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Vanlife: Build your own van to live on the road (divineontheroad.com)
358 points by xbeta 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 198 comments

So you're in your van, parked at the beach, or a beautiful park and you gotta poop - what now? Pack up your van and find a public restroom? Poop in some sort of composting toilet that you then lug around with you and dump ...where exactly? Drive to that gym you bought a membership to ... how close is it to the beach again and how badly do you need to poop?

Yesterday's article on tiny homes, and this one make me laugh because we all get romanced by hipster vans and nifty solar panels but skip right over essential things like ... going to the bathroom! The tiny home article said (and I'm paraphrasing here) you can buy a home, pull it up to a spot of land and *just hook up the utilities!" - it's not that simple. Septic and water are not electrical plugs - hell even electrical is not as simple unless you're in an RV park.

Edit: Just to be clear, I spend a good deal of time traveling myself. I now tow a 26 foot travel trailer (with kitchen and full bathroom) but before that towed a small utility trailer that I converted to a travel trailer for my kids and my office. We stay at campgrounds with septic hookups and showers (which I prefer over my trailer shower). Whenever we "dry camp" we then have to find a place to dump our septic, grey water etc. it's a real pain (Google "honey wagon" for a fun look at a "good" option for handling your own waste). Typically this is done at a campground (for a small fee), but I'm not sure how it would work for someone living in their van ("can I dump a bucket full of piss and poo?").

If the question bothers you, you are just not in the state of mind for this experience, that's all.

If you choose to travel in a van, you decided upfront that this type of life was worth the expected inconveniences, and even some unexpected ones.

I lived in Mali for 2 years, didn't have hot water, sometime no running water at all. Electricity shut down regularly. I got Malaria. When the war arrived, I lost all my money, and my company.

I had a great time there.

E.G: I remember warmly about the generosity of a Malian family sharing with me their (disgusting) fish and rice diner in a dirty court, on the floor, all hands in the same big wooden bowl.

On the other hand, a friend of mine recently had lunch with me, returning from hollidays in Cuba. She was horrified by the experience, seing only the totalitarian state and the poverty. She didn't have hot water, so she decided not to shower for the whole trip.

She couldn't find a way to enjoy anything there.

E.G: she felt so sad about the omelette a local made for her, thinking it was depressing he had so little, and yet felt obligated to share the few precious eggs he had.

It's all about what experience you wish to have, what are the things you really value. There is no right answer for that of course, and yours is no better than mine.

All that to say: the toilets are not really an issue. Just a constraint.

EDIT: reading again my post, it felt a bit pretentious. I added more nuances in the following one.

I travel for 8 weeks every, single, year. I've shit in plenty of buckets, gone for many days without showering, I've tent camped, DIY trailer camped - shit gets old ... fast. The ability for you to enjoy your trip, your family and small moments is severely hampered when even the easiest things (going to the bathroom) become a chore.

Sounds like you're young & single and looking for adventure. I have kids, have to work to support them and the novelty of crapping in a bucket, or in figuring how to wash my dishes with no running water isn't fun, or adventurous.

We now have a modest travel trailer with full bathroom and kitchen. We can cook meals, poop in peace and always choose "full hookup" campgrounds. Dry camping is fun ... for like 3 days and then everyone gets smelly, grumpy and wants some comfort.

What you are saying is that the experience you want now differs.

I wouldn't go back to live in Mali myself. I've done it. Enjoyed it. Now I like my life malaria and war free.

My answer is not some romantic vision of the bohemian life style. Simply an explanation that the question of the toilets doesn't make sense: you don't look for vans if it's important to you. Like you said, you rather choose a trailer. You would not go on the specific type of trip that requires a van anyway.

I edited my previous post from "you are not the type of person" to "you are not in the state of mind". After all, it doesn't define you as a person but rather, reflect your current expectations of life.

We're talking about people living in a van ... not on vacation, not on a road trip.

>you don't look for vans if it's important to you

Everybody shits, everyday! How is going to the bathroom "not important"? What is okay "on vacation" is not always okay when you're just trying to live and work and enjoy yourself.

Lastly, I didn't "choose a trailer" I worked my way up to one (financially), suffering along the way with all the inconveniences that come with no bathroom, kitchen or running water.

> Everybody shits, everyday! How is going to the bathroom "not important"?

You also eat every day. Some people eat outside, some cook, some skip meals. Some people don't have fridge. Some have fancy knives.

A constraint is a constraint for everybody, but making that constraint an entry in your pros / cons list for doing something is not universal.

> Lastly, I didn't "choose a trailer" I worked my way up to one (financially), suffering along the way with all the inconveniences that come with no bathroom, kitchen or running water.

I have no idea what to make of that, but, ok, I guess ?

> You also eat every day.

You know what else is a giant pain with no running water or electricity (beyond a battery)? Cooking!

> I have no idea what to make of that, but, ok, I guess ?

My point was that I always wanted a trailer I wasn't romanced by the thought of van living, my priorities didn't change - I just simply dealt with it. Live on the road is much better now, I just want people considering tiny homes, or vans to understand ALL that's involved.


Sorry, I completely missed that.

I didn't consider somebody might be forced to compromised for a van. I never could afford a van when I was at the time where I would have wanted one, and now that I can, I don't want the van life style, so I did not understand your point.

That was short sighted of me, apologies.

Haha @ your edit. I spent 3.5 years living in Burkina Faso and thought about making a similar response but decided there was no way it would come off as anything other than pretentious (:

Pretty similar experience, but without the money issue as I was a Peace Corps volunteer. I was in the north and we took in some Mali PCVs when things got too crazy there. Sadly, PC is also out of Burkina now ): Some really wonderful communities in the Sahel and it sucks watching things slowly get worse and worse.

Preach. I have been to Burkina Faso, it is a beautiful country.

I have come to terms with the fact that, at least at my age, I will probably never go back to Bangui, Central African Republic again. I always imagined I would walk by the Peace Corps office and the central market one last time.

I'm just coming off a 7 month stint in an RV myself, and you speak the truth, and it's clear you've actually done full time living on the road.

Dealing with sewage is a huge pain in the ass - especially if you're in the northern regions during winter, finding a place to dump out can be a real nightmare (not to mention frozen tanks, etc).

Another thing people don't really think about is cooking - you can do it, but as someone who enjoys cooking I ate like shit a lot of the time because it was more convenient not to have to worry about prep on a tiny counter, cooking on basically a single burner (I have 3, but if you use one it covers the other two ️), and then doing dishes by hand with hot water you need to wait for.

Recently moving back into a house has made me appreciate a lot more of the little things like how I can just go jump in the shower real quick (and not bump my head while showering), easily get amazon packages, etc. Traveling was a whole lot of fun and definitely had its upsides, but it also has downsides a lot of people don't think about (or try to write off as not a big deal).

I spent most of last year travelling, and getting an apartment where I had hot water whenever I wanted was heavenly. You don't realize how convenient things are until you don't have them for a long period of time. A hot shower now is a daily recognition that life is good

Meanwhile, I experienced the opposite while doing a 3 week long camper trip. Showering for two minutes to save water, being mindful of the amount of stuff you can bring, being able to go anywhere I wanted was great. Sure, there were some annoyances, but I was kinda sad I had to get back to my stationary home.

I’d like to introduce to the invention of marine toilets. They are small, portable, self-contained flushing toilets with a sealed waste chamber that is detachable and can be emptied (ideally into a permanent toilet). My in-laws have one on their boat that stores enough water for 27 “flushes” and it works great. 27 flushes is easily a weekend of waste management for a couple or small family, or could last a single person a week perhaps.

This is the toilet in question: https://www.westmarine.com/buy/thetford--porta-potti-135-por...

Oh look, a glorified bucket! Cool cool. Hey I had one of these, I also had a bucket with a toilet seat which is essentially the same thing. My point remains; dealing with your waste if you're living in a van, or dry camping is a giant pain.

I also live on the coast, and know many fishermen/lobstermen etc. - do you know where they shit? Not in a "marine toilet" Hang your ass over the edge of the boat and be ready for a round of jokes and pranks by your shipmates. Why? Because dumping your shitter is a giant pain (I feel like a broken record)

So something that's an afterthought in a real home, becomes a weekly, or every other day chore of finding a public toilet, removing your toilet (full of shit and piss) from your van, then dumping shit in said toilet without spilling (not easy) all the while avoiding police/public works employees who would rather you not dump your shit into their facilities. Sounds fun.

