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People Living Free = Happy People

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As I’m writing this the 6th annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is in the history books and as I’ve told you before, I think it was by the far the best ever. Without any question it was the largest one yet; it’s nearly impossible to get an accurate count but my guess is somewhere between 150 and 200 free people showed up. That sounds like  huge number of people (and it is!) but when we are scattered across such a large chunk of desert it really isn’t as bad as it sounds.
Normally with that many people you’d expect conflicts and problems over some minor issue but we are not your typical group! Everywhere you went in camp you saw little groups of people smiling and laughing with each other. If I were going to summarize the whole thing I’d say it was 150 very happy and carefree people joining in the desert for a great time full of fun, laughs and smiles!!

Why are vandwellers so happy?

Having found a way out of the rat race, much of the fear, rage and frustration that is part of the American Dream has drained  away from us so we can gather together and actually enjoy each other and nature. That’s because the stress of living by the time-clock as wage-slaves is gone, leaving behind a sense of peace and contentment. It’s a joy to be around people like that and little issues that would usually become big problems stay little and aren’t magnified out of proportion by our stress addled heart and mind.
I think there is a very important lesson in how happily and trouble free we are able to live at the RTR and the simple lesson is that free people are happy people. When we threw off societies noose of being wage-slaves living to buy more stuff and paying a huge amount of money for a house to warehouse it in, everything in our lives changed. Suddenly we were free to go where we wanted when we wanted and for whatever reason we wanted.
That kind of freedom makes it very easy to be happy!
However, there are still limits on our freedom. Many of us have Social Security or pensions so we don’t work at all, so of course we are relaxed and happy! But lots of us still have to work at jobs so we have enough money to be comfortable, but even then we work less than we ever did before and as soon as we’re done we can move to a new place. Just when we’re starting to get really sick and tired of a job and a location, it ends and we can move on to either a new job or time off from work. Our freedom is still limited but it’s more than enough to elevate our whole lives into a much higher plane of happiness.

The American Dream at work.

The American Dream at work. Why doesn’t he change? He has no idea there might be another way.

Who do you think is happier, a person who is stuck at a job for the rest of his life or a person who only works 3-6 months a year and at two or more different jobs in different places?
I think it’s obvious that generally the second person is much happier. I worked at the same job for 30 years and I promise  you that I was much, much happier after I left there and became a camp ground host in a National Forest. Working at a job I liked for 6 months a year was a thousand times better than working at any job knowing I was stuck there for decades to come!
wage-slave-matrixIt’s true that by living in a van we do lose many comforts other people think are essentials, but we gain so much freedom that to me it’s a tiny price to pay. When I try to tell people that they usually can’t even begin to understand what I’m talking about. They can’t imagine how wonderful freedom is because many have never experienced it and aren’t even aware of how little freedom they have; that they are slaves of the “System.”.

Slaves to What? The Marketplace.

It’s true that there are no laws forcing us to work or telling us where we must work, but there are unwritten Laws of the Marketplace that are more powerful than any written laws. The simple fact is if you don’t work you won’t have money to buy food or shelter.  The more money you need the less freedom you have to make choices so it’s societies goal to make you need the most money possible.
In modern countries we are forced to stay in our unhappy wage-slave lives by laws that make living any other way very difficult or impossible. For example, there are many laws in place that force you to live in a physical house because that makes you a slave to the marketplace. As any vandweller will tell you, once you aren’t living in a stick and brick house, in many ways you become an outlaw and have to skirt around the edges of the law and even sometimes break the law. By forcing us to live in a house they make us slaves to the Laws of the Marketplace.
Houses require a lot of money to live in and the only way to get money is to work. Everything in our society acts like a funnel to force us into being wage-slave drones trudging our way to work every day and being productive.
One of the most powerful funnels is advertising in the various media. We’re constantly subjected to propaganda that very effectively convinces us to want and buy the latest and greatest thing. The more things we buy the bigger house we need and the more dependent we are on the Laws of the Marketplace. We become slaves to our FICO Score and Landlord.

Our propaganda training begins at birth, and never ends.

Our propaganda training begins at birth … and never ends.

