Finding Heaven on Earth: How Boondockers Spend Their Time

This is my friends Steve camp. I have passed many hours with him just like you see us here, We've spent hundreds(or thousands)  of hours just visiting, playing with our dogs  and simply mesmerized by Nature. There was a long period of transition to get where we were totally content and happy to do "Nothing but "BE". But we have both found it to be heaven on earth!

This is my friends Steve camp. I have passed many hours with him just like you see us here, We’ve spent hundreds of hours just visiting, playing with our dogs and simply mesmerized by Nature. There was a long period of transition to get where we were totally content and happy to do “nothing” but “BE”. But we have both found it to be heaven on earth! Many of the ideas in this post I got from Steve

One of the questions I get all the time is “What do you do all day?” Most people who read this blog know that I am retired and don’t go to a job every day and they also know that I spend nearly all my time camping out in nature; either the National Forest in the summer or the desert Southwest in the winter. So they think to themselves, “What does he do with himself all day? He must be bored out of his mind!”

And I understand how you might think that. For most of my life I lived the same way you all do. I worked full time and was married with kids. So every day was busy from the moment I woke up to the moment my head hit the pillow. And then I would lay there awake thinking about all the things I hadn’t got done and fret about how I was going to finally get them done. There was NEVER a moments silence and peace in my mind! Not only did I constantly worry about all the busy work I had to do, I continually replayed arguments and problems in my mind over-and-over again. And there was never a shortage of them to replay!

When that is your entire life, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a life without it. So when you think about a 24 hour day without a single obligation or problem (like vandwellers have) it’s incomprehensible. And I have to be honest with you, the first 6 months or year after I retired and hit the road were unpleasant because I always felt guilty that I wasn’t being “productive” and I missed the drama in my head; “I should be doing or worrying about something!”

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have—for their usefulness. ~Thomas Merton

I’m convinced that we are addicted to the busyness and drama that is trained into us by society.  We are literally, physically addicted to the stress hormones that are released into our body by the perpetual drama and frantic activity. And when we go cold-turkey from it at retirement we go into withdrawal and try to fill the void by frenzied motion.

So what many of us do is be super busy the first year after we retire. That’s what I did. I had a lot of pent-up longing to travel so I drove thousands of miles that first year and visited dozens of National Parks in many different states on both the East and West coast. The longer I’ve done this, and more fellow vandwellers I meet, I find that to be a very common pattern. The first year, maybe two, after we hit the road are full of frantic activity driving everywhere and seeing everything. Then after that, we tend to slow down and smell the roses. What causes us to slow down and relax?

I believe that all the time we spend in Nature heals, soothes and changes us right down to the core of our being. I know it healed me! If you’ll give Nature enough time, it will transform the way you view the world.  You’ll start to slow down and relax. You’ll find peace of mind that you never had before. Slowly you’ll become comfortable in your own skin; able to be alone with your own thoughts. Do you know why so many of us love the idea of “multi-tasking?” I think it’s because we don’t want to risk even a moments silence inside our own head listening to the angry, hateful voices that live there. So we fill our time and thoughts full of work, music, TV, radio, anything that will drown out the sound of our own thoughts.

“Man’s heart away from nature becomes hard.”  ~Standing Bear

Slowly we discover that Nature calms the anger and drama in our head and things start to calm down and relax. You’ll start going for walks in nature and then suddenly realize you are drama-free and happy; that’s what happened to me. I’d get up in the morning without a care in the world and step out of my camper and look around at the beauty everywhere around me in total silence and quiet. I’d just stand there soaking it in. I was happy, joyous and free. At first that seemed very odd, because I had never experienced it before in my whole adult life. After a while it became the norm for me because my every moment was like that. Of course the majority of the time I wasn’t consciously aware of it, but it moved into my conscious thoughts often enough to know it was my normal life and not a rare event.

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have—for their usefulness. ~Thomas Merton

The reason I am telling you all this is because otherwise there is no way for you to understand how a Boondocking  vandweller spends his time. I know people who spend the majority of their day doing nothing but sitting in a chair contemplating Nature around them. All of them I know spend some part of their day doing that, even if it is only when they are out for a walk.

