When the Path Leads You in a Circle


There are often common steps taken by those who plan to dwell in vans or RVs.  Serena (R.I.P.) was an amazing little vandwelling kitty – an inspiration!

Good afternoon friends.  It’s been a little over a year since moving to a permanent dwelling… and I’ve been doing some thinking and reflecting about lessons learned as the 50th birthday approaches.

This may sound sacrilegious but I’m going to say it anyway…

Long-term vandwelling is probably a bad option for most folks.

Numerous Internet groups promote vandwelling and full-time RV’ing.  Don’t get me wrong – they do a great service to the RV and camping community.  But at the same time, you don’t always hear both sides of the story on what it is like to live in a vehicle.  I saw a lot of people like myself who, when first introduced to vandwelling, were excited and enthusiastic.  But on down the road a ways, many came to dislike it.   I realized that vandwelling – in my case – should only happen again as a last resort.  (Though occasional van camping remains a TERRIFIC outlet for healthy, safe fun!!!)

Throughout this period, I noticed a common path for many of us – steps that most folks seem to follow in a certain order.  Sometimes though, as in my case, the “road less taken” brings a person right back to a permanent home!  Here are the steps that led me into and away from living in a van starting nearly five years ago.

Fantasizing and romancing.  We are told that living on the road will be exciting, will simplify the number of possessions (which is often very true!), potentially cost less money, and will offer the chance to travel with all kinds of freedom.  It sounds terrific!  (and can be at times)  Then the planning begins.

Planning.  I was excited about this phase and did some experiments at home to simulate living in a confined area.  Blogging about the future life further added to the anticipation of living in a vehicle and provided a framework from which to build the dream.

The conversion.  This was the most exciting phase.  I got rid of the dilapidated 1974 mobile home I’d been living in, bought a van, started converting it, and sold off or threw away many possessions.

Evangelizing.  Still bursting with enthusiasm, I blogged about how living in a van full time and living minimally (which I still endorse!) was the best way of life, trying to inspire others and convert others to being vehicle dwellers. In a way, it was almost as if preaching the faith was an attempt to convince myself that this was the right thing to do.  At times I really believed that the rest of the world was nuts for not also wanting to live in cars, trucks, buses, and vans!

Dabbling with it.  I lived at Dad’s off and on in the van, venturing out to go camping, fishing, hiking and bike riding.  It was fun!  The risks were minimal because there was always a safety net to some degree – a home base.  But by this time living in a confined area was getting old.

“Living the dream”  For a short time, living in a van on a farm was the cat’s meow.  After Dad’s death, vandwelling saved me a lot of money while working on the house and estate.  To take off and roam a bit was a wonderful option.  There were few bills to contend with and little responsibility.  When the weather was cooperative, one could park anywhere and avoid camping fees; mother nature provided electricity via the solar panel.  It was a dream come true, or so it seemed.

What did I get into?  Fatigue eventually set in, particularly when the rotator cuff was injured and sleeping in a van daily became painful.  A person has to ask him or her self if this lifestyle is all that it was dreamed to be.  For me, some of those moments were while driving down the road not knowing where to sleep next, encountering campgrounds full of noisy folks, accidentally peeing all over my hand in the van while standing up (low ceiling) or longing for a hot shower – without having to slip into a gym.

There were other stressors.  Keeping my cat (Serena) safe and comfortable was a frequent concern.  Having to rent a storage garage for possessions was expensive and inconvenient.  Often the night’s sleep was shallow and I worried about the potential for law enforcement contacts.  When living in the van, all of the “eggs” were in one “basket” so to speak.  I was concerned about vandalism and it was stressful knowing a car accident (or even just a mechanical breakdown) could put a person out on the street. None of those things were thought about very much prior to vandwelling – it was easier just to dismiss them…  People don’t always talk about the negative aspects on the Internet… or just downplay them.

At the same time, being isolated and living in a van (when many consider you strange for doing so) is tough emotionally.  Most of the friends disappeared.  I got tired of using laundromats and bathing in restrooms and gyms.  Permanently living in a vehicle was becoming decreasingly desirable.

