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 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.
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.
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.
>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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
This is the toilet in question: https://www.westmarine.com/buy/thetford--porta-potti-135-por...
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.
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.
Or worse, you get the inconsiderate people who will just unload their toilet into the nearest storm drain and make all vandwellers look bad.
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.
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!).
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.
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.)
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.
God forbid someone talks to them about what we do with dog and human baby shit.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
I believe having a urine diverter like most commercial composting toilets have is a must. Urine will make it smell.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
(Based on my thankfully limited experience plus https://www.reddit.com/r/hitchhiking/comments/41bbde/hitchhi...)
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. 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, which clearly is an example of "it's funny (and sad) because it's true".
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 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'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.
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.
If you look you can find RV's that are built to last. The vast majority are built as cheaply as possible though.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Having access to all the comforts all the time is for the part of your life spent in civilization.
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.
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.
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.
My road trip has been going on 2429 days. Couldn't do it in a van, but a 25 foot Airstream is surprisingly comfortable.
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.
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.
Carry baby wipes to hit the "hot spots" when you can't shower.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It sounds like you have something against poor people living in vehicles?
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.
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.
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.
I could be wrong. I'm known for being a pessimist, no doubt.
"Look at me and my bikini-clad wife! (and please buy the solar panel kit I sell through my web store)"
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To be clear this isn't a value judgement, but perhaps a point to consider when thinking about trying this lifestyle.
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.
Edit: It looks like we gave this website the loving hug of death. It says “Error establishing database connection” now.
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.
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) . 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.
Its really not that great. A proper bed is usually far better. Toilet facilities are also a bonus.
Wait until you hear about beds!
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.
Here's a mirror: https://web.archive.org/https://divineontheroad.com/build-a-...
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.
What we used in our VW camper in winter was an indoor-safe propane heater: http://www.mrheater.com/little-buddy-heater.html
Made-in-China diesel heaters are <$200 on eBay and there are reasonable reviews on Youtube.
site seems slow or down here's cache
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 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.
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.