Search This Blog

Back on the Coast

Back on the Coast

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sign of the Times - And Why We're OK

Above: Unchecked consumerism and corporate greed has lead to the above, a waste of time, effort, and precious natural resources. A modern ghost town!

Wow - The news is just crazed. Economic collapse. Housing market in shambles. The US government wants to give the stupid/greedy bankers, 700 billion taxpayers' dollars to fix their fucked up/fraudulent activity. Oh, wait a minute. No, they don't. Well, maybe there is some sanity somewhere. In Canada, the politicians keep saying that our financial system is more conservative, and won't be effected by the US economic woes. Bullshit! Up here, people/industries are already stumbling, over what's happening down there. But, as vandwellers, we'll be OK. Why?

No one is better prepared to handle economic hard times than we are. We have eliminated the largest expense that most people face, housing. We don't have a mortgage. We don't pay rent. That allows us to allocate money on life-sustaining practises, like food and health care. We don't have the stress of trying to make enough money to juggle all these expenses. We have eliminated approximately 40% or more of a normal person's budget, just by lifestyle.

But, it doesn't stop there. Say, you're in a area which is already in recession mode. There are no jobs in your town/county/state or province. This is happening both in the US and Canada. Just go. Leave tomorrow. Point your van towards somewhere, anywhere, where there are good work prospects. Ones for real! When you live in a van, nothing holds you back. Later, if you want to return, where you've been will still be there. The only difference will be that you are better off both economically and your basic well being. Why? Because you didn't let that area drag you down; you did what was necessary to avoid that downward spiral. Because, as a vandweller, you have the ability to go where the work is, whenever you feel like it. No mortgage, no lease, no furniture, just go.

The other thing is, all these economic hard times and doom and gloom are completely artificially created. In other words, they can be fixed. The economic behaviour of over-spending, credit leveraging, the lifestyle of so many people, both American, Canadian and worldwide, is flawed. It isn't sustainable. Both economically and environmental. So what's happening now was going to anyway. Hopefully, the governments of our countries will start to earn their paychecks and regulate the thievery, plunder and pillage that's been taking place. We'll see.

The fact is, since we are less of a slave to the system, we can skate through these times more easily. Here are some basic tenets of personal fiscal behavior, that may help you.

First, 'Eliminate all personal debt, ASAP!' The worst investment is debt, that is allowed to accumulate by negligence, credit card abuse or whatever. Work, scrimp and save, and pay off that debt. I still have two credit cards. They have their place for emergencies and specific spending practices. But, I pay them off monthly, so I accrue no interest.

Second, "Live within your Means". Simply, make more money than you spend. The reverse ideology (spend more than you make), is the base cause that created these economic woes in the first place. So, don't go there personally. This idea is as old as the hills. But, it still rings true today. It's the basis of true fiscal responsibility. Live your life free from the yoke of debt, as much as possible. By living as a vandweller, and eliminating the enormous cost of conventional housing, you don't have that expense and you have the freedom to go where there is gainful employment.

Third, 'Work'. If you buy food or gas, you need money. In order to 'live within your means', you need income. You may be able to barter your services or something you make for said items, but, unless you live off the land isolated from our society, you need to do something. So, get over it and just do it. Whatever it is, you've got to something to address this need; there's no escape from that fact, unless you are independently wealthy. Deal with it.

Fourth, 'Live frugally'. The less demand you place on your income, the easier it will be to 'live within your means'. You are already well on your way, when you live as a vandweller. But, with some ingenuity and effort, it's amazing how much more you can save along the way. There is so much information about this out there, I'm not going to go into it here. So, unless you want to be a slave to your spending habits, learn how to spend less of your hard earned money.

Fifth, 'Opportunity'. When you live as a vandweller, you have streamlined your lifestyle to the point, where very little stops you from applying yourself to take advantage of opportunity. I have always believed that when there is crisis or disaster, there follows opportunity to create a better place or system/strategies to correct what caused said crisis. So, be apart of that. Apply yourself. Reach out and strive to live that solution. Create opportunity. I've always joked that I am a 'blatant opportunist'. Well, I am.

I'm not a rich man. I'm not a poor man. I'm just a vandweller, a modern nomad, slippin' through the swirling mass of confusion, in an Aerostar.

Above: We do have choices. It's up to us to choose, less is more! It's my path, what's yours?

Monday, September 29, 2008

A New Home

Well, here we go again. A new base. Not that I haven't been or lived here before. Just, not as a vandweller. Plenty of work, living facilities and so on. Lots to do and see and play and eat and work and date and... But, a challenge. To vandwell in a place where the homeless are being criminalized. Cuz', when it comes down to it, vandwellers are essentially considered homeless to the authorities. To exist as a vandweller in this environment, will require stealth to the max. I'll execute an organized cycle of rotating sleeping locations and maintain my appearance and schedule to look basically normal. A chameleon, hidden in plain sight.
Like I said, I've lived here before. People here mostly mind there own business, unless you are close to their homes. Then, they are nosey-parkers, watching through drawn curtains. I'm going to have to pick and choose specific locations and neighborhoods to find that perfect balance of indifference and camouflage. I've already been scouting nightspots, there are plenty and I've spent nights here. But, you've got to keep your eyes and ears open, things change continuously.
So, the new routine begins. New mailing address, change cell phone to local number, decide on sport club for showers and facility, develop driving and parking patterns for sleep, eating, hanging out, work and so on. I'll find parking places where I feel safe, or if I'm leaving the van for a long time, where it probably won't be broken into (with luck). New laundromats, new cheap eats delis and diners, new grocery stores, new gas stations, new everything. Organize. Streamline. Execute.
There's plenty of work. Important. No work, no money. No money, no fun. People I know here are already setting me up. I'm going to be here for years, so I will be seeing how far I can get. An experiment. Maybe, I can get into the government or somewhere they deal with the issues of the homeless. Then one day, I could stand and say, wait a minute, these people aren't helpless, incapable or creative. I've been working beside you for years, and you couldn't tell that I'm homeless. Surprise.
The nice thing is, if I don't like it or it doesn't work out, it really doesn't matter. There is always somewhere else down the road, the next county perhaps. I've spent the last eight months based close by, on a group of islands, with no problems.
I have a network of friends and family, on those islands. Here, I have a small, but very good network of close friends, which is important to my style of vandwelling (see old article, the network, Jan. 21). When the weather turns to the cold, rainy season (our late fall, winter, early spring), I'll have people to visit and share dinner/evenings with. I'll be able to go and visit my folks to help them out on the weekends. I'll be able to visit my buddy, Eric, and play my guitars and amps (stored there for safekeeping and convenience) in his studio. My network is important for socializing, variety and sanity.
My van is too small to be holed up in on a continuous basis, during the rainy season. There is no problem during the warmer part of the year; you can hang outdoors and be comfortable. So, I take advantage of all the conventional buildings in my area. I just try to pay minimally for the usage, you could say.
If you stay cooped up in your van, you will emanate that behaviour. Be social. Venture out and about. You'll fit in with the area more, and attract less unwanted attention. Just remember to maintain your specific level of privacy. This lifestyle requires you to somewhat operate on a need-to-know basis. Only certain people need-to-know that you are a vandweller. NO one else does, so why bother going there. It can possibly result in hassle, problems or worse. So why tempt it. Why complicate things? It's not worth it. Live your life as you want, but for me, this is my way. Your path is yours to walk.
p.s Sorry about the spacing on this post, I can't seem to edit it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fall is Here - Time for Change

