The State of the Van Address: 1 Month Review

The Van and the Forest

The Van and the Forest

ROCKY SPRINGS CG, MS—And now for something completely different…

It’s been one month since I’ve moved into Serenity and hit the road again. Here are some random thoughts and findings from her maiden voyage. For those of you considering a mobile lifestyle, I hope this helps.

Hightop Roof: I love it. Well worth the extra fuel cost due to wind resistance. It turns the van into a mini-RV. Not being able to cook, bathe, pee, or dig through the refrigerator while standing up would get old quick. While you sacrifice a lot moving into a van, there are certain things (like standing up) that make van dwelling much more enjoyable. Sort of like pooping in a bucket (see below), that’s just not something I want to get used to.

The Windows: I love the view the windows provide while hanging out and the visibility they give while driving—but are they worth the loss of wall space and insulation? I’m ambivalent on this one. If I were shopping Nissan NV’s, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t sweat not being able to find the all-around window package (which is pretty rare). I would get windows on the sliding cargo door and the rear doors (this is a common option) and use the extra wall space for storage, closet, and/or a folding bed.

The Fantastic Fan: I consider a roof fan a necessity for van dwelling. Not only is it useful for ventilating the cooking area, but it provides a powerful draft just by turning it on and cracking a window.

Non-Running Water: I use a simple 2.5 gallon water dispenser that sits up on a shelf over a steel pot which sits on my dresser. The pot is held in place by magnets to a steel plate I screwed to the top of the dresser. The water container and cooking pot act as my faucet and sink. It works great and I like the simplicity, but I may end up getting a water pump just so there isn’t such a mess when washing (the water falls about two feet into the pan). I also have 19 gallons of fresh water in three storage containers, but that is too much. If I go the water pump route, I’ll use one of the water containers as a grey water tank.

No TV: I haven’t missed it at all. The free time allows me to sight see, think, work on blog posts and photos. I do watch DVDs on the computer and stream a couple TV shows which I like (Survivor, Modern Family, Big Bang Theory), but not having a TV has been an easy transition.

Thin Bed: With a three foot drop to the floor, having a bed only 30″ wide took some getting used to. I’m considering making a fold out bed, but that creates its own set of problems (blocking the window when in sofa mode, blocking the toilet when in bed mode).

Screens: After the problem with the yellow jackets, I cut some screen to fit over the front windows and the side pop out window. I hold them in place with a set of pouch magnets and the fantastic fan provides a breeze if needed.

Stealth Sleeping: To ease into sleeping on the road, I’ve mostly urban slept at Walmarts with the occasional Lowes, Target, and hotel parking lot thrown in for practice. I do plan on pushing this more, but with all the other changes, easing into it seemed like the smart move. Additionally, the mental Red Line of “only a knock on my door is getting me out of bed” helps dramatically in ignoring all those parking lot sounds.

Dirt: Dirt and dust are an ongoing battle. The van seems to get a lot more dirty inside than my other rigs did. I may need to get a battery-powered vacuum with a hose extension for all the nooks and crannies.

Bathing: I was thinking the long hair wasn’t going to survive the road, but keeping clean has been a lot easier than I expected. Every couple of days I stop by a state or county park (those with campgrounds), pay the entrance fee (if any) and shower there. Then I hang out at the park if I feel like it and move on before nightfall. In between shower days, I simply heat some water up and take a sponge bath. I do have one of those solar shower bag things (with the intention of hanging it from the back doors), but I haven’t used it yet.

Toilet: (Possibly TMI)… I have a wonderful, as-close-to-a-home-toilet-as-you-can-get Porta Potty. I’ve done the kitty litter/5 gallon bucket before and hated it. This is so much better and well worth the money. Since I use a pee jug (laundry detergent bottle) and public restrooms most of the time, I’ve only emptied the toilet once this trip (yesterday in fact) and even then it was only half full.

Reversed Seat + Foot Rest: Having a comfortable place to sit and work is critical to enjoying this lifestyle. I’ve reversed the passenger seat and use a small bean-bag stool-thing as a footrest and that works well. Still, an easy chair would be a lot more comfortable (though I haven’t decided if I’ll install one where the passenger seat is or not). Another option is a rotating captain’s chair which would make carrying a passenger legal, but I’m not sure it’s worth it or how comfortable the chairs are.

Moving all the time: This was a bit stressful at first, but now, not so much. I only moved a lot because I had too much of an itinerary (Fall leaves and a return to FL) and the East Coast doesn’t have enough public land to make going to ground for a couple weeks all that feasible. I am looking forward to heading out West (where there is a lot of public land) and taking more extended stays while getting some serious writing done.

Bare Walls: I know I should cover the walls and ceiling—they are just bare R-Max foam boards—but I haven’t yet. I still haven’t decided what I’d cover them with anyway.

Heater: I’ve gone back and forth on the heater. I like that the one I have can easily be moved around the rig, but I no longer like the idea of attaching it to my main propane tank since it would require dragging a hose around with it. I’m considering an Olympian Wave heater and attaching it to the dresser by the sliding door (convenient), but then I’d lose the ability to reposition it. So for now, I bought a little adapter to refill the small disposable bottles off my main tank (though I haven’t tried this yet).

The Refrigerator: I’m pleased that this (the third) refrigerator is functioning perfectly. Not a lot of room in there, but if you simplify your diet, it isn’t too bad. It does use a lot of e-juice, so if you go this route, you’ll want to design your solar setup accordingly—I have 420 watts of panels and 315 amp hours of batteries and I’m happy with that.

No Microwave: In the travel trailer I used a microwave practically everyday, but in the van I don’t miss it at all. Maybe it is because restaurants are a lot more accessible? Whatever it is, I don’t plan on getting a microwave for the van.

Conclusion: All in all, I love the freedom the van provides—to go where you want with no planning required. Towns and cities are wide open to you. Traffic and parking are a breeze. You can explore forest roads without concern or forethought. If you find a nice place, you simply turn off the ignition and you’re done—no going back for your rig, hooking up and returning (two extra legs to your trip ($$ gas)). Breaking camp is also a snap, just toss the camp chair in the back and your gone.

Though you sacrifice a lot for this kind of freedom—everything has a cost—it is surprisingly easy to get used to living this way. After a couple weeks you simply don’t think about not having a TV or closets or freezer space or a microwave or a multi-burner stove or floor space—you adapt to living with what you’ve got.

And learning to live with what you’ve got (and discovering what you really need) is a very powerful lesson in self-sufficiency.

It's Time To Wake Up

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6 thoughts on “The State of the Van Address: 1 Month Review

  1. Hi Wayne,
    I just bought one of these and it’s a cordless rechargeable recommended by Consumer Reports. It has more power than the Dirt Devil I had and I’m really impressed with the suction and attachments. It picks up most of the cat hair. I paid 47.00 plus tax with a 20% off coupon from Bed Bath and Beyond. http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/Shark-reg-18-Volt-Cordless-Hand-Vac/1017127438?Keyword=shark+vacuum

    Glad you’re enjoying your van!

    Andrea

  2. It’s because you insert these “how I live “minutiae along with your photos and profundities that I stick around.

    I like knowing my mystik is real. and how he functions in the practical world……. Even the possible TMI part.

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