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I took this picture at one of the Seminars at the RTR January, 2012. I have made so many wonderful friends, I hope you can join us this January.

When I look around my camp, I see I am surrounded by many wonderful people who have come out to visit and camp with me in the beautiful Arizona desert. Some will stay with me for months and some will stay for a few days. The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is coming up and I think it could be huge! The forum (cheaprvlivingforum.com) is a thriving, busy, community of wonderful people and this blog has attracted many wonderful readers who share their wisdom in many insightful comments. We have become a tribe of people who are more a family than merely friends.
Believe me, if you had told me 20 years ago that this would be my life I would have told you that you were out of your mind. It could never happen. But, here it is true, this is my life. It has been a long strange journey to arrive at this point so I thought I would share with you how it all came about.

The Tribe at Thanksgiving November, 1012

When I started my website, (cheaprvliving.com) back in 2005, I had no idea what it would one-day become. I knew nothing about the internet or HTML (and still don’t!!) but I found a cheap and easy way that a total non-geek like me could create a website, so I did. I loved living in a van and I was so thrilled with all the good it had brought into my life that I wanted to share it with others. The idea that it would grow and become popular never once occurred to me. I was simply a guy with a passion who wanted to share it.
I had just gone through a divorce and a major mid-life crisis and had discovered that basically I had been unhappy most of my life. I knew I hated my job and the prospect of going to it for the rest of my life was torture to me. There had never been any happiness in my life, I was just going through the motions trying to endure life and survive it as best I could. I was a perfect example of what Thoreau described as living “lives of quiet desperation.”
Moving into my box van was the first ray of light and hope I had ever had. Living that simply and cheaply raised the possibility of an entirely different way of life outside of societal norms. Living in a van made very happy, but I was well aware that the majority of people I saw around me were still living lives of quiet desperation and they had no idea there was any other way to live. I wanted to share with others the wonderful new life I had found in vandwelling so I started the website to carry the message. I had two primary goals for it:

  • To inspire others to make a leap of faith and move into a van.
  • To educate them about the details of how to live comfortably and happily in a van.

At the same time I joined a Yahoo group called vandwellers and discovered there were other people who had fallen in love with vandwelling. We were all the time trying to meet up in get-togethers. The first one I attended was in Ohio in 2007. I believe there were about eight of us there. The second one was in Arizona in 2008 and if I remember right there were about six of us. The third one was at the Slabs in 2009. That one was very special to me because I made some very deep connections with like-minded vandwellers. It was there I met Charlene Swankie and TwoKnives Katie, who instantly become family to me. In 2010 we had another gathering in Quartzsite, Arizona that was life-changing for me. At all the gatherings before we came together for a few days and then split up without any real connection. But at this one we stayed together for a long time. Charlene, Nemo and I camped together for about a month in Quartzsite, and then moved to the Slabs and camped together for another month. By then the desert was getting too hot so I returned to my home-base of Pahrump, NV and we had another gathering. Wayne, Charlene, Nemo and Katie were all there. Then we were joined by several others, some that I hadn’t met before: Brian (the younger) and Brian (the elder), Cheri, and several others. And, again, there was a heart connection made that went far deeper than just friendship, we were family. We camped together for a month or more.

A Tribe is Born

I loved the connection we had made and became aware that I this was another deep void in my life that vandwelling could fill.
I had always been quiet, shy and something of a loner. Making friends was never easy for me. In fact I would have to say that in my whole life I had very few real friends, mostly just acquaintances and co-workers. So it came as a shock to me to be surrounded by people that I really like and cared about and even stranger that they liked and cared about me. That had never happened to me before. Most bizarre of all was that these were healthy, mature relationships. They weren’t based on neediness or pride; we genuinely liked each other without ulterior motives of wanting something for ourselves.
At the end of the winter we broke up and went our separate ways, but over the summer I became deeply aware that this kind of connection was something I wanted and needed in my life and I wanted to share it with others. In August I came up with the plan of formalizing what had happened the year before and announced the first Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). It would be held in Quartzsite, AZ in January2011 and all vandwellers and RVers were welcome. That January we had 45 people attend and I made many more, deep, life-long friendships. It was just a great time. In November 2011 Steve from Washington started camping with me and we became like brothers and are still camping together. At the second RTR in January, 2012 we had 90 people and again it was a wonderful time and many more connections were made.