So here is a list of how we spend our time. You’ll notice that the great majority of it is the same for us as it is for everyone else in the developed world. We are just average people doing average stuff. The difference is that most of us do it with a calm, quiet mind that is drama-free. And that makes all the difference! For us, we have found our own Heaven on Earth!

How Boondockers Spend Their Time:

  • Mesmerized by Nature: Just sitting or walking so deeply immersed in nature that time stands still and is no more. If you will only slow down and open your eyes to see it, there’s an astounding amount of drama and activity going on everywhere around you all the time.
  • Reading: Many of us exchange books with each other or in used book stores. Many own eReaders like a Kindle or Nook. Some read on our phones or tablets.
  • Playing with Our Dogs and Pets: Homer is my greatest joy and an endless source of entertainment! Serving and taking care of him takes quite a bit of time, but brings me more joy than anything else in my life.
  • Writing: Blogs, websites or eBooks are all things you can write and possibly even make you some money. Journaling is a popular activity out here and I know people who spend several hours a day at it.
  • Surfing the Net: Most of us are on-line a few hours a day or more. With my Verizon data card I have am rarely without internet access. Those few times when it wasn’t there, I just moved to where I did have it.
  • Putter on Projects on the Rig: This is a never-ending source of activity! No van or RV is ever  totally done! There is always some other little improvement you want to make!
  • Visiting with Other Vandwellers: I’m rarely totally alone anymore, so there is generally somebody around to visit with. I actually spend more time every day visiting with friends now than I ever did before I moved into a van
  • Listening to the Radio: Generally I can get over-the-air radio, but occasionally I can’t. So I got Sirius Satellite radio and have never regretted it. I think it is the most entertainment you can get for $17 a month
  • Watching Satellite Cable TV or Over-the-Air Broadcast TV: For an average of  $50 a month I get all the local and cable channels I want (including History, National Geographic and Discovery). For very little money you can buy (or make) a TV antenna, mount it on a mast, and get a surprising number of broadcast channels.
  • Cooking: I know several boondockers that make a marvelous meal every night just because they have plenty of time to do it. Living in a van is not an excuse to eat badly! Many people find cooking to be very meditative!
  • Hobbies: There are lots of hobbies you can have in a van like photography, musical instruments, sewing, or astronomy. What have you always been interested in but never have had time to do? Just choose one and get started!
  • Learning: You can take college courses on-line or even take them at a local senior center or Community College. WWOOFING (World Wide Opportunity on Organic Farms) is a way to learn about organic farming, and get free room and board. Learning should never end!
  • Arts and Crafts: There are so many different arts and crafts you can do in your van I couldn’t even begin to list them all. Maybe you can even make a little money from it or keep from spending money for something you can make or do yourself. For example, you could learn to knit and make yourself a new sweater, hats, mittens and gloves. That way you can stay busy, keep warm, and many people find it very meditative and relaxing. The skies the limit on the endless possibilities! Use your imagination!
  • Volunteering: This is easier for city vandwellers, but even if you a Boondocker there are numerous opportunities to volunteer. You just have to be creative and find something you are passionate about.  I have a friend who joined Search and Rescue and another who builds and maintains trails in the National Parks. They aren’t paid, but they get a great sense of satisfaction from serving.
  • Religion or Spirituality: Perhaps you have always wanted to develop your spiritual side but the busy-ness of life has stood in the way. There couldn’t possibly be a better time or opportunity for that than for a retired vandweller. All you need to do is take the first step and let the adventure begin. Who knows where it may take you or how it may improve you!
  • City Vandweller: If you are a city vandweller you have a whole world of things to do in any city: museums, book stores, movies, clubs, lecture series. The possibilities are endless.

Believe me, I have just began to scrape the surface of the possibilities that are open to you.  Your whole life has been one long preparation for this moment. The choice is yours; will you seize the day and leap out into the unknown and let it lead you wherever it will, or will you remain in your rut just living like you always have?

