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Back on the Coast

Back on the Coast

Monday, March 31, 2008

VW Camper Van Interiors

I'm looking at some of the design aspects of the old original VW's, and seeing how I can incorperate them into my van. My Aerostar is very compact, so I need to organize everything so it will maximize space usage.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Applying the Zen of Simplicity to Moving Into a Van

Simplicity. Streamlining. Organization. Minimalism. If you've read my blog for very long, these buzz words are repeated again and again, ad nauseum. Sorry about that, but that's the way it goes. I believe it's a requirement for vandwelling. Why?

When you live in a basic apartment, your floor space is around 500 square feet, with a 10 foot high ceiling. When you live in a van, your floor space is around 50 square feet, with maybe a 4 and a half foot high ceiling. Apartment interior volume is 5,000 cubic feet; van interior volume is a paltry 225 cubic feet. Compared to your apartment, a van has only approx. 5% of the interior volume to contain the belongings you need to function. Only 5%! So, you've got to get rid of a lot of stuff. But how?

Like most people, you've probably spent a lifetime obtaining furniture, electronic gizmos, cooking/dining stuff, clothes, and so on. We are conditioned from birth that the acquisition of belongings is key to the pursuit of happiness. Well, it certainly creates happiness to the companies that make and sell stuff. But, it creates more expenditures for you to purchase, store, maintain, insure and protect this plethora of belongings. Do we own the stuff, or does it own you?

The shedding of unnecessary belongings is key to minimalist simplicity, especially when vandwelling. Unless you can store this stuff for little or no money, it doesn't make sense to keep it. There is no room, it won't work, it won't fit; so it's got to go somewhere. I'm lucky because I have lots of free storage options at my folks, family and friends. I've got boxes and furniture stored all over. But, for the most part, you and I should probably just sell/give away what we don't really use any more.

When I first approached the fining process of moving into my van, I tried to do it from the top down. In other words, I looked over the stuff in my apartment to see what could work. It was overwhelming 'cuz there was so much stuff I wanted to have/keep. This method was not working. Instead, I went out and sat in my van and began to visualize.

I temporarily forgot about all the stuff in the apartment and focused on the van interior. I created some short lists of what I needed to live in the van. Clothing, bedding, toiletries, food basics and van maintenance were the important categories. Some categories had seasonal considerations, like clothing. For the moment, I ignored entertainment because I live in a minivan, space is a premium and entertainment is a luxury, not a requirement. I created a simple layout, which would define storage capacity and systems necessary for cooking, cleaning and clothing. I filled out the short lists, so I could define specifically what I could get by with. Later, when these requirements were met, I could evolve or add to suit my personal wants and needs. But at least, I had a starting point.

Armed with the lists defining what was needed in the van, I went back into the apartment. Wow. Look at all the shit I have. This is what happened.

1/ Furniture - Almost guaranteed, 99.99% of the furniture you have won't work in the van. It won't fit, it doesn't incorporate storage in it's design, it's the wrong shape. Sometimes people use an old couch or hide-a-bed in their larger cargo vans. But then there's no storage underneath, and it takes up a lot of valuable space, only you can decide what right for you. Maybe a small side table or small bookshelf can be used, but remember that most van walls are curved on the sides, so placement is key. In my minivan, all my furniture was not applicable. So, it had to be stored, sold or gave away.

2/ Electronic gizmos - Television, home stereo, desktop computer and printer, microwave and so on. Anything that operates on 120 Volts AC is non-operational in your van, unless you have shore power, or a generator/house battery system. Even then, these items are usually too big and not very power efficient for van based systems. You might be able to use some of it, but that depends on where you live/park your van, ie. access to continuous/occasional shore power. If you need this stuff in your life, you will probably be looking at new systems, which are designed for vans. For me, my van interior didn't have the layout or space for using any of this stuff, so I stored, sold or gave it away. The computer system I set up at my parents' place, I'm there almost weekly because they need my help.

3/ Cooking/Dining wares - Pull out everything from the cupboards, and probably 80-90% of what you have, you won't need anymore. There's too much, it's too big, you won't be having 6 people over for dinner, and so on. But, you will have some key things for a minimal kitchen setup, so you use what works. The rest, store, sell or give away.

4/ Clothing - For the van, I have a set of clothing I use year round, which covers basics for both work and play. I have two subsets of seasonal clothing, one for the warmer season and one for the cooler season. I don't have the room to keep it all in the van, so I store the out of season clothing subset somewhere else. What works for you, only you can decide.

5/ Everything else - If it doesn't fit, or work within, store, sell or give away. You have only so much space to work with, so you can only do what you can. For me, I store my guitars at my friends' studio (keep one acoustic in the van); I go to a gym and hike for exercise, gave away my bike (no room); books are kept to a minimum and rotated (stored if kept or given away and library).

Store, sell or give away. Only 10% or so of what you had before, you will be able to use when in the van, so reduce, reduce, reduce. You can always add more later, as your new lifestyle evolves. Because of space restrictions, only items which are functional, spatial and of importance will work out.

Unless you can store items for free, you are paying a premium on their worth. Unless the item is irreplaceable because of sentimental or collectible reasons, it may be false economy to store things for a long time. A friend of mine has had a storage locker for ten years, and for $10k worth of stuff, he has paid out over $10k in storage fees; a poor decision I think. You may lose some money now, by selling something cheaply, but you can always get similar replacement items later.

Reorganize and streamline. As you move into the van, your daily routines and possessions will evolve into what works. As you morph into a modern nomad, streamline these routines and possessions into just what you have to do and need. Then you are free to be your new self, a vandweller.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Four Laws of Simplicity & How to Apply Them to Life

Article written by Leo Babauto, Author of the popular blog, Zen Habits.
Published here by expressed permission via uncopywrite

ed.note - Living in a van forces you to minimize your possessions. Little space means little amount of stuff. Minimalism is key. Read through the article. Next blog post, I'll talk about my experience with regards to simplicity for vandwelling.