Oh, well - Summer has finally sunk beyond the horizon. The weather here on the BC coast is beginning the cooler, more rainy pattern, which means it's time to get on it. As you probably noticed during the summer, I slack off considerably. No work if I can help it. Enjoy the season to the max. Take off, eh!

For the summer, I've been bouncing around BC, my home province for the last 25 years or so. It truly is beautiful here - I'm lucky to live here. But, as a result, I've only used computers for emails, no blogging. No time. Had to fish, hike, bike, wander, canoe, play guitar, check out wildlife, go to new places, go to old places, beach it, camp out, go to music festivals, visit the cities, go see friends over there or anywhere, and so on. For the last three months or so. It's been great. But as a result, no new posts. You probably thought I fell off the face of the earth. Well, in a sense, I did.

But, fall is a sobering season. You can't just hang around outside; it starts getting wetter and cooler and darker. You start thinking about the winter and all that entails. Living indoors more. Shelter from the storm. Work (that cursed four letter word!). But, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just part of the cycle of being. So, my fellow vandwellers and newbies, let's get on with it.

I'm doing some quick work on the island, where I've been sorta based on the last year or so, then I'm going to go to a major, coastal urban area to live at least for the winter. I have a plan. It's the main reason, I call myself, 'The Urban Vandweller'. You see, the place I'm moving to has been embroiled in constitutional lawsuits with regards to criminalizing the homeless. Which, is essentially what vandwellers are, according to the authorities. So, I have posted anonymously because I'm going to a conservative, anti-me city. To work, flourish, live as a vandweller, for as long in one area as I can get away with it. Without loosing my van. Which is what they will do, if they can prove you're a vandweller in Edmonton, Alberta. Well, we will see what happens in Coastal BC urban territory.

As this new adventure unfolds, I'm going to try and post very often, detailing events, trivialities, methods, trials and tribulations along the way. For those of you new to this lifestyle, my efforts are for you to see what you may be up against. For you seasoned vandwellers, well, I'm probably going to bore you to tears, but, you might get a giggle.

The US economy is in the shitter. Many people have lost their conventional homes. Alternative cheap housing is badly needed. We're sorta OK here in Canada, but housing is so expensive, that for me, vandwelling is a viable option, almost necessary so I can enjoy freedom. So, I want to see if I can stay in one urban area for years. That's right, same area, for years. I don't know, maybe five or longer. Take advantage of the savings and simplicity. As I have done before, function as a working and social person, engaged in society, and make it work again. This will begin in a month or so.

I have to do some final build out on the van, window treatments and curtains, for privacy and stealth. I haven't really required them recently, because where I've been, I didn't need them. Now I do. So, there will be some articles about the van. But, the ideas expressed above are what really excite me. I've only lived in one major urban area before as a vandweller for around one year, so to do it continuously for longer presents new challenges. We'll see.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention, we got some favourable press by a magazine writer who I helped with a article in Maclean's, a national weekly publication. Here is a link to the article, . I almost got on a talk radio show with CBC, our national radio network. But, I missed the boat because the programme series had moved on by the time I was in touch.

I hope all of you have had a chance to enjoy the summer. It is my favourite season. Fall is here - time for change.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Flip Your Karma: 8 Tricks to Turn the Bad Into the Awesome

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

"Fall seven times, stand up eight." - Japanese proverb

It's inevitable; sometimes, life just doesn't go your way.

Your schedule gets all messed up. You fail to follow your exercise plan. Someone is mean to you. You feel like quitting something. You want to curl into a little ball and cry.

Life deals out its' blows, and leaves us discouraged, angry, frustrated, depressed, drained. And once we're in that bad place, in a mood where we just don't care about anything, it's pretty hard to get out of it.

But let me share a little secret to happiness and self-improvement here: all that stuff? It's just in your head.

Yeah, it sure doesn't seem like it. It seems that the slings and arrows of life are all coming at us. It feels like we're a failure. But it's true. It's all in your mind.

How can I trivialize horrible things that happen to you like that? By making it seem like a simple mental problem? Because that's what it is, and once you realize that, you are liberated - you have the power to change your circumstances!

It's not an easy task, I'll give you that. It's incredibly, monumentally hard. Changing your mind and changing your life is a mental hurdle worthy of the titans.

But it can be done. All it takes is a few mental tricks, and a lot of energy and willingness to keep an open mind.

"Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow." - Swedish proverb

Let me give you an example: for the last couple years, I've struggled with exercise. I actually enjoy running and working out, but there are days when I don't feel like doing a thing, or when I feel under the weather, and those days can stretch out to a week and that week can stretch into a few weeks. And then I've fallen of the exercise wagon and it feels like I can't get back on.

But then I use the first couple of tricks below, and my mindset changes. I switch on the positive attitude, and realize that my failure to exercise is actually just a stepping stone to fitness success. And looking back, I've had 6-7 of these failures, or stepping stones, and they've all led me further down the path to fitness. Today, I exercise almost every day, and I'm loving it.

The same is true of every other success I've had. this blog, for example, is a success in my eyes, but I've had points where I was discouraged by negative comments or emails. I flipped that discouragement around, however, and used the comments to help myself improve.

