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(This is the draft Introduction for a book I am working on about van living:

© Lenny Flank 2017

Why I Live and Travel in a Van

There are two basic types of people who live in a camper van: those who have, by unfortunate circumstances, been involuntarily forced out of their home and into their vehicle, and those who have voluntarily chosen to live a mobile lifestyle in their van. These two groups are not the same. 

The United States of America is the wealthiest society that has ever existed in all of human history—wealthier than the Roman Empire, wealthier than the Spanish Empire, wealthier than the British Empire, wealthier than all of them combined. Yet with all these immense riches, a much-too-large part of our population still lives in poverty, and thousands of people every year are pushed, through unfortunate circumstances, into homelessness. (And most of us, whether we recognize it or not, are just one financial catastrophe—a sudden layoff, a divorce, a serious illness—away from a similar situation.) Many of these people end up living in their car or van because it is the only “shelter” that is available to them. These unfortunates, who are unexpectedly pushed into homelessness, did not ask for that lifestyle, and are trying desperately to get out of it. And in turn our society responds by criminalizing them, removing them, or pretending that they are not there. 

This book is intended for the second type of van dweller—the ones who have willingly made the conscious decision to give up their fixed-abode apartment or house and embrace instead the mobile camper van lifestyle. Although we are often inaccurately conflated in the public’s mind with the involuntarily homeless (and unfairly treated the same way by the law), our situation is completely different. We van-dwellers are not “homeless people”, just as hikers and backpackers are not “homeless people”. Whatever way one thinks that homeless people and panhandlers should be treated (and I think they are treated utterly unfairly), we and they are not the same thing, and should not be treated as if we were. Perhaps what we need is to re-think our society’s definition of “homeless”.

Unlike the involuntarily homeless who are suddenly and unexpectedly forced to live in their vehicle, we van dwellers have usually been planning our transition for months, and have already gathered all the resources we need to live a comfortable life. Rather than being ashamed of our mobile lifestyle or trying to make our way out of it and back into a house or apartment, we who are voluntarily apartment-less or house-less (we are not “home”-less) embrace our lifestyle, love it, and have no wish to go back to a fixed abode. 

So why voluntarily live and travel in a van? The short answer is: “Because I can.”  I’ve always wanted to travel the country, and this is the best and most flexible way to do it. Since I’m in my latter 50s and not getting any younger, I wanted to do the traveling while I’m still young enough to live the vagabond life that I always wanted to live. It’s a big country, and I want to see all of it.

The longer answer to the question “Why live in a van?” consists of several reasons.

I have heard it said that life is a trade-off between “comfort” and “freedom”. People who live in nice houses have many creature comforts and possessions, but, being tied down to their abode and their nine-to-five job to pay for it, they have very little freedom. On the other hand, in my campervan, I have not very much space for possessions or creature comforts, but I always have the freedom to pull up stakes and go as far as I want to go, any time I want. 

Most people picture van living as rough and uncomfortable. In reality, though, life in a van is not all that much different than life in an apartment. The mobile lifestyle became do-able for me the instant I realized that, even when I was at home, all I really did in my apartment was lay on the couch/bed, watch TV, read, type on a laptop, and sleep. It really made no difference to my comfort if my bed was in a second-floor apartment or in the back of a van. And as a van dweller, I could still read my ebooks and watch TV.  I still go out every day and visit places and see things, just like I did in an apartment. The only difference is that now I go home to sleep in a van. 

Van dwelling is eminently flexible. Those like me who don’t mind roughing it can do so, and those who like to have all their creature comforts can do that too. My own setup is pretty minimalist, since I am very non-materialistic and don’t mind a zen lifestyle. But I still have a sink for washing, a stove for cooking, a washing machine for laundry, a toilet to poop, an outlet for electricity, a TV and movie player, and a bed for sleeping. They’re just smaller and, sometimes, a bit more primitive.

Some people get by with nothing more than a rolled-up sleeping bag in the back of a cargo van. Some people, on the other hand, have decked out their van so much that it is virtually a mini-apartment on wheels, with wood paneling, plush carpets, fridge, and microwave. And some people live in quarter-million-dollar Class A motorhomes that are as big as an apartment and have all the amenities of home. For everything that needs to be done, there are a dozen different ways of doing it—and one of those ways will be suitable for each and every person.