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." - Leonardo da Vinci

The problem with many books and guides on simplifying your clutter, your work life, your desk, your life, is that they are usually too darn complicated.

We need a simple method of simplifying.

It's been nearly a decade since I first started trying to simplify my life, and in those years I've struggled with clutter. I've had surges and ebbs of complications and simplicity. I've tried dozens of methods of simplifying from as many sources. It's been an interesting journey, although not one that I can recommend to everyone. If you're looking to simplify a certain aspect of your life, you don't want to go through that kind of confusion.

So, I've boiled it down to a simple method of Four Laws of Simplicity, that you can use on any area of your life, and in fact on your life as a whole:

1. Collect everything in one place.

2. Choose the essential.

3. Eliminate the rest.

4. Organize the remaining stuff neatly and nicely.

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." - Confucius

To illustrate, let's take a quick look at how to declutter a drawer. Let's say this is the worst junk drawer in your home - it has take-out menus from restaurants that closed down a dozen years ago, manuals for computers that used DOS as their primary OS, tools that you have no idea how to use, more rubber bands, paper clips and chopsticks that you can ever use, mementos from your unfortunate foray into rubber stamp hobbying, souvenirs from that Mexico City trip you'd rather forget about, not to mention a funky smell that reminds you of gym class.

You could spend all day sorting through such a mess and still have a mess. (Or more likely, you'll close the drawer and forget about it.) But let's see how the 4-step method would be applied to our drawer:

1. Collect. Take out everything and put it in a pile. Empty the entire drawer, and pile it all on a counter or a table. Take everything out, down to the last paper clip.

2. Choose. Pick out only the few things you love and use and that are important to you. Just sort through the pile, picking out the really essential stuff. Be very selective. Put the important stuff you pick out into a separate, smaller pile.

3. Eliminate. Toss the rest out. You know you'll never need those manuals again. Don't be sentimental with step. Either throw everything into a big trash bag, or find a new home for some of the items if you think someone might have a use for them - donate them to charity or give them to a friend who would love them. And yes, you have to toss out all the chopsticks.

4. Organize. Put back the essential things, neatly, with space around things. Clean the drawer out first, of course, and put the very small pile of things you chose back in the drawer, grouping like things together and leaving space around the groups. Having space around things makes everything look neater and simpler.

That's it. You now have a very nice, simplified junk drawer, with (let's hope) a much less funky smell.

This simple method can be applied to every area of your life. My suggestion is to focus on one area at a time, apply the method, and then move to the next area. So, if you just wanted to simplify a couple of areas of your life, you could focus on one per week, but if you wanted to simplify your entire life, I'd do one area every couple of days until you're done.

Here are some examples of how you could apply the above method to other areas of your life:

Closets. Focus on one area of the closet at a time - a shelf at a time for instance. Take everything off the shelf and put it in a pile on the floor. Pick out only the really important stuff that you love and use. Put the rest in a box to donate. Put the important stuff back on the shelf, grouping like things together and leaving space around the groups. Or just leave the shelves fairly empty, and get rid of most of your stuff. Move on the next area. My suggestion is to leave the floor of your closet clear - it makes it look much nicer and simpler.

Your desk. Clear everything off the surface of your desk (excepting perhaps, your computer and phone). For the surface of the desk, I would suggest only putting your inbox and nice photo or two, and nothing else. Put supplies in a drawer, and file the papers. Toss out the rest. Then do the drawers of your desk the same way, one at a time, leaving space in each drawer. It's so much more relaxing to work in a simplified environment. After you're done with the desk, do your walls.

Your work tasks. Have a long to-do list (or a bunch of long context lists)? Spend a little time adding every task or project you can think of to your lists, until it's as complete as you can. then choose only the tasks that you really want to do, or that will give your the absolute most long-term benefit, and put those on a separate, shorter list. The rest of the stuff? See if you can eliminate them, or delegate them, or at least put them on a someday/maybe list to be considered later. then only focus on your short list, trying to choose the three most important things on the list to do each day.

Your commitments. Make a list of all your commitments in your life, from work to personal. Include hobbies, clubs, online groups, civic groups, your kids' activities, sports, home stuff, etc. Anything that regularly takes up your time. Now pick out the few of those that really give you value, enjoyment, long-term benefits. Toss the rest, if possible. It might be difficult to do that, but you can get out of commitments if you just tell people that you don't have the time anymore. This will leave you with a life that only has the commitments you really enjoy and want to do. Leave space around them, instead of filling up your life.

Your wardrobe. Do you really need 40 T-shirts? Or 40 pairs of shoes? How many jeans do you actually wear? One drawer or section of your closet at a time, put everything on your bed in a pile, choose the clothes your really love and actually wear on a regular basis, donate the rest, and put the ones you love back in your drawers or closet. Leave space around the clothes - don't stuff your drawers full.

A room. If you'd like to simplify your cluttered rooms, start with the furniture. Which ones do you love and use? Get rid of the rest. Now clear every flat surface in the room, from counters to tables to shelves to desktops. Choose the stuff you love, and get rid of the rest. Leave the flat surfaces as clear as possible, only putting back a few choice objects. Now do the drawers and cabinets the same way. Also do everything on your floor that's not a piece of furniture, leaving the floor as clear as humanly possible.

Your email inbox. Have an email inbox full of clutter? Dump all your emails in your inbox into a folder. Scan through the folder, choosing only a few to reply to and putting those in a separate folder. Delete or archive the rest.

"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness. " - Henry David Thoreau

ed.note - Next post, I'm going to discuss how the premise and methodology described in this article are fundamental to vandwelling. Simplification is freedom.

Cheers, Urban Vandweller

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Seven Things - You don't need or want to Know about Me.

I just got back into town from some revelry up in Whistler over the holiday, and found I've been tagged by Tara, the Hobo Stripper (see cool links). Apparently, I'm mysterious, but, after these secrets are revealed, so much for being so. Actually, I think I'm pretty normal (Ha, ha, says the laughing boy), for a vandwelling, nomadic type that is. So, here goes.

