Monday, May 24, 2010

The "How?" of van-dwelling

Unfortunately, the first thoughts to come out when someone hears about a person living in a van may go something like "unfortunate, poor, last-resort home, mental-case, strange, pedophile(if the van is white), hippie, creepy, and/or homeless."

I don't know much about the unpublished van-dwellers, but I know this is not the case for the ones that I have read about. Usually they seem to be enlightened and intelligent people, specializing in all sorts of skills from journalism to construction.

To make the case for van-dwellers, I decided to make a list of the materials I use in my van and a list of ordinary locations that I visit in order to show the effort/research/ingenuity used to live this minimalistic lifestyle.

 1. 55 quarter insulated cooler - stores fresh food for a week w/ one bag of ice. Combine with dry ice on the bottom for extended cooling times.
 2. GSI Camper's Kitchen set - "running water" and cooking surface. I would totally recommend these if you are planning to set up camp at a certain area for more than a day. To accompany this is a collapsible 5 gallon water container and a simple foot pump. With these powers combined, you have a sink with running water.
 3. Coleman dual burner propane grill - Couldn't eat raw foods without it. I love this thing! I usually plop down all my cooking and cleaning ingredients at a nature park about 2 days a week and get to cooking. I store leftovers in my cooler and eat them throughout the week.
 4. Tupperware and silverware - Store food, avoid messy hands. Ziploc bags are extremely useful as well.
 5. Cast iron skillet - Excellent skillet for cooking. Spray a little non-stick oil on it, get to work, eat delicious food.
 6. 600 watt microwave - This item is a huge convenience. I can use this to reheat my food, warm water for tea/hot chocolate, or make healthy popcorn.

 1. Optima D31M Deep Cycle AGM Battery - This is my secondary battery. I use it to power everything in my car. I plan on installing a second one in parallel soon for two reasons: Redundant/fail-safe power and longer electronic usage.
 2. Continuous Duty Solenoid - This is a special switch-like device that runs from my starting battery and alternator to my secondary battery (Basically, it charges my secondary battery whenever I am driving, but stops charging it as soon as the car turns off). Super essential piece. Get a pro to install it, it deals with a lot of electricity.
 3. Vector 2500 watt power inverter - This beautiful piece of technology converts DC energy (like a battery) into AC energy (like what you plug in at home). I'm not saying there's a point or that it's smart, but this device could most likely run everything I have in the van at once.

 1. Laptop - digital photography, Internet, work access.
 2. TracFone - at 30 bucks a month, this gives me more texts/minutes than I can use for both work and personal use. Soon, I will be recycling the TracFone for a Samsung Moment and data only plan from Sprint. This gives me unlimited DATA for 30 bucks a month, which means I get Internet anywhere I get signal! Then I will download the Skype app on the Samsung Moment, and buy an unlimited Skype voice plan for about 2 bucks a month. Thats a total of 32 dollars for unlimited data and unlimited voice. Can't beat that..
 3.  26" Vizio LCD monitor - I hook my laptop up to this wall-mounted beauty for a large screen where I can watch DVDs and TV.
 4. USB TV Tuner and HD off-air antenna - used to watch FREE digital HD channels broadcast over the air through the laptop. Total cost = 70 bucks.
 5. My camera - Right now, just a CHDK hacked Canon Power Shot A620, but I have plans to buy a DSLR soon. Overall, I am pretty happy with this tweaked unit since I can do time lapses, panoramas, long-exposure shots, HDRs, and run scripts/programs through it. Technology rocks.
6. SCUBA equipment - I am really into SCUBA diving. I'm on the way to becoming a dive master, which is the rank needed to operate a boat and take a crew of people diving. I keep my wetsuit, BCD, octopus, and toys in my drawer. I keep two giant tanks underneath my bed. Surprisingly, everything fits extremely well!

Hygiene, Health, and Fitness
 1. Laundromat - about once every two weeks, I start to run out of clothes and need to clean out my laundry bag. Everything I need to clean ends up costing about 7 bucks.
 2. YMCA - This is my home base for hygeine. I can shower every morning, brush my teeth, work out, get free water/coffee, and shave. I spent about 280 dollars on a year membership for the YMCA. Also, the company I work for pays for about half the cost as a fitness incentive since it lowers their insurance rates. The cost of a membership depends on your salary (if you have one).
 3. Walmart - Home sweet home. Depending on the area you live in, you can do just about everything at Walmart. I sleep here just about every night, and bask in the convenience of safety, 24/7 bathrooms, and lack of harassment.
 4. Nature parks - A lot of these have showers or running water, and are great places to clean up. I will use these when I am out wandering around the world.