Acquisition of a home base.  One of the best moves made in this “soon to be 50” life was to buy a used 1995 16’x 80′ mobile home (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms) in August of 2014. It has been close to maintenance free (just fixing a few shingles, mowing the yard, painting the deck, etc.) and has provided relatively cheap and comfortable living.  Unlike the last trailer, this one is not crammed full of possessions nor is it likely to be.  I actually have fewer things now than when moving in a year ago.  Some might ask “What if the furnace dies?”  I would counter with “It’s cheaper to replace than an engine.”  There is no comparison when you look at the sheer size.  Living here IS far cheaper per square foot than vandwelling.  That’s not to say that it’s cheaper overall because there are more taxes, insurance, etc.  But some things are worth spending money on if it is within one’s means.

Home Base

Best of both worlds?  Living in a decent trailer home and traveling by van might just be the best of both worlds.  The van provides a relatively comfortable means for the desired type of recreation; it’s a dirt cheap RV. The trailer offers affordable creature comforts, a better controlled climate, and far more space at a relatively low cost.

One of the best things about living here with Jesse and Jennifer is that I am 6/10ths of a mile from work.  There is an incentive to hold on to the job as long as one can make a living.  When residing in the van, there really wasn’t as much motivation to make better friends, remain employed at the same place, or be a part of a community.

This journey has led full circle back to living in a mobile home but with one added blessing. Under the canopy is a cool camping van that has been many places and will visit many more.  The journey is not going to end any time soon!

So, should you go full time?  Ultimately, the decision to get rid of everything and hit the road full time is a personal one.  If I had one wish for every man or woman on the planet, it would be to find what makes the individual comfortable and happy in life.  That might mean dwelling in a van or RV or living a frugal, dual life (living in a modest home and camping cheap) like the cats and I enjoy.  But above all else, go with your heart… If someone tells you his or her lifestyle is the only way to be happy and drastic actions are imperative, mull it over but make your own decision…in good time.  All that glitters isn’t necessarily gold, quartz, or Quartzsite for that matter!

In any case, safe and happy travels always!

What’s next?  It’s Sunday and I have some time off coming up.  Kitty “Jen-Jen” hasn’t been too far from home yet.  The weather forecast sounds good.  We might just have to take off and do a little camping and see how she likes it.  I’m contemplating something tasty to cook up as well.

Thanks for reading this post and take care.

Bradford, Jesse James, and Kitty Jennifer
Jones County, Iowa

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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

10 Responses to When the Path Leads You in a Circle

  1. John Abert says:

    You make valid points, Brad. The lifestyle isn’the for everyone, especially those who have never followed the progress of the RVing/van dwelling movement from the beginning.

    Some of what you mention directly relates to fears, mostly because of lack of experience and knowledge. When you know where to camp for free, there is no reason for authorities to bother you. In the number of blogs that I follow, I can assure you that the ones who have been at it awhile, KNOW without a doubt that they will have a place to park for the night, even if they don’the know exactly where that is until they get there!

    Without a doubt, space, and even standing height, can be a problem for some, while others have been accepting it for years, and would STILL never go back to a conventional home!

    With having been traveling and camping regularly since 1982, and rough camping long before that, I have seen the changes. I have camped in everything from a tent to a 40-foot motorhome, and from back woods to luxury resorts. We have learned by getting out there and doing it. But just in the last ten years, and even less, new ways of doing things have emerged, spurred mostly by the Internet.

    There’s no reason to worry about where to stay or getting bothered by authorities, when you have countless free resources and new organizations to locate safe places!

    Even work is not an issue, for those who still need a job to sustain their lifestyle. The jobs are everywhere! Again, all you have to know is the sources!

    You say your mobile home is cheaper than living in a van, and yet you still need a vehicle to drive in addition to it. You live in harsh and often windy snow country, where it often dips below zero, and you have over 21 times the floor space to heat and cool (even more if you figure it by volume). Van dwellers have none of that, because they live in what they drive…one insurance, one tax, one registration, and far less maintenance on the property, even if they would have to replace an engine! And rather than pay heating/cooling bills, they simply move with the weather so they need neither one! And as far as work being close, most Work ampersand live on the property they work for and often go days without even starting their vehicles! That equates to tremendous fuel savings and wear and tear on the vehicle! More money saved!

    Travelers often put fewer miles on their vehicles than home-bound people, if they stay a couple weeks at each parking spot!

    But some people have no spirit of adventure, nor persistance, and they give up a potentially great reward because of minor inconveniences that can be fixed by better educating themselves about the lifestyle, and sticking with the situation, whether it be living in a van, sticking with a job, or putting up with a spouse, all of which involves compromise and dedication.