In the words of the Lee Ann Womack song:

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’
Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth makin’….

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance

(Written by Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers)


I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

28 comments on “Finding Heaven on Earth: How Boondockers Spend Their Time
  1. CAE says:

    Nice quote from Merton. He really did a good job of explaining the human experience from a westerners perspective.
    Meditation is a great way to learn to let go of all the nonsense we’ve become accustomed to in our heads.

  2. Roy says:

    Well spoken Bob, I have been retired three years and I am just learning how to relax and spend my days. I do dance at night in the city.

  3. Desert Rat says:

    Great post, Bob.

    Hey, I’m curious about Steve’s van. Did he get it from a guy in Colorado named Wayne? If so, I’ve ridden in that van in a few crazy 4 by 4 places – it will go about anywhere. Just wonderin’. :))

    • Bob Bob says:

      Desert Rat, coincidentally, I just happen to know he bought it from a guy in Moab, one of both yours and mine favorite places! I remember him saying one of the owners was a smoke-jumper and one of the others made and sold Native American Teepees. That’w why it has the huge rack on top, to carry the poles. But I don’t remember which states they were from. That rack is one-of-a-kind chances are there are no others like it.

      • Desert Rat says:

        LOL – That’s the same van. My friend also did the teepee thing and spent part of his time in Moab. That’s a GREAT van – we took it up Behind the Rocks and went on some gnarly Jeep trails – it will go anywhere.

        Thanks, have been wondering, as it is one of a kind. Small world. Steve got a real gem there.

  4. Canine says:

    I’ve just discovered Hulu. Impressive. For high-def downloads am wondering about high-speed Internet on the road. I see you use Verizon. Are there lots of options depending on a person’s specific needs, or is there a service you prefer overall, like Verizon?

    I was born and raised near the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, but now live in the city. I miss it terribly. Lots of people like the city, and that’s fine, but it isn’t for me.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Canine, if you are going to stay in the city, then it doesn’t really matter which provider you go with, they all do a good job. But if you are going to be traveling then nobody compares to Verizon. You definitely want to go with them

      The “Unlimited” deals for cell data are a trick. After you’ve used a few gigs they will throttle back the speed of your signal so it is too slow to stream video. So you can’t use too many gigs per month.

      It is totally impractical to try to watch a lot TV or videos on any current cell data plan. There are a few people grandfathered in on old true unlimited plan, But none we can go get.

      The best deal is on Millencom. They resale Verizon minutes at 20 gigs for $79 a month with no contract. I know many people with that plan and they all love it. The best deal available. Better than the “Unlimited plans because the whole 20 gigs is at full-speed.

  5. Ian says:

    Hi Bob, I am glad you addressed this issue. I have done research on every aspect of vandwelling and this is the one issue that concerns me (I’ll start vandwelling as soon as I retire). I know people who retired and say after six months they were going stir crazy and decided to go back to work. I want to avoid that and this helps. Thanks, Ian

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ian, for a short while after I retired I lived in a house and I hated every second of it!! When I hit the road, I’ve LOVED every second of it.

  6. Calvin R says:

    Bob, that’s another nice “attitude and background” post. Thanks for the good specifics, too.

  7. @ Desert rat: the van spent all of its life in Utah, except when traveling…

    My first year vandwelling was full of challenges and I was always working on my van… I was either fixing/replacing/improving some thing… When i finally caught up on things it was pretty easy to shift down a couple gears and get in touch with my surroundings… At the moment I am heavy into reading, catching up on a passion that I long ago put down for life in the Matrix, I must have read at least 20 books/novels in 2013…

  8. sameer says:

    It is Heaven on Earth, Bob. I now have time to nurture my Soul. I wake up every morning filled with the joy of ‘being’. Drinking coffee looking out at the most spectacular vistas. My dog takes me on a walk and I wonder about his primordial memories as he journeys on his path. Sometimes I just stop and gaze at Natures beauty and I get a ‘chill’ that I am part of all of this. I am completely happy and at peace for the first time in a very long time.
    Every where I look I see the work of the ‘Divine’.
    Camping here I am in a very unique situation. I am here with a group from the RTR. We meet every morning in a Tribal gathering exchanging thoughts. Such a wonderful and unique group. After a while we all go our separate ways. I feel part of this group and yet all respect each other’s privacy. I read, and think, and have many projects daily. In the afternoon I even sing and sometimes dance, as it pleases my Soul. Also many walks with my dog, as I have promised him the greatest life possible for all he has given me. Never did I have time for this….and now I do. How grateful I am for this wonderful life. I feel at one with Nature and all of it’s wonder.

