although they are limited.

> Why would any sane person leave the water running while brushing their teeth?

Because turning it on and off all the time is inconvenient.

Operating the faucet with a foot pedal fixes this. People are too lazy to push it down if they don't need water right now.

With a pedal, you can also turn the water off in the middle of washing your hands. It's like a small-scale navy shower.

Why don't you wet the brush by dipping it into the glass? Why even wet the brush at all? The inside of your mouth is already wet.

But then again, I'm a bit of an oddball regarding tooth-brushing. In my view, the alcohol-based mouthwash is there to do a scorched-earth annihilation of all mouth bacteria, and the toothbrush is only there to break through biofilm and clear away all the tiny, tiny corpses. So I brush with a tiny bit of soap and tiny bit of toothpaste, while holding a mouthful of mouthwash. (And sometimes I use peroxide-based mouthwash, to attack the anaerobes under the gums. Cavities from S. mutans aren't the only reasons to brush.) If I routinely rinsed my brush, I would do it in an antibacterial, not with tap water, but when it comes out of my mouth, it is essentially covered in alcohols already, so I don't. As a result, the only use I have for the sink is as something to spit into.

Dude, you don't really want to try to do "scorched-earth" annihilation of all mouth bacteria-- or bacteria anywhere else for that matter. First, it won't work, you'll never get rid of all bacteria. Second, that's like taking the surviving bacteria "to the gym", clearing out the normal flora of bacteria, and replacing it with whatever nasties can survive your treatments.

Flossing and brushing (and some tongue scraping) is all that is necessary. Alcohol based mouthwash dehydrates the mouth a bit-- which might precipitate bad breath.

> that's like taking the surviving bacteria "to the gym", clearing out the normal flora of bacteria, and replacing it with whatever nasties can survive your treatments.

That argument holds for any point on the "target clean level" curve, though... for example I could use it to argue that flossing is cleaning beyond what's optimal. Not that I think it, but what is the best strategy, long term?

There is research to prove that mouthwash helps also. But certainly brushing and flossing are the fundamentals. Tongue scraping is not. My partner works in this domain.

No need to wet the brush - the toothpaste works better without it.

Oh really? Do you have a source for this? I'm hearing this for the first time now.

My partner works in the domain.

Is there a proper study of Medical source on that?

I'll ask her when she's back from Devon!

I'm curious - don't people miss big monitors when coding on a laptop? I've done a fair amount of coding on laptops while travelling and it's okay, but I feel like a big monitor is optimal for most work and wouldn't want a permanent situation with just laptop.

I like to have logs, command line, and editor all visible, and ideally a browser too. The editor alone is much more useful in a big window where you can see a file tree and multiple files.

> I'm curious - don't people miss big monitors when coding on a laptop? I've done a fair amount of coding on laptops while travelling and it's okay, but I feel like a big monitor is optimal for most work and wouldn't want a permanent situation with just laptop.

That is why we, coders, are different from other 99,99% of population of the Earth. I gave the original post to my wife and her first question was “How’s the guy coping to live alone?”. But my question was exactly this: Why he has no monitor and using that inconvinient laptop stand instead? :)

I directly skipped to finding a solution to that "problem". I literally found myself browsing amazon for monitor stands that can be folded and easily mounted in a van. What happens if I break hard? Hmm... I came up with requirements for a monitor stand suitable for use in a van. For a moment, I remember being depressed about the zero number of perfect solutions for this "basic" use-case.

Now I'm convinced that I'd never give-up my home-office for a van-office until serious advancements are made in the monitor-stand industry.

You didn’t see VESA mounts in your Amazon search that allow you to screw the stand into the monitor and into a solid surface (desk or wall) with an articulating arm that allows you to adjust the monitor’s location!?

Most of them had reviews about how hard it is to make them stay in place with heavier monitors. I can't even imagine what happens if I forget to fix them very carefully before moving and break hard while moving.

But then, of course, I am half-joking. I actually did find myself doing that research but after realizing the sitcom scene I put myself in, I gave up quickly: I don't even have a driver's license, and I'm researching the monitor-mount situation for a caravan-life?!

When searching here in the US with query “vesa monitor wall mount” I find a bunch of ones which would be secure and work well (multiple of which I own). Maybe that’s not the case where you live (assuming you’re either European or Aussie based on the phrase “caravan-life”, but guess that’s not an accurate assumption possibly).

I'm gonna guess Europe based on the "no drivers license" comment.

Your guess is right, I'm living in Germany. But I think I'm in the minority here - I really don't know any German who is in their twenties without a driver's license. I'm not German though and I used to have a license back in Istanbul, which is not valid in Germany. I didn't bother getting a license here because you can get a Bahncard from Deutsche Bahn, which covers 90% of one's public transportation needs. Maybe it's a similar story in other European countries but I think most people still get a license just in case.

not sure if serious or not; but just move monitor back against wall it's attached to and strap it down while moving. Generally solved issue in the RV industry with TVs.

Surely if you're customizing a van for #vanlife you can figure out how to build your own monitor-stand.

> I gave the original post to my wife and her first question was “How’s the guy coping to live alone?”

My knee-jerk response is, "blissfully."

I live with my wife, a 19 month old, and two cats. I love them, but I would love, love, love to spend a week entirely by myself - going to bed and waking up on my own schedule.

Introverted Dad with a wife, two daughters, two dogs, and two cats reporting in. Wife and kid #1 are both high energy. I love my home life, but there is definitely some part of my psyche that is drained by it.

I took a couple of days to drive to the middle of nowhere in Oregon to see the eclipse by myself. My goal was literally to be as far from other people and as solitary as possible for the whole trip. (Not exactly easy given the expected crowds, but that was my hope.)

I slept in the back of my truck and barely spoke to a soul in 48 hours. It was absolute bliss.

I'd like to figure out to get a little more of that solitude in my life, but it's hard. Anytime I'm out recharging my spiritual batteries, my wife is at home solo-parenting with the kids draining hers more than twice as fast as usual.