I had many failures along the way to eliminating my debt, but I made it there in the end, by not quitting. I have faced many tests of my patience and character, and failed not a few of those too. But through practice, I've gotten better, and while I'm not perfect, I know that I'll only continue to improve if I keep the same mindset.

It's all in your mind. Here are 8 tricks I use to turn anything bad into something awesome.

1/ The power of positive thinking. I learned the power of positive thinking while I was quitting smoking, and I used the lessons of that challenge to help me with every other challenge I've face since. Quitting smoking, as most smokers (and ex-smokers) know, is supremely difficult. There are many times throughout each day, in the first few weeks especially, when you feel like giving up. When you want just one cigarette (which leads to two...). When you just don't see the point of all this suffering. And yet, if you realize that it's just negative thinking, you can squash that negative thought like a little bug. Then replace it with a with a positive thought ( I can do this!) and you're back on the road to success. Recognize negative thoughts, squash them, and find positive thoughts to replace them. Works every time.

2/ Failure is a stepping stone to success. This is what I tell myself every time I fall. I get up, dust myself off, and start again. Each failure shows you an obstacle you didn't anticipate, and you can plan to beat that obstacle next time. Each failure brings your that much closer to winning. And you know what? Every single time I've told myself that, so far, it's been true. I've succeeded. Getting back up is the main thing.

3/ Practice patience. This is what I tell myself when I get frustrated, when someone is difficult, when I begin to lose my patience. First, I vent somehow (talking to a friend or my wife is one of the best ways for me). Then, I tell myself that is a great way for me to practice my patience. Sometimes, I have to repeat this to myself like a mantra, but it works nonetheless.

4/ Learning experience. Similar to the "stepping stone to success" trick above, but it can be used for anything, not just failure. If I make a mistake, if I make the wrong choice, if I have a bad day ... I just see it as an opportunity to learn. Then I review it in my head, trying to figure out what went wrong, trying to learn from my mistakes. If you see learning as a wonderful thing, as I do, then you can see every mistake as a blessing.

5/ Makes you stronger. "That which does not kill us only makes us stronger," goes the famous saying. And while that's not always true (sometimes we can be left weakened and ruined), I've found it to be true in most cases. Something is difficult? I will be a stronger person for having endured it. This has been the case for me when I went through problems as a teenager (I ran away from home and slept in Golden Gate Park in S.F.), when I went through a divorce seven years ago, when I had stressful and trying times at various jobs. I became a better person because of it.

6/ Test of your character. I like tests and challenges. It motivates me to step up to another lever, to see if i can meet the challenge. This is the case with my first marathon, which was very difficult for me (for various reasons). It wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience for me, but I just saw it as a test. And when I passed that test, it was joyous thing for me. This is true any time you go through a trying time - see it as a challenge, and try to meet that challenge. And when you do, you'll feel great about yourself.

7/ Turn the other cheek. Jesus said that instead of taking an eye for an eye, if someone hits you, just turn the other cheek. I don't know many people who can meet this monumental challenge. I've tried it. It's not easy, and the desire to avenge any wrongs is hard to quash. However, I believe that even making an effort at this will make you a better person. It goes not just for physical wrongs to you, but anything that anyone does to you. They call you a name? Thank them. There will be some people who say that you have to meet force with force, or people will walk all over you. To this I say, "Where does it end?" And I also say, "You are merely stooping to their level." Rise above the pettiness of others, and become a better human being.

8/ Love your enemy. I wrote about this recently as one of life's greatest challenges, and it belongs on this list. When you have anger toward another human being, give this a try. If you succeed, to any degree whatsoever, you will rejoice in this success. It is a miraculous thing.

" A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." - Winston Churchill

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Van Renovations have Started!

As a lot you have realized, I haven't been posting lately. Once again, I went back to work on the off-grid home, so I have been very busy. I got back about 10 days or so ago; so, I started renovating my van. My main goals are to insulate the van very efficiently, and to put in a well-designed bed platform. I tried to design in other aspects to the back area, but, there just isn't enough room.

The first thing I had to do was to remove all the inner linings and roof liner. Then, I could see what I had to deal with. My first goal is to create an insulated roof with around R10 insulation. This is key to my design. One of the greatest heat loss areas is your roof. While the roof liner was a foam structure around R2, and did help, I wanted much more insulation. Then there are your windows, and the rear and side doors and your driving compartment. They will be addressed later.

Left: van interior with liners removed

I wanted to minimize any loss of interior space and maximise insulation. So, I decided to use foam panels of high R-value in between the roof ribs you can see in the photo. I also used a insulation sandwich panel of reflectix facing up, a foam core of R5 and reflectix facing down. There are also trapped air space above and below the suspended insulation. That way, summer heat is reflected up, winter heat is reflected down, and I have a R10 insulated roof in approx. 2 1/4 inches thick area.

Left: Expanding foam injected into structural channels.

Next, I injected foam into the roof channels along the side and across the top. You got to be careful not to put too much in at a time. It won't cure properly if you do, and you could distort body metal. The idea is to not allow any cold areas within your structure, so I'm trying to create a continuous insulating barrier around the interior. Also, any channels which have wiring or working parts which may need to be serviced were not filled. Common sense.

Both above: Framing to accept insulation and mount paneling.

The pictures above show framing which was glued and screwed to the metal roof channel. You gotta be careful not to puncture the exterior metal skin of your van. The picture to the left shows a rear piece which displays the total depth of the insulating space, a little over 2 inches. The frame members mounted on the roof ribs are made up of 1/4 inch thick strips, so it would conform to the curved roof.

Left: Insulating panels glued into place in roof framing.

Next, I added the insulation. Like a fool, I didn't take a picture showing the overall insulating setup. It goes something like this from top to bottom - rooftop metal skin, airspace, reflectix layer, foam insulation panel, reflectix layer, airspace, wood ceiling panel. I wanted the reflectix on top under a airspace to reflect the summer sun's heat, and so far, it's been very effective. I would have used a double thick layer of foam core, but that would have made a much more lowered roof, so I utilized different materials for different types of heat loss/gain. I negated any foam squeaks by taping duct tape around the panels and gluing them into place with a high quality construction glue. On top and below the panel is reflectix, which doesn't squeak against the foam. It works great, no squeaks at all.

Left: Finished roof, paneled, primed and just needing top coat.

