upwardly mobile hobo?
November 30, 2006 5:00 AM   Subscribe

What sort of gear would you recommend for someone who wants to try living out in the open air for 6-12 months?

It costs to much to be a single person renting a property right now - I work full time and still cant cover basic bills and expenses. How can I leave the world of home-living behind? I was genuinely interested in seeing if it is possible to live without rent/mortgage, phone, gas and electric, council tax etc. Could someone carry all they needed on their back and live under the stars for six months to a year?

Imagine not having to pay for any bills save for a cellular phone, post office box and that's it. You can still work and get paid and even visit a gym for exercise/cleanliness etc. The necessary monthly expenses will probably come to less than 15-20% of my salary as opposed to the current >95%.

What sort of equipment would you suggest/recommend? It's the UK, it's not exactly warm and it's got to all be portable. Internet access is required via wifi cafes etc. I'm reasonably fit and not afraid of sleeping in a tent in the wild since we're not exactly inundated with dangerous wildlife here.

It's a thought experiment right now but if it can help me out financially then it's cool. Plus, when it's over and done I can maybe write a book about the experience and then retire to a nice warm apartment somewhere.
posted by longbaugh to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This might be a good place to start. This title looks especially relevant.

Good luck!
posted by fire&wings at 5:05 AM on November 30, 2006

Have you considered squatting? A few friends I know did that for several years and they still miss it at times, now that they're paying extortionate rent/council tax etc.

Also, where in the UK are you based?
posted by slimepuppy at 5:35 AM on November 30, 2006

The big thing is staying dry, especially if you need to stay presentable. Keep in mind that if you get wet you won't just be physically miserable, you'll also have trouble packing everything up the next morning. So a good tent, and multiple tarps are probably required, as is good rain gear.

Frankly, I think that this is tough to pull off because if you've got no basecamp you've got to carry everything with you...and that's a lot of stuff to carry all the time. If you're going with a basecamp setup, your shit is very vulnerable.
posted by OmieWise at 5:39 AM on November 30, 2006

Me, I prefer a hammock for sleeping out in the woods. Smaller, lighter, and more comfortable than a tent. You'd also want a big tarp to keep the rain off when you're outside cooking or whatever.

Could someone carry all they needed on their back and live under the stars for six months to a year?

Sure, there are many lists of things to bring on wilderness trips that will give you an idea of the minimum you'd need. But, you should most certainly try it for a couple of weeks before you even think about doing it for six months. I expect the most difficult part would be finding a suitable place to stay for that long, anywhere near somewhere you can "work and get paid".
posted by sfenders at 5:41 AM on November 30, 2006

A bicycle would make a good basic ingredient I think. It would capable of carrying a reasonable amount of gear - including a tent. Also gets you transport.

One alternative would be to try to find somewhere to stay rent free (a house, a boat, etc) in return for looking after the place and maybe doing some work on it.
posted by rongorongo at 5:44 AM on November 30, 2006

Though this doesn't directly answer your question, you might want to read Ditchmonkey's blog. He spent a whole year living in the woods to raise money for the Woodland Trust. I think some of his trials and tribulations and successes might be of relevance to you.
posted by randomination at 6:01 AM on November 30, 2006

Obviously being far from civilization might not work because of the all important food and water thing. If you plan it right you should be able to squat in some abandoned buildings near enough to a city to have access to a grocery. Such a plan could easily be done in the states as long as you do some scouting and planning in advance.

That being the case you can get away with a bare minimum of equipment. A sleeping bag, camp stove, and a flashlight could work as a bare minimum.
posted by JJ86 at 6:05 AM on November 30, 2006

This guy does it (for charity, originally). See also this guy, who does it for lack of any other option.
posted by jacalata at 6:07 AM on November 30, 2006

not afraid of sleeping in a tent in the wild since we're not exactly inundated with dangerous wildlife here.
I think I'd be more concerned about the dangerous locals (especially at kicking out time).

If you are in an area without a huge waiting list, you could get an allotment and live in a shed put up on the land. This likely wouldn't be allowed under the tenancy agreements but, hey, if it's anything like my local allotments, no-one would know. You'd also benefit from a fair bit of security as a lot of alotments are now gated and locked up.