I think you're being intentionally dismissive at the cost of realizing that basic, essential waste management (at a small scale) is more or less a solvable problem for people who want to live nomadic lifestyles. Is it a tedious chore from time to time? Sure. Is a marine toilet the same as a open-top bucket full of shit? No (and something tells me you do, in fact, know this to be true).

Here's the reality. People choose, sometimes, to live aboard a moving vessel - either by land or by sea. These people take an audit of the pros and the cons, and they decide that dumping out a compost toilet once a day (if that) while the coffee is brewing is worth the benefit of living in nature or at a low cost, or whatever their bigger rationale is.

What you are saying is basically: "Oh BROTHER! You thought you'd like to have a dog? Good choice, nimwit, bet you never considered they have to EAT and POOP and be TRAINED." The fact is that most dog owners enjoy the companionship so much that they actually have no problem taking on these chores, because the positive outweighs the negative. Of course no one enjoys picking up dog shit, but it's a price to pay and it has to be done, so most of the time good people who like dogs do it.

> So something that's an afterthought in a real home, becomes a weekly, or every other day chore of finding a public toilet, removing your toilet (full of shit and piss) from your van, then dumping shit in said toilet without spilling (not easy) all the while avoiding police/public works employees who would rather you not dump your shit into their facilities. Sounds fun.

Or worse, you get the inconsiderate people who will just unload their toilet into the nearest storm drain and make all vandwellers look bad.

Also people who leave their "grey water" open (small trickle to avoid detection) - people can be terrible - it's why we have zoning laws and building codes.

That depends what the water was used for before it became grey water. If it was taking a shower or washing dishes with environmentally-friendly soap, then big whoop.

Did you know that in the UK narrowboaters on the canals just dump their grey water into the canal? The canal system in the UK is huge, and their are tens of thousands of people who live on narrowboats year round. Narrowboats are boats narrow enough (5'10") and short enough (max 52' or 72' long) that they can fit through all the locks and bridges.

Yeah, I have one of those on my boat and they do work fine but you definitely can not wait 27 craploads to empty it out. Those "27 flushes" is how much the clean water tank can hold, not an indication of the waste tank capacity which is nowhere near 27 jobs. It's more of a daily thing - every time you dock if it's been used you gotta lug it down to the clubhouse, and emptying it is no fun either. For landlubbers a composting unit that separates solids and liquids would be way better for anything that you don't want to empty on an almost daily basis.

To be more clear, I didn't say 27 craploads. I said 27 flushes. I would say most healthy people take ~1 crap per day. And, of course, this is one of the smaller and more compact marine toilets at West Marine.

And of course, emptying a toilet is never going to be fun. But would you sell your boat just because you have to use a marine toilet while adift? No, it's a minor inconvenience that you deal with to enjoy the multitude reasons you have the boat in the first place (but, if you talk to my father in law, the joys of owning a 20 year old Boston Whaler get fewer every year!).

Which is why it makes sense for a boat, but as for this article about van life, not so much.

In my opinion this is an awful solution.

You want a urine-diverter with separate containers. Storing and handling feces is infinitely easier and more pleasant when covered and dry. Separated urine is similarly advantageous; you can store it in a lightweight bottle w/cap and tidily pour out its contents at the appropriate time and place if free of solids.

It exits your body separated, you're not doing yourself any favors mixing it all back together again.

See my reply to the parent for details.

> So you're in your van, parked at the beach, or a beautiful park and you gotta poop - what now?

Well, if you're "parked," there's a good chance that there are restrooms.

You can carry a portable toilet. Or a bucket and kitchen trash bags. I'm an over the road trucker, and in an "emergency" I have just closed the curtains, squatted down in the back and pooped into a 13 gal kitchen trash bag. Not at all comfortable, but workable in an emergency.

Store the bag outside in the spare tire, until I get to a suitable dumpster/trash can. (And I doubt that my rare, once or twice a year "dump" compares at all to the daily disposal of diapers on the road and at home on garbage day.)

Yeah so I've done the "shit in a bucket" thing. When I was towing an enclosed trailer I converted to a "camper", our only bathroom was a bucket (with a toilet seat). This is not sustainable! This works in a pinch, it does not, and should not work full time. Dumping your poo in a kitchen trash bag in dumpsters doesn't work if everyone, or even "a lot" of people are doing it. Towns and the townspeople do not want van dwellers dumping their shit bags in local trash cans.

I don’t think there is any danger of hordes of people starting to live in vans. Try not to let such concerns stress you out too much.

Depends where you live. I can most certainly attest to the rising popularity of "vanlife", and the associated downsides of long term unmanaged camping/squatting.

In my case there's a popular area for climbers on a fire road near a river close to me. Many of these folks just shit arbitrarily in the woods, and don't even bury it. It stinks, attracts animals, and makes it impossible to go on hikes. A friend's dog even ate some which had THC in it from someone who ate a marijuana edible. And let's not get started about the risk of forest fires in the dry season.

There are some that are better about managing their waste and overall footprint, but there is an outsized impact from the less considerate.

There are places where these concerns are real and are having actual and increasing impact. Dismissing these concerns is not helpful.

People living in vans/RV and disposing of their fecal matter and urine with unsafe methods is a big problem for many communities along the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego and also along corridors in Silicon Valley based on local news around Mountain View and San Jose. The temperatures are moderate 10 months of the year or more.

Condescending speculation.

No, frustrated reaction to irrational “what if everyone did this!!!???” concern trolling.

I read it as personal experience. There are such communities.

>Towns and the townspeople do not want van dwellers dumping their shit bags in local trash cans.

God forbid someone talks to them about what we do with dog and human baby shit.

Baby shit isn't typically dumped in street trash cans, and if it is it's one diaper, not several trash bags of adult shit.

I hate to break it to you, but having a baby means you are dumping 5 shitty diapers a day for first few months, then at least two a day for next six or 9 months. Yes lots of people go for reusable diapers, but lots is probably not more than 3% of parents in the US.....

> but having a baby means you are dumping 5 shitty diapers a day for first few months

There might be something wrong with your baby, or maybe you have babies? When I had my first child I naively thought they shit all the time (like all day - I was an idiot). In reality, they typically shit once a day (like us!), so maybe 5 total diapers, but not all are shit filled.

Site note: We used cloth diapers for both our children and urine (that's been sitting in a diaper pale) is by far worse than shit smell.

Lucky you if you only had one shitty diaper per day, it’s absolutely normal to have many more than that in the first few months. Check with your local pediatrician about what normal is before you extrapolate from your own experience and start assuming there is something wrong with other babies that shit more often.

Have you considered the possibility that not all children have the same BM frequency? I have two children. They both pooped quite a bit more than once a day for several months after they were born.

In reality, they typically shit once a day

I don't even have kids, and I know that's not true.

Source: might not be a parent, but I'm a hell of a babysitter.

But isn't that in your home trash can, with only a couple dumped into a restroom trash can at a restaurant or whatever? I think that's a different scale than showing up with a couple days worth of adult trash bag poos.

This is important.

I sometimes go on vacation and sleep in the back of my car. Cosier than it sounds, but no van. The money I save I spend on dining in a restaurant.

The stereotype of surfers who stay on the beach for weeks developed a system for that: They litter the beach, until it's all dirty.

I was amazed how much "van life" suddenly comes back to normal camping except for the litter left behind.

Let's see. As a child, some family lived on a farm. No running water. No indoor plumbing. Coal stove. So you heated water for bathing on the stove. At night, and especially in the winter, you used a chamber pot. But hey, they had electricity!

And a couple decades ago, living off the grid in the US, it was sometimes pretty much the same. One winter, I lived in a tipi. There was a communal outhouse. But hey, I did have a down bag.

So whatever, any well-equipped van would have a composting toilet. And a solar-heated water tank, with a portable shower. Just like RV stuff, but on a smaller scale.

I have many rock climbing friends who live in vans and tents the majority of the year. I’ve spent significant time crashing with them.

Nobody shits in a bucket. You find a place that has toilets of some kind. For example, in Indian Creek, UT, people camp in vans on unimproved BLM land. There is no water. But there are toilets where the roads turn off toward the camping, about a mile away. Every morning, people have coffee, and do a toilet run as you get ready for the day. In an emergency you drive over to the toilet.