Like good dogs, we’re kept locked up by an invisible electric fence that shocks us every time we try to stray out of our good, respectable lives. We’re so brainwashed we don’t know the shock was put there to control us, we thinks its normal and natural. Unless you’re a vandweller and have found a way out of the marketplace you are basically a slave, forced to stay where you are by manipulation and having all your other choices made impossible.
Granted, for most of  us it’s a reasonably pleasant slavery and we’re given an amazing amount of freedom within the slave system. You can work at the job of your choice in the place of your choice; you can advance up the ladder or coast along at the bottom–but you WILL contribute to the system that is enslaving you! Refusing to do so will mean you will be punished, at the minimum you’ll be sentenced to a life of poverty and discomfort
We’ve found just about the maximum freedom and joy possible to modern people by living in our vans. By being free from rent, house or utility payments we’ve found a way to live with the minimum amount of work as a wage-slave but still maintain a decent amount of comfort, convenience and pleasure. Even if we have to work it’s much less than ever before and often it’s at jobs we somewhat enjoy.


Most of us get the winters off and that allows us to gather in the desert at the RTR. The reason we’re all so happy is we’ve found just about as much freedom as we can have in such an un-free world! That means smiles, laughter and friendship dominate our lives much more than frowns and fights–like they used to in the bad old days as a wage-slave for life.
What about you, are you ready to make some changes? Would you like to be as free as possible even if you have to give up some comfort to get it? If so, the life of a Nomad may be for you!

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  1. Maura

    Bob, I love your commentary on life and living free. My question to you is…”What would our society look like if we all jumped ship?”. I think that is a compelling thought.

    • Bob

      Maura, I don’t know what it would look like, but I think we should find out. The problem is if we do it and the other nations of the world don’t, that puts us in great danger.
      The bottom line is I have no idea what society should do but I totally believe that every individual should strongly consider dropping out.

  2. Calvin R

    There are people who track happiness in many countries. I read yesterday that they have found, once again, that people in the wealthiest nations are less happy than the group in the middle, not happier. Try telling that one so some materialistic people. The article mentioned Mexico specifically as a happier place than the US, which might account for some of the comments on your last post.

    • Bob

      Calvin, I was actually thinking about that when I answered those comments. Two groups that consistently score low on contentment with life are those with too much wealth and those with so little that life is very hard.
      As usual, balance is the key.

  3. Cae

    Once I got off the hamster wheel , almost nothing bothers me anymore. I can laugh at most of my problems because I’m free.

    • Bob

      Exactly right Cae!!

  4. Gary S

    Thanks Bob! Great post!:)you have much inspired me 🙂
    don’t forget my friend,bathtub IN A VAN installation coming soon,will post video Sunday evening 2/21/2016 in my YouTube video page.

    • Bob

      Thanks for the reminder Gary.

  5. Mike

    Bob, …. ya nailed it again, good job….I mean nice post. Ha.

    • Bob

      Thanks Mike!

  6. Canine

    When an elephant is taken from the wild and placed into captivity to be used for work or some purpose, it is tethered by one leg to a heavily anchored post with a heavy logging chain. The elephant fights and fights, but after some time realizes the futility of its actions and submits to being chained. Once this mindset has been established, the owner doesn’t need a chain. All he/she needs to keep this intelligent, immensely powerful animal hobbled is a light rope.
    A puny, cheap rope.
    If we looked -truly looked- at our leg, would we, to our surprise, find a rope?

    • Bob

      Great comment Canine!

  7. Jeff Johnston

    Unfortunately stereotypes arise from peoples views toward vandwellers. Upon my travels I encounter many people who own the megabuck RVs and they kinda look at me as though I am strange and are leary of me. When I open discussion with them they realize where I am coming from in terms of my lifestyle and then they become a little more friendly towards me and that I am not that wacked out as they perceived me to be. These people are still slaves in the sense that they pay huge sums of money toward their RVs and the poor gas mileage and huge maintenance costs to boot.Then they have to pay enormous sums of money as they stack them in like sardines in RV parks with full hookups while they spend most of their time sitting in them watching tv from their portable satellite dishes! Jeff in the Ocala on a trail with a variety of snakes.