1/ I'm single, but not for lack of trying. I've been engaged three times, and disengaged three times. I've been common law three times, and uncommon lawed three times. All these relationships were healthy and ended well, they just didn't stand the test of time. Maybe I am supposed to be single, I don't know, it's just life. But, I'm a father and grandfather from none of those six women.

2/ I seem to have a cosmic connection with exotic dancers; not by intention, just by circumstance. The mother of my daughter was a dancer, but we didn't really date, except enough to procreate (long story). From this connection, I am related to my two best friends from high school (over 35 years); we call ourselves, the 'evil cousins'. As well, my third fiance was a dancer before I knew her.

3/ Unlike many vandwellers on the forum (Vandwellers'), I'm comfortable no matter where I live. What I mean is, many of them feel uncomfortable in conventional housing, ie. house, apartment. I just live where I live, go with the flow, so it doesn't really matter to me. I'm more concerned with the lay of the land, the environment. For now, vandwelling suits my purposes, but things always evolve. I just don't want to pay rent, as much as possible, anymore. Bad investment in my eyes, paying off someone else's mortgage.

4/ To me, work is work. It's just a means to an end. I don't think work defines a person, their character does. I don't care what I do, as long as I don't hurt anyone. I do try to work smart, decent money for reasonable amount of effort, but if I didn't have to work, I wouldn't miss it. I could keep myself very busy without having to work for a living, just work for my own life.

5/ I love music. Almost all types; I'll check out anything to appreciate what a friend wants me to hear. But, I like classic rock, blues, jazz, old school R&B and soul (60's, 70's Motown), the most. I also play guitar and jam with friends.

6/When it comes to work, I'm very responsible. When it comes to my personal life, I tend to procrastinate and be somewhat lazy. I should get my act together and reverse this stupid trend (tomorrow!).

7/ According to the Zodiac, I was born under the sign of Taurus. According to the Chinese calender, I was born in the year of the Dog, specifically I'm an Earth Dog. I fit the characteristics of these descriptors, more or less, but I like having lots more fun than is usual for these signs.

Now, I've got to tag others - I just have to figure out whom. Later ;-)

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Moron Brothers - Floatin' River Shack

I just think this simple lifestyle is great; geetar n' livin' on the river. Now, if I could put pontoons on the van ... hmmm ... ;-)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Living and Workin' when Vandwelling

Lately, I've been seeing queries on the Vandweller's forum about work and jobs that can be done when vandwelling. The talk seems to center around campground work and things you can do when travelling from place to place. While this definitely works for one crowd, I believe there are many choices available to the vandweller. In fact, I think vandwelling provides a distinct advantage for some situations. I can't think what job couldn't be performed by a vandweller, as long as they were up to the challenge.

Way back, I mentioned how I am finding a lot of work which is temporary in nature. A six month management contract in a summer resort, followed by a one year administration contract in a big city and now a winter doing home renovations on a rural island, has had me jumping from place to place. Sometime this spring, I'm going to look up more work in another big city, but commute weekly back to the rural island, to provide home care for my elderly parents. Although all this work is within a certain region, there would have been no point to have a fixed home, like an apartment or house. I wouldn't have been there for the majority of the time. I would not have been available to take advantage of the opportunities that I did, because my work life was fixed in one specific area, due to conventional housing.

I think you can work almost any type of position or career when vandwelling. The only thing stopping you is working out the details or putting out the effort involved. Granted the challenges are definitely there, and it's not the easiest way to go. People in North America are used to having large homes to spread their tons of belongings all over. The fact is, we don't need all that stuff. Stereos, TV's, gizmos, tons of clothes and on and on, junk up our lives. Do we really need all this stuff? NO!!! Now, I agree that I have more stuff that what fits in my van. That's fine, there's lots of conventional buildings for me to store things in. But, it's amazing how little we can get by with, when it comes to day to day life. That's what I like to do when vandwelling, streamline my possessions to just what is needed to facilitate my basic needs.

For working when living in a van, streamlining and methodical approach are key to success. Whatever system that works for you is great. But, that needs to worked out for each and every unique situation. For example, it was an interesting and complex routine that I worked out, when I worked in an metro office for a year. Daily, I had to feed myself, shit, shower, shave and present myself at the office in a clean, pressed outfit. In a van, these things take much longer than in an apartment. I went to a fitness club for the personal grooming. I went to a laundromat for washing and pressing my office clothes. I went to city parks for tailgate morning breakie and evening meals. I arrived early and left late for work, so I could slip easily in and out of the office, avoiding too much personal contact with my co-workers. My feeling was, if people weren't going to be coming to my home, why should they know I was living in a van. Doesn't make any difference to them, but could involve major complications for me. No thanks!

But one of the great things about this lifestyle is the weekend. When you feel like taking off, all you do is make sure you got some gas and food, then go!! No packing, you are all ready in the first place. So right after your last shift you split. Easy, peasy...

The other neat thing about vandwelling is taking advantage of what an area has to offer. Most people work their workweek, more or less going back and forth from work to home. Once you get home after work, quite often all you want to do is hang out. So, you don't go out. To the gym, the park, movie or jam nite at the pub, your friends' or families' place. You cocoon instead. When you live in a van, you are already out, so it's no bother. You bounce around and see, do, visit, play and live lively. Work hard and play hard!!!

I imagine if you tried to work lots of insane hours in a week, like 50 or more, living in a van would be tedious and very arduous. You may not get enough rest because your routine would be too demanding, without enough personal time to relax and just live. One great aspect about temporary contracts, is that there are always breaks between positions. A couple of weeks or months off in between, allow for a constant flow of holidays for travel and fun. Usually, you have the extra funds available because vandwelling is a cheaper lifestyle than most.