    “Nature is the very being of man; therefore, he feels at one with nature.”
    Hazrat Inayat Khan
    sameer recently posted…Finding Heaven on Earth: How Boondockers Spend Their TimeMy Profile

  9. Diane says:

    Another great post Bob. Although I am not van dwelling or full timing (yet) I can relate to the words you wrote. I quit a very NON-rewarding job as a truant officer in a high crime area in South Ca. and accepted a seasonal position with the National Park Service. I now live in a very small town In central Texas with almost no crime and a much slower pace. I too looked for the “drama” that was a part of my every moment in Calif. It was gone…it took about three months before I had that “moment” pure contentment. What used to be a part of my everyday life (drama & fear) now feel like a TV show when I hear from those still living in that mess. Something that I find interesting, some look down on me for my choices or tell me that I am selfish for leaving to follow my dreams. I know these feelings are based in other issues…but it still sucks. I work with several volunteers at our park and it seems that many experience a pretty harsh backlash when they leave the madness of common society. Keep up the good work Bob, even though I don’t respond to all of your great posts…know that I enjoy and look forward to reading them 🙂

    • Bob Bob says:

      Diane, thank you for a such a nice comment. I can relate very much to your idea of a “moment” of clarity when suddenly all was right with the world!

      I also relate to the idea of people trying to make you feel guilty for being “selfish”. It’s sad when choosing to be happy means you are a bad person.

      It all comes down to the constant brainwashing society inflicts on us. Anyone who thinks differently will face some persecution. You are very brave to follow your dreams and to insist on being happy!

  10. Stephen says:

    Dear Bob,

    Thank you so much sharing your experiences, especially the deep healing and peace you have found. I’ve spent about two decades working in an office and dream of a life of vandwelling.

    I’ve been following your websites and others, learning as much as possible for about two years. I recently bought a used Class B+ RV and am getting ready. Tonight will be my first night in the RV. Though I’ll just be “vandwelling” in my driveway tonight, I’m excited about taking this step in the direction of my dreams.

    You are doing more good for humanity than you know.

    Namaste and warm wishes,


    • Bob Bob says:

      Stephen, you are about to enter a great new adventure!! If you are like the majority of us, the best time of your life lies just ahead!

      If you have any questions, feel free to ask!

  11. Will says:

    Been reading your post Bob as well as everyone added 2 cents and its been great information. My wife and I are retiring in a few years, and we just bought our 5ther. We are planning on boondocking for most of our time and the info you are teaching me is just pure gold. If you write a book on Boondocking I am the first in line to buy it.

  12. Will says:

    Edit my last post, I just noticed the ad that has been staring at me this whole time. So I am now the latest to buy it not the first 🙂

    • Bob Bob says:

      Will, thanks for getting the book, I hope it is useful to you! That book is a general introduction to mobile living and only partially about boondocking.

      Have you joined the forum? Lots of helpful people there!

  13. Cameron Elliott says:

    Thank you so much for the huge amount of information you share on this blog. So very helpful. In a week my wife and I are about to begin living with our children in a 1997 Dodge 3500 15 passenger van with our five children. We are going to remove some of the rear seating to create space for beds, storage and a multi-purpose area.
    What are your thoughts on that type of vehicle for vandwelling??

    • Bob Bob says:

      Cameron, I got be honest and say that I don’t think it is practical for 7 people to live in a van. It may be possible, but it will not be pleasant. You can probably get an older Class C or A motorhome for about the same price as a van and be much more comfortable.

      If it were me that’s what I’d be doing.

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