People definitely do pee in jars, but usually you can just pee outside somewhere.

It’s not all instagram models. The lifestyle does work. But you spend some of the year crashing with friends, staying in nicer camps with cabins, etc

I live in a bus I converted. I have an Airhead composting toilet with the urine diverted to my 42 gal waste water tank. I also have a 42 gal fresh water tank. Most RVs have small tanks making it hard to dry camp or boondock.

I go 3-4 weeks before I need to refill my water and dump my waste. My composting toilet goes for months between emptying. It's not hard, time consuming, or a big deal.

About your toilet; Does it smell at all? I've been interested for my travel trailer but the traditional RV community is very down on them. Seems like it would be more convenient than black tanks.

It does not smell inside. It has a small vent fan that runs 24/7 that prevents odors and helps reduce the moisture content. Even when emptying it there isn't much of a smell. It's kind of earthy.

I believe having a urine diverter like most commercial composting toilets have is a must. Urine will make it smell.

I don't believe the typical vanlife or tinyhome scenario is a family having such high-throughput septic, water, and food requirements.

For an individual with a sane diet, altering their behavior slightly by using a simple urine-diverting waterless toilet with a bucket and whatever's convenient for dry cover material like a human-scale cat box sans urine is actually a very simple and effective solution to an individual's human waste problem.

A gallon milk bottle holds multiple days worth of urine, tidily emptied where and when appropriate without any drama. In my experience you don't need that large of a container, one day capacity for urine is good enough and lighter to carry.

The bucket stays dry, and is a waste disposal problem no different from a cat box. You can bury its contents in a field, or you can send it to the landfill in a bag, line the bucket with a bag like a cat box for greater convenience if you wish. In my experience a 5-gallon bucket used in this manner is good for a week.

Keeping the urine and feces separate is key. A bucket containing just poop and dirt or sand/litter doesn't even have an odor and there's no splashing or other mess to worry about when handling it, it's dry. Cat boxes smell predominately of urine, by separating the urine and keeping your solids covered, the negative characteristics of a cat box are eliminated.

The real challenge people embracing this lifestyle have to contend with is the judgement and ignorance of society. Don't expect the average American to come by for beers and be happy to poop in your glorified cat box. They very likely won't be coming back. Nor will your minimalist storage capacity accomodate a few beer-drinking guests; they're pissing outside. Women are often uncomfortable with anyone witnessing their menstrual waste in the urine container, and will want to wash residual blood down the diverter further increasing storage demands. It can be a very solitary life.

But if you have a brain and some ability to adapt to the situation, sanitation is simply not a problem. It's just a minor inconvenience like having to clean a bathroom, plunge a toilet, or take out the trash is.

RV toilets work well, thus flush into a tank with a cup of water. The tank will hold a few days worth of waste. If you know what to look for places to dump are all over. Camping websites often have lists. Many rest areas have a dump station. Camping/sporting stores will have a place to dump. Many cities sewage departments have a public dump... If you are not looking for a place to dump you won't see all this, but if you are looking there are plenty of places.

Have dumped plenty, and looked for dumping places... plenty. Not always easy to find. Luckily, our local campground allows us to dump for $15 which we do when returning from any "dry camping" exp. Calls to campgrounds in other cities/states didn't always produce the same result. Furthermore, the process of "dumping" requires proper plumbing from your shitter to the opening for dumping. You can't simply tip your bucket of shit into an open hole and expect it to go well.

My point was that if you're living in a van, and shitting into a "glorified bucket" - dealing with your waste becomes a significant element of your day. This point is often glossed over in tiny home, or van articles. The focus is usually on the build, and not on the "living" part, which includes things like showers, dishes, poo etc.

I spent four months in a van this last summer with a proper black water tank. That makes the experience really easy.

When I was in Arizona & Utah, I was mostly camping out in the wilderness. The rhythm I got into was to pay for an RV park about once a month for luxuries: an uncramped shower, laundry, easy access to empty my tanks. Technically, you can empty your tanks at many gas stations, but I enjoyed the full service amenities of the RV parks.

When I was in a city, I almost always ended up camping at a Walmart and working from a coffee shop. So I used my tanks much less often.

You could try something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rdkGUFzvfc . It burns your waste and you'll have to empty the ash tray every 2+ weeks. It's more expensive initially but is also much more convenient.

From the comments it looks like it requires 1900 watts.

Not van friendly, but maybe tiny house friendly assuming you have full electricity hookup.

Of course as another YT commenter put it, this doesn't handle "grey water" - another element of tiny living that isn't ever discussed.

Incinerating toilets also work with propane, which makes more sense for vans etc. I didn't check this specific one but they all work similar no matter what creates the heat.

there are lots of places to dump "blackwater waste" but not letting it build up is an important habit. commercial campgrounds may let you dump for a small dump fee, but it can be more efficient to book a day in to clean up purge and tidy things. There is a technique called "cat holeing" find an out of the way place deposit the dumpling in a shallow hole 6-8 inches from the surface, include the topsoil and organic debris, and soil microbes decompose it quickly. Do this at least 200 feet from water for sanitary reasons and all is good for practical sense. There are ordinances of aesthetics regarding dumping, i very often include a few apple seeds in the hole, in the high probability there will be a well established tree for all to partake in, human and beast alike.

There are plenty of custom vans out there that have showers/toilets.

That's why you bring a small shovel.

If you're just burying your waste at the beach you making it worse than if you just left it lying there

...but also please don't leave it lying there, in case that needed to be said.

It definitely needed to be said, sadly.

That's fine if you're practicing "distributed camping", so that nature has a chance to process the poo.

People often congregate at the same sites however, and it doesn't take long before that strategy starts to fail.

And like others said - this doesn't work so well on a beach.

As a counterpoint to this, which I find almost offensively fixated on the parts of it that post well on social media, you really can have a good time doing this without spending months and 10's of thousands of dollars getting ready. (OK, so there are certain forces involved if you want to support a blog, as this person is doing...)

- Buy an older van (or in my case a crew cab pickup with a camper shell).

- Add some storage space and a bed. This can be as simple as a few plastic storage containers and a foam mattress.

- Add an inverter, a marine battery, and if you really want to get fancy a relay to disconnect it from the main system when the vehicle isn't running. No solar panels needed, just let the alternator charge it.

That's it. Spend the rest of the time figuring out how to live with your self without social media.

There are a lot of things you can do to simplify your life, if you don't have to bring your first world standards with you: - Don't use any electronics that need constant power. Don't buy stuff that needs to be refrigerated, but do get fresh fruit and vegetables if you can eat them within a few days of buying.

- Piss in a bottle and figure out how to be near enough to either a bathroom or real wilderness for other situations. It's not that hard with a little planning.

- Shower less often, mostly in campgrounds. You will stink more, but get over yourself.

- Bring a lot of books/ebooks or something interesting to study.

- Walmart parking lots are great places to park and sleep if you are en-route somewhere and just need some rest. They usually allow overnight parking and won't bother you (local ordinances can sometimes cause exceptions).

- Learn how to brush your teeth and wash dishes without using lots of soap and water. You can actually clean and rinse a dirty pan with about a cup of water and a tiny drop of soap.

The western US is great for this since huge areas of the desert states are easy to move around in without much planning or permits.

Don't spend lots of time driving. Get somewhere and actually experience it. Don't plan too hard. Find some stuff you think would be interesting, get to good areas, then relax and explore. Schedules are only opportunities for disappointment and stress. Try spending a whole week without even taking pictures. Learn what is fun for you, not what you think makes your life look interesting.

I did this for almost two years. I got really lonely and ended up glued to social media because I was too shy to talk to people in the random mountain towns I was staying. I also found living around cars all the time somewhat maddening. Imagine your background noise everyday being shopping carts and car door lock chirps. Usually the intent of #vanlife is spending more time in nature, oddly living in a car embeds you far more in car culture, streets, gas stations. There was always some latent anxiety about being somewhere you're not quite supposed to be, since living in your car is basically illegal. Novelty wore off after a few months, today I'm glad to live in an apartment. I get to hike/ski/climb almost every weekend, and come home to a warm, well-lit place with a couch and shower.

Honestly, if you want to solo-travel and socialize, go hitchhike.

