Living in a Van
January 29, 2007 12:59 PM   Subscribe

How feasible is it to live in a van?

I want to quit my job and travel around living in a van. I like sleeping in enclosed spaces. i dont like material possesions.. i like simlicity and freedom- the idea of just writing and reading all day without owing my time to anyone. I want to live cheaply. I would sleep in the van at night but i wouldnt really spend much time in it. I would park it either in or near a city or on the outskirts. During the day Id be in the public library (where there are public restrooms). Im from the cold northeast so I want to take my van south where the are warm cities, maybe arizona or southern california. I dont want to freeze at night when im sleeping in my van. The city would need to have good libraries. I would park my van in empty parking lots or industrial lots or whatever i could find, so it would need to be inconspicuous and blend in so I wont get bothered by cops. I am thinking either a dodge 1500 or a chevy express van because they are both cheap and look like the typical white service van. I dont care about having windows or much space. all i need is a sleeping bag, pillows and lots of books. To wash clothes id take them to a laundromat and for showering i can get a gym membership. Id buy a lot of rice and dry bulk food that you can cook just with water, you can make some nice meals with a bunsen burner stove, beans, soups, noodles etc. I would get lots of batteries for reading light. Im not doing this out of desperation because i'm broke. The point is so that i can be FREE and not have expectations from anyone and to see if its possible to survive on my own and take care of myself without paying rent. I do have 40K set aside- i want to make it last as long as I can. My question is, am i crazy? has anyone else had experience living out of a van in a city? what else do i need to worry about? hearing your stories would be very helpful!
posted by petsounds to Travel & Transportation (75 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
People drop out now and again. Whether theyre crazy, is well, up to you to decide. But yes it sounds kooky. Why not maintain a place and then go on an extended roadtrip. Get a cheap place wtih a roommate or two adn tell them you wont be around long. You might even get a big break on rent.

I wouldnt live in a van. I'd get some kind of small camper or a Westphalia or whatever the modern equivalant is. If you stick to camping areas you wont be bothered by the police and you'll have access to a shower.

Why not spend that money traveling overseas and arranging for transport and rooms? Sure beats driving in a smelly van out by the river.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:06 PM on January 29, 2007

It sounds like the novelty would wear off by about day two. Why not backpack through Europe, or hitch-hike from Alaska to the Panama Canal or something?
posted by mendel at 1:12 PM on January 29, 2007

I'd be concerned a bit about security, break-ins etc. Also a place to forward mail or be reliably reached by any friends or family you might want to keep in touch with. I guess you could do email if you were going to frequent public libraries.
posted by handful of rain at 1:13 PM on January 29, 2007

To second damn dirty ape, I have an ex-programmer friend who decided to drop out and go backpacking through SouthEast Asia. This was a couple years ago. His savings was no more than yours and he's still there.

Much more adventurous and fun and social than being mistaken for a homeless person, in my opinion. He estimates his daily expenses at $10-20 a day including lodging.
posted by vacapinta at 1:13 PM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: dirtyape those are some good points. strangely tho im not interested in seeing europe and meeting people and having overseas experiences (altho im sure that can be wonderful). what i want is to not work anymore and not go to school and just have time to read lots of books and be by myself. im not a very social person. i think you were spot on when you said drop out. i would like to drop out, for as many years as i can. i do currently rent an apartment but its more than i need or enjoy
posted by petsounds at 1:15 PM on January 29, 2007

Condensation will be a problem for sleeping in the van. Find something with windows that you can securely leave open while sleeping so that you stay dry. Any setup that allows a cross-current will be best.

Have you looked into visiting any Intentional Communities instead of finding a warm city? Many are open to short and long term visitors and would provide a haven from worrying about crime/vandalism or being hassled by the authorities.
posted by peeedro at 1:22 PM on January 29, 2007

Gym memberships only seem economical to me if you plan on staying in one place for some time, at least a month or so.

Camping supply stores have flashlights and other devices that you crank to generate their power. This may save you $$ on batteries in the long run.

Be sure to round out your diet so that you are getting as many nutrients (and flavors) as possible. There are many amazing foods and ingredients that can survive these conditions. there are many fresh fruits and vegetables that can be stored at room temperature for days without spoiling.

Be sure to keep your van clean, indoors and out. If you wind up needing to explain yourself to law enforcement, this will add credibility to your kooky adventure. Being perceived as crazy (as opposed to eccentric) could make things a lot more difficult or dangerous. And for most people, filth + homeless = crazy.

I'd keep something handy for self-defense, just in case-- but nothing that aforementioned law would consider a weapon. How about a baseball bat? And since you've got $40K, spring for a ball and glove as well so that it doesn't look like you're just itching to pop someone's skull.

If you are going to be gravitating between several regions or cities, rent PO boxes so that you can receive correspondence. It will help your friends and family if they know they can write you, and it offers you a destination if inspiration ever fails you: "Guess I'd better go check my mail in Wichita!"

Buy a telescope. Look at stars.
posted by hermitosis at 1:25 PM on January 29, 2007

My partner and I have talked/daydreamed about doing this many times. The key is, I think, (as mentioned above) not to get a van but rather get some kind of small camper and or some such. Living in a van is generally considered homeless and somewhat sketchy. "Camping cross country" is (somewhat) more socially acceptable (eg: all those grandparents who sell their homes and buy $160,000 campers are really "homeless" but are not considered so by most of society). A guy living in a white service van could very easily get picked out as a possible child molester/drug dealer/sleazy guy. Not so much with a camper; another plus is that you can actually use campground every once in while and get a shower and enjoy some "campground culture".
posted by anastasiav at 1:27 PM on January 29, 2007

I've lived in a van for roughly 10 days while being a touring musician.

Helpful tips I've found...

If it was up to me, I'd go with a cargo van over a passenger van, and then put carpeting on the floor. An cargo van floor without carpet is cold and uncomfortable.

Fast food restaurant chains offer great restrooms. Michaels craft stores offer the cleanest mens rooms in the world.

I've never tried parking in industrial areas. If someone wanted to rob you/do you harm, there wouldn't be many people near by for help.

For parking overnight. The following have worked for me, but you'll hear horror stories about most: Truckstops, rest areas, Chain store parking lots, and city streets.

If you're traveling, most YMCAs will offer day memberships if you need to shower/cleanup.

Shave off as much body hair as you can.
posted by drezdn at 1:30 PM on January 29, 2007

One pro of picking a van over a camper. If you pick a camper, people will assume you're sleeping in there. If you pick a white cargo van, and don't park near a school, there's a good chance no one will see you sleeping in the back (and hassle you).
posted by drezdn at 1:31 PM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: A guy living in a white service van could very easily get picked out as a possible child molester/drug dealer/sleazy guy.

haha well im neither and dont really look it (more like a 20 year old jewish kid). but this brings up another question--is it actually against the law to live in a van? assuming im not illegally parked is there anything under law they can do to me other than say they dont like it?
posted by petsounds at 1:41 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

All of it sounds like lots of fun except the library part.