I've lived most of my adult life in a rather nomadic way, and it was only an eventuality that I would become a vandweller. Back when I worked a summer at one resort, a ski season at another, I just fell into being a vandweller in between, roaming, visiting and bouncing around. In the last couple of years, events just worked out in such a way, that again it made sense. So there ya' go. Life is an adventure, so if it seems a little crazy to live this way, so what. I love this alternative lifestyle, for now. Maybe you will too.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ideas for Van Renovations

Over the winter, I've been pondering different ideas for renovation of my van interior. I have an extended '89 Ford Aerostar, which is very compact when compared to other vans, even a Chevy Astro. I've been just using a platform bed, foam mattress over a plywood base. But, although there is lots of storage underneath, the layout doesn't allow for sitting in that area as well. Also, the storage area gets jumbled as well, and I'd like to organize it. I'd like to have everything in it's place and maximize the usage of the limited space.

The sketch to the left shows the basic design I'm thinking about. It's the basic plan, where the table will lower and become a nice size bed. The cushions are the brown areas and the yellow areas are the cabinets, table/bed shelf and the extensions off the back cabinet (top view only). The first side profile shows the table up in place, and one of the hinged seat cushions raised to allow access to the storage box base. The middle side profile shows the bed made up with the table shelf lowered and a cushion on top. The three cushions, used for seating/bed, will be 4" thick foam covered with some kind of material. In both the top two profiles, you can see a floating smaller cushion. This actually a side view of a bench back, which will be cushioned with maybe a 2" foam slab. It will go right across the back and be fixed in place. The lower profile is a top view. It shows the bed made up with cushions in place, the bench back (solid brown) in place between the two side extensions. The outer grey area is the floor space, with the back of the van to the left. I'm going to put some shelves between the extensions at the back, so there will be more storage and the kitchen pantry. Underneath, the seating boxes will be storage for clothing and bedding.

I thought about the design you see in VW camper vans, with the couch seat that folds flat into a bed. But, I think I'll get more options for storage with this layout and the spacing wasn't quite there for the VW design. Too bad. I liked that idea a lot.

With this plan, I can put tall stuff like the cooler and the propane bottle at the back, and the extension shelving (not shown) will clear them. I'll have a sliver of open floor to get in and out the side door, and the raised table won't be the full width of the seating for easy access. There will be a gap around the bed, so bedding will drape over the sides. I think this will be the way to go, we'll see.

I have a fully furbished interior in my Eddie Bower version, with carpeting, side and ceiling liners. I thought about putting in a plywood floor, but I don't really need one. The carpeting, while nice, gets dirty and damp, so I want something different. I'm thinking about a rubber mat over some underlay, which will fit nice with the side liners and cleanup easily with some insulating aspects. Behind the side liners, I want to insulate somewhat, but I've gotta take them off and decide for sure. I'm designing some new covers for the back area windows, to replace the painted reflectix old ones. I'm going to check out the ceiling liner; I believe it has a foam insulating layer there already, but I'm thinking about putting a reflective foil layer to combat summer heat. Along the same lines, I thinking of a layer of reflectix behind the side liners, for some insulation and to reflect summer heat. Also, a new curtain behind the rear seats, and ones fashioned for the side door and the back doors are desirable.

I've wanted a ventilation system for the back for a while. When I operate the van, the ventilation system in place is great. But, when parked, unless I open the side windows, the back gets stuffy. Opening the side windows is fine if you are parked legally, but when stealth parking or for security is not a good option. So, I'm thinking about a low amperage, axial fan mounted in the back, which will be very quiet. It will change the air volume in the van in about 5 minutes, and draw very little current. I'm also thinking about maybe some interior van lighting, and reserve power capacity for a laptop. So, a house battery system is probably going to be necessity.

These are a few of the ideas I'm bouncing around for the van. The beauty of these renos is that I can do 99% of them myself. Which is a great savings! I want to maximize the utility of the back area, for storage, sleeping and seating. I want to insulate a little more, for both heat retention and summer heat reflection. I want to have the window covers easily removable, but still cover for stealth at night. And finally, it looks like I'm leaning toward a house battery system, for some creature features.

Oh, well, let's see what I come up with!!! Later ;-)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Current Events - March '08

Well, here we are, just passing the ides of March. Winter is waning and spring is coming on strong here in Coastal BC. We have started to get warmer days and in some places the cherry trees are blossoming. I love the first day, when you can really feel the warmth of spring, and it's just around the corner. Time to get off my ass from just working and hibernating from the winter. Time to get back to fanciful thoughts of vanism.

I've been living in the Gulf Islands over the winter, bartending, renovating homes and taking care of my parents. They are very elderly and require lots of help. So, I can't fully leave here. So, for the foreseeable future, I believe that I will spending the weekdays wherever I'm working, and then weekends back home. Fortunately, vandwelling will work perfectly for this constant back and forth routine.

I'm finally going to get around to doing a proper build-out to my van. Well, proper to me that is. I plan to post a series of blogs about this, with photos and various advice/commentary. I wish I was doing a couple of different vans at the same time because there are so many ways you could do it. Everyone has their own needs, wants and necessities, depending on how and where they live. That's the cool thing of vandwelling, there are so many options and ways you can do it. The variety of different ways, people do the same basic lifestyle, never ceases to amuse me. On that note, the way I will be doing my van will suit me, so there you go.

I've always believed in a minimalist approach, so the build-out will reflect that. I am still considering details, the type of insulating, the cabinetry to provide seating and bed in the same area, whether to have a house battery system, etc. I've always just done what I had to, so this van reno will reflect the same premise. Some folks like to go all out, but unless you really need it, I think there is no need. Of course, depending on where you live, you will require more insulation and maybe heating, but that is something you will need to address. I am fortunate, that is not the case for me, so my build-out will not be the end-all-or-could-be.

I hope that the upcoming spring will find all well for you and yours.

Cheers, Urban Vandweller

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Nice Day in a VW T5 Camper

Funny - The model is called 'The California'; but it's not available in North America!!! Dumb...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

5 Powerful Reasons to Drive Slower, and How to Do It

Article Written by Leo Babauto of the popular blog, Zen Habits
Published here by expressed permission via uncopywrite

ed.note - I thought this article was 'in tune', with the fuel economy series I've posted recently. Take it for what it's worth to you. I've been driving like this for a long time now; not that I'm sane, but it's helped my sanity.

