How To Succeed In Living The VanLife

I don’t have an ego about living the vanlife. I’ve been living this way for far too long to feel like vanlife is a competition of some sort. Vanlife is not about who can do it better, who is prettier, who can make the better video, who can create the perfect van build out. It’s not about being an influencer. It’s not about which van is the best van or how you made your bed or whether or not there is a bathroom involved. Vanlife just is. It’s different for everyone. What works for one vanlifer could not possibly work for another.

That’s my perspective in writing this post.

My neighbor’s daughter was up from LA last week and they invited me for a morning coffee and a chat. My neighbor’s daughter is pretty level headed and also a creative, so we can relate on a lot of life issues. She was telling me about a hot springs over in the foothills that she thought I would really like, and also about the friend that turned her on to the place. Then she turned to me and said something along the lines of: “I’ve interviewed a lot of people who live in vans and I have to say that you really have it down. Like, REALLY have it down.” This got me to thinking. Because I don’t do anything special in living the vanlife other than just be myself.

I’ve been living the urban vanlife for a while now. It’s mostly been due to financial reasons that I’ve stuck in one place and found a spot that works for me.

In having it “down” on a daily basis here are some of the things that I do that are just in my nature. Take what you will and leave the rest:

Respect the space that I am in. The world is not all about me. Even when I am in survival mode. I am not entitled to anything, including a parking space. I have to respect the space that I am in and the people who live there. This means, I don’t park in front of people’s doors and I keep fairly quiet. I also keep my area neat and tidy, as in no litter, and I actually pick up other people’s trash that lands around my van.

This also means that when I’m in an urban environment, I don’t play it like a campground. I don’t cook in the van, although I do keep non-cooking snacks inside, like trail mix, nuts, fruit, and chips to hold me over until the next time I go out. I don’t spend time in the van – I go out and do things for the entire day like work at a cafe or the library and eat my meals out and about. When I don’t have any laptop work to do (writing, editing, photoshopping, etc.) I go urban hiking and shoot photographs or visit with friends. I play like a traveler in my own neck of the woods.

Respect also means respecting other vanlifers. In an urban environment I respect the one block rule – one van per block. I don’t want to park around or huddle next to other vans. Some people think there is safety in numbers, but numbers usually attract attention, and not positive attention.

Read the energy. This is something that everyone can do, but not everyone does. If I get a bad vibe from a place, I will either do a little personal ceremony to stabilize it, or I will leave as I don’t want to be in a place that feels wrong for me or in a place where I am not wanted. I want to feel that my presence in a place, a spot, a neighborhood, will make that place better.

Become a part of the community. Be of service. I am not stealthy by nature. I actually hate the word stealth as it applies to vanlife. I’ve got nothing to hide. I became a part of the community that I live in by being friendly to the people I meet, saying hello, smiling at passersby, caring about my neighbors’ well being, AND volunteering in the community. Volunteering is a great thing to do if you have the time for it, are in between jobs, or just want to find things for yourself to do. For a few years I volunteered in a kitchen making lunch for people who actually had less than I did and live in the park.

I am also a house and pet sitter, which I love doing. Some of my clients live in my neighborhood.

No expectations. I have no expectations that people are going to be nice, be friendly, or be accepting. I also have no expectations that I will be here tomorrow. I have no expectations that people will accept or understand my lifestyle. I have no expectations that this lifestyle will be easy or difficult, it will be what it is in a moment by moment basis.

Be honest. If someone asks me if I’m living in the van, I say yes, even though it might mean that I will have to move. It’s important, not just for myself, but for vanlife in general, that I am seen as a person of integrity. Besides, if this is a new person in my life, whether I am only seeing them for this one moment in my life, or this is a beginning of a friendship of some sort, I want to start that relationship off on a high vibe, honest, note.

Also, I try to be honest about what I need or don’t need. People have given me wonderful things that they thought I needed. I have a storage unit half-full of these things. I’ve gotten better about only accepting something if I can actually use it.

Assume everyone loves you until you find out for sure they don’t. This attitude keeps me in a high vibe and happy state of being. It’s a way of staying positive and not feeding the negative/paranoid monster and ensures that I start my day off on a positive note. Meeting everyone while projecting a positive vibe often turns a potential negative experience into a higher direction.

Rise with the sun and stay out until bed time. I don’t use an alarm clock. The sun wakes me up every morning. I get up, I get dressed, I take off. There is a neighborhood cafe that stays open until 10pm or so. I hang out there in the evenings, watch some Netflix or do some work, and when they close, I go back to the van and go to bed. The van is basically my bedroom on wheels and I treat it as such. The world outside is my living room.

When traveling or even just being more mobile, I try not to look for a spot until it’s time to go to bed. It doesn’t mean I spend time driving around until bedtime, it just means I take the van with me during the day, park as I do things, and find a spot around ten or eleven pm.