I know a library is a public place, and a certain much-loved mefi mod might disagree, but my librarian friends loathe the creepy semi-homeless guys that hang out in the library all day leering at the Internet or dog-earing Popular Science between naps. Maybe you could find some time-consuming, rewarding activities, such as volunteering, to engage in while you're visiting these cities. That would certainly help you learn a lot more about each new locale.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:43 PM on January 29, 2007

I like your idea, quite a lot. However I think there are some valid points about the novelty wearing off. I also think living out of a van could impair your ability to cultivate the kind of friendships you might want wherever you go, and unless you're a true hermit you may find this to be a drag.

Here's one idea from left field: land is relatively cheap compared to land with a house. Buy an empty, secluded rural lot in an area you like, in an area that does not have draconian zoning laws. Build a cabin... not a Unabomber shack but something like this (minus the fancy stuff). I kid you not, you can build such a thing for several thousand. I've designed my own place, no kits or plans, and built it myself.. and it's satisfying work. Get some electricity and satellite Internets and you'll be living high on the hog, rent and mortgage free. And there's no social stigma -- a cabin, done right, can have a lot of charm. You have plenty of money left over to wander and travel, too!

If for some reason the county gives you any grief over it, or if you get the itch to move, small cabins can be dismantled relatively easy, stacked into a U-Haul, and rebuilt again.

I would second the idea of intentional communities... my wife has stayed at a couple of them and enjoyed the experience. Being alone, with few belongings, and able-bodied, you would have a huge advantage.
posted by rolypolyman at 1:43 PM on January 29, 2007 [3 favorites]

My question is, am i crazy?
posted by petsounds to travel & transportation

You certainly aren't crazy for having the thought that you would just like to "drop out" and escape all of life's concerns and demands. I'd be shocked if anyone has not had the feeling of "wanting to get away from it all." So having that feeling is no crazy at all.

I would submit that it is "crazy" for you to sincerely pursue this plan you are having (wherein "crazy" means something akin to "not a rational response to the issue"). While everyone has that feeling, the vast majority of people either sublimate that impulse or recognize that ultimately, you can never escape everything. By going to a life like that, you will have new and different demands on your person. They may seem less complex, but they will be there. It is impossible to escape life. It is only possible to delay the inevitable confrontation with it (which is why I would suspect so many homeless people also have chemical addiction problems; they are both things that are ways to "drop out" of life).

Part of being a grownup in society is learning to deal with the beating of life. For one riff on the general topic, pick up a copy of Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents." We have to realize that we can't always have things the way we want them. We have to live in this society, and most people come around to that.

"I just want everyone to leave me alone so I can read" is not a rational plan. It is escapism and delaying the inevitable. If you really want to escape, I think getting a place in the woods all alone would do it. Having to try to navigate your life through cities in a van is not escapism; its an exchange of burdens.

It's hard to say this without sounding rude, but my response would be "grow up."
posted by dios at 1:45 PM on January 29, 2007 [6 favorites]

Personally, I think the novelty value will get old, and that the cost of the van plus gas plus lots of restaurant food (because will you really want to cook on a bunsen burner in the rain?) won't really save you all that much over renting a really cheap room. That said, I can't think of any reason for you to not try it. If you hate it after a week or a month, just go rent an apartment, or buy a bigger van, or sell the van and live out of your backpack. You aren't hurting anyone else with any of these choices, so no reason not to give it a try and enjoy the experience.

But a couple of practical notes: You will need a stable address for van registration and insurance purposes, bank statements, credit card bills, etc. If you have a relative who is willing to receive and forward mail, that is great. My experience has been that friends say "sure, no problem" but then never forward the mail, and maybe even move without bothering to tell you. Last time I had to do this, I made an arrangement at one of those mailbox places (not the postoffice, one of those for-profit shipping places). Renting a box was cheap, and they held the mail until I would phone and say, "please send it all to such and such address," usually a similar business in whatever town I was in. As far as the DMV and the insurance company were concerned, I was living at that address --- I don't think most insurance companies prefer to insure people with no address.

You can park for free (and use the bathrooms) at most Walmarts, but it helps if you don't look too sketchy, because the local police do patrol the parking lots. This is a good general point to make --- you want to look (in behavior, dress, and your vehicle) like "beatnik hippy" or "on the road intellectual" or whatever, not "mentally ill homeless person." People generally like "characters," and will feed them and talk to them, but "drifters" get run out of town and mistreated.
posted by Forktine at 1:55 PM on January 29, 2007

There's nothing that says you can't do this as a trial run when you still have an apartment. If you are really serious about it, you could buy a second hand van or camper and give it a week or so to see how it feels before you pull the trigger and actually move out of your current home. In order for this to work you have to be pretty strict with yourself -- no cheating and going inside to sleep, etc. Play it like you really had moved out and all your belongings are in the van. Give it a week or two without retreating back to your apartment, and see if it really feels fulfilling. If it does, then go ahead, but if not you don't have to go through throwing out all your posessions and finding a new place to rent.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:57 PM on January 29, 2007

Is this what you want to do?
posted by MotherTucker at 2:07 PM on January 29, 2007

i think Rhomboid makes an excellent suggestion.

Oh, and prepare to be subjected to a lot of mediocre-at-best Chris Farley impressions.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:12 PM on January 29, 2007

This is very doable, a friend of mine lived in his van for two years while travelling around Canada. He used his parents as a mail drop with gave him a place to have bills sent to and though technically not kosher gave him residency in a province. Lots of retired people do this as well, they just drive big land wags. Most of the people who get into trouble for living in their cars are tied to a location by a job. As long as you move every couple days you'll be fine. Keeping your clothes and your self clean will go a long ways to avoiding the scrutiny of LEOs.

Phillip Greenspun also did something similar (though only for a few months over the summer) and chronicled it in Travels with Samantha.

Personally if I could get a use anywhere national gym membership (YMCA maybe?) for showering I'd go the cargo maxi-van route. White cargo vans are essentially invisible. You can eat fairly cheaply with just a cooler if you don't mind cold food. Most fruit, many vegetables, breads and dairy all don't require cooking. Sandwich meats, cold cuts, canned fish and ham can be used for meat. And a colman white gas or propane stove can allow you to cook things if you want to make that effort. I like white gas because it can be stored inside the van and is compact. The variety is endless once you put you mind to it. And you can always eat out if you get a craving. Washrooms are at every gas station. About the only special equipment I'd install on the van is an isolator and dual batteries.