Temperature Control:
 1. Fan-tastic fan - This is an amazing device embedded into my roof that will move air in/out, automatically open when a user-defined temperature is reached, close when rain hits the sensor, and use below 3 amps even on high speed. Price tag = $200. Actual worth = much, much, more.
 2. Van A/C and Heat - When traveling down the road, a working A/C and heat unit are a great convenience.
 3. Insulation - Just like in a house, insulation is an energy saving necessity. In the winter, you will want to keep all the warmth in your mobile abode that you can. In the summer, you want all that warmth to stay away from your inner coolness. Although it depends on your van and situation, I recommend installing both styrofoam and fiberglass insulation in the walls/ceiling/floor of the van.
4. Sun reflectors - Most heat will enter your van through windows in the van. Luckily, sun reflectors can deflect a huge amount of those warm, damaging sun rays away from your van's interior. Currently, I only have one for my front windshield, but I plan on buying two more for the passenger and driver windows.
5. Electric blanket and Coleman thermal camping bag - I haven't been through winter yet, but ohhh yeah.. I'm ready.

 1. Three-drawer wooden cabinet - This big ol' cabinet stores ALL my clothes in the top two drawers, and most of my bulky SCUBA stuff in the bottom drawer. I put the microwave on top of it in an effort to waste ZERO space. To stop the drawers from opening while I drive, I have a tension rod directly in front of the drawers that goes from the floor to the ceiling.
 2. Six-drawer plastic organizer - This can be used for anything, but here's my setup so you can get some ideas:
Bottom two drawers - Dry foods and sauces
Third drawer from bottom - Cooking supplies (matches, skillet, pot)
Fourth drawer from bottom(smaller drawer) - Tools, screws, miscellaneous items
Fifth drawer from bottom(smaller drawer) - Toothbrush and medicine
Top drawer - Soap, shampoo, face wash, deodorant, and cologne
3. Long, skinny plastic organizer - This stores all my rarely-used items underneath my bed. Everything from extra cooking equipment, silverware, propane tanks, tools, and small blender go in this hodge-podge bin.
4. Briefcase w/ passcode - This is temporarily storing all my sensitive, personal information. Eventually, this will all go into a safety deposit box.

I continue to add more effective pieces of equipment to the van as I think about them or have a necessity to change. It is a continuously changing environment that I can create to suit my every need. Mobility, comfort, basic human needs, happiness, and most importantly... freedom. Free from debt, free from unnecessary waste, free to discover, and free enough to be flexible, happy, and appreciate the temporal nature of this world.

Thank you all for taking the time to read and think about my blog. Best wishes to everyone!


  1. Great start to the blog!
    If you haven't already, I just wanted to invite you to visit Vandwellers Facebook Group.
    It is always great to find another vandweller blog!

  2. Like my wife up there ^^^ said, nice start on the blog! I will enjoy following you!

    A thought though to make it easier to find you, on your profile that shows up when you follow someones blog, add a link to your blog here so people can track back to you. I wouldn't have found you or known about your blog if Heidi hadn't told me. (I am glad she did)

    Let me know if there is ever anything we can help you with!

    97 Roadtrek 170P "Taj Ma Trek"

  3. I agree, nice start to your blog! Always great to have more vandwelling blogs out there. Great information, I love your lists of what you keep with you. I see you have a 2nd battery hooked up, that is what I hope to figure out in the very near future for my van. Thanks for sending me the link to your page, I'll definitely follow it. Did you put a link to it yet on the Vandwellers Yahoo Group? Sorry it took me so long to check it out... With it being so nice out and with me being so busy working, on top of being in my van, I just haven't been online hardly at all lately. Can't wait to read what you post next, and sometime, could you maybe post some pics of your gear? I'm curious about your 2nd battery setup and your GSI camper's kitchen set.

  4. hi. thanks for the post. along with a couple of other blogs, i'm using it to setup my honda odyssey. take care.