    • Lenora

      I agree. However, living simple and free is different for each person. You probably have been able, by example, to open their eyes to new possibilities.
      Enjoy the snakes.

    • Bob

      Jeff, we generally have a very different way of looking at things, kind of like apples and oranges.

      • Bob

        OOPS, that could read like you and I have different ways of looking things when I meant that RVers and vandwellers have different points of view. Hope that wasn’t confusing.

  8. Cathy P.

    Frugal living has been an obsession of mine forever. Genetics in action, I take after Grandpa. But, I have always been “outside the box”. I see people who so strongly are a part of their “career” or their physical belongings that they cannot let go without severe mental trauma. To me, a job was always just a way to get money and I gained nothing else from a job. I have been employed in some “good” jobs and some types of jobs others would not want to do. I never felt the job reflected on who I was. As far as belongings, I have always felt selfish to keep things that I really wasn’t using and with the poorer quality of items one purchases today, I dislike spending money on junk. There are some people whose identity cannot be separated from the job and the stuff and we, the others, will never understand the ties that bind them. Sadly, those people do tend to strike out at others not like them but maybe just out of envy.

    • raz

      frugal is freedom. cheap is not frugal.
      ice cream. raz

    • Rob

      A job as ‘just’ a way to get money, mostly yes but not always. Differences in people? The job? Maybe both…
      I have had a job where I actually did say “they pay me for this!”. Good times while it lasted.
      I did talk to an older gentleman at a warehouse job (he was waiting for medicare at 65) who had never had a job he actually liked.

      • Bob

        That’s much more common Rob.

    • Bob

      Those are some very wise thoughts Cathy.

  9. Jeff Johnston

    On the flip side if I had tons of money saved and not dependent on my fixed income (pension) I would probably be driving a fine rig as well so I dont want to come across as being a hypocrite!

    • Bob

      Sounds good Jeff.

  10. Rob

    This nomadic vandweller life has not been “easy” to get used to, there are some old well ingrained habit to overcome. Workcamping the first year & a half helped me establish this as the new norm.
    I was unaware that people did make a living while being nomads until I took my first workcamping job at Adventureland.
    I actually took the summer off (this one coming up) so I could travel to those places I’d like to see and don’t want to do it the cold time of the year. If anyone asks I’m being a tourist for a year.
    Even then I signed up for the beet harvest come Oct. A mixture of money & a goal. It feels good having someplace I need to be where I’m going to get paid, old habits.
    This morning finds me parked at a wildlife refuge east of Bisbee AZ waiting for the sunshine to cut the chill. Lot’s of birds to look at, books to read & tonight they are going to watch the democratic debate at the theater in town. Food, drink, live music & politics all for a suggested donation of $5 at the door… Damn it sounds like fun!
    I’m adjusting.

    • Jeff Johnston

      As the song taking care of business by BTO goes… I love to work at nothing all day. Or as Sting puts it in the song money for nothing and the chicks are free!

    • Bob

      No that’s a good time Rob!

  11. Mark Lopiccola

    Thanks for this insight Bob. I have STOPPED working weekends so I have them for myself – my mini-retirements. Soon, I will stop working altogether, and dump this stick & brick home for a mobile unit.

    • Bob

      Sounds great Mark. Insist on being happy!

  12. Joy

    Reading this post reminded me of a book from the 70’s called How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. Have you ever read it, Bob? I stumbled across it a few years ago and it changed my life!

    • Bob

      Joy, I haven’t read it but I will check it out.


      Like you, I was instantly hooked by Harry Browne’s classic — actually thought I might commit the whole book to memory at some point — but settled for memorizing favorite parts of it. :o)
      When it was republished 25 years later, I read it again. I was surprised how relevant all the teachings still were (at least for me). In particular, all those “Burning Issue Traps” which he listed in the original book were STILL burning issues 25 years later = no progress; zero change and yet folks continue to waste their entire lives trying to resolve the issue instead of surrendering to the reality that the problems swirling around abortion (for example) will *NEVER* be resolved and whether you are ‘pro’ or ‘con’ is of no consequence either way.