In talking with fellow campers, I have found that a great many of us are also avid hikers and backpackers. Which is not at all surprising. We share a love of adventure and exploration. We don’t mind spartan surroundings, though we also appreciate some creature comforts. When we are accustomed to carrying everything we need on our backs, even a small camper van seems palatial.

Today, technology has made it easier for more people to live a mobile life than ever before. Not only has the computer and telecommunications revolution made it easy to stay in touch with friends and family from anywhere, but it has completely changed the way many people make a living. For many, “telecommuting” online has made daily commuting and office life unnecessary; people who work at tech support, graphic design, freelance writing, or dozens of other jobs can now work comfortably from home all day, in their jammies, any time they want—even if that “home” is a travel van.

I, for instance, make my living as editor of a small publishing company. The type of publishing I do is called “Print on Demand”, and everything I do is online. I edit manuscripts on my laptop, typeset them and lay them out, and then upload the finished book files to my POD printer in Tennessee, and the ebooks to Amazon Kindle. Once a month, I get the royalties deposited into my bank account for all the books that were sold. That gives me enough to live on, and I can do my work anywhere I happen to be. I’m not tied to an office—I can make my living at any place where I can open my laptop and get a wifi connection. So on the road, I spend three or four days a week (especially if it rains) camped out in a library or a mall food court, doing all the work I need to do. There’s no “rat race” here—I work when I want for as long as I want, and can take off any time I feel like it and visit a zoo or local museum. My “job” is no longer the core of my life—it is simply a small part of my day-to-day routine which gives me the means to do everything else. For me, every day is a weekend.

Life becomes much simpler when you live within thirty square feet of mobile floorspace. A wise person named Henry David Thoreau once gave some great advice: “Simplify”. Living in a van is like living at Thoreau’s Walden, but on wheels. You learn very quickly what is a necessity, what is a luxury, and what you can do without. “Possessions” are no longer things to be coveted, acquired, stored, and accumulated. 

Since I used to work as an organizer for both Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, I also appreciate the “greenness” of the van life. I try to live lightly on the Earth. The little bit of electricity that I use comes from solar; the total amount of all the things I own are less than an African villager. Even though my van gets 20 miles to the gallon, my actual driving is less than half that of an ordinary city-dweller, and nearly all of my local transportation is done by city bus. My carbon footprint is minimal, and my use of resources is miniscule. 
And I am far closer to Mother Nature than any apartment dweller. Houses and apartments insulate us from Nature (literally). In a van, you are actually part of the outdoors. You’ll feel the humidity when it rains (and hear it on the roof). You’ll feel the cold of winter and the heat of summer. You’ll hear frogs and insects at night, and birds in the morning. 

As a van camper, I also get to be outside all year round, and live like the birds do. When wintertime comes and the temperature and snow both fall, most people stay inside, wrap themselves in a blanket, turn up the heat in their apartment, and wait for the springtime sun. But with a camper van, I don’t have to wait for the warm sun—I can just drive to it. Like the birds, I can go north to the warm summer and then south to the warm winter.  

Van travelers also get see the country in a unique way. While we can hit all the tourist spots if we want, we can also be self-contained and independent, and travel to the far-off “boondock” spots with no motel in sight that no tourist ever sees. And we become a part of our human surroundings as well as our natural surroundings, immersing ourselves in the local culture as we interact with local people. Every day is new for a van traveler. Instead of doing the same things in the same places day after day year after year, I am in a different city every month, visiting different places and meeting new people every day.
In short, the van-dwelling lifestyle can be summed up in one glorious word—freedom. No schedules, no bosses: wake up when you want, go where you want, stay as long as you want, work whenever you want. No one is freer. It’s the ultimate vagabond dream.
.... I'd add " a natural disaster" as a possible cause of sudden need to live in a mobile ...
Very nice writeup and basically covers everything I feel. Do you mind it being copied for others to see? This is the real American dream, not the one manufactured for us by society and the leeches that are attached to it.
Let's not repost the whole draft over and over again. Reply without it.
Not to hijack the thread, but the reason for Bob's response on quoting for the newbies( and the longer term members that continue to quote with every reply)
I appreciated how he differentiated the difference between those who want to versus those who have no choice. Case in point. I was watching some Youtube video of a guy in his van of him just sitting in the drivers seat talking, which is rather boring for the whole video, I then read in the comments where he said if he had an extra $1000 a month he would rather have an apartment. Well, pretty much stopped watching at that point. I'd rather see enthusiasm of van living...not listening to how hard life is. But, I do feel for the guy, he has a couple kids and his job is a "go-nowhere" job that he wants to leave. Anyway, I can identify with much of what this author speaks of, as I'm sure many of us can.
I agree.  One of the nice things about this lifestyle is that a person may find a good job in his/her travels and lock into it and return to the sticks and bricks if he/she so chooses. 