Cheers, Urban Vandweller

I drive slower these days. While I used to be a bit of a driving maniac (ask my wife), passing everybody and stepping hard on my accelerator, I would also get increasingly frustrated when people would drive slow and keep me from driving fast, or cut me off. Driving was a stressful experience.

Not anymore. These days, driving is a much more calm, serene experience, and I enjoy it much more.

I look around at other drivers and wonder whether they really need to get to where they're going so fast, and whether they'll slow down when they get there. I wonder if it's really worth burning all that gas and getting so angry and risking so many lives. And then I think about other things, because driving for me has become a time of contemplation.

I heartily recommend driving slower - for many reasons, but one of the best reasons is that is has made me a much happier person. It's such a simple step to take, but it makes an incredibly big difference.

Recently, a reader named Vadim wrote to me with the following comment on speeding:

I have recently acquired a TomTom GPS in car navigator. Amongst its many astonishing features, it has a display on it that shows you your estimated arrival time for the route you are travelling ... Now here is the kicker; I used to routinely travel at 130% of the speed limit everywhere ... I thought that I was keeping myself alert and saving time. My TomTom, however disagreed. In fact, anywhere I travelled (and I routinely drive more than 100 miles), I would only shave off 5-10 minutes of the estimated arrival time! 5-10 minutes of time that is then wasted because I wasn't late to start off with!

Since then, I adopted a new way of driving. I never speed.

I love this comment, and it inspired me to write this post. People often think they're saving time by driving faster, but it's not very much time, and it's not worth your sanity or safety.

Here are just 5 reasons to drive slower:

1/ Save gas. The best way to save gas (besides driving less or driving a fuel-efficient vehicle) are to avoid excessive idling, execute gradual accelerating and decelerating, and driving slower ( see report on With gas prices so high these days, wasting gas by driving unnecessarily fast is something we can't afford.

2/ Save lives. Driving fast can kill people (including the driver). Two stats: traffic is the biggest single killer of 12-16 year olds. Surprisingly, at 35 mph, you are twice as likely to kill someone you hit as at 30mph. Faster driving gives you a shorter amount of time to respond to something in your path, and even a fraction of a second can mean the difference between life and death. Drive slower for your safety and that of those around you ... especially drive slow around runners, cyclists, schools, and neighborhoods with kids on the streets.

3/ Save time? As Vadim pointed out is his email, while you think you're saving time by driving faster, it's not a lot of time. And that small amount of time you're saving isn't worth it, considering the other factors on this list. Better yet, start out a few minutes early and you'll arrive at the same time as someone who drove faster but started later but started later, and you'll arrive much happier than that person to boot.

4/ Save your sanity. The above three reasons are very important ones, but for me the most noticeable difference has been the huge drop in stress levels when I drive. Far from being a crazy experience, driving is actually a relaxing and pleasant experience now. I no longer get road rage, because I simply don't care whether other drivers are going slow or cutting me off.

5/ Simplify your life. This is related to the one above, but expanded. In addition to saving your stress levels, driving slower can reduce many other complications as well - the headache of accidents and speeding tickets, for one, going to the gas station too often, for another, but also the hectic pace of life. Why must we rush through life? Slow down and enjoy life more. If we're always in a hurry to get places, when will we get to our destination and finally be happy? Life is a journey - make it a pleasant one.

OK, assuming that you want to drive slower, here are some of the tips that worked best for me:

Play relaxing music. My favourite is anything by Jack Johnson or Ben Harper. But anything that relaxes you is good.

Ignore other drivers. This was my problem before. I cared so much about what the other drivers were doing, that it would stress me out. At times, it would cause me to drive faster to spite other drivers (awful, I know). Now, I just ignore them. Well, I pay attention so I don't crash into anyone, but I don't worry about what they're doing or how dumb they are.

Leave early. If you speed because you're running late, make it a habit of getting ready early and leaving early. Now you don't have to worry about being late, and you can enjoy the ride.

Keep to the right. If you drive slower than the other crazy drivers out there, it's wise to keep out of their way if possible and keep to the right. While I tend to ignore other drivers who might get mad at me for driving slow (I don't care about them anymore), it's good to be polite.

ed.note - Whether polite or not, I believe in operating safely. Don't impede traffic if possible; flow with the pace of traffic in certain situations; let that jackass that's tailgating you, get past you. Sometimes, it's worth your peace of mind, to not create road rage in others.

Enjoy the drive. Most of all, make your drive a pleasant experience - remember that the ride is just as important as the destination.

ed.note - I believe that safe driving is something that a lot of people take for granted. Until they have an accident or stress attack. I drive according to this simple maxim - 'Drive to Arrive Alive'. Works for me! ;-)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fuel Economy Part Four: Vehicle Choice

The most decisive part you have in determining your fuel economy, is the actual vehicle you drive. The vehicle defines what range of MPG you will get. An forum poster recently said he didn't save any money living the 'mobile' lifestyle; no wonder, he drove a palatial RV (poor fuel economy) and he stayed at RV parks (nightly fee). With today's rising fuel costs, this choice is extremely important to your pocket book.

You'll have to research which choice will get you the MPG you want. is an excellent place to start; there are lots of EPA ratings for different vehicles (basic vans and trucks). Talk to lots of people, investigate informative forums and and web sites. I drive a Ford, so I check out for mechanical advice and general information. There are similar forums for Chevy, Dodge, etc.

The basic vehicle choices are:

1/ Minivan - Obviously, the minivan will get you the best mileage. My two favourite choices are the Chevy Astro and the Ford Aerostar. Although no longer built, they are commonplace, cheaper to buy and roomy inside. They also get decent gas mileage. Some 'Vandwellers' forum posters have been getting 25 -26 MPG (highway) with their Astro's and I've been getting 23-24 MPG (highway) with my Aerostar.

2/ Full-size Van - With your basic Ford Econoline or Chevy van, you'll get 13-14 MPG around town and 17-18MPG on the highway. You get better MPG with a small block V6 or V8 engine choice. Some forum posters like an older Dodge van with a 318 cu. in. V8; they claim getting 21MPG on the highway. Another forum poster gets the same with a older Ford van with a in-line six cylinder 300 cu. in. engine. Research before you buy, so you can get what you need.