Pics and video of the eclipse:




We should start a club, one where none of us meet up in person :)

There might be some sense in that - pool together resources to rent or lease a large area to camp in, with centralized things like hot showers or kitchens with refridgerators, and maybe wifi, but otherwise mostly just spread-out campgrounds where people can go and not be bothered, but not so cut off as to be worried about breaking a leg and getting eaten by a coyote.

A commune of solitude if you will.

We could call it a peculiune, given that "commune" comes from the Latin word for things held in common, and "peculiaris" would seem to be its antonym.

What do kids want? Your soul. How much do they want? All of it.

I love my daughter. That's the truth of it though. Sometimes it makes me you happy and you want to give and give and give. Sometimes it makes me you unhappy and you want to curse them for their wretched selfish neediness. It doesn't matter though. They'll take and take.

Of course I was the same way with my parents so it's all fair enough. But like you say, sometimes I find myself humming Hungry Heart ("I got a wife and kids in Baltimore Jack, I went out for a ride and I never came back") and just wishing they'd all just leave me along for a week. A day. A couple of minutes.

I did this for one week last year. I was in the alps, doing some snowboarding, some work and some reading. It was great. Especially being alone in a country where I didn't speak the language well enough to hold casual conversation for too long.

Was still happy when my girlfriend arrived after a week though. But that one week was indeed 'bliss'.

My girlfriend and I broke up a 15 year long relationship approximately one year ago and while I did enjoy having time alone back when we were together, after so much time I still can't stand being alone as the default. I miss the sharing, the laughs, the little moments (good or bad!) that seem insignificant but that turn out to be core to the relationship, that no friend seem to be able to replace. While I do enjoy some activities briefly, everything I do retrospectively seems like an attempt to escape and drown out the drone of loneliness. Being able to share is such a catalyst to any experience that things feel sort of pointless: does a falling tree make a sound if no one's around to hear it? Maybe I'm still getting over that break up, maybe I should just fake it till I make it. Really, I don't know.

> Maybe I'm still getting over that break up.

You almost certainly are. Fifteen years is a long time, longer than my parents were married. You didn't have a break-up; you went through a divorce. A year sounds like the minimum amount of time it would take a person to deal with it. I wish you the best.

I am sorry for your loss.

> That is why we, coders, are different from other 99,99% of population of the Earth.

Not sure if that's coders or autistics (to be clear: NOFI).

That is an interesting point. I didn't even take the lonely factor into account.

>I'm curious - don't people miss big monitors when coding on a laptop?

No. Some of us work even more focused on a single smaller screen even than having 10 BS windows asking for our attention (and I include debuggers in those, the ultimate hop-around time sink for some developers).

Besides, people managed to write software for several decades before larger than 14" screens became the norm. Heck, until the late seventies many people didn't even use a visual editor -- they only edited their files line by line in ed. And until the 90s even color was not that common -- there goes syntax highlighting (and many other uses of color).

So I don't think big monitors are any sort of necessity in the days of 15" laptops with excellent retina screens.

This seems to have attracted a lot of downvotes, I guess because it's overtly antagonistic.

But I too prefer to work on a smaller screen (and I have tried much larger monitors). I switch context and then just work in that context. I don't feel the need to be able to see a load of different things at the same time.

Really though, it's subjective and everyone should just do what works best for them. It's the same discussion that comes up with some people having 200 tabs open in their browser whereas others of us keep it really minimal.

I'm over a decade into working pretty much on a 13" macbook full time and that's my happy place.

>This seems to have attracted a lot of downvotes, I guess because it's overtly antagonistic

Not exactly antagonistic -- meant to give some historical context to answer the parent's question which made it seem like big monitors are some physical necessity that people just can't do without. It's not like big monitors where any kind of norm before at least 2000.

I know tons of people happily coding away on a laptop with no external monitors attached.

Well, the only part of your comment I was referring to was the "having 10 BS windows asking for our attention", because really I agree with you (and I upvoted you to try to help normalise the discussion).

It's a very strange thread to read. Judging by the downvotes, it seems as though there's a really negative reaction to people who code on small screens. Whatever people want to do is fine, but it's pretty weird to almost shout down anyone who does it a different way.

>Well, the only part of your comment I was referring to was the "having 10 BS windows asking for our attention"

A, yes, thanks. I think where big/dual monitors make more sense are for admin style work -- when you need to, non pun intended, monitor, several things at once.

> This seems to have attracted a lot of downvotes, I guess because it's overtly antagonistic.

A fine example of how it's really difficult to express tone via text (I read it as pretty breezy, not antagonistic), and why we should all attempt to apply the principle of charity to everything we read before assuming someone's being a dick.

I'm going to be totally honest—I personally thought the tone was ok but felt like I should err on the side of caution, lest I too suffered the wrath of the large-multimonitor crowd :-)

And that's the way it was, and we liked it, dag nabbit!

The core thing is that some people STILL like it -- including people who never lived in that era, and could trivially buy 3 30" monitors.

And not because of primitivism reasons ("who needs fancy IDEs" etc), but because of a quite concrete reason: increased focus.

In the era of 1000 distractions for programmers, it's perhaps more valid than it would have been in 1984. Then, if you had dual monitors, they'd still show just your code, some log, some documentation, etc. At best, xeyes.

Use an OS that doesn't attack you then. Ubuntu with i3 and I never see a single OS screen. On a 34" wide monitor it's editor, terminal, browser. Pixel edge to pixel edge. No fluff. No bullshit. No battling window sizing. It's like focus mode, only with more windows :)

+i3 life changer for programmer productivity!

That's some serious gatekeeping.

Keeping the gate of what?

As I wrote "some of us" prefer smaller/single screens for focus. If it doesn't work for you, or if you can manage NOT to get distracted by 5 open windows in 2 x 24" monitors, then more power to you.

It was your tone. It reeked of "real programmers" don't use debuggers etc.

Aah. I'd say real programmers use debugger when they make sense -- but lots of programmers use them to jump around checking this and that without any reasoning what is going on, and thus taking 5x the time of a simple printf.

Respectfully, I disagree with the notion that lots of programmers don't know best how to manage their own time and productivity. Of course, we can all stand to do a better job of meta-cognition and thinking critically about our workflows, but I trust that if most people spend a lot of time in a debugger, it's because it helps them get their job done faster.