But, as suggested by slimepuppy, squatting might be easier (get yourself a copy of the 'Squatters Handbook').
posted by tnai at 6:14 AM on November 30, 2006

What kind of work do you do? This might be doable if you do manual labor for a living, and don't have to look neatly pressed all the time, but if you work in an office or similar environment you're going to have a hard time keeping your clothing presentable while you carry it around in a backpack. Maybe you could take your last month's rent and buy a very cheap used car so you could have more storage space and some kind of shelter. That's very similar to what this blogger did to get out of debt, although she already owned the car. She's now sufficiently well off financially as to consider work optional.
posted by textilephile at 6:24 AM on November 30, 2006

I've thought/researched this before, this is an urban take, car living is dry at least, there's some lists with more and more about voluntary simplicity with lots of info.
posted by jacobjacobs at 6:31 AM on November 30, 2006

A knife, and a class at Tracker School. That's it.
posted by Ostara at 6:39 AM on November 30, 2006

Please don't do this. I think this is a very dangerous plan. Humans are not very well adapted to deal with the stress of having no fixed and safe shelter. A home is more than just a place to sleep: it's a place where you can feel safe.

Talk to a few homeless people and social workers who are used to working with them. You will find that a lot of homeless persons have severe mental problems, even if they were perfectly healthy when they hit the streets. The ones I spoke to were very often paranoid, incoherent, and seemed to live in a fantasy world (a dangerous and unpleasant one where They were always trying to hurt them). It's caused by the stress of living out there. Violence and cold are very real side effects of living 'under the stars'. As are loneliness and the contempt of your fellow man.

According to social workers I interviewed, it's very difficult to reintegrate into the real world, once you have spent as little as five (!) days on the streets. After that, it becomes harder and harder to care about time, appointments and personal appearance. You may not even notice yourself that you are deteriorating.

Be aware that in most Western countries, a postal box is not sufficient for government administrations. Most homeless people I have spoken to had no more medical insurance, no more ID papers to speak of, no welfare checks coming to them. Administratively speaking, they did not exist anymore. Please do not underestimate how easily you can fall through all the safety nets in the 'civilized' world. It's very bourgeois, but The Man needs to know where you live to care about you. That means a fixed address.

The impact will probably be lessened by the fact that you have a job, I grant that. But I wonder if you will be able to keep the job when you actually live on the street.

I would concentrate on finding a job with better pay, or working two jobs, or finding cheaper accomodation. If you do decide to go out, make sure that people close to you know where to find you, and make sure that you always have a backup plan (even a basement or a garage at a friend's).
posted by NekulturnY at 7:01 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

A car isn't a terrible idea; especially since it gives you somewhere (relatively) safe to keep your gear. What about camping out in a friend's backyard?
posted by craven_morhead at 7:05 AM on November 30, 2006

This person was in a similar situation. When she entered college, she maxed out eleven credit cards. The debt became overwhelming. She took Drastic Measures sold nearly all of her possessions, sublet her apartment, went homeless, and worked multiple jobs.
posted by stereo at 7:48 AM on November 30, 2006

A small van sounds like the perfect compromise. Find a friend who has a spot off an alley where you can park at night. Get a solid panel van so people can't look inside and so you can create built-ins, including a sleeping shelf. Not as cheap as being homeless, but way more practical and still vastly cheaper than renting a house or apartment.
posted by LarryC at 8:22 AM on November 30, 2006

You may also want to invest in the back issues of Dwelling Portably which approaches your idea with more of an eye to making it a lifestyle. Some of it is a bit too extreme for me (think home dentistry) but generally it's very well written and has a lot of good ideas for living outside including the questions of what gear to have, how to hide your food, where to bathe, check email, how to get mail etc. It's wreitten from a US-isn perspective, but I would think a lot of the tips are sensible. Their information is here but if you want to email me your postal address, I'll send you my back issues.
posted by jessamyn at 8:35 AM on November 30, 2006

Response by poster: Just to let you all know - I've had some survival training many years ago - though not really "urban" in it's outlook - making and breaking shelter are not really a problem as the job I work doesn't require me to start until late morning - I'd be able to kill a couple of hours in the day before going to work - and no, I don't really need to be that presentable (no suit, just not smelly casual clothes).

slimepuppy - it's in Sheffield - not too bad an area in my mind. Squatting wouldn't be ideal - I'm far too independent (for want of a better word) to do something like that.