My design is to utilize the original side liners with beefed up insulation behind them, and for the insulated wood roof to fit in with them. So far, it is working out great. A few comments. This is taking a long time, much longer than I anticipated, so obviously I am not living in the van. Also, paints and glues off-gas a lot, so you need to do this when it is dry weather to maximize the setting process and minimize the time.

I lost about 1 1/4 inches in overall height in my back area, but I gained very effective insulation. The effect for the summer is immediately noticeable. My van doesn't heat up nearly as much as before. If I have any circulating air, it's like beautiful cool shade in the back. I know it will be effective in winter.

I once insulated a cabin in the mountains. First, I insulated the floor. It made a little difference. Then, I insulated the windows by storm covers and heavy curtains; the walls were fine. That made a noticeable difference, but not a lot. Finally, I insulated the ceiling. I used a thick insulating layer, as per construction methods. This last step made a huge difference, more than all the rest combined. Also, I stopped air leaks around doors, etc.

I applying the same principals to my van. Laren Corie, a fellow vandweller and knowledgeable person, says that insulation is most important for your windows and the roof, in other words the areas of greatest heat loss/gain. I agree. And that is what I'm doing to my van. The next installment will address the windows and sides of the back of my van, my sleeping/storage quarters.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Where Have I Been?

Hello! I'm back!! Did you think I had fallen off the face of the Earth. Well, as far as the human electronic collective is concerned, I did. And it was good.

Since my last post, I've been out in the boonies. No phones, no power grid, no computers, no paved roads - just trees, lakes, streams and rocks. The occasional eagle, bear, cougar and a bunch of people working on an off-grid home. A friend of a friend approached me back eight weeks ago, saying he wanted to hire me to help complete this isolated place. My part time bartending gig was covered by co-workers until I got back and my brother looked after the parents for me. So off I went. To work and learn.

For many of us, eventually you may want to settle in such a idyllic place. Somewhere away from the swirling mass of confusion we call modern society; the craziness of urbanity and whatnot. This was one of the reasons I left my homeland back East and came to the West Coast. This fellows' place was representative of what could be a desirable life style. Sustainable, efficient, power independent and so on. Not completely removed from society - he would still be using fossil fuels for vehicles, etc. Still tied into the money grid and what that entails. But very independent - off the grid.

It was an interesting lesson on how to set up a micro-hydro system, with some solar and genset for backup. It was a practical lesson showing the costs and labour involved in the process of setting up and creating such a place. The home that this person created was rather opulent, hence the need for a crew to finish it off. I received a lot of first hand knowledge of what needs to be done. Building, design aspects, financial and so on.

Personally, will I ever try to do something like this? I don't know, I don't think I want to be so isolated. I don't want to be out past the power grid, but I would like to have alternative power sources that were practical. If you are far out there, you need to use a lot of fuel just to get to town. Unless you create all your own food, you still need to get to town. There are many aspects to consider - medical, socializing, resources. I believe in a basic balance - practical, efficient, simplicity and so on. Finances are a major consideration, now with land being so expensive in British Columbia.

For myself, the last few weeks was an eye-opener of what can be done if you really want to. Regardless of whether you want to be urban or rural, what was really highlighted to me is how wasteful we are in our modern society. I learned about different ways we could change our lifestyle, so we could begin to exist in harmony with our planet. As always, less is more.

Eventually, we all want to settle, when the road becomes too tiresome to wander on. When that happens, I will create my own Shangra-la, but it will be my version, using the same ideas, but simpler, cheaper, resourceful and improvised. Hmmm. We'll see. I'm back.....

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Will the Rising Price of Gas be the End for Vandwelling?

For now, no, not yet. In the future, quite possibly. As of today, the US national average price of gas is $3.59 US per US gallon. In Canada, the national average price of gas is $5.74 CAN per CAN gallon. Now, our gallon is 20% larger than the American gallon, and our money is approx. worth 2% less. So, taking into account the variances, that would make our equivalent gallon around $4.75, due mostly to increased Canadian taxes over the States. Regardless, everyone is concerned with the price of gas, how it affects their livelihoods and with good reason.

In North America, our lifestyle is based on the availability of plentiful, affordable petroleum products. Plastic is everywhere. Rural homes, farming, suburbia, industry, trucking, etc. - require great amount of gas to move people, products and produce all consumables. Everything man made is effected by the price of gas, either by transportation, production or labour. Even if you don't drive at all, the price of gas will affect you.

So, what are we supposed to do? As a consumer, apparently the media says we have elasticity to be able to absorb the rising price of gas. Oh, really. I look around at a lot of people who's budget is strained already to the max. But, that is because they think or live in the North American culture mindset. Spend, credit, debt, no leverage left, maxed out.

In Europe, the price of gas is approx. $8 - $9 per gallon. They've paid twice the price or more for decades, compared to North America. And they make it work. How? Conservation. More fuel efficient vehicles, efficient driving, extensive public transit, doing with less. Less food, clothing, electronics - everything - as they allocate more funds to gasoline instead. The question is - can we do this in North America? It's not a matter of can we - we're gonna have to.

The predictions in Canada are that gas will hit approx. $1.50 per litre here in summer, and around $2.25 per litre by 2012. That translates to $6.81 per CAN gallon this summer, and $10 per CAN gallon by 2012. I figure this summer in the States, that gas prices will jump to around $4.25 per gallon, and around $8 per gallon by 2012.

For myself, I can deal with these prices. At the moment, gas and food are the two largest cost centres of my budget. I allocate $300 monthly for both of them. On an average month, I drive around 200 miles weekly combined driving, so my gas usage costs $240 per month (today's price, leaving me with a $60 budget surplus) . By the summer though, the same gas usage will be $281 per month, still doable with my budget. But by 2012, this rate of gas usage will cost $420 per month. But, keep in mind that this is a bare minimum of driving, just the essential. When I go away for any trip, weekend or longer, I will have to budget extra funds because my regular weekend allotment of driving miles is only 100.

The problems facing North American culture, when compared to Europe, isn't easy. The crux of the matter is the distances involved. If you drive 200 miles in Europe, you are probably in another country. The distances involved are much less than those in North America. Here, we think nothing of living 20 or 30 or more miles from work - produce and products are produced on the other side of the country, if not the world. So, there are going to be many changes, as what worked before barely works now and will not in the foreseeable future.

Because we have eliminated the huge expense of shelter, we as Vandwellers, have a much greater elasticity to deal with the rising price of gas. However, even we have a breaking point. But, our breaking point will be much later than everyone else around. So in 2012, if your vandwelling budget won't handle $8 per gallon in the States, or $10 per gallon in Canada, you will to make drastic choices. Plan accordingly.