Personally, I definitely find myself going through stretches where I just use printf debugging. (I work on a lot of hobby language implementations where that's often the only kind of debugging there is.) Then I remember, "Oh, yeah, debuggers are a thing." More often than not, I'm surprised by how much faster I am at tracking down an issue using one.

I know my post will also come off as smug here, but is the solution to perceived gatekeeping really tone policing?

AKA "an opinion".

Probably getting downvotes because of your tone, but I agree with the focus. I find I work much better on tasks requiring deep focus when I’m just on my laptop.

I agree in sentiment. This is why I love i3. Just the will down I want where I want. No OS fluff.

And once upon a time, people built automobiles with hand tools instead of power tools, conveyors, and robots.

You can still do that, of course, but you will not be competitive with the likes of Ford and Toyota.

A higher-resolution screen, positioned closer to the eyeball, can substitute for a larger monitor. But even then, that uses only a fraction of my available visual field. VR technology could eventually solve the monitor area problem in a van-sized workspace. But for now, parent post is correct, screens with smaller pixels are the way to go. Just stick your face closer to it, and it will look bigger. This probably means you'll need an external mouse and keyboard, though.

As a programmer, my limiting factor has nothing to do with my available visual field.

Has nothing to do with resolution, either, once I've achieved a relatively normal resolution. Today, that's 1600x900.

I don't think I'm "using hand tools."

Not really, I prefer to code on my 13" MBP. I have 24" monitor but I rarely ever use it. Ability to lay back and put legs on coffee table are more important to me.

A huge desk, huge monitors, comfy executive chair, and a foot rest gives, IMHO, the best of all worlds.

This might be something for you two guys if you can afford it...


I've thought of getting a dental exam chair and using it for something like that, mounting the monitor in place of the light.

Dental exam chairs can be quite comfortable. The ones my dentist uses are comfortable enough I've almost fallen asleep during cleanings.

Tried something similar back when I was a student. The leaning back angle doesn't seem to work over longer than a few minutes, when you're trying to focus.

Looks great (if it is real) but for me I guess it is not about laying down but freedom to work from anywhere.

Sometimes, I work from patio while smoking a cigar. Other times, I just need to try out a new coffeeshop on other side of town.

Haha. The look on that guys face just made my day.

I'd be paranoid that the monitor would fall on me. That may be good thing though as I'd avoid procrastination to get out of the danger zone as soon as possible.

I can't see how the mouse would avoid sliding down, without adding unacceptable (and perhaps asymmetric) resistance to motion.

They mention magnets in the article. Presumably you get a custom keyboard and mouse?

I don't imagine I'd enjoy moving a mouse that feels like shuffling refrigerator magnets!

Trackball? Touchpad? Or, given this is HN, keyboard shortcuts?

I share that sentiment. A big screen doesn't mesh well with moving from one corner of the bed to another.

Virtual desktops mostly solved the area problem for me: switching between code/result/docs is just a chord away. The rare situations where switching is happening all the time account for less than 10% of my usage.

Personally, whenever I long for a second monitor, I'll use my iPad and hook it up via duet, which is usually only for web-dev where I need the browser to be a minimum size, with live reload. Else I heavily use spaces (macOS Mission Control thing), iTerm with quake/visor-style terminal on hotkey, and usually have my code wrap around 80 chars, which gives quite a bit of screen real estate leftover on a retina mac.

I greatly prefer mobility over a monitor, and back when I used to have extra monitors it didn't provide that much more of a benefit. It would still be as much of a context switch the distance my eyes would travel to that other space on the monitor, as pressing ctrl + 2 into my second space.

I prefer to code on my laptop. You may be able to see more on a big screen, but you can't concentrate on more. I have GNU Screen set up with multiple command line tabs that I can switch between using hot keys, which is automatic enough that it happens at least as fast as I can mentally switch. I keep things in a consistent setup (bash on tab 0, editor on tab 1, etc.) so I never have to figure out what tab I need to go to.

When using a large screen, I struggle with figuring out where to look on the screen quickly. I could build habits that would remedy this by distributing things consistently on my screen, but then I'd have to build separate habits for my big screens and little screens.

Yeah, for coding my 12" is fine. I only use my large screen for movies, games and the occasional image editing.

You can still have big monitors and live in a vehicle. I built my bus with a standing desk and a Dell 34" ultrawide monitor.

Photo: https://www.instagram.com/p/BUhYiNhFQOA/

I've seen others with projectors and big TVs. It's doable even in a standard size van.

got a 24" LG 1080p monitor in the van that needs less than 20W - doable with a small extra battery and 100W solar. the 4k monitors from LG are quite energy efficient as well (<30W)

I develop wth a mobile setup (3G/4G + laptop + laptop stand) most of the time, but not with a nomadic lifestyle.

I don't miss big monitors while on the go. Either I forgot how good they were or one get used to it. What I favor infinitely more is the mobility itself. I don't understand why remote people don't move more when given the chance.

YMMV, I still have a big monitor at home, else I would feel cut from my customers' typical setup. A problem with smaller screen is the additional eye strain.

> A problem with smaller screen is the additional eye strain

I almost have more of an eye strain with multiple monitors because of more horizontal movement of my eyes, and often being a little bit further from the monitor. (and my bigger monitor isn't the same resolution as my laptop)

My home setup has a screen directly in front and one to the side, as if I have them both offset then I am always at lesst a little bit strained and I end up using the inner parts of the monitors anyway.

I have considered one below and one directly in front as well so it's up movement instead but I have yet to come up with a good mounting solution!

In Emacs switching between all needed buffers and tiling them around is very fast, once you learned the keystrokes. Emacs can display almost every information in its buffers. No big screen needed to have all the information immediately available. Emacs was designed on and for small screens.


Different people have different work styles - some prefer the focus.

Fun fact: Antirez worked on Redis solely on a MacBook Air 11"


> I'm curious - don't people miss big monitors when coding on a laptop?

i don't. i have a laptop and a couple 24" monitors but over the last few years i've found myself just using the laptop more and more without the externals.

I use the app "duet" to connect an iPad as a second monitor for the cases when a second display is really useful (like playing spot the difference with a site vs Sketch design).

