10 Steps to a New Life
I am well aware that the mobile life isn’t for everybody; this list is only for people who are discontent with their lives and want something different. If you are happy with your life just like it is, then you can pick and choose from this list and see if you can find anything you like.
I very much believe that the majority of my suggestions fall under the concept of “Living Better on Less” and even if you love your traditional life, some or all of these ideas will greatly enhance your life. First I will put them in simple list form and then I will elaborate on them:
- Get out of debt
- Start saving toward an emergency fund.
- Sell or give away anything non-essential.
- Buy your car, van or RV and move into it as soon as you can. If your circumstances don’t allow you to do that, at least down-size your home so you are paying as little as possible.
- Reconnect with nature.
- Try riding a bicycle, scooter, or motorcycle.
- Start traveling on short trips.
- Take classes to gain skills.
- Reconnect with yourself.
- Say “YES!” to change and adventure.
You can’t live a free life of travel if you are in much debt. It’s impossible! Your debt will be a noose around your neck that slowly tightens and kills you. Getting out of debt is not easy, but if you will do these simple things it is possible.
- Stop buying anything non-essential. You can’t have a bunch of stuff and live in a van or RV (there just isn’t room) so stop buying anything that isn’t vitally important to your new life. This may sound like a gross oversimplification, but the simplest way to do that is stay out of stores (physical and internet) and only go in with a list of what you are 100% certain you must have! Also, don’t underestimate the power of advertising. Everyone claims they are the exception and it doesn’t affect them. Yes it does!! Avoid it.
- A very few people can use credit cards without abusing them, but not many. If you have more than $1000 worth of credit card debt, you are abusing them–cut them up before it gets worse!! A debit card works just as well for most things and won’t let you go in debt.
- Work out some simple, practical budgeting system you can follow. The one that works for some people when nothing else will is the envelope system. When you get paid the first thing you do is pay all your recurring bills. Turn the remainder into cash and put it into envelopes broken down into categories like food, gas, and emergency fund. If you don’t have a vehicle to live in yet like a van, mark an envelope with “Van Fund” and start to save toward your new home. If you already have your vehicle home (car, van or RV) mark an envelope with “Vehicle Upgrades” for things like solar or needed repairs. Some people prefer to break it down into weeks, some are okay with doing it by the months; try both. Keep a close eye on the envelopes and don’t run out!
2. Start saving toward an emergency fund.
However you budget, you MUST put money into an emergency fund every month and the money MUST not come out unless it is a true emergency. If you are doing the envelope system put money into an envelope marked “Emergency Fund” every week and month. Strive to not spend all the money in the other envelopes and at the end of each period, put the unused balance into the “Emergency Fund” envelope.
3. Sell or give away anything non-essential.
Go through everything you own and get rid of 90% of it!! And for the vast majority of us I do literally mean 90% (or more!) of it. Save every penny of what you earn from sales like your life depended on it!! If you are still saving toward your van, it might be best to put that money into the “Van” envelope so you can get the van as soon as possible.
If you can, move into a van or RV and whatever you were paying toward rent should then go toward paying off debts, your emergency fund, van upgrades, or building up savings to live and travel on. If you can’t move into a van or RV, do the same with any money you save from down-sizing. You can downsize by selling your home and renting or moving into a smaller apartment.
5. Reconnect with nature.
There’s been a great deal of scientific research showing that a lack of nature in our lives has an extremely negative affect on our mental and emotional state. By reconnecting with nature right where you are you accomplish two very important things: A) You will feel better B) You will be preparing and practicing for vandwelling which is very much like an extended camping trip.
- Spend all the time you possibly can in local parks by going for walks, strolls and picnics. Teach yourself to cook on a Coleman propane stove.
- Go hiking on local trails. You’ll reconnect with nature and improve your health. Start with short hikes and continually increase their length.
- Go camping by starting with overnight trips and working your way up to longer trips. Most of the skills you gain on those trips will help prepare you for vandwelling and the camping gear you buy will all be useful to you as a vandweller.