The Tribe in the Sierra National Forest.

I then knew I had to expand the goals and mission of my website to include creating community so I created the forum. It had the same original goals as the website (to inspire and educate about vandwelling) but it was equally about creating a tribal family and making connections. It has done that extremely well! In 2012 I began this blog to make a more personal connections to my fellow vandwellers, and to my total surprise, it has attracted a following. Most surprising of all was that people were more interested in my thoughts, feelings and philosophy instead of the knowledge I had gained in the last 10 years. That just pointed out to me again that what people are looking for is not just the FREEDOM that vandwelling allows us, but a DEEP CONNECTION to other free people.
In the summer of 2012 I was no longer campground hosting because of my damaged arm so I held the first Summer RTR which about 20 people attended. But then something totally new happened. People who had come for the RTR stayed to camp with me for the rest of the summer. Then others joined us. Some would stay for a day or two; others would stay for weeks or even months. People were coming and going all summer. There were never less than 6 people camped with me and often 8-12 people. Several of them were brand new vandwellers and they had come to be “mentored” informally while they became comfortable with their new lives and learned the ropes.
That trend has continued and increased. Today there are 11 other people camping with me and more on the way. Some are brand new, others have been doing it longer than me. Because FREEDOM is our highest value, our connection is very loose. We come together and then drift apart; people come and go all the time.
It is my hope that this continues to grow and many more will camp with us in the upcoming year. I want to think of it as a MENTORING center where newbies can come and learn and feel comfortable while they get their “sea-legs.” I equally want it to be a SHELTER from the storms where people who have been beaten down by society and the bad economy can find hope and recovery in a safe environment.
It has been a long, strange journey, but I finally feel I am exactly where I am meant to be, doing exactly what I am meant to do. That is an incredibly good feeling I want to share with as many people as I can.
If I can be of assistance to you, my email and my camp are always open. You are always welcome. My email and my camp address are both on the side-bar to the right. Bob

     “If you want others to be happy,

          practice compassion.

     If you want to be happy,

          practice compassion.”

          ~ The Dalai Lama

A few of the people in our current Quartzsite camp, December, 2012.

Previous Vandwelling Snowbirds: Meeting Your Basic Needs For Nature and Tribe

40 Comments

  1. MichaelinOK

    A man living his generous-spirited mission is a beautiful thing to behold.
    Bob, may you continue to be blessed…and to bless the lives of others.
    Michael

    • Bob

      Thank you Michael, but nobody has pure motives. Serving others is just another way to serve myself. Bob

      • MichaelinOK

        Agreed–that nobody has perfectly pure motives. Yet since good deeds done with those less than perfectly pure motives are all we mortals can reasonably aspire to (or expect of each other) in our best hours, good deeds done even with admittedly imperfect motives deserve to be celebrated.
        All of us, at times, have taken cruder paths to serving ourselves. When we take the paths of helping and giving and welcoming and teaching…those are good things, deserving of praise. But I’ll let it be; I don’t want to make you squirm or blush. 🙂

        • Bob

          Michael, I have done so many things for purely selfish reasons, I have used up my life-time quota, from now on they have to be done with the best motives I can muster up. Lets face it, I love getting letters praising me, so my motives are far from pure. But, for the first time in my life I feel true empathy for other people and concern for them is genuinely a large part of my motives. It’s a work in progress. Bob

  2. Wayne (Wirs)

    “I want to think of it as a MENTORING center where newbies can come and learn and feel comfortable while they get their “sea-legs.” I equally want it to be a SHELTER from the storms where people who have been beaten down by society and the bad economy can find hope and recovery in a safe environment.”
    Bravo Bob! Hope to attend RTR and meet up with you in January myself.
    – Wayne

    • Bob

      Wayne, I’m looking forward to that, I enjoy your blog quite a bit. Bob

  3. Kim

    Can’t wait till January!

