Snowbirds Nesting in Ehrenberg 2015: Living in a Van Off-Grid
It’s time to do my annual post of returning to Ehrenberg, Arizona for dispersed camping in the winter. It seems like the longer I’m a Snowbird the more I become like a real migratory bird! Every winter I come home to almost the exact same spot because it has the warmth and provisions I need to make it through the cold season. Unlike the real Snowbirds, in the summer when I travel north I go to a different spot every year. They’re following their in-born instinct, but I’m following my itchy-feet and instinct for wanderlust! If you are looking to join me in camp, there’s a map to this camp at the bottom of the post. This year we’re the on the main road on the left.
Sometimes people ask if I get tired of always coming back to the same place, and that’s a good question. I have friends who would say yes, they get very tired of it so they come here for a few days or weeks, and then they’re gone, following the call of the open road. On the other hand, I’m very content to return to the same place every winter and stay for months at a time. I’ve given some thought to the difference between us and why some people can never stay in one spot for long, and others are like me and can happily travel all summer but then just as happily settle down to one spot in the winter. In this post I’d like to share my conclusions.
Traveling means burning gas, and that’s expensive. Many of us are on such tight budgets that no matter how much we want to travel, we have no choice but stop and be stationary at times. Since the weather is so bad in most places in the winter, it just makes sense to stop and stay where there is decent weather. Even though gas is cheap right now it’s still expensive and by sitting in one place during the winter we can save up the gas money for the summer when the snow is gone and the land is alive again. The main reason I come to Ehrenberg is I can live so cheaply and easily here:
- Because there is no Ranger Enforcement, we don’t have to move camp every two weeks, saving on hassle and gas costs.
- It’s a very large area and can easily accommodate 30-40 campers without being crowded, so we get to see old friends again.
- We’re only 7 miles from Blythe, CA which has good, cheap shopping. It would be better if it had a Walmart, but the local grocery store, Smart and Final, is quite cheap and we can still eat for a minimum amount of money.
- There is easy access to the necessitates like water, trash, dump stations, mail and showers.
- While it can get cold here, generally we don’t need to burn propane for heat, and when we do its not often and even then only for a few months.
Saving money is a big consideration for many of us, but I believe there is another, deeper and more profound difference in how long we stay in one place during the winter.
Humans are odd creatures! While we all have some degree of itchy -feet where we instinctively want to move and travel, we also have an instinct to establish a “nest” (to continue the bird metaphor). By that I mean we all want a sense of “home” and belonging to a place. I think the Lakota tribes of the plains are a perfect example of that. While most of them were nomadic and moved with the seasons, they also had an extreme sense of belonging to the land and that the land belonged to them.
It’s nearly impossible for the civilized mine to understand their feelings because we are totally caught up in the concept of “ownership” and “property.” The Lakota didn’t own the land and it wasn’t their property. Instead, it was the place where the bones and bodies of their fathers and mothers were, they had come from that land and they would return to the land. The only way to understand it as a spiritual connection; they loved the land like family. So at the same time that they moved constantly, they also treasured and revered the place they called “home”. When the Europeans came to steal it from them, they were more than willing to die to keep it.
The concept is summarized in in this simple Lakota phrase (quote from Wikipedia here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitakuye_Oyasin):
Mitakuye Oyasin (All Are Related) is a phrase from the Lakota language. It reflects the world view of interconnectedness held by the Lakota people of North America. This concept and phrase are expressed in many Yankton Sioux prayers, as well as by ceremonial people in other Lakota communities.
The phrase translates in English as “all my relatives,” “we are all related,” or “all my relations.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys.
So we have conflicting instincts. On one hand we are born with a desire to wander and to have adventure, but at the same time we long for and need a connection to the land and to place. If you’ve been around on-line gatherings of vandwellers like my forum, the Vandwellers facebook group or the Yahoo Vandwellers group, you know this is a topic that comes up constantly. On a regular basis someone recommends we collectively buy a piece of land that we share. Another topic that comes up is the idea of merging homesteading and vandwelling by growing your own food or having chickens while living in a van, RV or even truck. Unfortunately neither of them are practical ideas, but it reflects the longing of our heart that it constantly reoccurs.
Different Ratios of Instincts
It seems to me that the pull of the conflicting instincts has a different ratio for most people. With some the instinct to travel is so strong, and the need for a home is so weak that they simply must keep moving no matter the cost to them. With other people travel is a definite tug, but it’s not strong enough to overcome their need for place. For a very large group of people, their civilized training has virtually obliterated their awareness of the desire to travel. Or the constant fear-mongering they’re subjected to has made it such a fearful idea they recoil in terror at the thought of it, even while they long for it
I’m convinced the instinct to travel is still there in all of us, but the practical reality is the majority of people are so out of touch with it, it might as well not exist for them. I’m also convinced our dis-connect from it is one of the main causes of societies social ills.
Finding a Balance
For me, I actually have a fairly strong need for place, but my need for travel is greater. That’s reflected in my choice of vehicle to live in. I have a converted cargo trailer that becomes a comfortable but easily movable home in the winter, and then in the summer I put it in storage and travel in just the van–I get the best of both worlds! I travel 5 months out of the year and “nest” for the other 7 months. So I’ve come to believe I have about 50-50 ratio of adventure instinct and need for place. The reason I consider them even, is that even when I’m nesting I’m still on wheels and can and do move around.
Whatever the ratio might be, its such that there is no way I can ever live in a house again, being unable to move would be devastating to me and life would be unbearable. I may stay in one place for months at a time, but I still know I can move at any time if I want to–and I need that!
On the other hand, I have friends that it seems like their travel instinct is 90%! They can not stay still! Even after a few years of nomadic life, they never stay in a place for more than a few weeks. So we’re all different and there is no right or wrong in it. You travel as much as feels right to you and sometimes you travel more and sometimes you travel less.
The main reason people come to this website is that they feel the tug of travel and adventure. I’m under the impression that many, if not most of you aren’t travelers and you may never be. Your instinct to travel is strong, but your fear of change or instinct for home is stronger so you come here to live vicariously through us.
Finding Your Balance
Whatever your circumstances, it’s important you accept yourself right where you are and embrace your life. But, at the same time you should try to bring your life as close as possible to your natural balance. Maybe that means you can never be a full-time nomad, but can you be a part-time nomad, taking trips as often as you can? Here are some possible steps you might consider taking:
- Can you trade your car for a mini-van and get it ready to spend weekend trips camping and traveling in?
- Embrace the minimalist attitude required by the nomadic life and start selling and getting rid of your excess clutter and stuff. Save all the money you can from it.
- Stop buying more crap you don’t really want and need.
- With less clutter can you move into a smaller home and start saving money every month?
- Can you move into a van and start paying the rent to yourself every month?
- Can you get a bike and start riding it to be healthier, build up your stamina, be closer to nature and to save money at the same time?
- With the savings you build up by 1) selling things, 2) no longer buying as many things and 3) moving into a smaller place, can you afford to buy a vehicle to travel in and start taking trips?
- Can you work less hours or change to a job that you like more?
- Even if you still can’t get as much travel in as you’d like, wherever you are there are parks and natural places nearby where you can go and spend time connecting to nature. You’re life will be greatly improved if you start doing that.
It’s almost certain that every person reading this can take some of these steps. I firmly believe that if you will take as many as you can, your life will be better and you will be both healthier and happier.
Give it a try!! You have very little to lose and a whole lot to gain!