Insulate with a couple inches of sheet urethane and then cover with wall board. Plywood over the floor then apply vinyl flooring. Install a bull board behind the seats so that people can't see in (or at least a curtain) and to avoid getting killed by your equipment in a crash. A couple of roof vents will keep condensation at bay (and don't look out of place on a tradesman's van). Fantastic vents are 12V roof vents that are very quiet, they run about $150 complete. Wire all your 12V accessories off your isolated house battery.

Also Walmarts almost everywhere allow people to park in their parking lots overnight. The only exceptions are where local laws prohibit it. You can also sleep at most truck stops though they can be a bit noisy. I've also just pulled into a residential neighbour hood and parked on the street while traveling cross country. As long as your gone by 7ish you aren't around long enough to get in trouble. Avoid littering and loud music.
posted by Mitheral at 2:18 PM on January 29, 2007 [5 favorites]

Many places (gyms, libraries) won't give you a membership if you don't have a permanent address in town. Also, if you have mechanical problems and have to take the van to the mechanic, you could lose your home for a day or two.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:24 PM on January 29, 2007

Two close friends of mine have done this. One loved it and one hated it, but neither ended up doing it for as long as they'd planned.

Several good suggestions above (planned communities, Europe trip, etc.), but it's not like any of them are inherently better than your idea; they're just different.

Two big things that you might not have considered:

1. Being alone. I take it you're sort of a loner-type person. So am I. But there's still something weird that happens when you go months without seeing anyone you recognize. Unless you're extremely outgoing (I'm sure not), you won't have very many conversations that go past smalltalk. Just be aware of this and think about how much it might affect you.

This affected one of my friends very deeply. What was supposed to be a very freeing time in his life ended up being a painful six-months, punctuated by brief periods of fun.

2. Think about where you're going. I know someone will yell at me for saying this, but small towns are actually much more open-minded about people like you than big cities are. You'll get less guff for floating at the library in Vermillion, SD, than you will in San Francisco. In San Francisco, you'll just be "another crackhead using our bathroom," and that's how you'll be treated. I would suggest planning a route that focuses more on small to mid-size cities, which likely means that your gym membership won't be as useful as jogging and truckstop showers.

Speaking of jogging, be in cold places in the summer, be in hot places in the winter, and be in rainy places never.

You can sleep in other places besides your van, too:

A. Hostels are nice. Hosteling International is always a safe bet. Check on Yelp for other hostels.
B. Also, many monasteries and other clergy communities will let you stay for a small donation or work. There's a book somewhere that lists these, but I'm at work and can't search for it right now.
C. Also, there's this.

I've considered this too. But since I'm afraid of driving, I'd get myself a Greyhound pass and use the options listed above.

One eponysterical thought: why not go to school for your CDL? I've known a number of people who went into trucking for the reasons you've listed. Maybe it would be perfect for you.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:26 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't do this. The charm wears off quickly and the ugly realities of living in a van become unbearable pretty quickly. What you really want is a used motor home.
posted by IronLizard at 2:26 PM on January 29, 2007

Rather than roaming in a van, if you are looking for peace and quiet, why not try long-term house sitting options like this ?
posted by necessitas at 2:27 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've never lived in a van but I did travel and sleep in one every night for a week, and I loved it.

We had food/drink, a stereo, clothes and a bunch of sheets, pillows and duvets in the back that we made into a bed. It was a crummy van with no windows in the back and little ventilation but still a highly enjoyable experience.

I wouldn't worry about break-ins, the joy of sleeping in a van is you have all the time you need to find a good location to park for the night, and we had no problem finding secluded spots wherever we went. The joy is parking up, opening the back door and chilling in a new location with a different view every night before bed. Just make sure you have local facilities to wash at :/
posted by fire&wings at 2:36 PM on January 29, 2007

If you have the time to look around, you could find a used conversion van that's well outfitted for traveling.

I know someone who picked up a very nice one with all the amenities, including leather swivel seats, a TV, a bench seat in back that folded down into a bed, a floor safe, a cooler, and a solar cell system for keeping the batteries charged for somewhere between 6 to 8 thousand with a brand new engine. It was only a few years old, too.

It was formerly owned by a band who blew the engine in it and dropped it off at a dealer to have it replaced and never came back for it. I seem to recall the dealer having it marked at around 12 thousand, but it had been sitting on the lot for several months and they just wanted some money for it to pay for the motor. He said it took some hard negotiation to get them to come down that far, but the point is that it can be done for less than the price of a cheap cargo van.

I was thinking about buying it when he decided to get rid of it a few years ago, but I decided I'd rather not spend so much in gas. It was very nice, though.

Excellent motor vehicles of any sort can be had used for a very good price if you can be patient.

Do keep in mind that it will seem very cold (or hot) in any vehicle if it's not pleasant outside. They are essentially uninsulated.
posted by wierdo at 2:38 PM on January 29, 2007

I wanted you to know that this is very similar to my dream. Although, I don't plan on taking it as far as you plan to. I would recommend the truck and 5th wheel trailer option. You _could_ get a trailer with amenities like a shower, washer/dryer, etc... The benefits are that you still have a truck to drive around in if you need to drop the trailer off and have a decent (insulated) living environment. You could probably find both pretty cheap used.
posted by kookywon at 2:41 PM on January 29, 2007

Personally, I think if this is something you want to do, you should figure out a way to do it. No trial periods under six months.

Not exactly what you thinking of doing, but a friend kicked around the country for a year or so in her VW camper van. She spent long stretches "on the road," but they were punctuated by long stays with friends and family (who often served as base camp for smaller regional trips), where she often helped out by being an exemplary guest (picking up kids from school, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog).

During her on the road time, she usually stayed at campgrounds, making sure to stop every couple of days at a commercial KOA-style campground, or a high-end public campground with showers and a laundromat. Commercial campgrounds also have the advantage that they are often closer to larger metro areas than public campgrounds, since they cater to retirees in RVs. She'd sometimes pull off a country road to camp, or maybe stop at a park overnight in small towns, but I don't know if she ever slept in her van on the streets of a larger city.

Over the whole journey she supported herself with some savings, and with some freelance web design work she picked up from existing clients (most of which I think she did while staying at friends homes).

She had pretty much everything she needed in the van, including the built in kitchenette and a portable toilet that she could use when she was camping someplace she didn't want to leave the van in the dark. She could set her space up to get work done using her PowerBook, which she also used to watch DVDs, etc. A cellphone kept her in touch with friends and family (though people didn't call as much as she'd hoped).

I'm sure the novelty wore off after a month or so, but she kept going and was glad for the whole experience.

As other's have noted, you'll probably be better received if you are perceived as a traveler on an interesting if unconventional journey, rather than just some guy who is basically homeless.