It's a crash-course in making contact with strangers, dealing with rejection, knowing how to let go and enjoy the moment and maintaining a positive attitude (especially when you wait for a ride for hours in shitty weather), how to ask for help without being obnoxious, and having faith in the goodness of humanity as a whole.

It's not for everyone, but it definitely was both therapeutic and educational for me, and I still love it as a guy in his thirties.

I never thought of this before, but it kind of makes sense that the van thing isolates whereas the hitchhiking makes friends. One is fundamentally based on independence and solving things on your own. The other is fundamentally based on people acknowledging each other and helping each other out.

Hitchhiking is super fun and definitely helps you develop confidence. It's a shame there's such a stigma with hitchhiking in the US.

> definitely helps you develop confidence

Agreed. I think it's worth emphasizing here that it builds up confidence in a very healthy way.

Growing up I was very insecure and (was) thought that building up confidence only had to do with getting a higher self-esteem. And sure, having a low self-esteem is bad for you health. But most ways of trying to improve it backfire. For example, if you think of things you're great at it makes you dependent on feeling that you're great at those things and then that can become a source of insecurity.

Meanwhile, learning to talk to strangers while hitchhiking is all about getting over yourself. A lot of the anxiety comes from the anticipation of being rejected making you feel horrible as if you were and imagining the worst possible ways it could make you feel. Basically, a normally healthy feedback loop to weigh options has become totally unbalanced and makes you suffer for something that neither happened nor has to happen.

More importantly, it suggests you're hyper-focused on yourself and on how others see you. And the irony here is: most people don't, and that's perfectly fine. Or as Melissa Dahl summarized in a title of an Aeon essay[0] about this: "you're simply not that big of a deal, now isn't that a relief?"

I'm sure most of us know this rationally, but feeling it emotionally is a different thing altogether. Well, hitchhiking is a great way to train that world-view. It was for me, at least.

[0] https://aeon.co/ideas/youre-simply-not-that-big-a-deal-now-i...

appreciating your comment...

It is not just US, also in Europe it seems like the hitchhiking is dead. 15 years ago when I was criss crossing Europe many times hitchhiking, sleeping in hostels but usually just in the ditch next to the road or field nearby. I used to meet tons of hitchhikers almost anywhere you go.

Today I am not hitchhiking anymore, but I am happy to give a ride to anybody flagging finger. For past three years that happens only once and even those two people were doing it just because of some hitchhiking competition.

When I was hitchhiking, people would say 'nobody hitchhikes anymore'. I'd point out that a good hitchhiker is in a car, not by the side of the road...

Also a shame it only works if you’re white.

(Based on my thankfully limited experience plus https://www.reddit.com/r/hitchhiking/comments/41bbde/hitchhi...)

Well, "only" is an exaggeration but yeah, racist stereotypes do work against you.

I'm half-Asian, which I guess is "white enough" to fly under most of the (conscious and subconscious) racist radars out there. OTOH I can get quite a tan and I used to grow a beard years before it was trendy to do so. Pretty much right after 9/11 actually. The Islamophobic associations were definitely real.

I figured out a cheat mode though: wear thick rimmed glasses[0]. I used cheap plastic +.25 reading glasses so they didn't look fake but didn't give me a headache either. It's totally stupid but it made a huge difference. And this was years before the famouse Curb Your Enthusiasm bit[1], which clearly is an example of "it's funny (and sad) because it's true".

[0] https://old.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/z8h21/whats_the_...

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14ECj4OcCC0

I agree that hitchhiking makes socializing automatic. It also taught me a lot in terms of dealing with chaos and constant uncertainty. But I had the same realization about the constant noise of living in the automobile civilization all the time. You're always exposed to the risks of traffic and the infrastructure is simply not friendly.

Well stated. My journey only last 6 months because of the constant anxiety that comes from not having a stable parking situation. You think it's going to give you freedom but it ends up being your prison

To me half a year is a long time, and for an experiment it certainly is. You should cross the word "only" from your mind, it's no competition. Freedom can also mean to have stable home, relationship, work.

I agree with you.

I got a tacoma with a tall camper shell.

I tossed a piece of foam in the back, tacked some fabric for decoration, added a hanging lamp, and that's it. I have a pelican case I keep my laptop and some stuff in, but the rest of my crap stays in plastic tubs.

I don't really want to spend time tricking it out, because the point is that I want to be out doing stuff, not fabricating a home.

I've camped out about 10 days so far this year and plan to increase that to 100% by the end of the year.

I just do it because all I want to do at this stage in life is play music and rock climb. I couldn't see doing that if I was trying to go into an upswing on my profession or build a relationship.

The point is to have a place to crash so I can stay on the road with less hassle... it's much nicer to not have to drive home after a gig or to wake up and go climb without a commute or a campsite to worry about.

I also know a lot of folks living in RVs, and I don't think that the sprinter van looks like an improvement over a commercially produced motorhome/ 5th wheel/ trailer.

I think the advantage of the van over an RV is that it can be nondescript enough that you can get away with parking in a much wider variety of places.

True, and furthermore they are easier to drive and park.

I guess I should say that my issue is mroe about the DIY-ness of the van-life thing.

I've know a lot of folks in schoolies over the years, and while they can look all instagram fabulous, mostly they are never as nice, light-weight, or well-insulated as even the cheaper commercially available alternatives. It might be just a bad perception on my part, and I think it is possible to do... I just don't see it happening for most of the folks I know who.

I'll be traveling from Ontario to Yosemite and back this summer in my Tacoma. I have exactly the same setup. It works.

I've been deeply interested in going nomadic full time for more than a decade, despite it only recently becoming a thing. Family, job obligations combined with a relatively low cost arrangement for living expenses finds me plunked down firmly.

If my wife and I split, god forbid, you'll find me on the road.

PS: Their are no construction standards for trailers/rv's. Their are built as cheaply as possible. I'd much rather do the van thing if only for the structural integrity.

We have a Thor Class C on a Sprinter chassis. Chassis is awesome, if you have the means I highly recommend one. Thor build quality (and RV quality in general) is laughably bad. I'm confident the "bones" are good, but what's screwed to the frame is screwed on as quickly as possible. I've been through just about every inch of that thing while I was installing and running wire for solar and a big inverter. If it's behind a screwed-on panel (IOW, customer will never see it), there is leftover shit everywhere. Saw dust, wire ends, whatever.

I'm surprised when I go to unscrew something and find that the screw was actually screwed in straight. I'm dead serious, there aren't a dozen straight screws in the whole thing (well, there are now). Assuming the $WHATEVER even got a screw; I keep forgetting to run to Home Depot for screws for those brackets that are hanging by two wobbly screws.

So, yeah, build quality on RVs is shit. But if you can do your own van, you can redo anything in an RV. And the RV is already plumbed and wired, mostly. You can fix the stuff they missed. :-) Despite my complaints, I've put in far less effort correcting Thor's mistakes than I would into building my own van.

> Their are no construction standards for trailers/rv's. Their are built as cheaply as possible.


If you look you can find RV's that are built to last. The vast majority are built as cheaply as possible though.

Membership is voluntary.

Well, the wife left me and my kid is graduating HS this year... that's actually part of the motivation there.

As for the "cheap"... yeah, that is true, but I just don't see the DIY people ever getting things as light as the RV manufacturers... and that is a big deal when driving.

I also run a minimal setup in the back of a tacoma. Having a camper that doesn't look like a camper is really nice. Four wheel drive comes in handy and is, imo, prohibitively expensive in vans right now.

Not just in deserts. Unless the rules have changed recently, one can camp for 14 days in National Forest or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land for free before you are required to move. Exceptions are in very crowded areas (like a lot of California's National Forest near paved roads). These areas make up the majority of land many western states and some really beautiful areas. More and more locked gates are being put up to prevent access, but lots of old logging roads are still open.

Grab a good atlas for a state you want to travel in that has all the roads on it (like Benchmark) and just start looking at it. Find a place that looks interesting and go there. You can find amazing spots that way. Going to places found on "Ten Best" lists or camping magazines are the way to find a beautiful place with way too many people around.

The definition of “move” is usually pretty loose too. In any case I’ve ever heard of, a different position on the same plot of land was satisfactory.

We found a really ideal location in the land around Flagstaff AZ. Free camping in the pines, but also really close to amenities and downtown Flagstaff.