One of the neat things about capitalism and macro-economics is the effect of supply and demand on the price of goods. When the price of gas climbs to $10 per gallon, North Americans will have to evolve into more conservational consumers. If the overall gas consumption drops considerably, due to nationwide conservation, so will the price. I realize that China and India are creating a large demand, but sooner or later, their economies will max out too. Why? When the Western world greatly reduces their demand for products from these countries, China's and India's economies will stall or stop growing and as well, their demand for gas.

Another factor in the price of gas is the effect of investment dollars. Gas futures, options, speculation - control of supplies and so on - are increasing the price of a barrel of oil by around 30%. A lot of these factors are completely artificially made by capitalism. So, if the world's nations started looking at oil and gasoline not at a commodity, but as a necessity, it's time for our governments to impose regulations which would control price environmental factors. If not, gas prices will continue to soar, which in turn will ruin economies around the world. Choices, choices.

Because Europeans make high gas prices work there, I say we can do it here too. But, it's not going to easy. We will have to work hard to implement changes, both systemic and technological, but being an optimist, I know we can do it. Humans have the ability to adapt and change, and here in North America, we have as much ability to do so, as anywhere on the planet. So for the moment, forget about crying about gas hitting $4 per gallon in the States, or $6.5 in Canada. Evolve. Deal with it. One day, you will reminisce when the price was that low.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What's the Point - For my Vandwelling

Every time you look at the media you get bombarded by the same messages - rising fuel price hence rising cost of everything, food shortages, pollution, high cost of housing, global warming and so on. I'm not going to propose that being a Vandweller is the solution. I'm not going to say you should be a Vandweller. But, it's obvious that free spirits in North America need a break, a different option.

And there aren't many choices out there; or are there? Since the '50's, North American culture has been conditioning us to consume - mass quantities - brand new, the latest, the greatest- as much as you can, all the time. And poor Mother Earth can't take it anymore. There's too many of us. She's changing, and if we don't change, we will go the way of the dinosaur.

A long time ago, I decided to march to the beat of a different drummer. I knew I didn't want to squander my life on the typical pursuit of happiness, the acquisition of possessions - the house in the 'burbs, the two car garage with the Impala and a station wagon for my family. Suburbia was not for me. So, I have been a Nomad for many years, searching for my Shangri-la and enjoying the journey.

And I found it. My Shangri-la, that is. But, so have many others. So now it is very expensive to buy land in British Columbia. It may never happen for me. But, so what. Do we really need to own land and a house and all that stuff? I don't know, because I have deep seated conditioning that makes me think that I do. But, is it really necessary? No.

The majority of the world doesn't own their own home, if they even have anything they can call a home. The majority of the world doesn't live in a beautiful place like I do, have food on their table, health care of any sort, a personal vehicle with gas in the tank. They aren't occasionally free to roam the land at will, holidaying around. No. We are very lucky in North America, yet we complain at the littlest hardship, like paying more for gas and things. Conditioning.

I personally don't have a problem with the way things are going - because it is a wake-up call for all of us. Capitalism, consumerism and unchecked industrialization is killing the planet and us. We are slowly being forced into conservation by the high cost of anything. I think it had to happen, sooner or later. The solution - use less - just what you need.

Is this the legacy we want to leave future generations? I feel they will look back at the last century and curse us for being so selfish, so wasteful, so arrogant. That we felt justified in doing anything we wanted, so we could have lots of toys and money and big houses and big cars and take holidays in the Caribbean via jet planes. And leave them a damaged, maybe beyond repairable planet, past the point of no return. A wasteland.

And this is part of why I became a Vandweller. It follows the tenet of conservation, recycle, reduce and reuse. I found I could be less wasteful. I utilize everything I own, because there is no room to have too much stuff. Recently, I saw a video, Watch it. When you buy stupid crap that you don't really need, you are just feeding the madness. It's not your fault. I'm just as guilty as anyone. We are conditioned from birth to live this way. But, we can change.

I recycled an older vehicle, which would probably have gone to a wreckers soon because the average person wants something newer. I reduced my demands on the planet, by not occupying a specific dwelling (house, apartment), which would require mega-resources to construct, heat and maintain. I reduced my fuel consumption by driving only 200 miles a week, instead of commuting 400 miles a week to that fixed abode. I utilize existing spaces to satisfy my lifestyle and needs, instead of demanding my own. I reuse what I can, so new things don't have to be made.

Oh, I'm not perfect. Hell, no. I drive a gas guzzlin' van, man. But, overall, my carbon footprint is smaller than before, because of my simpler lifestyle.

As well, there are other benefits too. My financial footing has never been better, even though I work less. Why? Because I have decreased one major expense, the expense of shelter. Now, I have replaced my apartment with a van; when compared to having both a car and a home, to only just a vehicle, I save big time. I can afford good food, good health care, recreation and modest travel. You won't save too much in one or two months, but over the accumulated time of years, we are talking of thousands of dollars. And, that becomes freedom - more free time, more savings, no debt.

The whole world looks to North America as the shining beacon, the highest standard of living on the planet. We lecture other countries, no, don't do what we have done and continue to do. Don't cut down that rain forest. Who the hell are we to talk, as we whip our asses with four ply and eat double cheeseburgers. Conserve and save the planet, we preach from our Lazy-boys.

Too late, the industrialization of China and India are going to make North America look like a back water, 'small potatoes'. Maybe if the citizenry of North America really started to rally on saving the planet, instead of ignorant consumerism, we could set an example to follow. We have taught the rest of the world how to follow in our previous footsteps. I hope we find a new path.

That's why I appreciate the old slogan, 'Act locally, think globally.' I think being a Vandweller is a step in that direction. North America is a big place, and unfortunately, most of us need transportation to live and thrive on this continent. Employment is not always within walking distance. So, I have combined two of my major needs, transportation and shelter, to use less of finite natural resources and create less pollution. Maybe, it will work for you. Maybe this way of sacrifice could help us all.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Enjoy Life Now and Save for Later

Article written by Leo Babauto, Author of the popular blog, Zen Habits

Published here by permission via uncopywrite

ed.note - North American culture has conditioned us that the pursuit of happiness is based of spending lots of money for possessions we don't need. Being a Vandweller forces you to make hard choices about possessions and luxuries, but the lifestyle rewards you with simplicity, minimalism and a better financial footing. This article reflects some of these values.