There are many people who live in "dead end areas" and simply dream of their luck changing.  Young Guys go into the military to escape and many young girls try to marry a serviceman (or join the military themselves) to
get out of such dead end places.

If they can just liquidate everything (or nearly)  and fix up a Van or something to hit the road in,  they may be able to get to an area with some opportunity for them.

This Vehicle dwelling way of life can be many things to many people.  Some will embrace it as a way of life and "full time forever",  where others may find creative and unique spins on it  to meet their own ends.  They may go through a period in their earlier life as a nomad and connect with a traditional life and return to it.  Still they may look back on it with nostalgia and seek to return to it in their retirement or keep a rig for their free time from work.   I used my Van to travel and Job Hunt when I was younger and was successful at it.  Once employed  I used my Van as a way to create opportunity for myself in a situation where other workers (married with families) didn't want to take the assignments.   My offer was a breakthrough idea that none of the executives had any experience with.   None of my coworkers owned a Van nor had any interest in traveling or sleeping in one while in transit to another assignment. 

People are only limited by their imagination.  The notion of traveling and living in alternate types of RV's is a big step in the direction of reasoning and imagination.   Those who undertake to live this lifestyle will find opportunities they may never have dreamed of as there is no "one right way" to go about pursuing this.
Hi eDJ I wanted to say thanks for you post and enjoyed your detailed and simple Van and Cargo Trailer designs.
Peace & Blessings
Few thoughts:

1. You really do make the distinction between voluntary and involuntary stick, and hard. Is there an implied criticism of the downtrodden there? Or a sense of superiority? And do you want that? Reading, I got that feeling somehow, rightly or wrongly. If nothing else, that you have summarily shut the door on the idea of the desperate having any fun or redemption, or perhaps being any of your concern. Maybe a few words would fix it, but it's an "emotional tone" kinda question.

2. Do you think that cross-over between the two types is common? You portray the groups as distinct, yet the example of Bob is one of someone who made a desperate choice and was miserable about it ... until he finally changed his mind and not only decided he loves van life, but wants to do it for the rest of his life ... which had begun to open up before him.

3. Considerations such as these can turn the overall tone from grim, dismissive, or pessimistic to optimistic. People love optimism. And it sells.

4. You're a bit busy with the punctuation and asides, and repeat some language. Could use some tightening up.

5. Are you satisfied to be limiting your subject to vans specifically? Would you want someone living in a trailer or RV to pick up the book in a bookstore, thumb through it, and correctly determine that it had neither relevance nor appeal to him? Compare to this forum, and Bob's youtube interviews, which I'd bet would be much less popular if they didn't encompass many forms of mobile living. Is it the truly the van part of it that is your subject, or the mobile life?

Just a thought, I'm not saying what your focus should or shouldn't be. I mention it is because a smaller potential audience means narrower appeal and smaller sales.

6. Is someone living in a van a possible subject (and reader) of your book if he is not mobile? A focus on vans becomes more narrow if you reduce it to someone too exactly like yourself. If it has instructional value, will the book show someone how to be themselves, or how to be you?

7. Along such lines, this intro has a strong concentration on you. The word "I" is everywhere. Yet the reader doesn't know you yet, or why he or she should be reading about you or want to know you or buy your book. Is it time to orient readers toward that yet -- details of what you do for a living, your thoughts about this and that, etc. -- which they may or may not relate to or care about? Or would it be better to set up a scene that invites the reader into your world in such a way that he could imagine *himself* as the subject? A story, a joke, a killer anecdote rather than a lecture or elucidation of what a total stranger happens to consider interesting points?

I usually don't comment on writing, but as an editor yourself, I thought you might appreciate some honest feedback.
How nice to read such an articulate and well - planned piece! Please let us know when your book comes out. I'm a sucker for good writing!
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