This is true. It's not expensive to experiment, but it does increase other ongoing costs.

Food costs for me increased, due to less cooking. If you're in an urban area, finding a place to use a portable stove or fire is very difficult.

If you're outside of an urban area, gas/breakdowns are a constant concern.

Parking can be precarious, depending on where you are. Heat can be a problem depending on where you are. It's much easier to heat passively with blankets in the cold than to cool yourself when it's too hot to sleep.

Other notes:

- Vans are often very poorly insulated, both from sound and weather. - The social impact can be crushing.

All in all embracing a mobile hermit lifestyle with the added burden of a giant lumbering structure can be daunting. I think in general ultralite camping is a better option. More flexibility where you stay, and the benefits of having a mobile power source are overstated. Portable gas canisters/solar cells have a better value for the few times when you need mobile electricity.

>Don't spend lots of time driving. Get somewhere and actually experience it. Don't plan too hard. Find some stuff you think would be interesting, get to good areas, then relax and explore.

Absolutely agree to this. I had the liberty to enjoy in Australia and Hawaii and I spent my time creating www.wikinomad.com to help other people find closest bathroom, toilets, van resting spots etc. Noticed that Australia is really well built for this on the east coast.


I'd add considering getting a chain gym membership for regular showers.

AllPowers makes an 85W portable folding solar panel that can power a laptop and smartphone directly. I strongly prefer using solar when available instead of having to idle a noisy stinky gas engine at an extended stay site. Some of the most obnoxious campers are the ones who endlessly run generators, don't be that person.

I looked into a gym membership, but the gym chains usually only cover a limited geographic area and additionally are usually only inside cities, not out where nature is.

A decent marine battery is reliable and can carry enough power to run a laptop all day. No need to idle an engine... you can charge it while you're driving. I agree on the generator people. No better way to take the suburbs out to nature.

When you're out in nature you don't give a damn about looking and smelling like a homeless person. Being able to bathe and groom whenever you want to be around civilization, where the gyms are, is the point.

A marine battery and portable solar panel are not mutually exclusive.

When you've found a sweet spot and have no intention of driving for at least a week, it's less than ideal to repeatedly idle an automobile engine just for charging your battery. Most of the energy is being lost to waste heat, it's a horribly inefficient method and annoying to boot. But sure, charge your batteries off the alternator while you're driving places as well. Everything should get topped up whenever you drive somewhere.

Most state parks I've stayed at around california permit 14-day continuous stays. Enforcement hasn't been especially strict in my experience either unless it's a busy time of year or there's an associated nuisance.

If you don't drive every day, then if you ran a laptop all day on your battery you are stuck the next day. Of course, the answer is don't run a laptop all day.. but that just changes the variables a bit because if you want to stop somewhere a bit longer is there enough power now? Also, running engines is not great for charging batteries which need to float a while to get full. A solar panel can make a huge difference..

Yes, agree, the answer is don't go live in a car and use the laptop all day every day. That wouldn't be very fun. :) Get outside if you run out of battery.

Having access to all the comforts all the time is for the part of your life spent in civilization.

Thanks for writing it!

I think it is a great way for long-time "car camping". I don't think it is a good idea to live like that (but everybody is different, of course), but it is definitely interesting.

I have an old truck with a camper shell, and two people actually can fit into it sleeping. I am thinking about going camping in it for 1–2 nights in the summer, without renting cabins and stuff.

I did it for about 8 months. Wouldn't want to live that way permanently. Everything in moderation. :)

A few more things to add:

- Get used to constantly keeping your stuff in order. It takes about 5 minutes to turn your tiny little living area into a mess. And the day after that you are living in a dumpster.

- Don't leave anything visible from outside the vehicle. I mean absolutely nothing can be seen if you look in a window. I have no proof on this one, but nobody stole anything from me or messed with the vehicle while I was away (sometimes for a few days in the backcountry), and I attribute it to not looking like somebody was living in the vehicle and nothing valuable might be inside.

- Make sure your head is pointed uphill when you park and make sure your mattress is comfortable. No sense in getting long term bad sleep.

Great advice. Especially for people who might not know the realities of living a nomad lifestyle who might just be enamored with the marketing of it.

I toured around for 6 weeks in a van, all down the West Coast, visiting national parks, hiking, sleeping on the beaches, and reading a lot. It was a great time, and required very little equipment, and monetary investment (my buddy had a van already.) And what we did was glorified camping, though the day-to-day I don't see how it'd be much different than a fully custom luxury van.

People should start with a long month-long road trip like this to really get a feel, to understand how you'll provision food, where you'll eat, etc.

I love me a good long road trip, but I'd never move into one as a substitute for a home.

> I love me a good long road trip, but I'd never move into one as a substitute for a home.

My road trip has been going on 2429 days. Couldn't do it in a van, but a 25 foot Airstream is surprisingly comfortable.


Kinda hilarious to watch the graphic on your website studiously circling around everywhere in the West, except Nevada. Did the same thing on my 1 year trip, though.

There's actually some decent enough places to stop in Nevada, like the Ruby mountains (especially if you're traveling from Utah to Tahoe and need to go by them anyway).

>Piss in a bottle

works for 50% of the population? I read a fascinating article recently (can't find it again I'm afraid) where a female UPS driver said her delivery targets were always lower than her male colleagues because she had to go and find a bathroom.

This message is intended with no snark or sarcasm - it's _very_ popular for women in the outdoor/vanlife communities to use specially designed funnels. An amazon search will be enlightening.

I find the Freshette to be by far the best type, and it has the advantage of being flat & pocket size.

“Lady J” is one popular one if you need a search term to start.

yeah, my partner has sang her praises for the excellently named SheeWee (https://www.shewee.com)

Either gender can manage to pee into a container in a vehicle if they really want to. There are adapters you can buy if needed.

Some people may not really want to, which is fine. They are probably the same ones who would find the lack of showers a deal breaker.

You might be thinking of the female cable tech: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/cable-tech-dick-cheney-...

Yes, thanks!

> Shower less often, mostly in campgrounds. You will stink more, but get over yourself.

Carry baby wipes to hit the "hot spots" when you can't shower.

love this comment...

I understand that people enjoy the hashtag-vanlife thing, but if it's something you're considering please remember that it doesn't make you special. Too many people seem to think that #vanlife is somehow different from camping, and an excuse to ignore all the rules that apply to normal campers.

Normal people camp in a campground or designated wilderness camping area, where there are adequate facilities to camp in a hygenic way, and you pay for a permit to get a spot for yourself for a night, and the campground is limited to the number of spaces that the area can support. Camping in a city park, street, or public day-use area is selfishly monopolizing the resources of that area for yourself, when they were designed for the use of people other than just yourself. Homeless people can get a pass on selfishly taking over public space for themselves because they need the charity, but when tech bros who want to live the #vanlife do it they're just being assholes.

While I agree that people who "can" own/live in a house are making a choice to live in a van can "take up space", I think the amount of space used up by these people in nearly infinitesimal compared to the amount of space available.

So, I don't think this is really much of an argument against this life style. Also, they won't do this forever, long term it's much more stressful than people realize. Therefore making the amount of space/resources used entirely a non-issue.

It's not the space they take up, it's the fact that they're living in a way that the place they're living in wasn't designed for. My town has a parking lot where the #vanlife people park, and it smells like piss all summer because it's a parking lot, not a campground, and there's no bathrooms there. The actual campgrounds in the area fill up quickly, and people reserve in advance. The climbing routes, hiking trails, and other recreation facilities exist roughly in proportion to the available campsites. The #vanlife people are cheating the system by illegally camping, and using resources that aren't available. If the resources were available, permits would be approved for new campgrounds or residential development.

Individuals don't do #vanlife long term, but there's enough of them that there's a consistent rolling population and the space and resources they use are roughly constant.

You are sorting of making my argument for me. You are pointing out one single place in the entire world, and it happens to be near you. While this is unfortunate, it seems like a simple solution is to petition the local government for either porta-potties or enforcement of the law.

If the parking lot is not near you, not sure why you would care at all... If it's that bad, why would these people #vanlife there? It sounds gross.

For all we know they do that as well. This is a more general petition to the world at large not to behave like they're entitled to more just because #vanlife.

You may have a contradiction in your perspective. Well off people living #vanlife aren't going to live in squalor.