From a practical perspective, don't rely too much on ordinary batteries and battery powered lights. Get some 12v lighting that you can power off the vans electrical system. Get a car adapter for your computer and other electronics. Get a small voltage inverter for things that need AC. Put a bigger battery in your van, or maybe get an accessory battery so you can power things at night without drawing down the main battery. You could also pop for a $60-100 solar panel that could probably be used to trickle charge the accessory battery.
posted by Good Brain at 2:46 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure there are no new issues, but you should purchase the 4 collections of Dwelling Portably from Microcosm or Quimby's if you're in Chicago. It's totally fascinating and quite helpful

I would also recommend reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer for another possible reality check. Though it might just make you want to drop out that much more.
posted by mwachs at 2:52 PM on January 29, 2007

A co-worker spent 3 years living in a van. As I recall, here are his main concerns at the time.

1) Safe place to park - No hassle form cops, vagrants, etc.
2) Electricity in the van - He had multiple batteries to allow him to read, cook, etc. as long as possible.
3) Shower/bathroom - He always had his locations planned on how close he was to bathrooms and showers. He told me this was the most stressful thing about living in a van.
4) Temperature - Vans get cold and he spent time putting in insulation in the walls to try to keep the heat/cold just right. Again, he said a long cold night in a van, even in a sleeping bag can be terrible.
posted by Argyle at 2:53 PM on January 29, 2007

I would worry about being able to drop back in again.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:56 PM on January 29, 2007

Definitely feasable, lots of good suggestions on this thread. Do stay out of isolated industrial areas and the like, and areas with a lot of street crime. Books aimed at RVers will have some suggestions on dealing with your mail, etc. On the legalities -- some cities have laws on the books against sleeping on public property, and some cities don't but will hassle you.

Some things to consider:
1. You might want to stay mobile instead of settling down in one city -- perhaps you will try different towns to find one that suits you, or you may not like being in AZ in the summer quite so much. Maybe you will prefer to be in the woods or desert with your pile of books.

2. If you do want to settle down, look into buying some land. If you don't need utilities it will be much cheaper, and being on your own land will avoid hassles with law enforcement.

3. You say you are not a very social person. Living in a van in the city will force you into contact with others, sometimes not under the best of circumstances. Only you know yourself as to your tolerances in this area.

Go for it -- you've got a financial cushion to keep you out of trouble, and you can always sell the van and move to a city or town with cheap rent you've found on your travels.
posted by yohko at 3:04 PM on January 29, 2007

Not to get all 21st century on your ass, but why Steal This Book when you can go all collaborative and updated and StealThisWiki
posted by Happy Dave at 3:08 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've spent a fair amount of time living out of a van in one or two week chunks over the years, mostly on road trips or at festivals. It's not a lifestyle I'd like to lead permanently, but my wife and I enjoy our "portable hotel room" quite a bit.

In my experience, you can get away with sleeping in a van in the same place for only a day or so before somebody (law enforcement, neighbors, bad guys) notices your new digs and causes you problems. Wal-marts, truck stops, rest areas, national/state parks and casino parking lots all are good options for overnight stays. Campgrounds, RV parks, and friends houses are good options for longer stays. (In fact, I once I rented out my carport to a friend who was living out of his van.) Many cities have a place where the homeless and/or people living out of their cars are allowed to stay; I've never tried staying there, but it might be a longer-term option.

Your van may seem spacious when you first get it, but after even a day or two you might start to feel pretty cramped. Find ways to maximize the space as much as possible. Swiveling captain's chairs as the front seats are key to taking advantage of the small interior space. Take some time to build-in custom storage. The old adage "a place for everything and everything in its place" is very important when dealing with a very limited area. Get a van with a pop-top or a conversion roof so you can more or less stand up and move around, get dressed, etc.

Definitely install an auxiliary 12v battery system with an isolator switch so you can use an inverter or 12v appliances without draining your main battery. Fans/heaters (it can get too hot/cold to sleep in a van very quickly) are indispensable conveniences; being able to charge your cell phone or read a book at night isn't bad either.

A tiny MSR multi-fuel stove will burn anything from alcohol to diesel and is a great outdoor cooking option (don't use gas or propane in the van!). We also carry around a propane Coleman RoadTrip grill with griddle/pan/grill inserts that is pretty compact and very useful.

I say you should definitely give it a try if you have the inclination. Have fun and good luck!
posted by maniactown at 3:12 PM on January 29, 2007

I wouldn't take advice to "grow up" too seriously. We all indulge in escapism in our own ways, and some of it winds up being quite fulfilling, whether it entails living in a van or merely being a professional dick-on-the-internet.
posted by hermitosis at 3:13 PM on January 29, 2007 [9 favorites]

You will probably end up caring about windows. For summer, get/make some screens with flexible magnet edges for ventilation, and get/make some shades for privacy. You will probably want to be able to make healthy meals, for which you'll need a camp stove and fuel. It's easy to get an adapter so you can plug stuff in. You'll need a really good car battery. Get a couple books about camping from the Library, and adjust as needed. Safety is critical; get a cell phone.

You describe this in pretty vague terms. But, if you describe this as a project, give it a goal and a name and articulate it well, it will sound better to other people, and maybe you'll also be able to plan better. You could do a blog about living in a van and reading the classics for a year.

You're young; you may not have the opportunity to do something like this again for a long time, so give it a try. At worst, you'll have blown money and time, and you'll drive back to your hometown. At best, you'll learn something.

Total points if you can find an old Bookmobile to live in!
posted by theora55 at 3:20 PM on January 29, 2007

Suggested Google search terms: stealth camping

See also the Volkswagen Van Fulltimers Yahoo! Group.
posted by xiojason at 3:25 PM on January 29, 2007

I have been on numerous national tours in punk bands.... eight to be exact.... I have a good portion of my life on tour and miss it much.

You have the right idea with a white service-style van. A Chevy or GMC 1/2-ton with a 4.3 V6 engine and Overdrive Transmission would be trusty and economical.... try to get a cargo van, regardless.....

I would be wary of a Dodge, they are well-known for transmission problems (expensive) and other engine problems..... Ford vans seem to be a popular choice for touring bands, I am just personally a GM man.....

Also consider a cargo-style Astro-van......

You could even have a second battery installed, along with a high-output alternator, and a power-inverter to plug a few small 110-volt things into, such as a fluorescent reading lamp or hot plate..... With the twin batteries, you would have enough juice to have some light for several hours and cook a meal.... Just have a voltage gauge installed so you can keep an eye on the batteries and not let them get too low.... when they start to get low, you would just start the van until they were charged back up......

And go ahead and either purchase or make some window curtains so no one can see you.... Also a piece of cloth just behind the front seats so they can't see in from the front.... we have done both for about 50 dollars worth of material from the local fabric store......

In my last band, we built a loft of sorts in the rear of our van..... The gear would fit underneath and there was a few feet between the loft and the roof where one could stretch out and sleep..... we just used some angle iron and plywood..... It worked out great, it was actually wide enough to fit two at a time (when you are on the road with three other guys for months at a time, you tend to get close)....