3/ Camper or Conversion Van - These fully modified vehicles on full size van chassis are much more heavier than a regular, lightly kitted-out full size van. With more weight comes less gas MPG. These vehicles usually get around 10 MPG in the city and 15 MPG on the highway. If you drive a lot, you'll be paying out more money for your gas bill.

4/ RV or Motor home - Huge vehicle, huge gas bill. When you get only 7-8 MPG in the city and maybe 10 MPG on the highway, you'll be paying out lots of money at the pump. You pay for gas if you want the palatial palace on wheels.

There seems to be some relief at the pumps, if you choose a vehicle that uses alternative fuels. I'm not going to go into detail, just make some basic comments.

A/ Diesel and Bio-diesel - There is lots of talk about using diesel-powered vehicles these days. If you are buying a new technology vehicle, they will get great gas mileage, fine. But, older diesel vans don't seem to get really great gas mileage; not when you factor in the higher price tag, higher operational costs, higher fuel costs, higher cost to rebuild the engine if necessary. For a lot of situations, I don't really see the savings. If you are going to go this way, crunch the numbers first to see if it works for you.

A lot of people are talking about bio-diesel. You can make your own and save a lot of money. Well in my area, I know 3 people that used to do just that. Not any more! The commercial recyclers now scoop up all the restaurant sources of cooking oil, and sell it as commercial bio-diesel or bio-fuel for home heating. My friends can't get the used cooking oil for making bio-diesel anymore. It's only a matter of time, that this will probably be commonplace in most jurisdictions. Besides, it would be a fair bit of work to process bio-diesel yourself.

B/ Propane - In my jurisdiction, propane is still a reasonable alternative. It's available everywhere, and is relatively still priced cheaply, when compared to gasoline. But, your vehicle has to fitted out to work with propane and conversion will cost a hefty bill (4 thousand dollars or so). It would be great to find a vehicle which was factory equipped for dual fuel (gas and propane) and then purchase it for a reasonable price. In my area, running propane saves you 30% per mile driven. But, depending on taxes levied or fuel pricing, this advantage could be wiped out overnight or not even available in your area (no savings in Quebec, for example). Too bad, it's a cleaner automotive fuel choice.

A 'Vandwellers' forum member mentioned he has sold his van and now drives a fuel efficient station wagon with a small trailer (when necessary). He does this because his conversion van used a lot of fuel. I curious to see how he does. Obviously, when he just drives the wagon, he'll save gas. But, I doubt he'll save any gas when driving the full rig; towing anything uses lots of gas. There would be operational difficulties as well, like parking for example. I like just using a van only, as everything is in the van and easier to deal with.

Just to portray how different MPG ratings can affect your budget, I'm going to use a comparison. Last year, I went on a 11,300 mile cross country van trip in Canada. With my Aerostar, my fuel bill was approx. $2400 for the trip. If I had driven a lightly kitted Ford Econoline, I figure it would have been around $3100. Not bad, when you consider the extra space. With the average camper or conversion van, it would have been $3900 (oh, oh!). With a full RV, it would have been in the range of $5800!!!; over twice my cost. So you can see, which vehicle you get in the first place, will decide how much fuel you pay for.

ed.note. - The MPG ratings used are in US gallons; multiply by 1.2 for CAN gallons.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

V W future camper

Very cool concept - integral solar power rooftop with hybrid diesel powerplant. Uber Vandweller!!!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Fuel Economy Part Three: Driving Technique

The nice thing about this aspect of fuel economy, is that everyone can take advantage of these suggestions right away. You don't have to spend money, or fix/modify your vehicle. The only thing stopping you from doing them is yourself and your old driving habits. But, unless you are wealthy, you may want to try some of these simple methods.

1/ Slow Down - Hey, where's the fire?!!! Everyone seems to rush around and hurry up to go nowhere fast. All this speeding and fast acceleration only burns up more gas. Eventually, you'll have to decide; do I really need to arrive slightly earlier and all wound up, or do I just want to relax, cruise and save money. Your call, your money and sanity.

Most vehicles get their maximum gas mileage around 55 MPH (approx. 90 KmH); that's why in the 1970's Oil Embargo, the USA lowered the highway speed limits to 55 MPH, in order to conserve the nation's gas supply. Now it seems like a lot of the main highways both South and North of the US/CAN Border, require speeds of 60-70 MPH (approx. 100-110 KmH) or more. You don't want to hold back traffic by driving too slowly, it could be dangerous and/or illegal. Maybe that'll mean it could be better to take secondary highways, that don't add too many extra miles in distance, instead of speeding on the major freeway.

In BC, Canada, I'm lucky because most of the highways have a speed limit of 55 MPH or 90 Kmh due to mountainous terrain; this is the speed I get the best gas mileage for my van. Vans, with their boxy, non-aerodynamic shape, create a lot of air drag at high speeds. Any speeds above 55-60 MPH will result in reduced gas mileage. While some vehicles may not follow this trend exactly, most will.

2/ Cruise Control - While on the highway, use your speed control when you can. It will do a better job at holding you at a steady speed, which is good for fuel economy. But, that cruise control doesn't work very good over hilly or mountain terrain; learn what works best for your van. I find it's better on certain hills to turn off 'cruise', gear down and rev the engine a little, just like I would with a standard tranny to climb. What will work for your vehicle, you must find out; just don't bog it down in cruise.

3/ Steady Acceleration - You are driving a van, not a Ferrari. Medium, steady acceleration will get you up to speed without burning too much gas to get there. There is a study somewhere I read that disagrees with this, but for the most part, this is the agreed upon method.