  4. FastEddie

    Bob,
    Very good writing.
    I was trying to remember how I came upon your site and ended up buying your book and following the happenings, but I cant exactly remember. I know I was(am) mired in middle income prison with no pension, 401k or job. Anything I get comes from the sweat of my brow. I was looking for a way out.
    If you don’t mind me saying, you come across as very approachable and non condescending to the newbie. Your also very open and honest with your feelings and willing to write those in a public forum. Not many males are. Someone who does that opens themselves up to being vulnerable, and I must say, that takes a lot of guts.
    I don’t know your background, but your writing style is easy to follow and you convey your message very easily. Not a lot of wordy prose or an over abundance of simple obvious statements.It feels like talking with an old friend without all the judgmental head trips most people play in daily correspondence.
    Anyway, I hope you have found your calling and keep up the good work.

    • Bob

      Thanks for your kind words Fast Eddie, I appreciate them very much. I’ve spent a lot of my life hurting other people and myself and that got very tiring. Then I met a wonderful guy named Bill Wilson, and everything changed. Every good thing in me came through him.
      I think I may have found my calling, I’m going to keep going this way for the time being!! Bob

  5. Charlene Swankie (aka SwankieWheels)

    Hum… my anti-spam word was VAN??? Is it a sign???
    Great write-up Bob… yes, agreed our times together have been very special. You, Nemo, Katie, Cheri, etc. and so forth will always hold a special place in my heart, right up there with Mr. Swankie who made this all possible by giving me a way to get new legs under me…. I love you all.

    • Bob

      Charlene, I am so glad we are all back together again! It feels right. Bob

  6. HoboBerg

    Looking forward meeting you and the tribe at the RTR. The pooch is doing well.

    • Bob

      Hoboberg, I’m looking forward to meeting you, and Homer is really looking forward to meeting Candy! I think he is more excited though! Bob

  7. Calvin R

    Hi Bob,
    I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote, “FREEDOM is our highest value.” I have more non-judgmental community than most thanks to 12-step recovery, but many of them do not understand my values. They seem to want “success” (money) or just to fit in. You understand what is important to me. That gathering in Ohio left an impression on me, because it pointed the way out of my only real fear about the road, loneliness. At some point we will meet again.

    • Bob

      Calvin, hopefully we will meet again sooner than later! Bob

  8. sara

    Bob, you are my hero. Reading your updates is always a highlight of my day. I’m going to risk writing a bit about myself here because I think I am an example of someone with the societal ‘stats’ that wouldn’t seem to be interested in what you write about. I am a 31 year old Harvard grad living in the middle of NYC with two small children and a loving husband who makes more money than 99% of the population. We own 4 homes.
    If I could only convince my husband to give it all up and homeschool my kids and travel around the country I would. I know first hand that homes, possessions, status in society all do not mean happiness. Thank you for writing and sharing and offering a model of a different life. I think the American Dream needs to be re-written and you are one of its authors. Thank you thank you.

    • Bob

      Hi Sara, you are very right, your biography does not fit the profile of most of my readers. In fact it comes as a total surprise to me to be read by someone in your position. America is so divided that your demographic may be the most hated in America. That is a horrible thing to say, but unfortunately it is probably true. I imagine it must be a burden to you. I am sure you and your husband have worked very, very hard to get where you are and taken many risks, it’s a horrible shame that you aren’t universally admired for that. I am reminded of the writings of Ayn Rand (who I admire very much, but boy did she need a better editor!!) whenever this topic comes up.
      Vandwelling has nothing to do with your domicile, it is a heart-attitude, and from your letter I I think I see a heart that beats with a similar passion, so I am going to bestow on you the title of “Honorary Vandweller”. I wish I had a certificate to send you, you could put it on your wall along with your Harvard Diploma. I’m sure your husband would be thrilled with that!!!! You know, there are many women with husbands who do not want to travel, so they take trips by themselves. That is remarkably common. Maybe that is a possibility for you. You could get a nice Class B to allay his fears and start with trips around NY. New York is a remarkably beautiful state and it would be wonderful for your kids to be out in it. There is so much history within a day or two drive that you could tell him it was to make their education come to life, which it would.
      Bob
      P.S I have made many assumptions about you, and we all know dangerous that can be. If I have assumed wrong, I sincerly apologize, but I mean it with the best intent. Bob