This would be wonderful I'm sure with one of the newer 12.9" iPad pros.

And for 1/10 of the cost you can pick up something like a "15.6” Widescreen Flat-Panel USB 3.0-Powered Portable LED Monitor - $99"

The problem is the USB powered monitors generally all use the same driver, one that frequently crashes on macOS and Linux. The driver is literally one of the worst I’ve ever used.

If you're using the tablet for terminal stuff (log tailing etc), I've found just sshing into your laptop from the tablet using juice ssh or similar to be more stable as well as your laptop graphics card doesn't need to be rendering two screens

Agree re: using a tablet, but I was talking about the USB3 monitors that use a DisplayMate (think that’s the name) driver.

Ah sorry I mixed up with Duet in the gp

The only time I want multiple monitors is when doing web work because of the design aspect and needing to referring back and forth as constantly.

Sometimes, like when I'm working on a UI, it's nice to have the code, the chrome debugger, and the UI view all up and running. But I'm finding it less necessary, because of the trade-off.

I really enjoy the simplicity of my 11" MBAir and the portability of working anywhere. You get really good between swiping between desktops. And having limited screen space means I quiet down all the distracting notifications, popups, email, etc...

Also, a lot of dev work I do REPL-first development, then copy the code into the actual editor (on a different virtual desktop) and this minimizes the swiping around, and increases my productivity that way.

> REPL-first development, then copy the code into the actual editor

side topic, and not to start editor wars.. but you might want to look into emacs.

It depends on what work I’m doing - in the office I have a 32” and two 19”’s, when I’m remoting I use my T420 which has a 14” (I think). If I need to tail logs or remote onto a few servers the extra real estate is invaluable, if I have a coding or SQL-script-writing task it doesn’t make a difference. It might even help having a single small screen by removing obvious distractions e.g. emails I don’t need to read, IRC messages.

I've used all types of setups from triple 24" and dual 27" monitors, and every laptop from 11" up to 17"

In the end, I'm most productive on a 15" macbook at 1920x1200 resolution, the main reasons are:

0. I have my full perfect environment with me at all times, there is no switching between laptop/desktop etc. This is huge.

1. It's small and light enough that I can carry it around everywhere (unlike 17") - increasing productivity by a lot.

2. I'm forced to use the keyboard more which exercises the muscle memory so I switch much faster to any window in the current state without thinking about it.

3. My head doesn't need to move from one screen to another, this action is more expensive than an instant alt tab.

4. I found that the best work gets done in certain "focus scopes". Adding more windows/screens to this as you say "logs, command line, and editor all visible, and ideally a browser too" - leads to unnecessary visual data - since you can't process all those windows simultaneously anyway.

The 15" has just enough room to comfortably fit the necessities for each one I use:

a) 2 side by side editor @ 80 chars + file tree b) a browser window + debug tools c) terminal sessions with up to 8 panes d) a combination of browser / editor / terminal

The one exception is when needing to run background tasks which output logs - which you want to 'keep an eye' on - for this I found a vertical monitor on the side is helpful - although in the end replicated it by putting the terminals to the bottom right/left of the screen beside the dock - that way I can see the output, but they are not distracting.

I find the ultra high-res (what apple calls 'retina') modern displays make reading much easier on the eyes.

An external USB 3 monitor like the Asus MB168+ or MB169+ fits great in the backpack, and gives 1920x1080 resolution for a little under $200.


I got used to it. A nice high DPI display like that on the Macbook Pro 15" helps, 2880x1800 is a pretty nice resolution to work with.

Helps focus and minimize your toolset in a way too, you want to be focused on one thing more than multiple things, so I guess that's kind of a good thing also, making things simpler.

I find it ok as long as the laptop display is high resolution (mine is 3200x1800) and at least 13-14" big. If I had to do it more permanently I'd have probably gotten a 15" laptop tho.

It also reminds me that when I got started the common display was a 14" CRT (i.e. viewable area more like 13") :)

I travel and code mobile a lot and yes, I do miss my 2 big monitors, I have in my office.

Especially if I only use my 10" Laptop. And then for example sitting in a loud, bumpy bus - well sure, office is much better.

But ... sitting on top of a mountain or somewhere else in the wilderness, is an awesome place to code. And combined with solar panels and camping equipment, can lead to very long and productive sessions(over days) ....

Because the outside beauty easily offsets the less comfortable workspace for me ...

But it also depends on the kind of work I do. If I have to do bugfixing ... that involve lots of logfiles, debugger-windows, console output etc. etc. than I am more productive in my office. But allmost everything else, especially designing a new module and also implementing it, I rather do outside ... much better inspiration.

They're nice but if you don't spend a lot of time with one you don't miss them that much.

I'm flexibily minimalist with my setup and I don't miss big screens for programming work. I did lots of development on a 12" Surface Pro (although for small setups, I like 13").

Terminal/editor/browser are areas one doesn't work on at the same time, so windows switching does the job, at the condition of having only the strictly required windows opened (I have four: browser, email client, terminal, and editor), and even the browser has generally at most 2 or 3 tabs open.

I can see the convenience of having a log open while debugging, but I can live with terminal tab switching while having a REPL session.

System administration is different. It may be almost necessary at times, to have an individual look at several systems at the same time.

I have a 42" monitor and a $1000 Herman Miller chair, and for some reason I end up doing all of my work in bed on my 15" MacBook. It doesn't feel like working when I'm in bed and the dogs are there hanging out with me.

I spend most of my coding time on just a laptop (15" MBP with 1680x1050 matte screen) and the only thing that bothers me very much is the position it puts my neck in. I try to sit lower than usual to help that.

I do use multiple desktops on macOS and a quick swipe of the trackpad to switch them is almost as good for me as multiple displays.

I do tend to use an iPad as a aux display though. Sometimes I run Duet Display to have it act like an extra display for my MBP but most of the time it's home to my distractions like Slack, email, social media, etc. But it is good for books and websites while coding.

Unless you're looking for a neck injury, you should get a laptop stand. It's close to impossible to maintain a good posture while working on a laptop over time.