6. Try riding a bicycle, scooter, or motorcycle.
The cost of gas is probably going to keep going up and up, so anything you can do to reduce your dependence on high-priced gas, the better off you are. There are so many advantages to riding a bicycle (better health, better for the earth, much less exxpensive) you really owe it to yourself to give it a try. An electric bike will make it much more likely that you enjoy it. If a bicycle doesn’t work for you, try a scooter. They’re light, cheap, easy to ride and get 100 mpg or more. A small motorcycle has most of the advantages of scooter but can go on the freeway.
Even if you only have an economy car you can tent camp which will still teach you a lot about vandwelling and reconnect you to nature. If possible trade or sell one of your vehicles and get a minivan so you can start practicing living in the van on short trips or even just parked in your own driveway or a local store. Then your trips will be actual vandwelling, just for a shorter time.
8. Take classes to gain skills.
Because our goal is to live better on less, the more skills you have, the less dependent you are on paying other people. I’m willing to bet that there are many free or low-cost classes you can be taking right now that will help prepare you for making a radical change to mobile living.
- Take up an art or craft you can make money at or will just make you happy. One thing you will find as a vandweller is you will have a lot more spare time so having something to do with it will be a big plus.
- Take a local auto shop class for beginners. You’ll gain self-confidence and hopefully save yourself some money and aggravation down the road.
- Take a self-defense or martial arts class. Chances are you will never have to use it but the confidence you’ll gain will be invaluable and life-changing.
- Find and learn a hobby you will enjoy.
For many of us, the root of everything wrong with our lives is that we can’t stand living inside our own skins. We’re unhappy so we fill our lives with food, possessions, busy-ness, chemicals, and noise. When you move into a van or RV and those things are stripped away and suddenly you are confronted with living with just YOU. For many people it can be a real shock and very uncomfortable, even miserable. So learn to find a way to be comfortable with yourself. If you don’t, you’ll probably find yourself unable to take these other steps and maintain them.
- Get rid of your cable, satellite radio, iPod and turn off all the other noise. Spend time alone with yourself in silence. Once you can do that and not be uncomfortable, you can add the noise back into your life. There’s nothing wrong with those things, just with our dependence and hiding behind them.
- Find a spiritual or philosophical system to govern your life by. We all need a “North Star,” a central truth that is the core of our being. A ship without a rudder flounders, and that is exactly how most of us live. We are either directionless all our lives, going nowhere, or we blindly follow the orders of society. Vandwelling is the opposite of that. It is taking charge of your life and your destiny and living it on your own terms. No one can tell you what your “North Star” should be. You have to find it for yourself. If nothing else, make the search for a “North Star” into your “North Star.”
- A life lived in selfishness is an empty life. Find a way to serve others that works for you. I have no idea what it might be nor can anyone tell you. Find a passion and devote yourself to it. For me it was a woman and her children sleeping in a car in a grocery store parking lot on a cold Alaska day. Helping people like her became my passion and has been my guiding light ever since. At the very least adapt a policy of performing Random Acts of Kindness every day. I make it my goal to somehow enhance the lives of all the people I can. Every night before I go to sleep I ask myself, “Was I loving and kind towards all today?” That simple sentence will change your life.
10. Say “YES!” to change and adventure.
This can be as inexpensive as really exploring a local park and as simple as taking classes at a local community college in a hobby you have always wanted to try. The key thing is to say “Yes” to everything new and exciting unless there is a compelling reason to say “No. Open your eyes to little opportunities and you WILL find them all around you. Our imagination is the main thing that separates us from the other animals–USE IT!
I think I skipped a few steps but I’m on the right path thanks to your support and information. And yes, you were loving and kind towards all today — and every day. Thank you, Bob! 🙂
Thank you LaVonne, it’s a joy to have you here in camp!
Your words speak loudly…but your actions speak louder! Great job laying out a systematic plan of action for everyone foreign to the concept of drastic simplification. I am starting to reap the benefits both financially and emotionally from eliminating my $800 rent + utilities from my monthly obligations after 3 months of stealth city camping.
*I deal with the normal challenges in a metro area…traffic and the temptation to goin’ to restaurants for food… But I’m getting more frugal.
**Playin’ music in the old folks home’s on my days off really doesn’t count as serving others as a life philosophy…I think I do it mostly for selfish reasons…even though it brings enjoyment to them.
***Was I loving and kind to all today? I have a lot of work to do on that one. Living in large cities most of my life…New York, Chicago, etc. it’s hard to remove my/yourself from the day to day bombardment of constant movement and noise. I’m hoping that I will be more mindful once I get out of this environment and have more control over my daily actions.
****Alaska! I also consider this a once in a lifetime opportunity…especially
the fact that you have laid out a plan and know the lay of the land, being a native Alaskan. I am in good standing with my job and I never burn bridges so I’m considering asking for a leave of absence type of arrangement for 6 months and then coming back to finish building a bigger nest egg.
_Sorry for the wall of text but this post was an important one for me.
Thanks again for your help and encouragement.
Openspaceman, it sounds like you have a great plan and are working it perfectly! It would be great if you can make it to Alaska next summer, but if you can’t you are getting yourself set up to do it one of these days. Keep at it!
Love the posts on easy steps and how-to’s, I still try to follow them as much as I can! I’ve had to jump back in the rat race for family issues, but I’m already wanting out of it as soon as possible and trying to get rid of family things so that I can….soon…
Myddy, somtimes things come up we have to take care of, pretty much out of our control. You do what you have to do!
While I have yet to get to one of your gtg’s, I have been thinking about an Alaskan trip myself – got room for one more? I have a truck camper (and 2 dogs).
Lynn, you will be welcome to join us!
This is my first comment on your blog but I have been reading all of your information for quite awhile. I became a minimalist in 2007 and was able to leave a corporate job and follow my passions. It’s been a long road but the next step is converting a cargo van. I just wanted to say thanks for all of the helpful tips, experiences, and advice you give!! I look forward to each new article, they always seem to hit home!
You mentioned giving back and I agree with you 100%. You mentioned self defense so I thought I would add this info. I offer free self defense classes online, no strings attached, as my way to give back. You can click on my name and enter your email for instant access. If people don’t want to enter an email just go to my Youtube channel to access over 60 videos for free. Youtube.com/BlackBeltSite.
My goal in the next two years is to join you for a week in Quartzsite for the RTR! Have a great day Bob and thanks for the inspiration and guidance!
Thanks Scott, it’s a great thing you are doing with your website!
Some people imagine they can make the jump to van living without changing much. But it’s a different life with different requirements. So maybe there should be something on the list about rearranging one’s thinking about life.
Al, that’s what I meant in the section about becoming comfortable in your own skin–thinking differently about life. But you are right, it is a big shock to most people when they move into a van, literally everything changes.
Sage words! And good advise too *smile*.
On that dream trip…remember you pass by my summer base in N. BC and might have to drive out of your way to avoid my “known place of residence” to get back into the US because I’m 45 minutes from the best border crossing for pretty drive!
Remind me to give you a map to the coolest road…started out as a smugglers road during the gold rush…still unpaved and better than a superhighway in spots…ridge run in the mountains!
See you soon,
Joni, I’ll be sure to look you up on the trip! When you get here we can get out the maps and you can show me some places to go. I imagine that you are very familiar with the Canadian Rockies and I would really like to pick your brain on them!
Wonderful Post! Say “YES!” to change and adventure! All of this makes my ‘soul’ happy and content. Everyday learning something new about my self and the world around me. Everyday immersed in Nature’s ‘Grand Design’. Surrounded by beautiful Sunrises and Sunsets. And on the practical side….everything I need Thinking about my December Travels…”Think I will go to Salton Sea.” It’s about ‘Freedom’!
Sameer, you are so right, it is all about free both inwardly and on the outside.
Another nice post Bob. It very satisfying to to get rid of stuff. I’ve started preparing and the less I have the more confident I am about the future. But this isn’t the same for everyone, I know. Some people take a great deal of comfort in getting more stuff. Likewise, many people get pleasure from buying stuff, making purchases. If you’re one of those, I hope you recognize it, I know I am. If you get home with something you just bought, and wonder why you spent the money,,, well you get the idea. I don’t pretend I don’t want or need anything. My big weakness are gadgets.
Now I routinely go 10 to 14 days without spending any money. Yes, not even one penny, no credit or debit card. This is the way I’ve set my life up. Until you’ve tried this I’m not sure many would understand what it takes. But I look at like this. Every time I go out there are so many companies and people trying to get into my pockets, to get me to spend my money. Same with the Internet. You can almost look at it like a battle to see who gets your money, you or someone else.
And Bob has a great idea about going camping or staying in your car. Once I flew into Phoenix and rented a car. The rental company asked what hotel I would be staying at tonight. My answer was none. They told me they needed to know where the car was going to be. I said that fine, my first night would be in Death Valley. Great the rental company said, what hotel? Again I said, none. This went on for a while until the rental company gave me the car. I did spend the first night in the car, in Death Valley. For the next week I slept in the rental car all over California, Yosemite, above San Francisco and Three Rivers, to name a few. Never once was bothered by police or security, but if I had, I was in a rental. A great reason to pull over to take a nap rather then drive tired. I had the best time.
Tom, thanks for a great comment! Very, very insightful!
I think it would be interesting to talk about what your average day is like in any given camp. From when you get up to when you go to sleep. And perhaps input from others as well. You mentioned that the van dwelling life tends to give people tons of free time they never had before. So it might be interesting to hear how people spend their days when they have no job to go to?
CAE, That’s a great idea for a post! I started to write some ideas out for you and realized it would make a better post, so I will do that in the next few weeks.
I’m getting closer and closer…. still voluntarily stuck in the rat race but I’m working on a plan to build a skill set that will allow me to become a full time truck dweller while still making an income. Hopefully the day will come soon! I can’t stand office life.
Joe, I think it is really smart to plan ahead develop a work skill that can support you. The key thing is to have a dream and work steadily toward it. It sounds like you are doing just that!!
I’m lucky in that we have no debt (house or car payment) and we pay our credit cards in full every month. My wife has a well-paying job that she enjoys (which at least makes one of us), and we are able to make the occasional weekend trip with the RV.
I really enjoyed this post. I think I struggle most with your ninth point. Especially the part about serving others. I generally don’t like being around many people and often feel I don’t fit in, which I also think is part of what makes me wish I could embark on a nomadic life – yesterday.
I think part of what makes this area a challenge for me is that I feel I don’t have passion or a passion. I enjoy things and say there are things I want to do, but I often seem to lack the focus and determination and even the desire to get them done. In fact, the only thing I am sure I am passionate about is that I don’t want to work one minute longer than my wife decides we have to and that I want to hit the road as soon as possible.
Grab a paint brush or a musical instrument or a how to manual for something mechanical. There are alot of bio’s and books online on the subject…Google late bloomers and take a time machine back to when you were younger and remember what you enjoyed to do.
*Our time is so precious…work occupies so much of it we forget to have fun.
From what you’ve written it seems like you served your time and will have the resources to experiment and experience new things.
Goodluck my friend!
Very good advice Openspaceman!! We should all follow it.
Serving others does not have to be big. My van has a 40 gallon fresh water tank so whenever I am leaving a van dweller gathering I fill as many containers as other bring me knowing I will be able to fill again at my next destination. Offering a ride to anyone needing groceries when you are going to the store can be a good give back in this community. I once wanted to give a thank you gift to a van dweller who helped me and was told packets of hot chocolate would be appreciated and I already had those on hand. Don’t think your offering has to be huge or expensive.
I was very happy to read your comment and you are absolutely correct,this is exactly the attitude needed in this (van dwelling)community and in society in general (but very rare in these times ) to do “your part” however small it may seem ,in helping your fellow human being in need.
And especially the van duelling community with it’s many challenges and inherent difficulties built in to the lifestyle,a (seemingly) small gesture can have profoundly positive results in someone’s life.
I am not a van dweller yet but i’m steadily headed in that direction in the near future so comments like yours are giving me confidence that there are still good human beings out there if you just look in the “right places”.