We also removed the rear bench seat and put an all-foam futon in it's place..... If you don't go with the loft idea, I don't see any reason why you couldn't fold it out into a bed to sleep on at night.....

I would definitely get some carpeting in there, too.....

I wish I had a nickel for every time I shaved and cleaned up in fast-food restaraunt restrooms......

Yes, most YMCA's will sell you a day pass as well..... Most truck stops also have a shower room where you can rent a shower stall for an hour or whatever, and it's very reasonably priced, and usually kept quite clean (depending on the truck stop)........

You can also usually find fresh water from a spigot in cemeteries, if you are sly...... though I wouldn't suggest trying to camp out there......

Also, don't forget about campgrounds..... They are reasonably cheap, have bathing facilities, and how cool is it to read a good book by campfire light? Most campgrounds also have reduced rates for weekly permits.

Wal-mart also graciously allows people to park their RV's overnight on their lots, it is a "snow-bird" tradition, Wal-mart figures that if they are nice and let people "camp-out" overnight, then the people will shop at Wal-mart...... This is what my folks do on the trip between AZ and MI every year and back......

And of course there are always rest-stops and way-sides for quick over-night parking for sleep......

As far as parking in other places, every town is different. Usually, it has been my experience that if Johnny Law confronts you, just calmly explain that you are en route to somewhere and had to get some sleep for a few hours and that you will be on your way.

I say go for it. There is nothing quite like the freedom of the open road. You will have many fascinating experiences. Perhaps enough to write a book of your own.

40k? You can get a really decent van for under 10k and have plenty of money to run with. I would say you could live like this for at least a year, maybe two, no problem.....

Oh, and be sure to keep a journal.
posted by peewinkle at 3:28 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

oh, and as I side note, I had a friend live out of his hearse for a few months.......
posted by peewinkle at 3:31 PM on January 29, 2007

On the crazy comment - you sound like you're trying to escape your own frustratations with the struggles with your interpersonal relationships.

(yes, I'm playing armchair psychaitrist - but he asked about if he's crazy.)

I think that living on the road will do nothing to help this and will likely exacerbate it. You'll become more isolated, especially if one day you'd like to quit.

And no health insurance? Yeah, break a leg, in a city, by yourself, van towed while you're in the hospital.

You're searching for a life with no expectations from others. There's nothing wrong with dropping out...see perhaps if you could go to a monastery or the like? Or rent a cabin in the mountains?
posted by filmgeek at 3:36 PM on January 29, 2007

You might want to read the book Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon. He wrote it while driving around to smaller towns and living out of his cargo van.
posted by Melsky at 3:50 PM on January 29, 2007

I want to quit my job

i like simlicity and freedom- the idea of just writing and reading all day without owing my time to anyone.

The point is so that i can be FREE and not have expectations from anyone

I don't think people are grasping the question.

This isn't a hypothetical "can I live out of a van" or a "journey" or "vacation" or anything of the sort. He isn't traveling with his band (a JOB) to different places.

This poster is asking: "Does it make sense for me to quit my job and become homeless just so I don't have to deal with the demands of life."

It is very disturbing to me that people who don't know anything about this guy or his specific state are advocating doing this and offering tips on what should be done. You are basically encouraging someone you don't know to do about the most reckless and immature thing a person can do: runaway from things.

The only rational response is: "Hell no. Your unrealistic and shallow view of what becoming homeless is like isn't going to solve the issues you appear to have."
posted by dios at 3:51 PM on January 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think I like your first idea better.
posted by kmennie at 4:05 PM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is all based on my experience as a patron of libraries. If librarians come along and correct me, please listen to them instead.

You will need to get a library card for each state (there may be states that share, but I haven't encountered any). To get a library card, in all the states I've been in, you need a verifiable mailing address, and P. O. boxes don't count.

You always need a library card to check out books or other materials. Also, very few libraries check your card when you enter, but if they get complaints about you (like "that creepy guy smells"), they may ask you to leave if you don't have a card, or even if you do have a card if you're causing a disturbance.

If you wind up doing this -- not that I think it's a good idea, but it's your choice -- one element that I'd consider essential would be a Discman. Most libraries have multimedia collections with CDs available for short loans. I would take advantage of their CDs almost as much as of their books.

I don't know if you're thinking about bringing a laptop, but if so, many public libraries also have wireless. If you park very close by, you may be able to pick it up for a short distance outside the building. Also, while you may not want to show off your laptop if you're in a big-city library where you're anonymous, if you go into a small library and tell them your story, their attitude will change dramatically when you pull out an expensive hunk of equipment.

Finally, probably the most important piece of advice (other than "don't do it") is "don't hang out near the children's section."
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:11 PM on January 29, 2007

If you do this get ready to eventually hear "No we can't repair this brake problem today, we need to wait for a part " "I'll fill out the arrest report but don't hold your breath that the laptop or the CD's will be recovered" "We wanted to tell you that Mom died but we didn't have any way to reach you" or "Mr Petsounds on the application form you said yes you have been arrested in the past and the reason you put was vangrancy. Is that correct?"
posted by Megafly at 4:33 PM on January 29, 2007

if they get complaints about you (like "that creepy guy smells"), they may ask you to leave if you don't have a card, or even if you do have a card if you're causing a disturbance.

I used to work in a library. People were allowed to stay all day every day, so long as they didn't disturb the other patrons (and being smelly wasn't enough to qualify). We never asked to see a card for someone to just sit and read, or use the bathrooms, or ask for reference help. Cards were for checking out books, and that was all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:10 PM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: thanks, these are all best answers. on one hand im inspired by those who've done this and made it work. all the comments especially the practical advice about heating the van, parking location, security etc, are really helpful. on the other hand the warnings about loneliness, not having friends, being looked at as a dirty-worthless-homeless-person really hits home too. as far as being immature and shallow there might be some truth to that-- but ive had to take care of myself in the past and have a sense of what its like so this isnt a "i think homelessness is cool" type thing. furthermore, i dont think everyone has to grow up in the same way and i dont think theres anything wrong with running away from society, career, house, family-- as long as you do it before youve acquired these things. who knows it might be good for me. maybe ill meet a cute girl in the library and invite her back to my van (ok that does sound creepy)
posted by petsounds at 5:21 PM on January 29, 2007

I have lived in a van for two months over a glorious summer traveling around ontario as a travelling sailing instructor. I was in a white peodophile van (a contractor van). We put a rug on the floor, and build two wooden bed stands over the wheel well. The stands are nice b/c you can put stuff under them neatly. I just got a cheap air mattress(doesn't absorb moisture) and a sleeping bag but you might want to do better than that and throw some memory foam on top of whatever you're sleeping on. We had a little propane stove and a portable coal bbq to cook with. Also ate a lot of sandwiches. we did prearrange places to sleep in, lots of parks, ppl's yards, etc. I say go for it, but don't rough it so much that you look like a hooligan. shower often, stay clean etc. Its easier to get people to help you out or lend you their parking spot if you appear as if you are on a grand adventure and not some smelly creep.
posted by captaincrouton at 5:39 PM on January 29, 2007