4/ Minimal Braking - When you use your brakes, you waste the momentum you built up by burning gas. So, use your gas pedal as your first braking action. If you speed up to a stop light, and brake heavily, you waste gas. Anticipate the traffic ahead, coast up to the stop light by taking your foot off the gas and brake when you have to. You'll save gas. If you are coming into a corner where you need to slow down, first take your foot off the gas to slow down before you brake to negotiate the turn, instead of just using your brakes to slow down. Don't tailgate; when you're riding someone's bumper, you are constantly speeding up and braking. This is a waste of gas and bad driving practice.

5/ Using your Transmission - The gearing in your tranny and rear end with different engine speeds will create specific optimum operational settings for fuel economy. As you become more familiar with your vehicle, you'll know what I mean. At certain speeds, you just want to maintain your momentum, with your engine purring at a minimum rpm while not bogging down. If you drive a standard it's easy to do; but you can do it with a automatic, you just have to learn how to manipulate the tranny. Also, with a automatic transmission, sometimes it's important to lock in your torque converter; you don't want your transmission to be searching or changing gears while climbing a hill (especially important). This will prematurely wear out your tranny and waste gas.

6/ Avoid excessive Idling - Idling gets you zero MPG. But, you have to be practical. If you pull off the road for over a minute, stop your engine. When idling in traffic for a long stop light, shift your automatic tranny to neutral; your engine won't be working against the tranny (good for helping keep your engine cooler on very hot days). If you are stopped for over a few minutes by a construction delay, turn off your engine. But, I don't like the idea of turning off my engine for an extra long stop light; it's illegal in some jurisdictions and our vans aren't designed like hybrids, which have engines that turn on and off all the time. In winter, use a timed block heater (if you can) to minimize excessive idling to warm your engine up and defrost your windows.

7/ Wind and Turbulence - Vans and motor homes are not very aerodynamic. The large surface areas create a huge air drag. The blunt front end has to push lots of air aside and the chopped off rear end creates a lot of turbulence which drags from behind. That's why at over 55MPH or so, you start losing fuel efficiency. Believe it or not, strong winds can effect your gas mileage. When driving into strong headwinds, I've lost up to 10% MPG in my van. Likewise, I've gained up to 7% MPG with following tailwinds. So, if you can, you could adjust your long range trips to take advantage of this. Maybe. Also, some people claim that keeping your vehicle clean and waxed will minimize the surface drag of your van, resulting in better mileage. Hmmm, possible.

8/ Remove excess Weight - While this is true, it's very hard when you live in your van to do this. But, I live a somewhat minimalist lifestyle and there are some things you can do. It's up to you to decide what you can do without and what you absolutely need.

9/ Drive less - Combine and plan your trips to minimize miles driven. Walk when the store is only a half mile away. Pick up things when you are driving home from work. Be efficient with your driving.

There are more tactics, like coasting with your engine off or drafting large trucks on the highway, but, I think these ideas are dangerous, irresponsible and probably illegal in most jurisdictions.

There are two tools I use to monitor my gas mileage, that I find very valuable to portray any of my efforts.

A/ Real-time MPG Display - This is something that many new modern vehicles have and I think they are great! They display the instantaneous fuel economy as you operate. You can see how changes in terrain and how you drive effects your MPG. It teaches what things make a little or big difference as they happen. It's helped me quite a lot; it has confirmed a lot of my driving practices and helped me fine tune them.

B/ Mileage Log - I've been keeping MPG vehicle logs for a long time. Again, they help confirm that your efforts are paying off statistically. But, they also show if your vehicle is perhaps losing efficiency due to mechanical failure, before you might have noticed otherwise.

Throughout this series, I've got to remind you that any of these tactics are just part of a overall regimen ( maintenance, operational, purchase decisions) to help reduce your fuel usage. As gas prices jump up, anything you can do to save gas will help. Because we all live in different areas and drive different vehicles, what works for me may not work for you. You have to find out what's best for you.

Next MPG article: Vehicle Choice

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Fuel Economy Part Two: Gas Purchasing

There are ways to save money when purchasing gas, as in where, when and how you do it. Just like purchasing any item, you can save some money if you comparison shop, buy at particular times, use promotional cards or deals, etc. Although the amount of money saved isn't as great as you could with other various purchases (ie. food, clothing), any money saved is a good thing.

1/Price Cycle - Have you ever noticed that gas prices seem to rise and fall on a weekly basis. If you have, that's because they probably do in your area. During the winter ski season and the summer tourist season, gas prices quite often rise slightly on late Thursday or Friday and fall back to their original price on late Monday or Tuesday morning. The same thing happens around long or holiday weekends. That's because the gas outlets know you need to fill up to travel long distances, and take full advantage of your predicament. So, watch your local gas pumps, and if this is the case, fill up during the mid week.

2/ Daily cycle - Gas is measured and sold to you by volumetric quantity (gallons by volume). If you buy your gas when it is cooler, during the later evening, night or early morning, you will be actually getting more bang for your buck. You will actually be buying more volume of gas for the same money, then if you had bought during the warmer part of the day, due to temperature related expansion.

3/ Varying prices due to location - Generally, gas price wars seem to be a thing of the past. But it always occurs that there are certain areas of large cities, or specific towns/cities in a region, where gas is cheaper than the regional or city average. If it is practical, say you don't have to drive far out of your way, or these areas are along the way, take advantage of the lower pricing. is one of several web sites, where you can locate these areas by internet search.

There used to be quite a variance between so-called pay less or bargain gas outlets and the major brands, but I've never liked to purchase gas from these cheaper places. I've bought a tank of bad gas from one, and I tend to stay away from them.

4/ Cash Back Credit Cards - There are several credit cards which give you money back on gas (and other) purchases. One example is the 'Discover Gas Card', which gives you 5% back on gas purchases. Visa has one for cash back on purchases at BP locations, and so on. You'll have to do an internet search on them, and compare all the costs, and features/advantages of particular cards. There are many parameters to consider and compare, so read about all the information carefully. Also, like any credit card, to save money by using them, you must pay off your purchases before interest is accrued!