Often we're told that we have we have to suffer now - give up what we want - in order to succeed later, that in order to save we must sacrifice. Give up instant gratification to get delayed gratification.

But you can do both.

For years, I was confused about this, as I read books and websites that sent me two different messages;

1/ Pleasure later. The first message was that in order to be successful, in order to build wealth, you have to delay gratification. You can't have instant gratification and be successful.

2/ Pleasure now. The second message was usually from other sources on happiness, but sometimes from the same source: enjoy life now, while you can, because it's short and you never know when your last day will come. Live every day like it's your last.

Trouble is, I agree with both messages. And if you read this site often, you'll see that I send both messages: Live frugally and simply! But also enjoy life!

That's because I've reconciled the two philosophies into one: Live life now and enjoy it to the fullest - without destroying your future. The key to doing that? Find ways to enjoy life completely, utterly, maximally ... that don't cost your future very much.

Here are some tips for actually living that philosophy:

Find free or cheap pleasures. Frugality does not have to be boring or restrictive ... if your use your imagination. Be creative and find ways to have fun - loads of it - without spending much money. Have a picnic at the park, go to the beach, do crafts, board games, fly a kite, make art, bake cookies ... I could list a hundred things, and you could come up with a hundred more. Make a list of simple pleasures, and enjoy them to the maximum. This is the key to the whole idea of enjoying life now without spending tomorrow's dollar.

Make simplifying fun. I'm a big fan of simplifying my life, from decluttering to creating a simple lifestyle in every way. I get rid of stuff (and possibly make money selling it) and have a blast doing it. That's good math.

Rediscover what's important. Oftentimes we spend tons of money, shopping, going out, watching movies, eating out ... without really enjoying life. And when we stop to think about it, we never have time for the things we really want to do. Well, that's probably because your life is filled with things that aren't very important to you. Instead, step back and really think about what's important. Listen to some stuff on my list: my wife and kids, other friends and family, reading, writing, exercising, volunteering, spending quiet time in contemplation. Guess how many of those tings cost a lot of money? Not many.

Make people a priority. This is related to the above point, but I thought I'd give it a little more emphasis. If you give 'stuff' a priority - stuff like gadgets, nice furnishings, nice clothes, shoes, jewelry, etc. - then you will spend a lot of money. But if your make people a priority - the people you love the most, your close friends and family - you don't need to spend a dime to enjoy life. Make some time to visit with friends, or your parents ... and have a conversation with them that doesn't involve eating out or going to the movies. Just sit, have some iced tea or hot cocoa, and talk. Tell jokes and laugh your heads off. Talk about books you've read, movies you've watched, new things going on in your life, your hopes and dreams.

Find time for yourself. Make time every day, and every week, to spend time alone. It really gives more meaning and enjoyment to your life, rather that rushing through life with no time to think, to breathe.

Sometimes, splurge. You shouldn't restrict yourself from expensive pleasures all the time; it's not good to develop the feeling of deprivation. To prevent that, once in a while, buy yourself something ... or better yet, give yourself a decedent treat. I love things with dark chocolate or berries. Just don't go overboard .. and learn to enjoy the splurge to the fullest.

Track your successes. It doesn't really matter how you track your success - you can use gold stars for creating a simplifying or frugal habit, or a spreadsheet chart to track your decreasing debt and increasing savings. Tracking is a great way to not only provide motivation, but to make the process of changing fun.

Reward yourself. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!

Volunteer. One of the most rewarding things for my family has been when we managed to volunteer. It's actually only something we started doing last year, but since then, we've done it a bunch of times in a number of different ways. And while it doesn't cost a dime, it is tremendously rewarding in ways that money could never buy.

Live in the moment. Learn to think not so much about the past or future, but about what you are going through right now. Be present. It may seem trite, but it's the key to enjoying life to the fullest - without having to spend money. Think about it - you can spend money eating out, but if you are not really thinking about what you are eating, you may not enjoy it much at all. But if you cook a simple and delicious meal, and really taste every bite, it can tremendously enjoyable without costing a lot.

Slow down. In the same way, you can't really enjoy life to the fullest if it's rushing past you like it's in fast forward. Ever think about how quickly a week, a month or a year goes by? Perhaps you are in the fast lane too much. Try slowing down and things will be less stressful and more enjoyable.

Learn to find cheap, cool stuff. I like shopping at thrift stores. You can find many cool/useful things there, and it costs so little. Garage sales are the same way. Check out, or maybe - you may find that item you need for little expense.

ed.note - I have always found that for myself, life and decisions are to be approached with a sense of balance, yin and yang, give and take, indulgence and thriftiness. Do you really want to spend your life on the acquisition of possessions or have the freedom to enjoy life? Some food for thought.

Cheers, Urban Vandweller

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Zen of Urban Stealth Parking, Part Two

Since I wrote the first post of stealth parking on Jan, 17th, many people have made inquiries for more information, both to me and on the Vandwellers' forum. This is a major issue for vandwellers because the ability to park when and where you need to in the city is important. You don't want to be constantly rousted by the cops; these days with the anti-urban camping laws it could mean your van being impounded. In two years of urban street camping, I haven't had to deal with the police once, but I go to great extremes to be stealthy. Funny thing though, is that every ones experience will vary depending on region and city, so it's a matter of exploration and experimentation on your part.

Here are some more thoughts on this topic.

Location, location, location. One of the main concerns for stealth parking is picking locations where your van looks like it belongs there. This is one of the main tenets of camouflage, being in plain site, but hidden or invisible. If your vehicle is surrounded by similar vans, it will just blend into the local environ. If your vehicle is the only one of it's type in the area, it will stick out like a sore thumb, just begging for attention. As well, some places have no vehicles parked there at night, so your lonely van in a large open area, may attract attention because it is the only vehicle parked there at all. Cops and security services are very vigilant these days, so you need to think like them to avoid detection.

Industrial areas - It would make sense to use these areas for large box or cube vans, or for the basic white cargo van. Why? Cuz' they look like they belong there. It just looks like a work vehicle, parked overnight for the next days' business. Also, these vans have higher personal security; less or no windows, and maybe a lockable metal barrier behind the driving compartment. Industrial areas attract certain types of people at night; thieves, prostitutes, drug dealers, etc. - so it's wise to be both vigilant and secure. But, there are very few other people around, which makes it convenient for night parking.