I definitely do miss my multi-monitor setup in our travel camper. I've been fulltiming (thanks to some articles and prodding from other HN members) in a trailer for almost a year, and can admit that I am looking forward to a bit of a break with at least one more monitor. Like a few other comments I've looked at some swinging arms I could mount but space is at such a premium that its hard to justify. On the plus side, it has made me simplify my work and life overall. I get outside more and go for walks, exercise, spend more time with my wife and friends.

Personally, I've never had a problem developing on a 13" MBP with no peripherals except headphones.

There are plenty of options for portable monitors these days though, if you do want a second screen while traveling.

I used to have 2 24" monitors and a 15" MacBook Pro.

Nowadays I prefer working on my 12" MacBook.

Instead of getting greedier, I learned to manage my space, reduce distractions and improve workflow.

I learned to appreciate sane defaults and keep shit simple. My Terminal.app+tmux+vim+Bash setup is plugin-free and a git clone away. I mostly use standard Unix tools and feel super comfortable on any box. My Mac is light, synced with iCloud, uses little battery and has very few dependencies. I can work from anywhere and expect little. It's very liberating.

> don't people miss big monitors when coding on a laptop?

Yes. I've been on the road for more than 10 years now; travel with a lightweight (6.5 lbs) 23" LG monitor and my 15" Dell Precision laptop.

It's a fair bit of gear to heft around, but I tend to setup shop for at least 2 months at a time so the added weight isn't much of an issue.

Of course, I'd like a giant primary monitor to accompany the laptop, but that will have to wait for the day when I finally settle down.

I code on a laptop, and I prefer it to big, dual-screen setups.

I do admit it's a very large laptop, but it doesn't have to be.

I code in Vim, inside tmux, inside a terminal. All of my ide-type tasks happen there. Tests, code, whatever else.

Then I have a browser open. I keep it on a different virtual desktop and switch between.

I'm a web developer so that's about it. Sometimes I have postman or insomnia open, and I typically keep that on the same desktop as my browser.

I used to use three monitors: Two 22 inches plus my 15 inches laptop monitor. It though it was a really efficient way of working, but it had a problem: Moving was a hassle. I decided to get rid of the monitors for a while to test their value and I found out it's not such a big improvement. Now I only work in my laptop screen. I have a full mobility and I love that. I don't miss my monitors at all.

If I'm in full-on development mode, I like to have at least one separate screen, though for more casual maintenance stuff I'm happy on a laptop.

I seem to recall DHH (Basecamp/Rails) said in the past he frequently developed on an 11" MacBook at some point, only using a monitor when sat at a desk, so I guess it's doable.

I do all my dev and other work on a 13" MacBook Air and have done for years. I haven't had a desktop monitor since my last gig with a client in the City.

Yes, the ergonomics suck relatively speaking, especially now that my eyesight is getting worse with age (and from falling off a Segway!), but it means that I can work anywhere and my desk at home can be tiny.

I don't really get this rationale. You're basically saying that you know that you are hurting yourself, but on the plus side, you are able to be hurting yourself anywhere.

I mean that I am a real developer still (and have been one of the world's relatively best paid), and 13" works fine for me to get stuff done. Here I am 200 miles from home in a hotel right now with all my tools. No monitor lugging required.

Yes, laptop ergonomics aren't ideal, but neither is life. There are always trade-offs. And I have some colourful language memories from earlier sysadmin jobs getting horrific shocks while lugging other users' colour CTRs around for them...

I'd suggest that anyone who thinks that they "need" a huge monitor as opposed to "prefers" should considers needs vs wants.

If I was living in a van, and I'm a tiny house fan BTW, a large monitor would NOT be on MY 'needs' list.

Another commenter made a good point about more screen space being more distraction, and debuggers being a big part of that as an example of not solving the real problem. Given that you only have a few cm^2 of full-definition vision anyway, you have to manage that one way or another. More pixels is not necessary that way.

The screen-space-as-a-distraction argument sounds to me more like an excuse for not being able to keep one's attention on the task at hand. If a person can not resist filling the screen space up with useless clutter, it's that person's problem, not the problem of having the screen space. Someone else is able to use that extra screen space productively. All in all it seems a "I can't have it, so I convinced myself that having it would be bad, so I don't miss it as much" self-deception.


Having (a) tried it various ways, and (b) having complete freedom as to how to organise my work life, I believe that keeping it small and simple and focussed works well on balance, at least for me. And it may work for others.

You do know that humans (other than yourself, maybe!) are not perfectly rational creatures? B^> Oscar Wilde's quote "I can resist anything except for temptation" is an astute observation.

It's not about being rational or not, it's about discipline (or perhaps about ADHD for some people). I can fall for many temptations, but when I want something done (either as a hobby, or at work), I have no problems concentrating on what I need to be doing. And having extra screen space often helps.

Depending on the task, of course - there are times when all I need is one 80x25 terminal, and then there are times when having several as large as possible windows open side by side helps a lot, e.g. when analyzing logs from several cluster nodes.

I love the Wilde quote, by the way, I don't think I've seen this one before. :)

I used to be like that, too. But I've been working primarily on my 15" MBP for the past 4 years and I love it. I still have a triple monitor 27" iMac sitting in my office upstairs, but I hardly ever use it. I find the ability to work out on my patio much more relaxing than sitting in my home office.

I code on a 13" laptop screen, regardless of where I am. I have a 27" monitor on my desk at work that I never use. I find the lack of extra screen real-estate helps me focus.

(I used to code quite happily on an 11" MacBook Air, but Apple seems to have stopped caring about that line, so I abandoned them.)

The 12" is an absolute gem, and is quite obviously the successor to the Air line. Pricey, unfortunately.

Healthy eyes with good eyesight, Super HD 15 inch monitor can work just as efficiently and effectively.

I have used 7-inch and 15-inch USB powered LED monitors is the past with my laptop, at least once simultaneously. Works great for debugging CAD, Computer-Aided Design related bugs.

Thought I would, but haven't done. Bigger screens, I just put more distracting stuff on them. As mentioned elsewhere, you can mirror a big-ass iPad on to it, and there are some large USB displays that are very portable too.