Use bathrooms in the commons, the public spaces. Cafes, libraries, hospitals, grocery stores, any stores that have them. Some vanlifers get gym memberships. Others have jobs that provide showers – much of the tech induIstry does this for their bike riders.  I  carry my toothbrush with me at all times. Yes some public bathrooms are gross. But some aren’t. I also clean up after myself and leave the bathroom a little cleaner than I found it. I usually use the showers when I’m housesitting, but even so, the town I am in has a public shower space for folks who aren’t so lucky to have one. I try not to go there because it can be a Crazytown experience. I’d rather take quick Victorian bird baths in the van than go there and I’m set up to do so – all one needs is a big bowl and a thermos of hot water. It’s amazing how clean you can get with just some hot water and a wash cloth.

Live intentionally in the van. People make a lot of assumptions about vanlife and, especially if they are not hooked in to twitter or facebook or instagram, they don’t know that people actually WANT to live the vanlife. Even if vanlife starts out from a dire situation, OWN it. ENJOY it. Be the best nomad you can be.

It’s all about perspective, baby.

* * * * *

And really, the way to be successful at living the vanlife is all about attitude. Have a great attitude and be the kind of person you would want to have as a friend and half the battle of life is won.

Creating An Art Studio On Wheels

Creating my new home and work space on wheels.
Creating my new home and work space on wheels.

This is taking so much longer than I thought it would. When I first got the new-to-me van, I thought it would take a week for me to build it out into a living space. I planned one day for each component of the build – one day for insulation, one day for walls, one day for the floor, one day for the bed, one day for the shelves, one day for the closet, one day for the primer, one day for the paint, and then one day to do laundry and one day to move in. OK, ten days.

That was about two months ago and I’m just now starting on building the shelves.

It doesn’t help that I haven’t had access to electricity and I’ve cut all the wood with a hand saw. Or that I have to spend time running to Home Depot every other day to get the next part of the project’s supplies.

When it’s done, it’s going to function as a dollhouse sized live work space. White walls, great floor, great light, and lots of space to store art supplies and art.

I’m so looking forward to getting out into the world and creating as I go.

It took a lot of letting go on my part to get to this point in life. Letting go of what I thought my life would be like. Letting go of the kind of art that I wanted to make and focusing on the kind of art that I could make. Letting go of the kind of work studio I wanted to create in. Letting go of my collection of possessions. Letting go and just allowing this crazy ass life to live on its own terms.

I have a lot of catching up to do. A lot of work ahead of me.

And I am so looking forward to it!

Buying The Van

Diamond in the rough.
Diamond in the rough.

It had been twenty-one years since The Escape Pod came into my life, but now it’s time to let her go. After hurting my back a few years ago, it became more and more difficult to drive her, getting stuck in traffic with the clutch was unbearable, and working on her myself has become problematic. It took more than one difficulty, and a very long time, for me to give up The Pod.

Not being really up for the confusing process and challenge of buying a new-to-me van is putting it lightly, but when funding finally came through, the search began in earnest. There were a few pragmatic requirements on my list of things that were required in a new-er van – it needed to have an automatic transmission, roomier in the cargo area than my VW, have enough power to go up and down mountains, be fairly reliable and must be a brand that could provide easily found parts and mechanics.

Sitting for quite a long time with my eyes roving to newer models of Ford Transits and Dodge Promasters – I was visualizing myself in vans that I could stand up in. But alas, my newly found funding did not include their price range and there was no way that going into debt (ie: payments) were an option. My second choice was something in the range of a smaller, generic, affordable, cargo van, like the ones you see running around all over town as delivery or work vans.

The search began looking primarily at the Ford Econoline vans, and then the decision was made to focus on looking for an E250 so that there would be some room in the back even though I’d still be crouching, and some travel power. It was a hard decision at first. When it comes to vans, my heart belongs to VW buses. Changing brands was going to be heartbreaking.

Then I encountered my first problem.

No one would return my calls or my emails. Craigslist and CarGurus were my go-to resources and there were quite a few for sale, but most were sitting outside my public transportation commute range for going to see them. Being able to talk to a dealer about what was actually for sale on any given car lot was paramount.

It was frustrating as fuck.

At one point I made the decision to stop looking and sat down and just asked my Universe to send me the right van and the right person to buy it from. Someone who was going to give me a fair deal and treat me like a human.

A few days later that person sent me a text message.

T. made the process of looking and test driving easy, gave me no pressure whatsoever to make a purchase and answered my many questions more than one time each with patience. He even took all of the metal shelving out of the van for me and saved me the pain of doing so.

It took about two weeks and a lot of anxiety attacks to make the decision to purchase this tank of a van. But now I have it and a new life has begun.

* * * * *

I bought the van from a dealer named Toby in Fremont, California. His company name is Kool Cars.

Building Out The Ford E250: Floor Is Down. Sorta.

Floor is down. Sorta.

Disclaimer: I have no idea what I’m doing. Not a clue.

There was only one thing that I knew I wanted in my new-to-me van build – a hardwood floor. A nice floor. One that would make me feel connected to nature when I stood or sat with my bare feet touching its planks. A floor that was durable, sustainable, and could take the punishment of living on the road.