Shopping mall lots and strip malls - In these areas, Walmart store lots are the easiest. A lot of Walmarts allow overnight parking for the RV crowd and stealth vans fit right in. But, I only use Walmarts when I need a quick solution. Why? I believe the police aren't too happy about Walmart parking lots; to them, the lots become an unregulated urban campground in their jurisdiction. So it wouldn't surprise me if they check them out and pay attention to who is staying there. If I was just travelling down the road, not being a local, of course I would use them. But, I generally live in one city for months or years at a time. So for me, parking at a Walmart on a regular basis would be like advertising to the police, that I am homeless in a vehicle. Not very stealthy.

A lot of large shopping malls have no overnight parking restrictions, which eliminates them. But for malls or standalone stores which have 24hr. business hours, bingo! As long as you remain discreet and stealthy, why not. I find that the tiny strip malls are sometimes a perfect blend of privacy, no parking restrictions and a occasional choice for my soccer-mom type van. It all just depends, you got to go with your gut feelings. For the box or cube van and the white cargo van, these vehicles can be parked close to a business or store like it is there for the next days work.

Nightclub parking lots - The premise that vehicles are left overnight because of drinking patrons is good to take advantage of. But. There are some disadvantages to using these lots. Timing is critical because of surveillance by doormen or the police. Impaired drivers may hit your vehicle and make a lot noise leaving the area at closing time. Choose your parking spot wisely. Police quite often check out lots to see who is in the bar and doorman may be looking out for drunken patron behaviour (fights, rowdiness, etc.) You need to slip in and lay very low at the right moment, which is different for every place. Expect to be woken up by loud patrons until closing time.

Downtown urban streets - I have mixed feelings about these areas. Although most parking meters don't charge overnight, you need to pay close attention to security (lots of street people, cops, security forces). You maybe the only vehicle in the area, and I don't like that. I like to be somewhat hidden from view, blending in with the crowd of parked vehicles. But, once in a while, I use specific downtown pay parking lots. I especially like using them during extreme snow or wind storms; peoples' attention is distracted by the extreme weather. Quite often, there is only a pay machine for collecting fees at night, security is minimal with bike patrols, so I can slip in and out with no human contact. The only problems arise from street people who use them for shelter from bad weather, but that is no worse than industrial areas. You really have to pick and choose the specific lot and use it sparingly.

Urban and surrounding suburbia - For me, this is my preferred area for night parking. My favourite neighborhoods are those that have a lot of houses which are split into separate apartments. That way, there are lots of people on the block, which come and go at all times with residents that mind their own business. There are lots of cars parked on the street, so blending in with the crowd with my stealthed-out soccer-mom van is no problem. Because the buildings are houses, lines of sight from the windows get interrupted/obscured by trees and shrubs, so many parking spots are discreet for slipping in and out of. Different types of vans fit right in some neighborhoods or don't at all. Drive around and when you see your type of van parked often, you have found where you belong.

If you drive a white cargo (work) type van, pick a suburb where lots of these types of vehicles are parked on the street, an working man's suburb with tradespeople. If you drive a family type van, like an Astro, Aerostar, Econoline, Savanna, etc. - coloured not white, cargo or passenger (window) type, consider a neighborhood like I described above, middle-class with lots of single people. Don't pick a upper class neighborhood, rich people don't park on the street, so your vehicle will stick out like a sore thumb. Also, some neighborhoods will have lots of nosy parker residents, so try to avoid these areas as well. In other words, choose your parking areas carefully, so you blend in and don't attract unwanted attention.

I mentioned camouflage before in describing what we do when stealth parking. I coloured my reflectix window coverings to almost match my van colour behind the tinted glass windows. Everything is slick and nondescript with my van; homemade or junky details will attract attention; avoid distinguishing bumper sticker or details; think stealth. I just use my night parking spots for sleep and in my previous post, I talked about my methods for behavior at these spots. I remain very quiet and discreet when parked for the night and I leave first thing in the morning.

Something else I'd like to mention that I feel is important will be controversial with some vandwellers. I apologize ahead of time, but I think it is worth mentioning to new vanners. I believe pets left behind in vans attract unwanted attention. Now, I like pets. I've had dogs and cats before. I will have them again. But, if someone is suspicious of your van, and they see a pet left there for hours at a time, I think it doesn't take much for them to figure out you live there. Also, do gooders may feel you could be mistreating your pet, especially in the summer. I understand if you have a pet already you are going to keep him/her, but if you don't already have one, think twice before getting one when living in a van. I would avoid it if you need to be stealthy.

Something I also thought wouldn't be stealthy for urban night parking is campervans, like VW Westfalias and other obviously camperised vehicles. I still believe RV's are just too obvious and usually too large to park easily on city streets. But one emailer told me how he lives on the streets of San Francisco, CA in his Westfalia. He mentioned it's a bit of a cat and mouse game with the local cops, but for the most part he is very successful. I just thought that a campervan would be too obvious and attract unwanted attention, but he does it.

I hope some of these thoughts may help you in successful stealth parking. Good sleeping.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Current Events - April '08

Well, the weather on the Wet Coast (that's right, wet, not west) of BC, Canada is slowly getting milder. It sure is taking it's sweet time, though. I thought I'd share some things going on in my life.

1/ My folks require a lot of care and attention these days. As a result, I won't be able to travel too far or for too long from home base in the Gulf Islands. They are 87 and 86 years old, and I want them to enjoy their house on the island for as long as possible, so, they need a lot of help. Which means no major road trips for the next year or two, just provincial trips, maybe a week or so in length. It also means that my life will be living at my folks place a lot of the time; getting back to living full-time in the city or a resort is 'on hold'. So, my vandwelling will be part time in nature, as I shift into a different lifestyle balance for the meantime.

2/ My Aerostar is too small for my renovation ideas!!! After careful measuring, and modifying the design, I just can't get the balance of seating, sleeping and storage in the back to work out. I can easily get two out of three, but not all three needs to fit. The problem. Headroom or height. Also, I like a largish bed for when I'm not alone. ;-) Sure, I guess I could get a high top installed (maybe?), but the additional cost (if possible) is prohibitive. If I was going to spend that much extra money, I would just get another van. Maybe an Astro would do, but probably a full-size van would be appropriate. This is the problem though. I don't want to lose the good gas mileage I get with the Aerostar; gas prices should jump up drastically this summer. So, it looks like 'Aero' will remain a mobile pup tent, with only sleeping and storage in the back. I'm being tempted by van infidelity, but 'Aero' has tons of life left in him, and I don't want to sell. Decisions, decisions.