  13. Omar Storm

    Great post as usual.
    Jeff Johnston,
    Money for nothing and the chicks are free by Dire Straits.

    • Bob

      Thanks Omar.

  14. Jeff Johnston

    You are right but Sting sings in the background!

  15. Mitchell

    Very inspiring post, Bob.

    • Bob

      Thanks Mitchell.

  16. Omar Storm

    You are correct. I learned something new.

    • Claudio

      Thanks for this link, Elisabeth (and Joy…), seems to be a great read. And thanks (again) Bob, of course, for this really useful and inspiring site, even for those not (yet) ready/prepared to do the completely off-the-grid thing…
      Claudio (Del Luongo)

      • Bob

        Your day will come Claudio!

        • Claudio

          …I already have the truck (a Ranger), now I’m looking for a light camper for it, so probably it will be a similar outfit as your very nice friend with the Tacoma… 🙂
          By the way, Snowy Range is really fantastic, the wind bent trees on the title of my Wyoming calendar are there for a reason, they are located very near Snowy Range Pass. On my hike back to Lake Marie (VERY beautiful lake!) I was completely alone, except for a moose that followed me at respectful distance for several miles, without bothering me, until it disappeared …

          • Claudio

            …let me just add that those moments are PRICELESS!! Those who KNOW, understand. Those moments make me most deeply appreciate to be alive, to have been fortunate enough (what INCREDIBLY IMPROBABLE coincidence that is…) to be here, for a short time (we are something like the big winners of a cosmic lottery :-)), generation 150,000 or something like that, but who knows…
            Well, OK, I’ll stop here… but, my friends, those who have understood how incredibly precious that connection with nature is (Bob and a lot of the followers of this site have), give really a **** on those questionable „values“ the majority out there seems to run after…

          • Bob

            The Ranger is a very good truck Claudio, it should serve you very well. I’s suggest getting as small and light a camper as possible. In fact if it were me I’d get a tall shell instead, like a 48 inch one of these:

    • Bob

      Thanks Elizabeth, I appreciate the book idea!

  17. Jeff Johnston

    Bob, you have been a great inspiration to me and because of you I have acquired a vandwelling lifestyle. Unfortunately my immediate family seems to view me as a nut. This stigma is hard to overcome and because of this I sometimes feel uncomfortable doing this. It seems I am viewed as a dropout of society; it is not the norm. I constantly reference your website to regain my perspective and enjoy your comaradery immensely.Thanks, Jeff

    • Bob

      Jeff, I truly appreciate the chance to help you in any way I can. Sometimes an encouraging word can make all the difference!

      • Claudio

        That’s very good, appreciated advice, Bob. To keep the whole thing very light is crucial for good off-road stability/”behaviour” without too much burden for the truck’s frame. And what a mileage (about 26 miles/gallon, in American terms, about 24-25 with that shell on it). In Germany there is stuff like this
        (scrolling down you’ll find the “black beast”, exactly my Ranger (2014), black as mine, with a very functional shell, just about 330 pounds (!!), that’s very light, isn’t it? You can even get them very well insulated for quite harsh conditions…
        Be well

        • Claudio

          I must add that I’m a rather “pacific” driver, going heavier on the gas pedal you’ll need more gas…

  18. Karen

    Sorry to attach a comment that is not regarding the wonderful article that you wrote. I recently found a van conversion that I found fabulous. Thought you might be interested., here is a link to his website
    Last time I wrote I still had my vintage trailer. I broke my back and have not been able to load and do all that was required for the trailer. So I sold the trailer and bought a used RoadTrek with low miles. I am selling the truck so I will have an emergency fund for repairs. I’m still dealing with family obligations for a couple of more years but during this last year I spent 100 + days on the road. I appreciate your advise about putting as much into your life as possible and living it as fulling as I can squeeze out. Time doesn’t wait. Karen

    • Bob

      Thanks for the great link Karen. I’m wishing you the very best with your back injury.

  19. Michael

    Since we’re recommending books, I think people are notoriously ignorant of how much our education system contributes to conditioning us to be helpless consumers: (LARGE!)

    • Bob

      Thanks Michael, I’ll check it out.

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