I’ve been thinking about building an RV similarish to what’s described by the article for a long time. All the plans I’ve drawn up explicitly have a setup for big monitors (VESA mounts make for secure attachment).

I've been using an iPad with Duet as my secondary monitor when working from coffee shops. It's pretty awesome, very portable. The FPS is a bit low, but for a debugger window its excellent.

At work, i love having two monitors for productivity. At home it turns into dedicated youtube, facebook, etc screens which distracts me. I guess it depends on how you're going to use them lol.

I have a thunderbolt display and the my macbooks screen when at work. Text editing, bash, and web browser are on the monitor, with e-mail and slack on the laptop screen.

I think for a lot of developers, it's a style thing.

Coding hunched over a laptop looks cool and hackery, coding with a big 27-inch monitor (maybe a couple) looks businessey.

I know a guy who does a lot of Excel work on a Macbook Air (1366x768 IIRC), and it just looks painful. When I suggest investing in a decent size/screen resolution monitor, he looks at me like I have two heads.

Looking like Mr Robot is more important for a lot of people than being practical, even if they end up with back problems in later life!

When I was a broke student, I scrouged CRTs people threw out and had a 3-4 monitor setup, but still found myself only concentrating on the middle monitor ignoring stuff off to the sides.

Then I got Apple's nice big 30" cinema display and everything was good.

Then it broke and right after that I started living nomadically with my 1900x1200 equivalent 15" retina laptop and never minded the difference.

I have good eyes after correction and use 9 point fonts everywhere so I can fit a lot of text on screen.

I researched this. With a decent battery and solar system you can power a monitor and laptop all day long.

The most demanding hardware requirement list ever.

Lol. It reminds me of that scene from the Steve Martin classic.

A laptop, monitor, keyboard, mouse, Herman Miller embody, Heat/AC... That's all I need.

If you want to be inspired by some cool hacks, though, look up Sprinter Van Conversions. People get into it and do some amazing work. They share their specs too! You can outfit a van with my above hardware list for about 4000-5000 if you don't get fancy. You have to plug in th AC usually. Heat is easier, you just have to insulate well. I got pretty far along this path of research. Some day.

You can buy a portable display by Asus or Acer . Or you can use an iPad / iPhone on a Mac.

Just take a display with you...

Good for him... I would totally hate the lack of space and comfort. I'd sleep really poorly at night when it's super hot in summer and cold in winter. I'd hate it to have to look for a good internet to work. I'd miss my friends all the time. I'd dislike having to socialize with random van neighbors every time I want to not dine alone. I wouldn't last a month of this...

Hey! I'm the author of that article. I respect your opinion and I totally agree that van life is not for everyone. However it's seems funny that I've never experienced one of your concerns:

> I would totally hate the lack of space and comfort.

I have 12 square meters and my bed is super comfortable. Most of the time I'm outside. Works perfect for me.

> I'd sleep really poorly at night when it's super hot in summer and cold in winter.

That's the whole thing about a van: If it's too hot in the mainland, you drive to the beach where you always have a chill breeze. In the winter you drive down south where it's warm. I actually feel bad for the people who have to stay in cities when it's hot and humid in the summer or freezing cold in the winter.

> I'd hate it to have to look for a good internet to work.

In Europe the 4G network coverage is amazing. Within the last five months I had less issues with my connectivity than some of my co-workers using a cable internet.

> I'd miss my friends all the time.

Yes, I do miss my friends. I guess this is a valid concern. But sometimes I meet my friends when they are on vacation nearby and for Christmas I will fly back to my hometown to see family and friends.

> I'd dislike having to socialize with random van neighbors every time I want to not dine alone.

I guess that's personal taste. It's very easy to socialize with travelers: they invite your for dinner right away. Sometimes you even don't have to approach them actively. I've also spent a couple of weeks with the same people and we had dinner together every evening. Once you life in a van you often meet people who do the same. So basically you have friends near by.

> It's very easy to socialize with travelers: they invite your for dinner right away. Sometimes you even don't have to approach them actively. I've also spent a couple of weeks with the same people and we had dinner together every evening. Once you life in a van you often meet people who do the same. So basically you have friends near by.

To expand on this based on my and my parents experiences, we have friends from ~10-15 years ago when they were full time RVers that we still stay in contact with. They often go travel around the US and meet/stay with them.

I try to make it a point to remember that, regardless of who people are or how you meet them, you never know when you're going to make a lasting friendship. I think, paradoxically, it's sometimes easier to make friends in a situation where everyone doesn't have high expectations.

Also we made acquaintance with a guy who traveled with an entire array of fantastically high quality whisk(e)y. Yes, we did stay a little longer there as a result, and yes, it was totally worth it.

On top of that about the sleeping issue that the guy above is having: I grew up out of a town.

The fresh air and the much less polluted environment will allow you to sleep like a baby.

In reality while I was living at the middle of nowhere, I never had any issues sleeping. And i think the too worm/ too cold thing is just an excuse to yourself. There are other things in your mind, like stress etc that won't allow you to sleep well.

When I moved to London, I had quite a lot of trouble sleeping here and there, as I am having more stress etc.

Hopefully everything will be over in less than a month when I am moving back to the middle of nowhere and the new job I got is much less stressful etc.

> In Europe the 4G network coverage is amazing. Within the last five months I had less issues with my connectivity than some of my co-workers using a cable internet.

Same experience for me. I've got a 4G dongle that I use for travelling and it's both faster and more reliable than my home broadband connection (no fiber available in my area). Just keeping an eye out for a cheap 4G data SIM so I can switch to the dongle full time.

Recent EU roaming regs are also a boon, buy a data SIM in your country of residence and get coverage across the EU at no extra cost!

But only if you're abroad temporarily. Living in a van could mean that you use more data abroad than in your home country. Roaming rules don't apply so you'd have to get a sim card from the country you're in.

There's also usually limitations on how much data you get for free while roaming. After you go above that it's up to €7.50/GB, so it's usually cheaper to get a local SIM.

I always went with local sim. This is a great resource - http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Prepaid_SIM_with...

> In Europe the 4G network coverage is amazing. Within the last five months I had less issues with my connectivity than some of my co-workers using a cable internet.