Typically when people think of putting floors in their vans they usually think of using vinyl because it’s cheaper and easy to take care of. But you know what? I’ve been living this way off and on for over thirty-five years and this is my third, and possibly last, van that I’m going to build out, and, dammit, I deserve a nice floor!

Most people probably first think of oak floors when they think of hardwood. I’m so over oak. It’s a nice floor to have in a house. It might even be nice in your van. But after spending a lot of time looking at wood floors, every day all day for about a week, it came down to bamboo. I don’t know why I didn’t immediately choose bamboo. I love it and have often visualized using it in my non-existent dream house.

I bought the flooring at my local Lumber Liquidators. I know. Everyone was concerned about the formaldehyde and outgassing. But seriously, I let the boxes sit open for a few days, and then decided that if the floor was the first thing I was installing, the planks would be fairly aired out by the time I was finished with the bed and ready to move in.

The floor of the new-to-me van seemed fairly flat at first. Until I laid a plank across it. Crap. I needed to level that out a bit. I was thinking of laying the boards across the van instead of lengthwise, thinking they would be more supported by the metal floor underneath. The guy who sold me the flooring said I would waste a lot of wood that way, and probably even need an extra box, so I set on figuring out how to level the floor a bit and fill in those gap valleys in the metal.

At first I thought of using wood slats in the gaps. But the sides of the gaps were angled and it was difficult to size – once getting into working on the floor I realized that the gaps were all shapes and sizes and wood was just not going to work. During one of my trips of wandering around aimlessly at Home Depot looking for solutions, I realized that I could cut up some vinyl mat – not only would it fill the gaps fully as they would be cut for each shape, but
it would give a little, as well as insulate both sound a cold.

So the first part of the job was filling the gaps. I actually glued the vinyl mat strips into the valleys with E6000 so they wouldn’t slip out.

Once that was down, I laid down a single layer of moisture barrier layment – more so the floor wouldn’t rattle against the metal than for insulation, but also to protect the metal against water damage. The wood floor could always be replaced, but to replace the metal underneath is not so easy.

Once the layment was down, I took the lumber guy’s advice and installed the floor lengthwise. It was easy peasy, locking planks. I had to make a few cuts around the wheel wells and the gas tank, and those took forever considering that I was using only hand tools. When I had the floor completely laid out, there was an overhang out the back door. My neighbor saw me contemplating how I was going to cut it and got out his miter saw and made some quick chops for me. I even have a few planks leftover for making steps for the cargo bay doors.

The lumber guy also told me to make sure I left room around the edges for heat and cold expansion and when I asked him if I should bolt the wood to the metal he looked at me quizzically. I decided to run an piece of aluminum stripping along the front a back edges and will also run one along the steps when I make them. Kind of like weather stripping, but not. Eventually I will screw each end of those to the metal floor so the floor doesn’t skid forward.

A lot of builders would have created the walls first, but I knew what I wanted on the floor, and not so much on the walls. I wanted to get to work, so I went with what I was sure that I wanted.

Change Is Good, Right?

Change Is In The Making

Sitting out my Saturn transits – and lucky me had two weird ones in a row! – I wondered if I was ever going to be able to break out and be me again in this lifetime. My life had become a constant search for lunch money, job rejections, and trying to maintain my sanity. There was no travel. No art. My creativity existed mostly in my mind and at the very most, on my laptop and in a sketchbook that I carry around with me. I felt like the universe was stripping me down to the barest of human essentials. For better or worse, I have spent the last five or six years or so stripping myself down to become the purest form of me.

A year ago on my birthday, I proclaimed that I wanted to spend the next decade traveling. I spent the whole following year visualizing it and on my latest birthday I found the means to make those first steps happen.

I knew that a shift was on the horizon. Over the past six months or so, there was a feeling in the air that only I could feel. I would tell people that I felt the change, the shift, like static. Sometimes I felt like I was getting bumped into the future, even though the future wasn’t quite ready for me yet. No one believed me. I started telling my friends earlier in the year that I would be making some changes – getting a new van, traveling some more, making more of my own work – and they would shake their heads and play along.

I knew it was coming.

When the shift arrived, even though I was prepared for it, it was overwhelming. It still is, but I’m getting used to it.

Uranus moved into Taurus on May 15, where it will stay until my birthday in 2026. That may mean nothing to you. Uranus transits usually mean nothing to most people, especially to those who think that astrology is just a bunch of hooey. But I’ve been waiting my whole life for this one. This transit signifies a freeing up of sorts, it’s a change maker for folks like me.

Where I have been stuck, I am now free. At least somewhat.

The first thing that happened after May 15th was my purchase of a new van. I love my little blue Escape Pod, but she can no longer take me where I need to go. She needs more work and restoration than I can afford right now, and it was less expensive to just go ahead and purchase a new machine. So I did.

I’m currently outfitting the as of yet unnamed monster van into a living space. All the neighbors have been around to peer in on my progress. I’m becoming less overwhelmed with the project and feeling more creative with the possibilities of what the future might hold.