    • Abbe

      Sara — your story reminded me of one of my cross country trips — while back East, I decided to ‘pass through’ New York City, never thinking in a MILLION years I would find parking for a motorhome so I could get out and walk around. Well, by shear dumb unbelievable luck, I found a metered parking space on the edge of Central Park — I parked, then got to walk my dog all over Central Park — it felt like a dream, as I could not believe my good fortune.
      We were only there for a few hours, but I’ll remember it forever, especially since my dog has since died — she sure enjoyed our afternoon in your great city. Funny how city folk want to go on adventures away from the city, but sometimes non-city folk want to go on adventures to see the city. We can all learn from each other I think. 🙂

      • Bob

        Abbe, you are so right, the grass is always greener on the other side! I envy you for seeing NY City, I would love to do that myself but I didn’t have the guts. I did go to Washington DC during the Cherry Blossom Festival in April and it was truly wonderful. I highly recommend it. Bob

    • Linda

      Sara, I have a suggestion for you that may be useless in your situation but I’ll toss it out there. How about part-time van/RV-dwelling? You could buy an RV and go off on weekends and long weekends. Don’t get something enormous; as a former kid I suspect that most kids think tents are to die for so you could get say, something in the 20-something feet range that is more likely to fit in state and forest campgrounds. There is always something educational near a campground be it a historical place (my obsession) or a lot of the national parks etc. do programs for kids. You could take up geocaching (it’s taken me on some very nice hikes this year…I accidentally climbed a mountain, something i would normally avoid, and gained quite a view.) Enjoy. It’s the spirit that counts, even if it’s only once or twice a month.

      • Bob

        Very good suggestion Linda! One I highly recommend. Bob

  9. CAE

    I started reading your website and forum group back in 2008. It was an eye opener for me and created a great sense of independence in my thinking that I’d never really had before.
    Thank you!

    • Bob

      Thanks CAE, sometimes all we need is a little nudge in our thinking and we can have an “ah-ha” moment of clarity. I am delighted if I played any part in that for you!!
      I think 2008 may be a tremendous turning point for our country because it brought such a deep economic downturn that has affected so many people. I think it was a real watershed in our thinking about the “American Dream”. I believe many peoples confidence has been permanently shaken and they will be joining us in our quest for freedom. Bob

  10. Nelda

    We think the world of you, Mr. Bob, and look forward to seeing you everyone again next month.
    You are an inspiration to us and I too, look forward to your writings. See ya soon!
    Nelda and Jerry

    • Bob

      Hi Nelda, you know how much I love you and Jerry too!! See you soon. Bob

      • Bob

        Jenn, I hope you guys are doing well. We sure miss having you around camp!! You have such a “bad” case of itchy feet we don’t get to see you enough. See you at the RTR though! Bob

  11. Abbe

    Hey Bob — to echo another tribe member’s observation above, you’re a gifted writer. I think that one of things that draws people to you is that you expose some of your vulnerabilities — that helps the rest of us to show some of our own as well.
    When I told my family about my plans to become a full-timer for at least one year (now it’s only a few weeks away, yee haw!!), I got my ass handed to me with lots of second-guessing of my judgement, and all manner of criticisms and complaints. Lots of that’s-stupid-why-would-you-give-up-your-house? My own father said he hoped I wouldn’t end up living in a sleeping bag on the river. Uhhhhh, not likely as I do have shelter, thank you, but wow — thanks for the support — NOT. 🙁 That was quite a slap in the face.
    Even at my age, a slap like that still hurts. So it is good to hear of other people having positive experiences and travel adventures. When I have time, I’m going to read more of other people’s blogs (linked to comments above), as you have some really interesting and talented followers.
    peace, abbe