OmieWise - I understand that staying dry is one of the most important aspects of the exercise - I know I'd need a fair amount of waterproof kit - especially if I have a laptop etc. Charging electrical goods isn't an issue either - I can do that whilst at work on the sly... As far as carrying the kit - I'd rather have a 100lb Bergen than leave it somewhere vulnerable - carrying that isn't so bad.

tnai - The denizens of Sheffield, whilst annoying when pissed are not really a threat - I'm a big lad and know how to care for myself - and I certainly have no intention of sleeping out where the pubs turn out - I wouldn't say no to some kip now and then.

textilephile - It's an office job but I can dress down with no problems at all - as long as I look fairly okay - it's not like they expect me to dress all nice for them - they know me by now and don't expect me to follow their rules (I have understanding managers).

Ostara - It's the UK and I would be in dire straits with the old bill if I carried anything more than a penknife on me - I won't be needing to make any snares. I can afford to eat very decently indeed if I have no other responsibilities.

NekulturnY - I have alternate addresses of friends to use as postal addresses if required so that isn't really a major problem, and yes, I do have my work colleagues and friends to speak to. I am happy to spend time on my own so yes, whilst I probably do have a risk of mental illness if I am Down and Out in England I am prepared to give it a try even temporarily to see how it would work. Having the internet alone would make a massive difference as at least then I can stay in touch with people I care about. Believe me when I say that there is no cheaper accomodation than that which I already live in and it's (honestly) a rat infested, poisonous shit-hole. It's dangerous to live in and not at all safe but there is no other option that costs less. I won't be able to locate an alternate job as I am way overqualified/underqualified for most and a second job is out of the question as I work strange hours and have other responsibilties.

craven morhead - A car would cost a minimum amount (say £200) and then you'd still have to pay insurance/road tax and possibly parking dependent on the location - I'm trying to keep it to a minimum amount of gear and expense. I'd also rather not rely on friends for money or any other form of support - the idea is to do this on my own to reduce my burden on others.

Thanks all so far for the ideas and suggestions. I appreciate that it may not sound like a fabulous idea but it's something I am only considering at this time - things are bad but not quite that bad - I just need to work out what sort of financial/weight budget I am looking at if it gets to that point.
posted by longbaugh at 8:51 AM on November 30, 2006

You should take a look at www.crazyguyonabike.com. Those crazy bicycle tourers spend months away from home, with only the items they can carry on their bike to rely on. Some do 'credit card touring' and stay in hotels but there are plenty of travel journals from people who sleep in a tent or hammock every night for months or even years. Most of the journals start with equipment lists that you will probably find useful.

You could also build yourself a pedal-powered mobile home.
posted by J-Garr at 12:00 PM on November 30, 2006

As it sounds like you are seriously considering this, I think it is worth saying that it seems like a terrible, terrible idea. People do not voluntarily become homeless because it is not a good way to live. In my opinion, the fact that you are seriously considering this is possibly a sign of an inability to make rational decisions in itself (maybe you're just too stressed by the financial issues to think clearly?), and you should definitely try and talk to some kind of counsellor or welfare person before making any drastic changes.

Would you be better off quitting your current job and getting two minimum wage jobs? If you have your current job because what you do is meaningful to you, think about how useful you'll be if homelessness does turn you into a paranoid wreck.

Finally, I realize that you don't want to be a burden on friends, and so on, but bear in mind that it may be emotionally difficult for them anyway - if one of my friends were to do this, I would feel incredibly guilty for letting them go so far and (as indicated by my comments above) would find it difficult to believe that they did not in fact need help.
posted by jacalata at 7:28 PM on November 30, 2006

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