There are some self-contained composting toilets that aren't very big.
posted by Anything at 5:40 PM on January 29, 2007

Addressing the logistics side of the question, I can attest that Hondas, esp. the CRX, are rather comfortable to sleep in, even for multiple days. I've done eight consecutive days while road-tripping. I mention this because a nice, sedate coupe with a big trunk is much less conspicuous than a van.
posted by notsnot at 5:51 PM on January 29, 2007

Can you do it? Sure. Should you? nah. Not really, You'd be better off getting a cheap place in one town and hang out in that library. I'd be willing to bet you have less worries with a home of any sort to go home to, even if it is a trailer home in the woods.
posted by magikker at 5:53 PM on January 29, 2007

Definitely feasable -- in fact, there's a long tradition of such-like vagabonding in America. Perhaps not so common among the wimpy Kids These Days as in the old hippie era, but many of my contemporaries went through such a phase and now look back upon it nostalgically.

And don't forget about the retired folks doing the same thing now, in high style in their RVs -- they call themselves Full Timers (another phrase to search on).

For free showers, my tip is to park in a big motel's lot, away from the office, and watch for people leaving, in the morning -- some leave their door ajar. Swoop in and you've got a motel room till noon, or whenever housekeeping shows up.

One aspect of this lifestyle, however, is you become so dependent on your vehicle (and the vitals it contains) that you become very uncomfortable when it's out of your sight.
posted by Rash at 6:41 PM on January 29, 2007

You can do it, easy. You already know what you want to do. A suggestion is that Truck Stops (where the big rigs get diesel fuel) is the place to get a shower (small charge of course). A very small camper would give you a much better life. But, you seem driven. Just make it easy to get money by atm or something so you don't have much at one time. Good luck.
posted by JayRwv at 6:58 PM on January 29, 2007

I've lived out of my truck for months at a time. Personally, I prefer a medium to smaller sized town where you can just drive out of town and into National Forest or BLM for the night. That way you are just eternally camping. In Colorado, lots of people do this for the summer (and longer). Do your homework and pick a place that has public lands nearby and park there at night--it is worth it to drive 20-40 minutes "home" every night for the peace of mind. I've been to libraries that have guest memberships for their summer visitors (Estes Park, CO and Juneau, AK for instance). Also, the city recreation centers are good for showers. Coffee shops are a good place to meet similar folks when you need to talk to someone--and you will. Email is in profile if you want more specifics. Oh, and have fun! Some of my best and worst times were spent 'homeless'.
posted by fieldtrip at 7:57 PM on January 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, and ignore the naysayers on here. Seriously. Don't take advice from people about where you should be going who can't even understand where you are at.
posted by fieldtrip at 7:59 PM on January 29, 2007

Don't listen to all the people telling you not to do this. There's no reason why you couldn't do it, love it, and make it work.

A good book you should check out from a library is Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon.

It might also be worth your time to read Walden, if you haven't already, or re-read it, if you have.

In terms of spending lots of time in a public library, go for it. Whether or not it will bug the librarians (it probably won't), they can't kick you out if you are using library materials (although they can kick you out for being smelly--but if you shower at the Y, that shouldn't be a problem). The relevant first-amendment court case is Kreimer v. Morristown, if you're interested. Just don't sleep in the library, destroy the books, or act too creepy. It's true that you may not be able to check books out, but no public library (and few academic libraries) will keep you from reading their books, and, usually, using the internet, just because you don't have a library card.
posted by bokinney at 8:49 PM on January 29, 2007

my librarian friends loathe the creepy semi-homeless guys that hang out in the library all day

Nope, that's been my experience too. If you're just in the library to loiter, you make people nervous if you're there every day, but it's generally not against the rules, nor should it be. Coming in to check email and use the bathroom is great, but if it's going to be your all-day-every-day hang out, you might want to consider volunteering at the library (or someplace else) just to have something to do.

I have lived out of my van for a summer and I still think it's a great way to spend a summer. There are a few things other people haven't totally mentioned, so I'l just tack on here.

1. consider reading the zine Dwelling Portably. It's cheap, and a good investment because it talks a lot about the ways to really maintain a portable lifestyle, not just go on a long road trip. Get all their issues, you won't be sorry.

2. problems you'll need to solve or at least think about:
- where to get postal mail (general delivery is hit or miss in the US)
- whether to have a cell phone or voice mail
- whether to have health insurance or how to get health care
- how to get access to your money (do NOT carry it with you, if you're living in your car you want a minimum of stuff on you that is worth real dollars)
- how much you want to 'go digital" with things like laptop/wifi, getting bils, or just dropping out entirely
- sleeping in a van in a hot climate sucks. you need to solve the bug problem, usually
- sleeping in your car is illegal in some places and you'll need to find out where those places are or risk arrest. Often cops are okay if you just agree to move on, but sometims they won't be so nice and that is a bad situation to be in. It's true that you can sleep in most Wal-mart parking lots and also most state highway rest areas (which are NOT restful usually, but I've found them plenty safe)

3. DON'T SKIMP ON THE VAN. If it breaks down, you're living at the mechanics until it gets fixed, that sucks.

4. Social network, do you have one? Friends can be good for the occasional hot shower, home cooked meal or Simpsons episode or just company. You may want to think about how you'll be with no one but yourself and your journal/laptop to talk to. Some peope love it and some don't. Laying some groundwork aheead of time of people who are the "hey yeah stop by" type is time well spent, similarly, looking into or Servas might be another neat way to meet people if you like that sort of thing.

5. Adversity, can you handle it? One thing about having a big old dream is that sometimes it can be hard if it doesn't turn out like you thought it might. When I was closer to your age, I knew a number of men with big plans (walk across the country type) that didn't work out for various good and ungood reasons and in some cases, the Big Plan not working was a Big Problem. While you don't want to plan for failure, it's a good idea to have a Plan B in case your main idea doesn't wind up being feasible. Think about "what if I get sick?" "what if I hurt myself?" "what if a loved one needs me and I need to call it off?" that sort of thing. You may be mostly healthy, but one bad bout with food poisoning when you're living in a Wal-Mart parking lot could make you wish you'd never been born. Not talking you out of anything, just mentioning the type of stuff you might have to roll with.

6. Are you smart with money? I assume so because you have a bunch of cash, but maybe you were lucky or born with it. If not, learn to be good with money, it will be the difference between a good and a stressful time, Set up a budget and don't skimp on things that matter (van maintenance, your health and safety etc) and check in in a "how am I doing?" way often.