It sounds like you have something against poor people living in vehicles?

your expectations are incorrect, unless you think that people living in late-model mercedes sprinter vans that have been camperized by custom van outfitters count as poor people.

Your assumption seems reasonable. But all cultural changes disaffect someone, but it doesn't mean they are bad as a whole. And this cultural movement seems to be negatively affecting you in some way. There's an old saying that may be useful here, "if you can't beat them, join them."

Why not try living in a van for even just a week and see what is going on from their perspective?

I did this with homeless people when I was younger (I lived on streets for a few days while in college) and it changed my perspective on them for the rest of my life.

What gives you the right to say who can and can't park in public parking? Why do you have more of a right to park there than someone who lives in their vehicle?

I lived in a van in the Bay Area for 8 months, then a totaled RV for 10. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise -- it's awesome. If you find decent parking spots (it's not hard, just use google maps) you'll find tons of areas that are quieter than those $2500/month apartments in San Jose with planes whizzing by. I got pretty good at sleeping with shooting range earmuffs. For a long time my routine was wake up whenever I wanted, bike to Starbucks or a library, read for a few hours, bike to the gym, work out, and read for the rest of the day. When I was in Pacifica I would get hours of sun, which you can't really do with a 9-5.

The problem is that it's incredibly socially isolating. Very few of my friends treated me any differently, but I still got progressively more lonely. More and more of my "reading" became surfing Youtube and chatting on IRC or 4chan with people I'd never be able to meet in person. I spent a lot of time being mad at police. I'd meet girls on Tinder with the thought in the back of my head that they wouldn't find my sketchy RV as funny as I do. I'd prefer it to paying $2k/month for a studio with no heat and stressing out about money all the time, but I wouldn't be able to keep that up, either.

It's not like you need a toilet to survive. We went without them for most of human history. You need a toilet to fit in.

As a society we need toilets to survive. Diseases spread by human waste such as cholera are a major reason why average lifespans used to be short.

Apologies if I made it sound like I was pooping on the beach. I wasn't. :)

Where were you pooping then?

At your house.

I'm curious, what do you do for a living during that time?

I started the van thing while I was working at a tech company. I worked for another 6-7 months before I quit.

I'm fascinated by the lifestyle/community and follow it pretty closely. Even built https://vanspiration.com to catalogue some builds, though I'm behind on updating a few.

From what I can tell, this was the original vanlife-manual: https://thevanual.com/ The guy built out that site with Ryobi branding and then pitched it to Ryobi as a marketing thing. They gave him $15k or whatever it was, and it covered the costs of his vehicle and build. Modestly brilliant.

Everything looks great, but the Instagram photos make me flinch a little. This kind of lifestyle is far from all the glamour that the photos convey, which makes me think this has turned into one big sales pitch.

I could be wrong. I'm known for being a pessimist, no doubt.

You're not wrong. I have a passing interest in owning a van or camp trailer of some sort (for camping, not living). Many of the IG accounts are "influencers" who are pimping their own niche van-life business.

"Look at me and my bikini-clad wife! (and please buy the solar panel kit I sell through my web store)"

I went a different route due to wanting to keep a home location.

We purchased a travel trailer (25’, 80 gallon fresh water capacity, 40 each gray/black) just in time for the 2017 eclipse, and I’ve since built it out to function as a mobile office for work as a remote developer. I have a reasonably high battery capacity, solar, a whole-trailer inverter, an entire LAN complete with wired network cabinet, and the capability to bridge onto a WiFi uplink, cellular, or satellite internet.

I’d estimate we live out of it a cumulative total of 2-3 months of the year, though I’d love to increase that.

i'm curious to see how you make it double as an office. I have looked at a few trailers with the thoughts of ripping out a bank of couches I would never use (some trailers are set up like you're going to be entertaining a dozen people) and installing a desk, but haven't seen anyone do something like that. Usually, I just see photos of people sitting at the dining table which isn't really going to cut it for me.

The wrap-around dinette in the back works for me, and I’ve put up a table outside during comfortable enough weather. I have my mini server plugged in inside my network cabinet, and I do not need more than a laptop screen for what I do, so I’m not really wanting for anything. The back is a huge picture window, so we choose parking locations with that in mind.

Do you have any pictures or plans of the layout? Most of the pictures I've seen of vans people have built barely have enough room for a kitchen.

It’s one of these: http://outdoorsrvmfg.com/timber-ridge-25rds/

While the length is easily 50% longer than a van and can exclude you from some locations, I feel the increase in amenities better enables using it completely in the middle of nowhere. At maximum conservation, I believe we could go two weeks without needing to refill or empty anything.

This is my write-up of building out the network: https://ryanbritton.com/2018/02/working-remotely-in-the-true...

I tried using a NSM2 as a WiFi bridge but it was unreliable. It would constantly drop the connection and take forever to reconnect or require restarting. Have you had similar issues?

No, but I think that's more because I've never had a WiFi source that worked even half as good as cellular. Campground WiFi is pretty universally bad.

I do use a NSM2loco to bridge the cellular hotspot into the router internally, which is only a range of about a foot, and I've had no issues there.

Be like motivational speaker Matt Foley - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xv2VIEY9-A8

In all seriousness, it is cool as long as you have another place that is home. Traveling for a living gets too much after awhile.

Here’s my van story: I visited my parents one summer at age 19 and spent a single day and less than $300 building our old family minivan into a home. Mind you, that van would probably sell for $500-1000 pre-renovation. I built a small platform for a bed that still relied on the back-most bench. I also built a small shelf in the very back that held a propane stove and cooking supplies. Very, very simple.

I lived in it for several years, traveling and rock climbing. You stand at the back of the van and cook, and only go inside the main cabin to sleep or read.

Skilled van-residents generally don’t visit urban areas for extended periods of time. British Columbia, Montana, Utah, the Chihuahua desert, Baja, Sonora were the places to be. The whole point of a van is that it makes life really easy in more remote areas - no need to set up a tent or set up a camp kitchen.

It was highly social, as I was immersed in the rock climbing community. I’d make friends and we’d share every meal and have bad ass adventures. Then I’d go to a new spot, be introspective for the 2-3 days of slow driving and staying in semi-remote wilderness, then meet new friends at the next destination.

Pooping while living in a van requires a different perspective than that of most city people. First, there is no use of toilet paper - the water/left-hand method combined with soap is simply more hygienic (in these remote areas, people who poop like this are the only ones who wash themselves with soap and water on a regular basis). Second, ‘waste management’ revolves around ensuring other humans don’t have to encounter the decomposition process, which normally means burying the waste and always means that one has to consider biological processes, land-use/human behavior.

Here’s the real selling point: living in a van in nature means being connected to every sunrise and every sunset. You’ll naturally get tired shortly after sunset, and naturally wake up 30-60 minutes before sunrise. Temperature and light fluctuations ensure a highly functional endocrine system that makes sickness/depression/anxiety nearly impossible to take root. It’s a very healthy and natural way of life.

I absolutely recommend it - but not for people who want to be highly productive at crafting software/hardware.

I think I'd prefer to use a disposable glove than washing my butt with my bare hand. That smell doesn't come off easily, and gloves are cheap.

Wearing jeans with holes in the knees, wearing pants under your skirt, living in a van...what was once done out of necessity for those with less becomes a lifestyle choice and style signal for those who have more. Touring in an RV can be fun but #vanlife seems too much like class tourism to me.

Culture is often like that, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction" seems to apply to a lot of things.

When you're overwhelmed by tech, constant notifications of any kind, advertisement everywhere (in real and digital life), mindless media consumption, work and wantrepreneur culture &c. I easily get why people want a break from that, weirdly enough it seems that we're easily attracted by extremes.

From the perspective of an avid saltwater fisherman (for which Yeti is one of the most popular cooler choices) I would encourage anyone considering a Yeti to look into the alternatives. I picked up an Rtic cooler for approximately $200 less, same size as the Yeti. Performance is identical. Other similar brands include Icer, Orca, Pelican, Engel. They all have different price points and all have sales. If you can find a scratch 'n dent sale, you'll typically save 25-50% for minor cosmetic blemishes.

Out of curiosity, for those that have done the van life for an extended period of time (say a year or more), how has it affected the relationships you had before?