5/ Big Box Store Gas Clubs - Some big box stores, like the SuperStore in Canada, have gas pumps available as part of their retail product line. So, they quite have a promotional deal where you can join their gas club and purchase gas for a discount. It usually involves that you also purchase something in their store, and you may have a club membership fee. I don't like the idea of tying my gas purchases to anything else, but it may work for you. Again, you have to 'crunch' the numbers and consider the whole deal.

6/ Co-operative Organization - In the region where I will be moving soon, there is a gas and food co-operative store chain. You buy a one-time membership (for $27), which gives you one share in the co-op. Although, they have some food outlets, when you buy gas or home heating fuel from them, they give you an annual rebate. In 2006, the rebate on gasoline was 4.5 cents per litre. Last year, the rebate for gas was 6.0 cents per litre. On a year where I purchase $3,000 worth of gas, I would realize a savings of around $160. Now, if I could purchase the gas with a cash back credit card, and combine the savings for maybe a overall 10% percent savings, that could add up to $300 or more per year saved.

So, take advantage of these ideas, facts and promotional concepts to help you save some money on your gas purchases. Although by themselves you don't save a lot, when you consider the overall savings of comparative shopping (either gas or your vehicle), good vehicular maintenance and driving techniques, you can realize quite a decent savings in your operational costs over the year. Every little bit counts; it adds up to a sizable amount when you consider the price of gas these days.

Next MPG article: Driving Technique

Monday, March 3, 2008

Fuel Economy Part One: Vehicle Maintenence

Fuel economy is a big issue these days. Everyone is feeling the 'pinch' at the gas pump. Governments keep assessing new and higher taxes to automotive fuels; the oil industry seems to always have a reason to increase the price. To top it off, we as vandwellers, operate vehicles that don't have the best miles per gallon (MPG) rating. So, I'm writing this series of articles to help us all get the best gas mileage possible. If anyone has any suggestions I haven't covered, please email me and I will revise these articles.

In this article I'm just going to cover how vehicle maintenance effects fuel economy. Not only does keeping your vehicle properly maintained give you the best performance and safety, it also fetches more MPG. Many vehicle owners quite often reason, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Well, with today's rising fuel cost, that old idea doesn't work anymore. Consider getting manuals for your vehicle for maintenance schedules; at least consult your owner's manuals.

Some maintenance routines listed here are easy and economical to do. Some require more money and probably a mechanic to perform. But, sooner or later, depending on how high mileage and/or how long you keep your vehicle, you may have to do them all. By not keeping your vehicle running properly, you are costing yourself money at the pump and you are polluting the air needlessly. You are going to pay one way or the other; only you can choose what is right.

1/Check and replace your air filter regularly - Replacing a clogged air filter can improve your gas mileage by as much as 10%. Your manual maintenance schedule (MS) will probably say to replace/inspect every 10,000 miles or so; but if you live in a dusty, dirty area, it may get clogged sooner.

2/Replace your fuel filter - A clogged fuel filter can choke the flow of fuel to your engine, causing it to run rough. You can't inspect it, you just got to replace it according to the MS. If you live in an area where you suspect the fuel could be suspect, replace it more often.

3/Renew your engine oil and filter - Refresh your engine oil according to your vehicle MS and always replace your filter when you do it. You can improve your gas mileage by 1 - 2 percent by using the manufacturer's recommended grade. For example, using 10W-30 engine oil in an engine designed for 5W-30 can lower your gas mileage by 1-2 percent. Also, using your oil for too long and allowing it to get real dirty will do the same thing; so stick to the MS and freshen your engine oil regularly. Consider using synthetic oil; it is more slippery, which reduces friction and helps your engine's efficiency.

4/ Clean your fuel injectors - When you change your oil, consider using a fuel additive which cleans your fuel system and maybe once between. This helps reduce carbon deposits on your injectors which hamper them from working properly.

5/ Consider your oxygen sensor - For fuel injected vehicles, the oxygen sensor which controls your fuel/air mixture is key. If you have a higher mileage vehicle or a vehicle that was very poorly maintained, your sensor may be dirty or malfunctioning. Check it out, and see if it needs maintenance. An oxygen sensor that is malfunctioning can cause a loss in fuel economy of up to 40%!

6/ Maintain/Replace your sparks plugs and wires, distributor cap and rotor - This is basic ignition maintenance. Refer to the manual MS for inspection and replacement. You need a good spark to 'fire' the fuel properly in your engine.

7/ Inspect and maintain your brake system - Brake systems that are out of adjustment and needlessly dragging will reduce your fuel economy.

8/ Wheel Bearings - In higher mileage vehicles, this is something many people overlook; I guess it's that 'out of sight, out of mind' mentality. But if your bearings aren't lubed or adjusted properly according to your vehicle MS, they can effect the efficiency and safety of your van.

9/ Tire inflation and alignment - You can improve your gas mileage by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.4% for every 1 psi drop in pressure for all four tires. Properly inflated tires are safer, maximize your traction on the road and minimize tire tread wear.

10/ Exhaust system considerations - If your vehicle has high mileage or was poorly maintained, your exhaust system may need some overhauling. Catalytic converters can become plugged with old age, which will restrict your exhaust flow and cause your engine not to perform properly. Also, your original exhaust system is designed to operate with your engine within specific performance perimeters; try to replace components with similar products and sizes.

The basics of vehicle maintenance are paramount to fuel economy; other important factors are gas and vehicle purchasing and driving technique. While each separate area may not affect your MPG much, if several areas are out of specification, it can really add up. You can save a lot of money by doing the work yourself; but, buy good tools, learn how to do the job properly and practise safety. Because I've been working on my own cars for 30+ years, I perform about 90% of the above work myself; the other 10% I take to a shop because I don't have a lift, or the tools, or it's too cold outside. Sometimes it's just not worthwhile to do it yourself; you gotta' make that call. Always be careful when working on your van. If you don't feel confident, don't do it! Take an auto shop course, or at least work with knowledgeable people.

Next MPG article: Gas Purchasing

Sunday, March 2, 2008

It's all our Parent's or Grandparent's fault; Why we are Nomadic Vandwellers!

Thanks to vandwelleruk for finding this! Find his site in 'Cool Links' below.