    • Bob

      Abbe, thanks for your kind words, I appreciate them. Sometimes our families don’t express there love and concern very well. Hopefully they mean well. you’re right I also really enjoy some fo the readers blogs. Maybe you should start one of your own? You can do it for free and it isn’t that hard. You might think you can’t write, but how do you know if you don’t try? Practice makes perfect and maybe you will find you are good at it and enjoy it. Just write it like you were writing to your best friend and try to make it as interesting as possible. Write it how you would want to read it.
      Hope to meet you out here on the road! Bob

  12. Linda

    hey Bob…you’re a gifted storyteller. 🙂
    We have landed in our usual long-term spot; I’ve had a cold since we got here and D’s got it now, so we’re not planning on being near people until we stop being nasty. 😉
    We feel a need to be quiet and antisocial for a while but will see you before too much longer, for sure.
    Latest blog post:
    http://www.ravensroads.com/philip-s-raine-rest-area-southbound/

    • Bob

      Glad you are close by. We are moving over to near Blythe on Monday 12-10-2012. When we get there I will post a new map to our location. Looking forward to seeing you when you are feeling better. Bob

  13. don

    I’ve been following your story from the original CheapRVLiving days. I’m one of the stick house people but love hearing about others lives. You have extra credibility with me because of your long experience with truck/van/trailer living.
    I’m glad you are enjoying what you are doing for it certainly is helping a lot of folks. Don’t forget that living well is the best revenge.

    • Bob

      Hi Don, thanks for your kind words. There are quite a few people who are on the net just to make a quick buck. They read all the books and then set out to get some very basic experience and then start a site or a blog and wait for the money to roll. When it doesn’t, they give up. I had a guy camp with me last year who was doing just that. He had started his blog and was off on a road trip to see 20 National Parks in a month. He stopped to see me to get tips on having a successful website (I wasn’t blogging then). He was a nice guy and I think he meant well, but I didn’t have much hope for his success.
      The old saying about fooling some of the people some of the time… is still true. You just can’t fool all the people all the time. Who you really are, what you really know, and your true motives, will eventually show through. Hopefully mine will stand the test of time.
      Living well is indeed the best revenge! Bob

  14. Jon

    Bob,
    I had tears in my eyes reading your post. You are indeed a gifted writer. Reading your Blog cheers me up as I follow you on your adventures. It will be a while before I get out there myself, but it is nice to know what is possible. I very much enjoy the comments as well, you know so many nice people.
    Best regards, Jon

    • Bob

      Jon, you are so right, I know many very nice people. I’m glad I can make your time in limbo easier, I hope to see you out here soon!

  15. pete

    Hi Bob, I’ve been reading your web site for a couple years now and am a big fan. I only just now have started reading your blog and both enjoy and am greatly inspired by it. I’ve been writing or at least attempting to write my blog for awhile now and I dont know if my writing has gotten any better so much as it has been quite theroputic. My posts are few and far between, but it does help me to work things out such as how and when will I hit the road. I am presently living in an rv working a couple jobs to get out of debt so that I can make the next step in my life. It does get a bit stressfull but reading your blog helps me to keep everything in perspective and plan for the future. Now I can say it will help encourage me to keep up with my own blog. Thanks again and keep up the good work.
    Pete writing from the great pacific northwest.

    • Bob

      Having a blog can be a wonderful experience, but it does require quite a bit of time and work. And if you are already working nultiple jobs, I can imagine time is something you don’t have any extra of. Be kind to yourself, your day will come when you can spread your wings and fly away!
      Bob

  16. Suzann

    Hello Bob, I have been away from your blog for months & have returned to keep my dream of van dwelling alive. At this time I’m caring for my ex-boyfriend as he dies of COPD, so it’s encouraging to read of your new discoveries/transformation. I noticed the difference the moment I opened your blog and could spend the entire week reading what I’ve missed. Thanks for all you do & I hope to join you for a time someday. My best friend lives in Tuscon, which is where I will head once my commitment here is finished. Blessings to you, Suzann

    • Bob

      Suzann, what a remarkable thing to do to care for an ex-boyfriend like that. I’m afraid most of us would not have that generous a heart. I plan to spend most of this year in Arizona, so if you get tired of the heat in Tuscon, come join us in our camp in the cool National Forest of northern AZ.
      Bob

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