A part of me fantasizes about trying this someday, but the thought of not seeing my friends on a regular basis sounds quite lonely in practice.

its not for everyone espescially if your a social butterfly type. There is also stigma and elements of danger, if you go all out nomad. there are places where this lifestyle is tolerated, and others where you will be in a bad spot espescially if you have an encounter with some good ol boy trooper. Its a good "lifeboat" to have in the case of wildfire, volcanic events, or just simple job loss as long as you have a good cash reserve, or are not shy to do some handyman work for food and gas money. It comes in handy knowing how to procure and keep food and water when money or buying is not available. a small crossbow/slingshot and some outdoors skills go a long way and extend your range. its been 35 years for me so far and im still alive.

I've been living full-time in an RV off and on for nearly a decade. I just bought my third RV (first was a motorhome, second was a travel trailer, which I had for three years and grew to hate moving it, and now I'm back to another motorhome...motorhomes are just better if you travel a lot) and I'll be traveling pretty seriously again for the next year or so.

Relationships suffer, for sure. I've always been a hardcore loner, and I'm mostly OK with that. I can make friends, and I don't have trouble dating, and I often do when I stay somewhere for more than a couple of months. But, realistically, I'm not good at maintaining relationships, and traveling a lot exacerbates that a lot. Traveling isn't the only factor in this, and it was true even before I started traveling. I'd get into a project or whatever and kinda forget about the rest of the world and the other people in it, sometimes for months at a time. I've been trying to alter this behavior somewhat, as I get older and recognize that real friendships come harder and harder every year.

So..yes. It can be quite lonely in practice. If you don't value alone time very highly, it might be too much. It doesn't have to be lonely, though. Being a traveler is interesting to a lot of people, so if you're at all socially proficient you can make new friends (or romantic partners, if you aren't already satisfied in that area) relatively easily, as long as you do social stuff while traveling (I do social bike rides, tech events, activism, and art/music stuff, when I have social energy to spend). They will probably be fleeting relationships, however. It's pretty rare that I meet someone in my travels that I keep in touch with forever.

Also, as much as I hate facebook and what it's been used for (and is being used for), it is nice to be able to connect up with people that way, since it makes it possible to run into people again later, maybe not even in the same city you met them in. Getting a cell number or email address just means I might contact them if I am back in the city I last saw them in; but with facebook, I might see that someone I know has moved to a city I'm going to, or whatever. It's sort of a live view of who I know, and that's really valuable. Sometimes, those old friends and acquaintances are happy to see me again, and that's nice.

Digital Nomaded for a while.

I agree with you. It's pretty lonely 'after a while'. Everything starts to be kind of the same just with a different aesthetic.

People fetishize travel but there's immense joy in the day to day things. Community, family, good food, etc.

My preference is it's better to have a home base with a community and take trips.

My preference would be to take month long trips once or twice a year and come home to a home base.

That being said...I need to travel and get out of my head space and try to do it often.

I've been a nomad in the US for 6+ years. What has kept me on the road has been the friends I've met and community we've created.

I guess it's going to be an individual preference for what counts as a meaningful relationship with friends. For me doing shared activities together on a regular basis is what brings me a lot of enjoyment in a friendship. I have long-term friends who I mostly only stay in touch with via the phone/internet, and it's just not the same.

To be clear this isn't a value judgement, but perhaps a point to consider when thinking about trying this lifestyle.

I did 8 months and it had no noticeable affect, but then I only see my best friends at most twice a year.

I enjoy long periods of solitude so it wasn't a big problem for me, but I think most people would probably want to stay in campgrounds and hostels pretty often to get some socialization in.

I picked up hitchhikers a few times, which was usually fun, sometimes smelly, and always interesting.

To put some perspective on the romanticism of all this, shorten title to 'live on the road'. I grew up going on camping 'holidays' in the UK as my father was a great romantic, the reality in the US today is a lot more regimented anywhere near surburbia. There are trailer parks in the USA for a reason - a lot of people associate free spirited travellers as littering gypsies and in many areas you are going to be harassed by the police. I have a friend who has a great looking vintage truck with a vintage camper shell on it with sink, cooker etc. He has long hair and he and his wife are constantly harassed when on the road. The police can be extremely unpleasant. He owns 3 houses but is used to the police calling him a down and out. Adding to @josefresco's comments before you spend a fortune kitting out a van rent one for a month and live in it in the mild weather spring or fall to get an idea of what it's like and what you need. Also be aware a van can get stolen with all your possessions in it. I had a 26 foot vintage airstream I was going to restore stolen, apparently any sort of mobile living space is a great target for people who live in the woods to steal and hide off road. Be realistic about what you are getting into and install excellent security.

I can't speak to Europe but I've been living in my bus for over 20 months and have never been harassed by law enforcement.

what area are you mostly in? My friend is based in California but travels cross country a lot, says it's worst in the mid west and south for him

My home area is Austin but I've traveled up the east coast a few times and through New Mexico. Many areas of CA are hard since there are a lot of NIMBY anti-homeless laws. The midwest has a ton of BLM land so it's one of the easiest places to camp, so long as you don't mind being in the middle of nowhere.

Middle of nowhere is rarely a problem I agree from my personal experiences too - it's proximity to particularly small towns with bored cops where my friend has the most problems, including just driving through. Must be a visual thing, maybe he triggers something with cops. His wife is gorgeous, maybe that is a stimulant also. Mileage may vary etc with personal experiences

This guide needs a section on how to get a women to ride and live in it with you. My Dad’s GF told him on no uncertain terms that he’d be a bachelor if he lived in an RV. Thus he gave up on the RV idea.

Edit: It looks like we gave this website the loving hug of death. It says “Error establishing database connection” now.

I hate to link to what is quickly becoming the cesspool of the Internet, but http://reddit.com/r/vandwellers is a community for this type of thing.

Sleeping in your car is awesome. Last August my and my girl friend did a spontaneous trip across the US, we visited 45+ states. And we did the whole thing without a sigle hotel, sleeping instead inside of my Toyota Corolla. All I did was fold the seats, throw in a cheap Walmart mattress, get super heavy tint on the rear windows and signed up for planet fitness membership. It actually worked. The key thing here is that we did it in a corolla. You can park literally anywhere overnight in a corolla. We were never bothered in any way about sleeping in that car. I don’t think anybody even knew. We would park in hotel parking lots at night a lot because cars come and go at all hours, the lot is always full and there’s no pattern of any kind that we would be intruding on. So for example if we parked somewhere and the natives recognized all the cars except that weird corolla they eve never seen, we would kind of stick out. And if you are the only car parked inside a giant, empty parking lot at 3am you are kind of sticking out. Later on I tried sleeping in residential areas though, and I’ve never been bothered or asked about it once. And I’ve done it more than a hundred times probably. If you use common sense and don’t use the world as your bathroom, you will not have a problem.

We slept inside that car with the windows closed for a couple months. Never had a problem with O2 or CO2 as far as I can tell.

I now sleep in my car regularly. It’s amazing to me that it’s not a thing to sleep in your car. It expands your horizon immensely. You don’t get it until you have yourself gotten to the point where sleeping in your car is second nature. It’s a very useful skill to have. The camp fire is a really good example.

If you were able to have a vehicle that you actually dedicated to sleeping in (I’ve kept my corolla stock, besides the tint) and were able to modify then you would be able to sleep anywhere at any time of year very comfortably. If you are interested in this then def read ahead.

So we have a guy inside a car with the windows closed. Several things will happen. First, the entire car and the air inside it will become the same temperature as outside. Second, his breath will create extremely high humidity inside the car. Third, CO2 will accumulate. Fourth, O2 will go down. This has never been a problem for me but it’s true none the less.

Ok, the only other consideration is what temperature it is outside and how humid it is outside.

If it’s cold, we have the follwing to worry about. The humidity in the air inside the car will condense on the inner surfaces of the car. This is very bad because you will have moisture under your carpet and absolutely everywhere. You won’t be able to dry it and it will probably grow mold. Second, you will just be too cold.

If it’s hot, the hot air in the car will retain the humidity longer, so condensation isn’t a problem as much. But even a little hot is too hot because your body heat will bake you in that car.

Ok, those are all the problems and considerations for sleeping in your car. Here is how you handle them.