Do you get enough data volume? Most sim cards for use with computer are quite restricted. Or can you live off 10GB/month?

50 GB for 24€ per month here in France, and I imagine that you can get better deals (I paid 19 for the same offer for a year)

In the UK you can get 40G for £30 a month. I imagine you can do at least as well in most EU countries.

Which network? Three has an offer like that but I found connectivity quite weak once you leave larger cities. Although that appears to be the issue with most/all networks here. I currently use vodafone and can't remember when I last had 4G outside of major cities.

I think all the networks can be hit and miss depending on the specific location.

Apparently it can also vary at any given moment, depending on equipment failures and access to equipment issues.

I'd recommend getting a couple of cheap-ish pre-loaded data SIMs from EE and Three, and have your main data SIM with someone else.

I carry a 500MB/month EE 4G SIM that was cheap in Argos, in an unlocked 4G EE wifi router dongle. I have an O2 (MVNO) SIM in my phone.

Plus an assortment of pre-loaded (but not activated) SIMs in the event I need Three, or need more data.

I've not had any luck at all with Voda, but should I give them another shot?

It was a friend who got it last month, but I can't find it now. I thought it was EE, but I only see 30G offers on their website now. If I find it I'll update.

In Ireland you can get unlimited data for 20eur/month.

Do you give motivational speeches to kids, like Matt Foley? ;)


> for Christmas I will fly back to my hometown

Where do you plan on leaving your van while you are away? Are you worried about security?

A friend of mine has a friend who has a friend who lives in southern Portugal. I might be able to park the van there. If that doesn't work: there are guarded parking areas near airports where you can leave your van for several days. I think it's something like 5 Euros a day.

But even if I leave the van somewhere unattended: I take my laptop and wallet with me. Other than that I don't have much valuable things in my van: If someone wants to steal my underwear that I've been wearing for ten years: fine go for it.

At the end everything in my van is replaceable. Including the van itself ;)

Makes sense, enjoy your travels :)

I traveled in a similar way and sometimes thought about what you just described. But the reality was totally the opposite and I ended up doing a full year in two intervals.

Some of the best experiences of my life!

I bought a van, converted it into a camper with a surf board, and did a loop around Australia.

It was an amazing experience, and you learn a lot about people, culture, and yourself. One of the things I realized is that life always offers you options to complain about: I think the greatest inconveniences and discomforts of our ancestors of 200 years past have now been solved, but then taken for granted. We just adjust, become jaded and move on to new things to feel uncomfortable, complain about, and fear.

The experience was about making a story in my life that was more than just going back and forth between the same office, restaurants, etc. Getting out of my comfort zone and going on an adventure and exploring what is out there.

In winter, you head north; in summer, south. The weather is great. You meet nice people, and rude. Generous and benevelont, but also some rotten and even dastardly. There's no escaping the realities of our world; but what can maybe be done for ourselves is to try to escape our human nature to be spoiled with what we have, go outside our comfort zones and on the adventures we dream of. At minimum, it at least offers a lot of perspective.

But while all of this said is fair, to be honest: without the hedonism aspect--if I didn't so much enjoy surfing, the outdoors, and meeting new people--I would have quit such a long trip.

TL;DR if you have a good reason to believe you would enjoy it, being uncomfortable might not be a reason to avoid it.

I've gradually come to the conclusion that accepting a little discomfort in your life is a probably good thing.

I've met a few people living in vans/converted trucks when I've been in France. There's quite a few countries around with great regulations that let you park up in lots of places, e.g. in France there are regular places you can stay along the major roads for free, usually with decent facilities. I met a girl there this year who had converted a truck into a mobile home. It even had window boxes for her plants!

Unfortunately it's much more awkward in the UK. So much of this country is private land and everyone's so afraid of gypsies that you're basically prevented from setting up a van nearly anywhere.

I work remotely and I've started experiencing leg problems from sitting too much. So I'm now trying to set the trend of "wood-working"; where I go for a walk to the woods nearby, sit on a rock by the river, and do some coding. It might catch on ;)

> it's much more awkward in the UK

Except Scotland. There's no law of trespass in Scotland. Also, a lot of it is pretty empty!

and it has more interesting weather :)

how's it going? I love to move around with my laptop, but nature is too damn distractive. Sun is too bright, stone under my ass is too cold, that view is too beautiful, oh, I'm already hungry, oh, it's sunset. That was a nice day, but I barely worked.

I'm just the opposite. If I really want to concentrate on a hard problem, I take my laptop to the park, and sit at a picnic table surrounded by trees, overlooking a lake.

For routine stuff I just need to crank out, it's headphones and coffee, but real thinking I do better in nature. All the mental distractions and trivia fade away.

All excuses.

Nature is the best part of this world for me. Everything else is a distraction. I know this afternoon I get to go hike up a canyon and climb the rim up to see a natural arch. On a normal Tuesday. So I'm going to get my shit done when it's a perfect day out with the sun shining in my eyes. Then I get to play.

Glare on the screen can be difficult. Luckily most displays these days have retina-searing brightness options.

I take a solid-fuel stove out with me so I have a good supply of tea + food, which helps!

Go to Scotland and enjoy your freedom to roam :)

It would appear that “van” has a different definition in Europe. In the U. S. I think most would consider that a Class C RV. I’m not just being pedantic, as there is loads more room in the authors rig than our VW Westfalia, or even a Chevy conversion. I’d live full-time in what’s pictured (and plenty of U. S. retirees do just that), no problem, but I’d have to have a genuine need before I’d consider more than a month or two in the VW.

EDIT: now I’m genuinely curious, so please help me out Europeans. Scroll to the bottom and relieve my ignorance: is this considered to be a “van” in Europe? https://ruby-on-wheels.github.io/blog/the-first-ride/ Because I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the U. S. that would call that a camper van.

Ha! I'm not a native speaker. I used the word "van" because I didn't want to write "campervan" all the time. But maybe "camper" would have been better?

> A campervan (or camper van), sometimes referred to as a camper, or a caravanette, is a self-propelled vehicle that provides both transport and sleeping accommodation. The term mainly describes vans that have been fitted out, often with a coachbuilt body for use as accommodation.


