#VanLife or “Vehicular Living”: How to become more adaptive and resilient
In today’s gig economy, is it possible to craft meaningful lives on modest incomes without becoming “wage slaves” to high rents, while avoiding the stigmas and struggles of homelessness? What if we are still figuring out our career paths, or transitioning from one career to whatever comes next?
One option chosen by thousands more people every year is a nomadic lifestyle based out of a recreational vehicle (RV), bus conversion, van, or regular automobile. In many large West Coast cities, lack of affordable housing is forcing increased numbers of people to choose vehicle living, especially if their jobs are based in those cities.
In San Mateo County (home to Facebook and Oracle), there has been a 127% increase in RV living in the past year. In Los Angeles, an estimated nine thousand people live in their vehicles, and in Seattle, vehicle living is the “fastest-growing segment of the area’s growing homeless population.”
Although clusters of unsightly, older (and often broken-down, poorly maintained) RVs are the most visible signs of the housing crisis, the population of people living outside of a traditional home in the United States is mind-numbing: over half a million people are homeless, and over a million people are living full-time in RVs.
Each type of vehicle living has its pros and cons: RVs are more spacious, yet more expensive to purchase and operate. Bus conversions allow for more customized interior designs, but are often unwelcome in commercial campgrounds and residential neighborhoods. Vans are much more economical to operate and easier to park, but customizing their interiors can be costly and time-consuming. Living out of a regular two- or four-door automobile can be terribly cramped, but easier to blend in with surrounding vehicles.
I’ve owned and lived out of a brand-new Airstream trailer, a 2008 shuttle bus conversion, and a converted 1995 Ford van, and I’ve been cross-country car camping, so my essays on this subject are informed by years of experience. Here, I focus on how to make choosing to live out of your vehicle into a positive, worthwhile experience.
No matter where we are living, there are basic aptitudes that help us live a more fulfilling, contented life: my personal favorites are mindfulness, accountability, organization, and elegance.
The first characteristic, mindfulness, applies to how we present and conduct ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we are considerate of our surrounding environments.
If we are living out of our vehicle, that translates to practicing excellent personal hygiene, dressing well, supporting local businesses, being considerate of where we park, and leaving no trace behind. We are the quintessential “good neighbor” practicing the Golden Rule.
The second characteristic, accountability, applies to how we manage our resources: our time, our belongings, our finances, and our energies.
If we are choosing #vanlife or similar circumstances, we have the opportunity to spend more time outdoors, with friends, and on creative pursuits; to significantly reduce the amount of stuff we own and to maintain our belongings more responsibly; to become more frugal and save money by reducing unnecessary expenses and building up savings and retirement accounts; and to devote more of our energies to activities that help us grow as people and bring joy, instead of stress.
The third characteristic, organization, applies to how we plan ahead, anticipate risks and challenges, and maintain an orderly existence.
For people living in vehicles, that means we know how we will fulfill our daily and weekly basic needs (parking, meals, shower, bathroom and laundry facilities, workspace and internet access); we have a full roster of jobs/gigs/side hustles that earn enough income to cover our monthly expenses; we make sure we program in enough socializing so we don’t feel isolated; we have up-to-date auto and health insurance and emergency roadside assistance along with funds set aside for repairs; and we routinely clean and tidy up our living spaces.
The fourth characteristic, elegance, denotes an ability to discern a more beautiful and graceful way to do things: a constant upgrade. We don’t practice elegance by spending more money — instead, we do so by valuing ourselves and not being wasteful, sloppy, or careless.
When living out of our vehicles, we shop at farmers markets for fresh produce so we eat the best possible foods; we buy well made designer apparel at thrift stores so we wear the best possible clothes; we purchase a gym membership so we exercise more and always have a safe and clean place to shower; and we always have our own cup, water bottle, straw, napkin, utensils, and storage containers so we avoid wasting resources by accepting single-use plastics or containers.
Whether vehicular living is a temporary or longer-term proposition, we can use this unique lifestyle to become more adept at coping with whatever life throws at us. We can become better versions of ourselves.
As Heraclitus (a Greek philosopher) noted, “the only thing that is constant is change.”
When we practice mindfulness, accountability, organization, and elegance, not only do our lives improve, but we become more resilient: better able to deal with adversity and unexpected changes. I consider resiliency to be a superpower: a strength applicable to an endless number of life challenges.