Energy recovery ventilator. Panasonic makes some great ERVs. These are ventilation fans that have a special interchanging ducting that transfers heat and moisture from the outgoing air stream to the incoming air stream or vice verse. So what that means is that you are putting energy into keeping the humidity and temperature within a certain range, this device will allow you to replace the stagnant air with fresh air but not blow out all that energy along with the air. These units are whisper quiet and use only 25 watts of power. Every car has an air outlet somewhere near the rear bumper. If you could hook up this unit to draw air and vent air outside, you would solve O2 and CO2. You would also partially solve humidity. And you would partly solve being too hot. If you are in a closed space, you need good ventilation.

Catalytic heater. I forget the name, it’s “wave 3” or something like that. These heaters use propane but are safe for indoor use because they are catalytic, meaning the produce no CO. They are also extremely efficient. Propane is cheap and it’s everywhere. This would solve being too cold.

Air conditioner/dehumidifier. If the air outside is humid, you are going to have to dehumidify. There is no way around this. Installing a portable dehumidifier would solve this. A proper, compressor based one would be required to keep pace. These use 300 watts or more. If it’s hot outside, vent the hot part of the heat pipe to the outside. This solves the heat problem completely, as the dehumidifier is now also an air conditioner with no penalty on power or anything else. This would be trivial to implement. When it’s cold outside, you blow the hot end of the heat pipe back into the cabin and you don’t lose any heat, but humidity is controlled.

Extremely recently a fuel cell was released for use in the RV market. It runs on propane. From what I can tell it’s real — some prominent RV brands are starting to incorporate it into their products. They have made many appearances at trade events for RVs. Needless to say, this will be a revolution. Adding a fuel cell like this would allow you to dehumidify/cool the inside of the car continuously all night. Charging several kWh off the alternator is just not really an option. So, add the fuel cell and a really good battery and maybe some solar and you have power for all I’ve menioned as well as charging phones and powering other electronics.

Between all of that, you would truly be able to sleep anywhere you wanted in total comfort. The only thing I would add woul be some stealthy cameras all around the car and monitors inside so that I could quickly asses the situation if I were woken at night.


Catalytic propane heaters discharge the products of combustion (CO2 and H2O) into the heated space. Oxygen depletion is a health issue. Condensation can also be a substantial issue. Even the smallest are sized much too large for the small volume of a car (both in terms of heat output and required clearances). The car is likely to become unbearably hot in less time than the heater's warmup cycle.

There are closed combustion forced air systems that use LP that offer similar advantages to diesel/gasoline systems like the Webasto (no oxygen depletion, no humidity increase) [1]. The LP systems generally have better high altitude performance because they operate on vapor pressure rather than utilizing a fuel pump. There are a lot of places in the US above 5000'. A downside is LP has a much lower energy density than diesel or gasoline so the cost per BTU is higher.

[1] https://www.propexheatsource.com/

LP catalytic heaters also can leak propane and everyone who uses one is recommended to keep an rv propane detector nearby. I haven’t seen these forced air products before, thanks so much for bringing those to my attanetion!

> Sleeping in your car is awesome.

Its really not that great. A proper bed is usually far better. Toilet facilities are also a bonus.

Na dude it’s great. Try it in a Tesla or a Prius with a nice mattress.

A Tesla with dark tint in the rear is probably peak car-camping, as you can leave climate control on all night without running an engine and blowing your cover.

I have tried it in a decent sized Volkswagen. It was ok, it not "great".

> It’s amazing to me that it’s not a thing to sleep in your car.

Wait until you hear about beds!

What’s a beds?

>You don’t get it until you have yourself gotten to the point where sleeping in your car is second nature. It’s a very useful skill to have.


The camper van movement is pretty popular for sure.

Sportsmobile has been converting vans to mini RV or camper van since 1965. Someone recently got a guided tour of the factory by the owner and here it is.


He said there were about 100 vans at the factory at the time, in various stages of conversion. And they were sold out for 14 months.

Near the end the owner shares stories of some of the customers. Some are professional nature photographers/athletes (?) who must stay outdoors for days, and need clean/dry place for equipment, eat/sleep etc. Having the van saves them much time required to travel to/from hotel to their work site.

A lot of employees of Google/Apple also are customers of Sportsmobile.

And some are even medical residents who basically need a place to sleep between shifts and choose to sleep in a camper van, parked at the hospital parking lot.

So camper van is not just for people who want to travel for the sake of travel.

I would love to have a camper van at my disposal so that I can go explore some popular sites like Yosemite, beach campsites etc. But $100,000 is big money.

This brings to mind that recently someone posted in my city's subreddit questions about their visit and where they could park their van. The comments were outrageously unwelcoming and basically forced this person to consider the next city along their trip as the place they should stop. I think what works in one part of the nation doesn't necessarily translate to all of it.

According to journalist Tim Pool (I can't link his video, sorry, I simply can't remember which one of his this was in), these conversions are so popular that the companies that work on doing them have so many orders that the wait time can stretch into a year to get one done if you're looking now. (He wants to create a mobile reporting studio.)

Note: "Volkswagen", not Volkswagon

We did it again HN! We broke the database!

Here's a mirror: https://web.archive.org/https://divineontheroad.com/build-a-...

3 hours later, database still struggling.

This lifestyle will utterly explode once self-driving EV vans with decent solar cells hit reasonable price ranges. Drive overnight, recharge for a few days with or without a power hookup...

I discussed how I live in a bus yesterday in the tiny home post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19085244

I converted a 25ft shuttle bus and have been living in it for over 20 months. I have everything you'd expect in a house, toilet, shower, 4 burner range, electricity, heat, AC, internet, etc. The difference is that I can take my home and dog with me when I travel.

I'd be happy to answer any more questions here.

At this time I am not interested in living in a van but for a long time I have wanted some kind of auxiliary heater for my minivan. It could be powered by diesel or a five gallon propane tank. I think it strange something like this is not off the shelf as unfortunately a lot of people live in their cars or vans because they have no where else to go. For winter living it would have to be better for the engine and for fuel consumption.

An under-rear-seat, gas-powered (got its fuel from the tank) heaters used to be an option on VW vans. Aftermarket offers Propex, but they ain't cheap. Plan on a couple of thousand if someone else does all the work. $700 for just the heater, IIRC.

What we used in our VW camper in winter was an indoor-safe propane heater: http://www.mrheater.com/little-buddy-heater.html

Thank you for the lead!

Depending on your expectations and how you travel, the easiest option might be a $15 electric space heater and an extension cord. Won't work when boondocking. Useful at campsites with electric.

Made-in-China diesel heaters are <$200 on eBay and there are reasonable reviews on Youtube.

I didn't know something like it existed! Thanks!

This was a pretty interesting build, I was looking to get one of the battery packs from Nissan when they become available.


Why do I see insulation only behind the wood and in a lot of places I still see metal.

Two years ago I made a video about 3 years of living in a camper van. As of next months it's actually gonna be 5 years.


My plan was to make a whole video series out of it, but just doing one video already took me so much time and with running and managing two companies[1][2] at the same time, I didn't feel that I wanted to spend more time in front of a computer editing videos. But maybe in the future I'll pick it up again and continue the series.

[1] https://bugfender.com/

[2] http://mobilejazz.com/

Downvoted for the unnecessary links to your companies, sorry.

No problem :-)

If you like the idea but lack the ability to build your own van, check out https://www.syncvans.com/. They make some really cool rigs.

Seemed like an interesting and comprehensive site until the HN effect took it down

Ha, it's crushed. I can't read it at the moment, guess I'll try back later.

Here's another website related to this topic: https://www.mylittlebehemoth.com

Anyone have any tips for people who have friends entering the van life? I just want to see one of my best friends be successful in this transition...

#1 tip I see on van life forums -

van life is hard and won't make you magically instagram happy. any unhappiness you have right now you're probably just going to take with you on the road and end up disappointed about the difficult van living.

Flannel, yoga pants, and a cute dog or small child. Don't forget to show off your pearly whites!

I'm not really claustrophobic but as a tall person all these stories about living in a van or a tiny house just make me feel cramped.

https://www.vanlifeprep.com is another good related site

and site is dead

And... its gone. Database error. :-(

You can buy RVs online for $26K

Hmm, oddly-specific number. Is there are a particular site selling a bunch of RVs for $26k each?

For those interested in the lifestyle, check out /r/vanlife on reddit.

There's more people in /r/vandwellers but /r/vanlife is cool, too!

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