I connect "RV" with something like this: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Rv_class....

My mobile home is built on top of Mercedes 209D and is 6 meters long and 2 meters wide. It almost fits into a regular parking lot. I leave it up to the experts whether this is a van, campervan or whatever?

Well, I hesitate to get too strict on definitions, as I genuinely am just curious about the differences in terminology and I'm not trying to be the #vanlife police. For instance, that first picture in Wikipedia article you link to, you can buy something similar in the U. S. built on a Sprinter chassis (Winnebago Navion/View). Technically, yes, it's probably a "camper van" as it's built on what was once a van chassis. Most folks in the U. S. would not call it a "van" probably because the only difference between a Navion and a traditional Class C RV is the chassis it is built on (a Class C uses a truck chassis).

To me personally, and I'd extrapolate to the U. S. population, a "van" or "camper van" is a camper that kept the original body. For instance, classic VW Westfalia, Chevrolet/Ford 1/2 ton conversion vans (RoadTrek), VW California in Europe, Sportsmobile in U.S./Canada. But the instant the original body comes off (or more accurately, never had a body to begin with) and a new one goes on, it's an RV. To put it another way, when Westfalia received VW Vanagons to build out, the Vanagon had a full body (just stripped). When whoever built your camper received the vehicle, all it had was a frame and a drivetrain, with no body.

But, again, you need not answer to me, call it whatever you want. :-)

In the US your linked RV is a Class A.

Yours would be a Class C

Campervan in the US is associated more with Class B's

The difference is Class A is a complete custom body, Class C is a cutaway where the cab is built by the chassis maker but the house body is not like yours. Class B is basically a van body on the outside.

There are variations, Super C's, B plus and so on.


I should rewrite all URLs or move into an actual van! Otherwise people can call me a liar!

uk: it's a motorhome

Hey everyone! I'm the author of that article. I just started the blog and still have a ton of things to write about. I like all the (critical) feedback. That inspires me for further blog posts. Thanks for reading!

Thanks for writing this. It made me very sad because the traveler life appeals a lot to me but I still quite like the things I have in the city, so I have always been extremely conflicted about a nomadic life (or a period).

How do you deal with the toilet troubles though?

Also, can you give some details on how do you avoid cold weather? My girlfriend tells me there are areas in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece where summer is much longer and the winter basically means 13-17 degrees without snow -- in the worst case scenario.

I was profoundly touched by your article. I am at a point of my life when I feel a desperate and very strong need for a change. Reasons are a lot and I don't want to derail this thread by making my comment a public confession -- suffice to say, I realize I dislike a part of my life and I want to do something about it.

Truth be told however, I like my mega-strong internet (Bulgaria). I like being able to go buy cooked food when I feel lazy or sick or tired and don't want to cook -- telling yourself "get a grip and cook!" sounds like stress and forcing myself and not like something that relaxes you. I like being able to go to a cinema on a whim.

The city gives me the sense of being able to spontaneously do various things.

I really want to try some nomadism -- or at least travel to 10+ places during a period -- and as a 37 y/o with a burnout, nature's appeal grows in me with each passing week.

Overall, I am happy your format worked for you -- it made me consider some traveling very seriously and I started to weigh pros and cons.

Thank you.

    > I really want to try some nomadism
So do. The van part is totally optional. Go to Chiang Mai and find a coworking space and an AirBNB. If you don't like it, go home! We have a fixed base we spend 50% of the year at, but also like to go and spend 6 weeks working elsewhere.

When i had a burnout I quit my IT job and walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela trail, it was a liberating experience and a great introduction to nomadism.

Give it a try!


I am actually interested in the details. Though my situation was different, I actually lived in a van for 5 years.


- How do you manage having no home address? Do you use PO boxes, do you have relatives who provide you with an address for administrative tasks (taxes, ...)? For me, I used my parents' address.

- Winter is coming! How do you plan for cold weather? Gas heater? And while going to the toilets or showering outside is great in the summer, it is much less fun during winter. Water tanks freezing may also be a problem. Winter was a bit rough but manageable in southern France, I can't imagine Germany... BTW, a heated blanket is a great ally, though it uses a bit of power.

- Your van is clearly a RV. RVs are not always welcome. Didn't you have too much trouble finding nice places that are also van-friendly? I suppose you also need internet coverage, access to grocery stores and laundries, a fresh water source and waste water disposal, etc...

"RVs are not always welcome"

Where? How come? And are campervans more welcome? :)

In an RV, it is clear that someone is sleeping there. Someone who would be better off staying in one of the hotels and spending money. There are some places where such vehicles are associated with prostitution, or other "undesirables" like gypsies.

Some beaches explicitly prohibit RVs, or put gates that make it impossible for such large vehicles to pass.

Campervans are less problematic, because unless they are heavily customized they look like regular vans, so you can park almost anywhere without raising too many eyebrows. They also tend to have a smaller profile, which helps with road restrictions.

My parents toured Europe several times and they use an almost stock white cargo van for the reasons I stated above.

Great blog. I plan to do the same with my wife in near future, but we want to buy a new campervan to have better fuel economy and emission standards. I would love to read more about places where you stop. How do you decide on that? Are they free/paid? Is it easy to get rid of waste and fill in fresh water? How long do you stay in one place?

I'm doing the same in Israel for almost two years now! The photos-haiku-blog is in Hebrew, but well photos are universal. http://bus.house/

It's amazing that you can do this even in a small place :). Gives us hope that this lifestyle can be opened up to more people regardless of what passport they have / country they live in.

Holy cow. What happened to your social life, if I may ask? Friends, family. How do you maintain your relationships?

Israel is a tiny country. You can spend a week on the top of some mountain not seeing any human being, and then drive 30mins and be with your friends. I enjoy being able to choose when to be completely alone and when to be surrounded with friends and family. Besides, I can definitely stay in the middle of Tel-Aviv with my bus (without paying the crazy rent!). That's where I am currently, actually.

Mouth-watering... thanks and congrats!

If anything, it's easier to make and meet friends, and easier to be with your family, if you aren't tied to a 9 to late-at-night job.

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