    But as someone once said, “everybody’s got to be somewhere” (referring to life cucumstances). We are all different in one way or the other, and will make the choices that are often easiest…not the best.

    • VanTrekker says:

      Thanks for the comments, John. I agree with much of what you said.

      We all have different needs, desires, and reasons for doing what we do. Vandwelling is not easy. I find it happier (and easier) living in a homebase with the two furry pals and using the van to wander a bit. It’s not cheaper but being happy is the ultimate goal. Having found happiness – even in snow country – makes this the best solution in my mind. You’d be surprised at how low the utilities are in a well insulated newer mobile home.

  2. Jo says:

    Brad, you bring out what you felt about your experience and no you don’t get to read about that side of it.
    I don’t know what John’s side of this is but living in a 40′ MH seems a lot more comfortable than wheew he came up from.

    I think you gave it your best shot in the van. I don’t understand him mentioning fear on your part. Maybe I’m not reading it correctly.

    I have learned quite a bit from trying to camp in my camper shell, It’s tough in bad weather, not being able to stand up is the biggest problem for me. I gave lots of thought about selling my Mobile home which is the same size as yours Brad, but I would never be able to replace it if full timing didn’t work out.

    Yes we need to know what is best for us and not what someone else thinks.

    Your living your life pretty full if you ask me. Keep enjoying yourself Brad and have a Happy Birthday and many more enjoyable camping trips and your new to you home

    • VanTrekker says:

      Thanks for the very kind note, Jo. It sounds like we have much in common. It’s a lot of fun camping and doing it our own ways… even if we can’t stand up! It sounds like both of us are happy with our mobile homes, too. Having that home base adds a lot of stability. Like you, I hope to never sell my trailer for the same reason.

      I agree that perhaps that word “fear” might be a bit harsh. I think it’s good to have a bit of trepidation. Even in Iowa, if you camp at Walmarts, in wildlife management areas, and even in campgrounds, law enforcement might knock if you’re in a non-traditional camping unit such as a cargo van or cargo trailer. There IS a bit of prejudice out there. I’ve also had people try to open the doors on the van when I was inside.

      It’s always so nice to hear from you and your comments are very supportive. I felt John’s comments were unnecessarily harsh but went ahead and approved them because they illustrated exactly what I was getting at… Some campers think full-timing it, work camping, and such is the only way of life and cannot understand why some of us prefer not to go that route.

      Again, thanks for the kind words and birthday wishes. Take care!

  3. Tina says:

    Hi Brad
    Thanks for putting both sides out there. You are so right about how exciting and free it sounds, then the fear of the knock on the door by police, or vandals, or trying to find something to do because it’s too hot to stay in the vehicle. The cramped space, etc. I think there is gypsy blood in most of us and who wouldn’t want to hit the road and leave your old troubles behind? But like you said, it isn’t perfect and while old troubles may go, new ones are always waiting. You are an inspiration for you truly have it all!
    Wishing you the best

    • VanTrekker says:

      Thank you for the very kind words! I remember those days when it was like an oven in there… and had forgotten about them! Some days it was hot until midnight. It’s not easy but living in the van helped me get by when times were tough. It’s always an option… You are so right though – a person trades one set of challenges for another. Thanks again and have a spectacular day! 😀

  4. DazarGaidin says:

    gluck to you. for me vandwelling is about independence. Remember that feeling you had when you told the train boss to stuff it? because you knew that you didnt need him. My worst case scenario is total vehicle failure. after living fulltime for over 2 years i have enough money to rent a uhaul, empty mystuff in it, and drive it to a storage unit until i can fix or replace it. In my home, i had to depend on my boss good graces to keep what i had ,,/off the street. I can also pick up, and just roll out. But i understand what youre saying. ive been discouraged before, but a lot of that was from anchoring myself to one inhospitable place, for work. Not an issue now, as i left. You do still have the option if you need to, and that option is valuable imo. Whatever makes ya happy.

    • VanTrekker says:

      Thanks for the note and the insight. Yep, it’s a great feeling being independent – I’ve told a few bosses to stuff it. There’s no doubt that vandwelling is always an option and does offer lots of independence and more peace of mind than many have. It’s kind of nice knowing that. Take care and thanks for commenting. 😀

  5. Rod Duell says:

    Great job Brad for stimulating a constructive and polite discussion of a vital question. I learned a lot from both your initial posting and the responses. This is a great example of why your postings are a ‘must read’ for me!