No, you're not crazy. It's a fun thing to do and the US is a good place to do it. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 9:38 PM on January 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

peewinkle writes "A Chevy or GMC 1/2-ton with a 4.3 V6 engine and Overdrive Transmission would be trusty and economical....[...]"I would be wary of a Dodge, they are well-known for transmission problems (expensive) and other engine problems"

The 4AOD that is in the van you eBayed is a good transmission. Many failures are related to using the wrong fluid, I've fixed several problematic 4AOD trannys with a fluid and filter change. Whatever you choose if it's got an automatic get the largest auxiliary transmission cooler that you can find installed if it doesn't already have one.

Mated to the 3.9 (a variation of the venerable 318) it pretty cheap transportation, better than the /6 in many ways. The 3.9 is easier on the transmission than the 5.2/5.9 because of the lower output. By 2000 Dodge had replaced the problematic feed back carb with EFI. With a little preventive maintenance (and assuming the unit hasn't been pounded on) another 80K miles is easily within reach of your linked prospect. And it's already got a bull board installed with sliding door.

Whatever you choose you'll have on going costs. Stuff like tires, oil changes, brakes, maybe a windshield, fuel pump or heat core. Plus gas and insurance. Unless you normally live like a hermit with 5 roommates it's going to be cheaper than rent+utilities. Much cheaper.

If you can, try to maintain some kind of insurance that covers the contents of your van. When I had a van for artisan use I had a rider on my auto insurance that covered my tools.
posted by Mitheral at 12:15 AM on January 30, 2007

Me and my first girlfriend spent 1995 travelling around Australia (I live in Australia) in a VW Kombi. Not the poptop camper version, just the plain van. It was a bloody good year. The whole cost was a little under AU$20K, including the cost of the van, fuel and maintenance, food, showers and (very occasional) accommodation. Not having to work, and being able to go where we pleased and do where we pleased, gave us both a sense of freedom and wellbeing that the carping closed-minded naysayers can only dream of.

We'd actually left Melbourne hitch-hiking with backpacks, which was OK, but it soon occurred to us that we'd be much better able to get to the places we wanted to go if we had our own wheels. So we bought this old Kombi in Adelaide. The plan was to follow the nice weather around the country, and the plan worked. The only reason your van would need insulation is if you fail to leave when the weather gets cold.

The Kombi has a raised section in the back to accommodate the rear engine. I built a sturdy extension in front of this at the same height, with a wooden frame and a particleboard top, to create a platform for a queen-size futon. Underneath this, and accessible from the front, were some sturdy cardboard boxes that pulled out like drawers, where we kept all our stuff: pretty much the same stuff we backpacked with, plus a couple of 20 litre water containers, plus a couple of 20 litre fuel cans.

Rolling the futon up toward the back created a working surface for meal preparation. We used the same Trangia methylated-spirit stove that we backpacked with. It was fine. If you're fitting out a van with a fully flat floor, a raised bed with storage space underneath it will work really well for you. Design some hatchways into the bed platform so you can get into boxes underneath without having to slide them around, if you want.

We engineered some Velcro-attached flyscreens for the windows so we could get ventilation at night (the condensation issue is real).

Finding places to park overnight without paying was easy between towns; not so easy near or in them. Official roadside rest stops were generally disgusting, made so by people who left the landscape festooned with their toilet paper. Creeks, beaches and waterfalls were good. I got busted in Darwin for "sleeping in a public place" and fined $50 (didn't pay this, on principle, and ended up spending a night in the police cells about a year later when the fine eventually caught up).

We budgeted for van maintenance by keeping a tin under the bed, and each time we bought fuel, we put the same amount just spent on fuel into the tin. This covered everything except rebuilding the motor after the oil filler cap accidentally got left off and the bulldust on the Gibb River Road chewed the guts out of the engine.

Living at the mechanic's did indeed suck.

We didn't end up spending a lot of time in libraries, though I can see the appeal. I strongly recommend that once you've proved to yourself that you can just tell the world to fuck off, you don't plan to limit yourself to cities - they're total money sinks, for one thing. If the US is as diverse as Australia (and I have no reason to believe that it isn't) and you're free and mobile, it seems a shame not to pay at least one visit to every national park you can find. You're also more likely to find like-minded people on the road than parked at Wal-Mart.

Your single biggest expense as a solo traveller, if you succumb to the temptation of it, will be pre-made food. Get religious about cooking your own from simple, cheap, easily-stored ingredients (rice, lentils, spices, herbs, fresh vegetables, powdered milk - you don't want or need refrigeration) and with $40K you can keep this up for years. With an initial $40K and occasional casual jobs, probably decades.

They say time is money, but they're wrong. 1995 taught me that time is better than money by at least an order of magnitude.

Go for it.
posted by flabdablet at 2:20 AM on January 30, 2007 [7 favorites]

1982 through 1984. Left the beaches of California for the mountains of Montana. Lived in the band bus for the better part of the year including winter. Snaked along the Continental Divide playing ski resorts and dives to make, well, NOT rent anyway. Best of times.

Live frugally. Take lots of notes. Keep in touch with the people you meet and best of luck.
posted by hal9k at 7:05 AM on January 30, 2007

I wouldn't take advice to "grow up" too seriously

Just want to affirm this. I was very into being 'grown up' and responsible in my early 20s, and then I got cancer at 26, and I though I ended up coming through completely fine, it definitely made me understand more directly why you should not be dissuaded from living your life as an adventure, rather than as a duty or a role. As long as you are not encumbering other people (too much) with your unusual interests or desires, you should try things out.

Maybe after a few weeks you'll discover you're just as bored and unfulfilled as when you had an apartment, and really you're seeking something else - but you won't know until you try, or until you have some other kind of revelation.

It is worthwhile to consider the longer view as well, though, i.e., where do you see yourself in 5 years? Can you imagine being satisfied with this sort of existence in the long term? Are you hoping to finish a novel during the experience or something like that? (oh, check out the book "Travels with Lisbeth" - I forget the author, but it's basically the diary of a man and his dog who were homeless & on the road...). Or are you hoping to have the time to think about those kinds of things and figure out some things, etc? Not suggesting you have to know the answers, but it is worth letting those questions occupy you as well. You only live once, so you should keep things interesting, but you may also want to feel like there is a sort of worthwhile overarching structure (this is what many people get out of careers or families, etc).