3/ Road trips. I just got back from six days in Whistler, partying it up with friends (reason for no recent articles). I'm looking forward to the weather breaking soon with warm days. Camping trips, exploration, music festivals, visiting friends and so on, are all on the calender this year. I can hardly wait. The major highlights for exploration are places I haven't been on Vancouver Island and inland to the West Kootenay and Lower Chilcotin regions. Eventually, all nomads settle down and I'm looking at all these areas as possible home base regions. So far, I seem to be really attracted to the Arrow Lakes area.

4/ I keep taking on new work projects, so my van renovations (for what they will be now), keep getting put on the back burner. I've just got too much on my plate. I apologize to those who have been waiting for photos and articles, I can't help it. The project will proceed as soon as possible, so I can share with you.

So, there you have it folks, some news in the life of Urban Vandweller. I wish good fortune to you and yours.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Death Valley in my Volkswagen Bus

Another road trip video by the YouTube contributor, 'theswatter'. Shot in classic black and white with vintage soundtrack!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Touring the U.S. in a 1973 VW bus

Road trip, road trip - sure I'll have a coffee - road trip, road trip....

Friday, April 4, 2008

Touring Baja in a Van

I think it's time for a road trip again!!!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Home Cookin' with the Van

I like food. Food is good. I reward and nourish myself with good food because I work and play hard. Being a vandweller, you need good food because you live a robust lifestyle. I'm not a master chef, just a bachelor (again!), that knows how to prepare basic comfort foods. As usual, I try to streamline and simplify the process of procuring, storing and processing food when vandwelling.

To understand the way I deal with food, you need to understand a little about my lifestyle and network. Sometimes I live in the city, sometimes in the country; I pick up groceries after work several times a week. I usually only store about 2+ days of fresh food; things like coffee, sugar, cooking oils, granola, I'll usually have a few weeks worth on board. Workdays, I eat something light for breakie, something light for lunch, and a fair dinner at night. Weekends, I eat a brunch type meal and a full dinner.

During the weekdays, I'll usually have dinner at a friend's place 1 or 2 nights, maybe a casual dinner at a reasonable diner. On the weekend, I'll probably have dinner and/or brunch at my folks' or friends. That leaves me with about 5 breakies, 5 lunches (if working full-time) and about 3-4 dinners for the average week, that I prepare, store and devour around the van. That schedule is key to understanding my lightweight setup.

I don't cook inside the van. Why? I lived in a very small apartment (bachelor size) once, around 300 square feet. Although it had a very good ventilation hood, the cooking smell and grease (if I fried or grilled and definitely, no cajun!!!) would permeate the place. I had to be careful to balance the style/amount of cooking in the apartment, so it would remain clean and fresh. I like to do the same with my van, which in minuscule in size. Also, boiling water on the stove (tea, soups, etc.) would steam it up.

I live in a temperate rain forest on coastal British Columbia, Canada. Although it snows little here, it rains ( a lot!!!) for the cooler months of the year (Oct. to Apr.). So the relative humidity outside will hover between 70% to 100% all the time. Condensation, mildew and mold need to be respected and controlled. So, you don't want to introduce any extra moisture inside your van during this period; I just want to ventilate and heat sufficiently to be healthy. Using propane inside, for unvented cooking or heating, is a unwanted source of humidity.

So, I tailgate cook and dine. My Aerostar rear hatch flips up and provides a small porch roof for rain shelter. Sometimes I slip a small tarp on top and drape it over one side for wind cover. I use a small table for cooking and eating on, and the back cover area is my pantry and outdoor cantina. I have a curtain across the back hatch opening, so cooking smells, grease and too much outdoor moisture drift inside the van. Sometimes I eat outside, sometime inside. Depends. The weather also affects what I will cook or eat, but more on that later.

For now, I use the basic Coleman two-burner propane stove. I have a bulk 5-gallon tank with gauge and safety regulator, and I use a hand held sniffer for safety. I have a backup small disposable 1lb propane cylinder if I run out while cooking; it hasn't happened yet. Simple cooking gear, one medium saucepan (pot) with vegie steamer insert, two smallish pans (one cast iron, one T-fal nonstick, w/ lids), some odds and sods and there you are. Basic spices, oils, cooking/cleaning/eating things, one medium size cooler (uses ice), simple, simple, simple.

For breakie around the van, usually I just boil some water for coffee and cleanup. Sometimes hot cereal. In the city, I stop at the quiet end of urban parks, staying away from people so I don't get disturbed too much. When the weather starts turning nasty, I try to find places that have wind breaks around them; some parks have covered barbecue pits or gazebos. Since the temperature here rarely goes below freezing in the winter, the average winter daily high is around 5 -10 degrees C or 40 - 50 degrees F, so it's pretty mild. I can eat/cook quite easily outside for 10 months of the year. It's only when the winds are very high, or it's absolutely teeming with rain or really cold, that I go into hibernation mode.

Lunches for work are a simple affair, essentially cold plates of veggies, cheese and meats or sandwiches; sometimes I eat the same for dinner. Dinners, I eat hearty soups and stews; I prepare pan 'fried, roasted, seared' meats, poultry and fish. I'll steam some vegies or make an accompanying salad, depends what I got in the cooler. I prepare/eat small portions of boneless cuts of meat, which cook very quickly. Maybe a stirfry over rice, tacos or a hamburger. I like easy, fast and nutritious meals. As I mentioned earlier, I don't store much, so I always eat fresh food. Plain Jane. Simple.

For the two coldest months of the year, I still do the breakie thing, but dinner becomes more challenging. I'll eat dinners quite often at my friends'/folks' place. I'll splurge and use a reasonable diner/pub maybe two evenings a week, or just create a cold plate (very easy). Even during the coldest months here, there are lots of days I can still cook outside; I'll just eat inside the van. I dress appropriately for the weather and I'm not really cold. With long johns, gloves, boots, wool toque and a vest, you are quite warm around freezing temps., when out of the wind and rain. Of course, I am a Crazy Canuck, but I don't live in an igloo. Not yet. 'Tho, it would be neat to check it out one day. Bon Appetite!!!

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 ;-)