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13 Years of Vandwelling: a Voyage of Self-Discovery
- Twenty years ago, in 1995, I moved into a van for the first time and lived in it for 6 years until 2001.
- Ten years ago, in 2005, I first published cheaprvliving.com to the internet.
- Seven years ago, on March 3, 2008, I walked out the door of a residence made from sticks and bricks for the last time and I’ve been living the life of a Nomad on Public Land ever since. It’s my sincere hope to never reside in a house ever again!
For thirteen of the last twenty years I’ve been living in various vehicles and it has changed my life in ways I could never have imagined. It’s no exaggeration to say that I am a totally different person than that guy who cried himself to sleep his first night in a van. It’s like I got into a Star Trek Transporter as a bitter, miserable, dried-up man and came out as a young, happy person who was at peace with himself and his world.
For the rest of this year I’m going to celebrate the anniversary by sprinkling in periodic posts about lessons I’ve learned in the last 20 years, things I did right and things I did wrong and follow-up reports on the status of different areas of my life. In this post I want to start with the single biggest impact that vandwelling has had on me:
It opened my eyes and set me free from society’s brainwashing.
Being forced into a van set me on a voyage of self-discovery, and as I traveled it I became progressively free from preconceptions about who I was, what I was supposed to be and expected to do. The dogmas, beliefs and false sense of duty that had been pounded into me since infancy slowly dropped away until my eyes were finally open and I knew for certain that nearly everything society had told me was wrong and I would not follow it any more.
Let me tell you how that happened.
In 1995 I was going through a divorce and my finances were hit so hard by it I could no longer afford to rent an apartment and was forced to move into a van. That was a devastating blow to me, because until then I had basically done whatever society told me to do:
- Finish school.
- Get a job.
- Get married.
- Buy a house.
- Buy lots of stuff.
- Keep working and buying stuff until you get old then you can find some freedom for a few years and then die.
I bought that idea hook, line and sinker and did just what they said to do. The problem was that none of it made me happy, instead I was miserable and I always had been. At no time during my effort to follow the “American Dream” had I been happy, but it never occurred to me there could be something wrong with society’s plan for my life, I just assumed it was my fault, maybe I was broken or hadn’t been doing it right.
When I was forced into living on the streets in a van like a homeless bum it felt like my life had hit rock-bottom. By all of society’s standards I was a failure. It measured success by the size of your home and the amount of stuff you could accumulate and I had virtually no stuff and no home. What was wrong with me!!
But then a very strange thing happened—living in a van made me happy for the first time. I found this huge sense of freedom and liberty from the tyranny of needing more money to pay for a home and stuff for that home. That allowed me to save that money to spend any way I wanted. Even better, at the first of every month I didn’t owe anybody for the privilege of living on the earth. I didn’t have a “Land Lord” who lorded it over me, I was my own Lord!
Back then, that didn’t make any sense to me, how could doing exactly what society told me to do make me so miserable but doing the opposite of what it said make me so happy? Was there something so wrong with me that I just couldn’t fit in with normal, good society?
Or, could it be that I was the normal one and there was something wrong with the “American Dream?”
I guess I never was sure of the answer to that question because after 6 years (in 2001) I remarried and moved back into a house. You would think my response would be, “How wonderful, I’m no longer a homeless bum, I’m a homeowner again!” But just the opposite was true, living in a house made me miserable all over again:
- I hated having to make those payments every month! I had worked so long and hard for that money; giving up the only thing of value I have on this earth–my time and life-force—and for what?
- I hated having to mow the lawn, shovel the driveway and doing constant repairs. It was an older house that had been let-go and not well maintained so it was just always one thing after another. It was bad enough I had to work all week to pay for the stupid thing then I had to work all weekend to clean and maintain it. YUCK!!!
- Oddly, I really hated the horrible waste of space in the big, empty, hulking shell of wood. It just seemed like a travesty against nature and the human spirit.
- I hated all the fuel we constantly burned to keep warm and cool and to have light and hot water. Everything about that house was just a constant waste of God’s wonderful earth. It was like we set out to do as much damage to the precious Mother Earth as we possibly could and get as little as possible in return.
After a few years of house-dwelling I knew as an absolute that I could not live in a house for the rest of my life and I started looking for ways to get out of the house and back into a van. Living in a van was all I could think about and it was then in 2005 that I started cheaprvliving.com. I had to in order to maintain my sanity; my heart belonged in a van so I took my head there as much as I could.
I still didn’t understand yet why I was so unhappy in a house but I knew I was; and I was equally certain that I wasn’t the only one. I was convinced that there were many other people who hated the “civilized” life just as much as I did. I saw lots of people who were just like me but they had never heard that they had a choice. Like me, they had believed society’s lies so totally that it never occurred to them there was an alternative way to live.
I felt morally obligated to tell them, so in 2005, after enduring the horror of living in a house for 3 years, I started this website with two goals in mind:
- Inspire people to choose a way of life that fits them better and makes them happier.
- Teach them how they could do it.
In 2008 my second wife and I separated and I hit the road full-time to live on BLM desert land and National Forests. That brought even more changes into my life as I was constantly in nature and rarely in cities. As much as living in a van in a city had changed me and made me happier, living in a van every day in beautiful nature deeply and truly transformed me.
- I found a peace of mind and heart I had never known before.
- Stress and fear melted away.
- I was physically healthier from the many hours of walks I went on in god’s wonderful creation.
- I frequently experienced moments of deep joy and contentment—something I had never experienced before.
- I started the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and took other steps to create a large tribal community that created life-long friendships that far surpassed any I ever had before when I was “normal.”
So as I look back on the last 20 years, especially at the last 6 years as a boondocker I have to ask myself why was I so unhappy before I became a vandweller and why am I so much happier now? And all I conclude is that society has been feeding us all a whole raft of bullshit lies about what it means to be a happy, healthy human beings. I’m convinced it doesn’t care if we’re happy, it’s only goal for us that we be “good productive members of society”–a drone worker bee that does exactly what it’s told. Hopefully you can find some happiness along the way, but if you can’t—oh well, too bad for you. As long as you do as you’re told and don’t cause any problems society will give you all the freedom it can to find what little happiness you can.
Are you happy being a drone? Are you sick and tired of society’s bullshit lies? You’ve read over-and-over from me and other bloggers that you have another choice if you’re only bold enough to take a leap of faith and follow your dreams. Let me leave you with a quote that changed me and I hope will change you: