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:
You know why they call it the “dream”? Because you have to be asleep to believe it~
Very true CAE!
Nice post! I appreciate what you do Bob…
Very inspirational Bob, and I am happy it all worked out so well for you. I am at a pivotal time in my life right now and enjoy reading your posts and hearing a different perspective on life.
Joe, different perspectives are good things. The more you hear, the more likely you are to find just that one, or the combination of them, that’s perfect for you.
Great post! You are having a great voyage. The “American Dream” is not a dream to me. And if you’re stuck there, you not going anywhere. No voyage, great or otherwise.
Calvin, I happen to know that you are an old sea-hand at this voyage, been all around the world. One of these days, maybe your body can join in and set sail once again. And until then, you have your dreams to keep you going.
We shall see. This part of my process is going far too slowly for me. My body is not deteriorating further, but other processes are outside my span of control. I am refining two very different plans for the future, but either has to wait for further developments.
I wish you the best with them.
I joined in 2012 but began reading the forum and your blog occasionally a couple of years earlier. My motivations are different than yours Bob, but I definitely appreciate your sentiments and statements. The methodical, logical manner that you use to assist others in moving towards this lifestyle is worthy of applause. Even though there is a lot of “you” in your posts, the topic is not actually about you, its about all those aiming for this nomadic, economical, reasonable way of living.
jonthebru, I think we all have more in common that we are aware, and if we can find those common points we can make a connection that is good for all of us. Even if it never leads to actual changes in your life, making connections and touching and feeling each others heart is life-changing in itself. If that’s all I ever do, that’s enough!
The most life changing words you can ever hear are “You are not alone.” That’s my actual message hidden deep under there. Not everyone can hear it, but they don’t stay around.
Happy Anniversary, mate!
Hope one day I can join you too. Either a guy with a truck camper, or Tiger Vehicle Malayan LT.
Thanks fablefox! Those are both good choices and will serve you well. My camp is always open to you.
Sorry! I call it the American Nightmare! Thanks for being honest and sharing your heart!
That’s what I call it too Jackie!
Always an inspiration to read about your Journey Bob. Look forward to the follow up posts! 120 days to freedom for me!
Boy, the time flies doesn’t it Greg! Then you’ll be telling your own stories of freedom, travel and adventure. The best times of your life are just ahead and all those decades of hard work and diligence are going to pay off big time!
To keep my husband happy we have rented a 2-bedroom apartment. It is way too big and requires way too much cleaning. I liked my van better so I look forward to having another one some day. The best I can say about our apartment is it overlooks a swamp so it doesn’t feel as much like being in the city as it could do but we can’t open the sliding doors and enjoy the sounds of nature as that is drowned out by the freeway noise. Ugh.
so don’t clean it. hire someone. you don’t make somebody happy, if you are lucky you get them to be quite. probably not they usually just try to build on their success. you might find someone that would like to do what you would like. maybe, but not doing what you are doing. i think you already know the answers. good luck.
ice cream raz
Linda, you have what everyone hopes for out of life, a husband you love, children that love you and are living life to the fullest on their own terms and best of all a life-time of treasured memories. It doesn’t get much better than that!
The apartment may not be all you want, but you have so much else!! You’re a very lucky woman–and I’m sure you brought a lot of that luck into your life by good living.
I’m so happy for you, Bob! I’m also quite grateful for your willingness to share your experience and knowledge. I found your website several years ago when I was at a very low point in my life for very similar reasons (the American “dream” part).
I’m not able to live on the road at this point, but I’ve drastically changed my outlook for the better, and you have aided in that transformation.
Naomi, just having a dream to move toward and a light at the end of a dark tunnel is a marvelous, life-enhancing thing. Grab it and make it yours!
Happy anniversary! I am looking at a hybrid experience. I like my little house (it is paid for) and it is the center of my mail-order collectibles business. I inherited my late husband’s hoard and it will take a while to turn it back into money. But my little Transit van calls me every day. I hope to slowly turn the axis until coming back to the house is the “vacation” and being in my van is the norm until I am ready to give up the house.
But your blog makes my feet itchy for the road. I take off for a week next Tuesday to a collectibles show. My goal for autumn or next spring is to take off for a month with a fixed amount of cash and see if I can make a living at flea markets. I’ll be blogging about it. I’m already using some of your hacks, links, and suggestions on my van. I love the Transit conversion and will be doing something similar. My conversion need to be able to accommodate show stock, so I am making the bed platform desk height. Roll up the mattress and, ta-day, work space.
Thanks again and enjoy your month as spring rolls in – Terri
Terry, for a lot of people the hybrid life of a van for long trips and a house for stability is the PERFECT solution! It sounds like it is for you!
Enjoy that trip in your Transit!
Bob, my wife and I have been married for nearly 47 years. I love her and am committed to her and will not leave her. We have had the “American Dream” and have enjoyed it. We both are retired and have pensions and Social Security and good insurance. But our ages have dictated a change is necessary even though we are still in good health and physically fit.
Now the problem:
Me: Sell the home and acerage.
Me: Buy a Class B RV and hit the road. Go where it’s warm. Enjoy the freedom of not being tied to a S&B. Visit family occasionaly when the weather is fit.
Wife: Buy smaller home and yard close to family which means where it is cold. RV if we can afford it. Go on trips for a few weeks then back “home”.
Does anyone have any suggestions?
Keep working on her. Mine was adamant that when I retire we have a “Home base” somewhere (Oregon) and RV during rainy season. She is now close to agreeing to hit the road full time with the stipulation that if after a year to eighteen months if she still needs that “Home base” connection, we buy a house.
It’s a good enough compromise for me.
Sonny, I agree totally with Gregg, I’d suggest you offer a compromise and get whatever you can out of your wife. Hopefully she’ll take trips with you–just be sure she enjoys them and wants to take more. If you can get her to like them, who knows where it could lead.
If she doesn’t ever want it enough for you, I’d suggest you taking trips without her, many couples do that and it seems like the least she could do as a compromise.
This post has hit the nail on the head for me. I’m at a point right now where I will be moving into a small rv from a house. Everything you have said I agree with completely. I look forward to all your posts, as I’m gaining alot of knowledge. The last solar post was excellent and I intend on going that route. This post really hit home for me. Thanks so much!
WTXCal, I’m very glad to be of help!
Bob, you are living a lot of peoples “Dreams”. I am happy for you. Being 65 now,”Oh how I wish”. But also being happily married to the same woman, I can only “Dream”. Maybe someday, my cargo trailer conversion and I will meet up with all you good people.
Bob, it’s not all or nothing, you can have the best of both worlds and travel as it woks out for you. That sounds like a pretty good dream in itself!
After attending this years RTR and reading the blogs you, and others of a like mind, publish I am getting closer and closer to retiring early, selling my house and living on the road. I have been dealing with several medical issues this winter and once handled I hope to become part of the tribe …LOL
You are an inspiration. I cannot adequately express the thanks for all I have learned during and subsequent to RTR regarding the mobile lifestyle and living a less encumbered life. If all goes well, by next year’s RTR we will be mobile, albeit in the “Mothership”.
Gregg & Carrie
Greg, there could be worse things in life than the being stuck in your “Mothership!” Maybe if it has any babies you can sell them and become a breeder!
thanks for inspiring and encouraging us all, no matter what our life circumstances may be. Happy anniversary!
You’re very welcome Ming!
After longer than two years I am happier than I have ever been and I am 66 years old. I own nothing but what I use on a daily basis. I am FREE! Totally FREE! And I have learned a lot from my ‘Good Guru’. Thank you, Bob! “I live on the land where dwells the Creator.”
Sameer, I think I enjoy seeing your new-found pleasure in life as much as you enjoy experiencing it!!
I had been happily pursuing the American Dream, and I had been pretty much in touch with my authentic self. But then I hit an emotional and financial wall. I was treading water in a toxic sea. I knew I needed a change but had no idea what form that might take. I did a lot of research and and eventually discovered CheapRVLiving. Presto! There were so many answers. Thanks, Bob, for showing me the way to my new life. It’s great!
Al, it honestly is my sincere pleasure to have helped you in some small way! I try to keep people in mind when I write and long before we met, I was writing to you! I’m just glad we finally got to meet!
I thought I had it together, but my Van adventure only lasted two weeks due to mechanical issues and lack of a back up fund.
Now two years later, and in a ‘senior’ apt….beautiful, but BORING, and no wheels………I am next to nuts not to be able to go on adventures ,exploring……….and not to be able to garden.
Ending the apt lease around Memorial day, then after visiting kids up North, flying to NV to share a two acre place. I’ve decided to go back to work, for two more years, so I can afford a ‘good’ vehicle and have backup funds. I hope to get on at a casino, and eventually go to very parttime status[events].
I just can’t get the wanderlust outta my system, yet I do like a home base, as I am a permaculturist at heart.
they are not mutually exclusive. i’m 70 and work part time. i love it. some days i just will not go to work. part time. your rules. run what you brung.
ice cream raz
Joy, we all need to have a dream to chase and there is no pain as great as not having one. It sounds like you have a dream and even if it takes a long time to gain it, or even if you never do, chasing the dream will make your life so much better and richer.
Did you see the post about being a poker dealer in Vegas? That’s a quick way to build up some cash fast and pay for a life of travel and adventures. Are there any reasons you couldn’t do it? If so, maybe you could be a chip-runner or waitress instead. They make pretty good money too.
Keep after your dreams!
Happy anniversaries Bob, I know exactly what you mean.
Most people i know can’t believe how small I live, they think I’m the weird one. thanks to people like you, we know whats what.
Wakan Tanka Kici Un.
Thanks Icimani! Yes, we know what’s what and who the weird ones are.
Happy anniversary Bob, keep enjoying the good life !!
My regards. Lucy.
You have been an inspiration. Currently at the end of a divorce and now looking at 30 years of a clean-out of a farmstead now that she has left. Empty rooms and empty spaces…but once cleaning is done and this place is sold, I am on the road. I lived the life for 3 yrs after high school in a 73 Chevy van…going back to where home is where I stand as I turn 60 in a month. Appreciate your website. Thank you
Mark, I know what a cliche it is but it really is true that out of what seems like a tragedy can come very good things. I hope that’s true for you.
Finding your blog has given this old hen hope for happiness. By the next RTR I will be divorced two years and my work is seasonal. There is nothing stopping me anymore!
Gen, go for it!! Demand to be happy by following your dreams! I’m sure you’ve worked hard all your life taking care of others–NOW IT’S YOUR TIME!!
Your “I AM FREE” picture reminded me of a movie called “They Live”, an 80’s cult flick about a guy who finds a pair of sunglasses which allows him to see society’s subliminal messages. Of course it also reveals to him the aliens which are taking over the planet. If only there were such spectacles today. Perhaps they were the rose-colored glasses from songs of the 60’s.
IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096256/?ref_=nv_sr_2
JimS, one of my favorite books is called “A new Pair of Glasses” because that’s what it takes to really change your life. But, it’s a very hard process to take the old ones off and put new ones on.
“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
Bob, you sound almost to good to be true.
Opa, oh, I am!!
Seriously though, I think if you asked Judy for her perspective you might hear a very different story!
I search for a lot of blogs on all kinds of subjects. When I see one that is pleasing to the eye and well written, I get excited to read it…but most last either one post or at most a year. I have proven over and over in my comments that I’m no writer, but I do appreciate your writing and photography skills and hard work and consistent efforts over the years.
Thank you my friend.
Openspaceman, that’s my secret, I just wear you down until you finally give in.
I very much appreciate your kind words. Thank you!
I have had the American Dream and it proved to be the American Nightmare. The best things in life – are not things. What your blog has done for me is to relieve me of the fear that if everything I have were to disappear – there is still a glorious life available for a fat, old, white haired, ex-lawyer, who has nothing but his social security and Medicare. And that is enormously empowering!
Gary, that really is one of my primary goals to give hope faith in your future. No matter what happens, you will always have a home and way to live.
I remember stumbling across your site when planning for my trip around the USA this past summer. I learned so much from your blog posts. After some life changing events I was not afraid to give living in my van a try. It is wonderful to have a online “tribe” of people who do not judge and add so much to the site. For this I am greatful. Your inspirational words have helped more than I can express. Thanks for all you do.
Goldcityguy, I’m glad to have helped you in any way I can!
I’ve been living the mobile lifestyle for two years financed by a small $546 p/mo social security check. $104 is taken out for the Part B medicare as I’m now 66. I’ve been lucky to be able to work the last two summers as a camp host and collect a small UI check during the winter.
The best discovery for me that seems to go hand in hand with this way of living was my discovery of Buddhism and other eastern religions. Meditation is helping me tame my mind.
Tom, sounds like you have things well under control and have made a good life for yourself. I’m like you in that I have a lot of respect for easthern philosophy, although with me it is more for Taoism. I’m glad it’s working out well for you–minds definitely need to be tamed!
Great post Bob. Totally agree with your thoughts on the phony dream we’re all supposed to want.
I read about a guy in europe that quit his job, make a van his home and just goes exploring. Supposedly he’s in greece currently.
His van looks very cozy and nice.
Douglas, that’s my kind of guy!
9 weeks and I’ll be in my own little home on wheels. Almost there!
Super! I’m glad for you Canine.
It seems divorce really brought a lot of folks over to you. I bought my van after reading your blog and seeing the writing on the wall (it was a big letter D). Now if she tries to lay any payment obligations on me I can take it because I’m working and living in a van.
Man on the run, I’ve noticed that too, divorce puts a lot of people into vans.
For me, it was one of the few good things that came out of it.
Happy anniversary Bob. You’ve been the proverbial “straw” for me. thank you for your blogs and this web site. I’ve learned SO much. I’m planning to head to the RTR 2016. i’ll be putting my rig together this Summer and hope to meet you and others of your tribe around December. You’re an inspiration to we who yearn to love our lives.
Thanks Carpetman! I guess I’m going into the “straw” business! Thanks for your kind words.
I just want to say a BIG THANK YOU!!! Your blog and forum helps so many of us out here knowing that there is another way and gives us the courage to take that step.
Before you started your blog I would see pictures and stories from others about “Bob Wells” and was so excited once you began to detail your story and also share from others on the road in their rolling home. I really look forward to your emails to show up in my in box.
Take care and many thanks for all you do!
Tina, thank you for you kind words, they mean a lot to me!
Way to go Bob on your anniversary of deliverance from slavery. You’re a modern knight with a motorized white horse. I look forward to reading your next post. Good fortune for 13 more years of this lifestyle from Getaway Jim in Hope, British Columbia Canada.
Happy anniversary Bob:
I recently discovered how free the feeling is of backpacking in the remote mountain wilderness is for me when I hiked 4 days and 3 nights with 2 days not seeing a single human being, I must imagine that car-camping must be a close runner-up and similar in several ways. There’s a lot of people that are stuck in their houses in their own little worlds, and they might be miserable ( and they probably for the most part don’t even realize how much they’re missing ), but they just can’t see taking the drastic measures to pull themselves up out of their own self- imposed muck to set themselves free.
Their loss IMHO.
The main problem is that most of those people don’t realize how little time that they have left, and how fast their time will go. Just 15 or 20 or 25 years and they’ll be dead, and life passes so rapidly. Most people in their 60’s probably only have 10 or so years left where they can be as active as when they were younger adults and be able to get around and do things.
Most people in their 60’s have in many ways already died. They don’t ride bikes, they don’t take walks, they don’t go out and swim or do much of anything active. Their spirit has died, but their bodies just haven’t realized it yet. They spend their hours and days in the rocking chair, and don’t get out and discover all the beauty that is out there waiting for them to discover and enjoy.
You do well to remind us that the clock is ticking and it’s later than we think.
We don’t live forever, best not waste a minute.
Dan, I agree totally, its such a shame that so many people have been lulled to sleep of the possibility of any other kind of life and so they expect very little out of life and so what happens, get very little out of it!!
I’m almost 60 and I regret waiting so long to fully live my life, but I also know it’s not to late to live it to it’s fullest, so I am!!
All I can say, is thank you. So much of what you say here, is exactly how I have been feeling. In fact, the blog I started last night, says many of the things regarding societal expectations, that you speak of here. If not for your book, I’d still never know there is another way. Although I’m a bit afraid of the unknown, these last four weeks until I officially hit the road can’t pass quickly enough.
Highest regards, sir.
Tammi, it’s an exciting time just before the transition to a new life; savor it!!!
My camp is always open to you!
Thank you, that is most comforting to know. 🙂