Keep it up and it will all come back to you one day 🙂
Mario, I’m reminded of the famous Gandhi quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” As long as you a good person, you can be certain there is always one left! We all need your example.
Excellent advice Linda!! It’s hard to overestimate how important little things are.
Walt, I understand the need for private time because I am exactly that way as well. But just by pure chance I found a way to serve and love other people and yet not be around them!! Ask anyone who visits in camp and they will say I spend most of time alone in the rig.
My point is that serving doesn’t have to be face-to-face. The way I serve people in camp is by connecting them to other people and I see that repeated tremendously often. People come here to meet me and leave with other people who become their best friends. That brings me a great deal of joy.
But you do have to find a passion or you won’t have the motivation to keep going. It doesn’t have to be obviously “serving.” It can be politics, human rights, the environment. It can be a hobby or craft that brings you joy and you want to share.
Your passionate about getting out of the rat race–which is also my passion. Start a blog on that. That will force you to think about it and formulate it into words. Start reading books on it and taking steps to make it happen. You want to move away from something, but you are also moving toward something. What are you moving toward? Why and how? Why is it better and who would it be good for? How do other people do it?
The spark is there all you have to do is fan it and feed it and follow it wherever it leads. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t become a bonfire! The more voices promoting getting out of the rat race the better!! You will bring your own slant toward it and maybe even change some peoples lies!
Bob – looking at your map, you might want to reconsider going up through Edmonton and instead go up the Icefields Parkway through the Canadian Rockies to Jasper – excellent road, unbelievable drive, and quite a few provincial parks to camp in.
Thanks for the good advice Desert Rat! That map is just a general guideline and no the actual route. I’m sure it will be very different.
But since I know so little Canada I’m looking for all the tips I can get!! Thanks again!
“Was I loving and kind towards all today?” A lot of people who live out on the fringes of society — in vans, trailers, shacks or whatever — are there because they hate people. None of the people I’ve met through Bob’s informal community have been that way. Some are shy or need a lot of personal space, but they aren’t misanthropic. (Of course, the people who are misanthropic avoid meeting up with anyone.) It seems everyone I’ve met has some degree of concern about the wellbeing of fellow vehicle dwellers. I think that’s natural. I think the f— everybody folks are the abnormal ones, the damaged ones.
I agree totally Al!! We get both extroverts and introverts here, but just about all want to make some connection with other people. The best thing is that you can be yourself totally and still fit in. It’s a good thing because I am one of the more introverted ones.
I am well-aware it is easy to be living and kind toward all when there are so very few people around and much harder when you are surrounded by people!! When you are stress-free, being nice is easy! When I lived in the city my nightly answers were much more often “NO, I was not loving and kind toward all!”
If you are looking for a way to get yourself out into nature I recommend geocaching. The places I have been since I learned this hobby are amazing.
Great advice Linda!
I have just now stumbled upon your site, as my husband and I have decided to work towards our dream of the life you and many others now live. I have to say that your site has touched me in many ways, including the fact that you actually take the time to respond to each and every comment, if you can. A rare thing to find in the age of blogs and websites. But having been in the realm of customer service all my life, not so much in necessity, but because I truly do like people and can usually find something, whether having to search long and hard or not, to truly like about that person. And yet I also do completely understand the need to reconnect with ones self and be alone, as I find that often within myself.
I guess what I am truly getting to is thank you so much for your site and the wisdom it holds, I will be delving into it deeper as the days/weeks go on. And we are so very much looking forward to our life of challenges, freedom, and friendships ahead.
Hope to run into you one day on the road. Enjoy your journey!
Lori, what a lovely comment! Thank you! You are very lucky to know what your ream is and be able to follow it. Don’t let anything stand in your way!!
If there is anything I can do to help, feel free to ask. Let’s plan to meet at either a West or East Coast RTR!!
I choose West coast… haven’t been there since 1982!!
I’m sure I will have many questions as we go through our process of readying ourselves. Our goal is a year and a half from now.. we shall see. It could be sooner, as we live such a simple lifestyle as it is. But am being realistic. 🙂
Thank you again for your wisdom and the open sharing of such!!
Let’s consider it a date, you, your hubby and I!