I spent one summer living in a van with a friend, traveling cross-country, on only a few thousand bucks; we kinda hated each other by the end of it, but it was also a very interesting summer, and especially in retrospect I don't regret it at all. But it was definitely not always easy (though the friendship angle is another complication). In my constantly in-progress and probably never to be completed novel, there is a character who has committed to this lifestyle long term.
posted by mdn at 7:26 AM on January 30, 2007

(which is probably evidence of how much this idea is romanticized - but again, not a reason to not give it a shot. Just realize that it's not as if you were "wrong" to try it if it turns out not to be nearly as enjoyable as you had imagined.)
posted by mdn at 7:29 AM on January 30, 2007

My PhD student and her bloke are planning to do this for the summer. They've got a van rigged with a bed, shelves underneath for their boards plus they're working on getting a separate electrical supply for cooking, laptop, etc. There are plenty of campsites around here plus they have plenty of friends who'll have them over once in a while. They considered it in the winter but soon worked out it would be horrible.

One thing you might like, camping shops here have foil covered 'shower units', you leave them in the sun then open the little tap and have short shower, fill up with cold water to reuse.
posted by biffa at 8:01 AM on January 30, 2007

I'd definitely second going to medium size to small towns instead of big cities. They have easier access to truck stops and parks and I think you would fit in a lot more. There are a lot of towns that have kind of a hippie free spirit vibe and it would be easy to meet people who are like minded. Madison Wisconsin, Asheville North Carolina, Bemidji Minnesota and Lafayette Louisiana are a few that come to mind. All are totally different but very cool places, and if you followed the seasons you could have good weather all the time.

Oh and get health insurance, at your age and budget it wouldn't be to expensive.
posted by afu at 8:51 AM on January 30, 2007

Find a copy of a Loompanics catalogue - yes, they're out of business, but as reference material, it's quite good. The sections on "Self Sufficiency" and "Head for the Hills" have books referenced that may come in handy for you. Some examples I've found are:
"Brian Kelling's Travel-Trailer Homesteading Under $5,000."
"Freedom Road" by Harold Hough
First Aid books. Self-Defence. Guides to living cheaply. Motor repair. How to hide things.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:45 AM on January 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've long had this fantasy. Do it now while you're young enough and crazy enough to think it's a good idea and you don't have many responsibilities.

I don't have a lot of advice but here it is:
- Travel; don't just park in some city and hang out
- Write about it, keep a journal (on or offline), take lots of photos
- Don't skimp on the vehicle; get a van conversion, camper/truck or a small RV
- Get someone stable to act as a mailing address/place to check-in
- Keep you and your vehicle clean and tidy
- Put a lot of your funds into an emergency account, plan your budget without considering your emergency funds as usable funds

As someone up thread said - it may be difficult to drop back into society once your funds run out.
posted by deborah at 12:17 PM on January 30, 2007

Yeah, I found that kind of difficult. 1996-1997 I spent living in a ten-bedroom share house on AU$100/week, driving taxis four or five nights a month to make that, and until the general atmosphere of junkie bullshit and drunken Irish housemates wore me down, I was pretty happy. I got dragged back to "reality" by an old friend who offered me lucrative programming work in Berlin, and reacquired the disgusting moneygrubbing habit and its accompanying obesity problem.

Now I own land, which in 1995 I swore I'd never do. At least it's not in the city.

For the last couple of years I've been fighting back by charging $20/hour for work whose going rate is at least $50, but it's really not the same.
posted by flabdablet at 12:45 AM on January 31, 2007

Sorry, that was three years in the share house ('97-'99) not two.
posted by flabdablet at 12:46 AM on January 31, 2007

Just remember, dios would have given the exact same advice to Jack Kerouac.

Read Aaron Cometbus for lots of advice on being a modern day hobo.

Why not try it as a 2 week "vacation" first?

If you like it...

Think hard about your contingencies - what happens if I get sick? What happens if I have an accident? If the van breaks down?

Think hard about your exit strategy. Make sure you have enough in a "don't touch" savings account to relocate, get an apartment, and secure a new income.

It sounds a bit crazy to me but it isn't as if you're throwing your life away.
posted by nanojath at 9:59 AM on January 31, 2007

You'll find being left alone is impossible. If everyday life is annoying I cant imagine life on the road being less stressful. If I had that kind of money at your age I would have started/bought a small business in which I could be my own boss, work part time, and enjoy all that freedom. Hell, Id probably go on a lot of trips too. If I believed I had serious psychological problems that are leading me to run away in panic I would spend that money on a little therapy too.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:21 PM on January 31, 2007

>given the exact same advice to Jack Kerouac.

Yeah, but he was a brilliant writer to begin with and if someone steered him off the drugs & roads tips he probably wouldnt have died young (young-ish) of alcoholism.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:23 PM on January 31, 2007

Blue Highways by William Least-Heat Moon is one of the classics of travel literature, and is about doing exactly this. It's an incredible book, and should give you a lot of practical information in between incredible stories. Steinbeck's Travels With Charlie is about this as well, but not nearly as engaging in my opinion.

Regarding feasibility, at first it'll be hard: you'll be unaccustomed to it, and you won't know the tricks that make it easier. You'll either realize it was a terrible idea and head home, or you'll love it and stick it out and discover amazing things about the US, yourself, and traveling in general. Like others, I'd suggest taking a month-long roadtrip doing this once it gets a bit warmer (you really don't want to start out in cold weather--even Arizona is very chilly at night). Then, once you're sure you'll enjoy it, give up your apartment and quit your job.

Regarding Dios' advice to "grow up," of course you should grow up, and this is one way to do it. I'm 26, in graduate school, and put myself through college writing PR for a tech company and working at a bookstore as my second job. I've also hitchhiked about 20,000 miles in the past 3 years, and very consciously live my life balancing repsonsibility (personal & professional) with wonderful, seat-of-the-pants adventures to some of the most odd & out-of-the-way places I can find. Your twenties are the time to establish these kind of adventuresome patterns--either to explore and get it out of your system before settling down to "real life," or to figure out how to balance adventuring with "real life" so that you can enjoy a lifelong indulgence in both.

You'll surely be able to find a ton of advice on how to do this online--off the top of my head, a hitching-oriented site, comes to mind as a good portal to other places. I'd imagine a good rule of thumb is to pack less than you think you'll need, and to avoid big expenditures on "things you'll need" until you've already been traveling for several months and actually know you'll need them.

Also, for human companionship in strange places, couchsurfers, globalfreeloaders, and hospitalityclub will get you pleasant places to stay with other adventurous types.
posted by soviet sleepover at 1:33 PM on February 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Read Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, tr. Philip Gabriel (New York: Vintage, 2005).
posted by gum at 5:07 PM on March 4, 2007

Did you ever come to a decision on this petsounds?
posted by Mitheral at 5:43 PM on April 20, 2007

Don't let people shake you if this is what you want to do.
I've been on the road for 5+ years and wouldn't change a minute of it In that 5 years I've been in 43 of the 48 states and intend to see them all. I'm in an Astro van and don't try to hide the fact that I live in it. I even stay at police offices in some of the small towns. If you would like to talk more about vandwelling drop me an email at
posted by thehairs at 7:51 AM on October 19, 2007

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