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"

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