Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

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eco-anxiety
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Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by eco-anxiety »

I am considering boondocking in some kind of van or small RV setup during my ERE initial wealth accumulation phase when my lease ends next summer. I am curious if anyone has experience doing such a thing while working at a white-collar job. Also, would appreciate input on the idea from an ERE “development of a renaissance skillset” perspective, i.e., what are the lifestyle trade-offs. Maybe this has been done and someone can just post a link... But might be nice to start a fresh conversation.

A little background on me. I work in a big city in the northeast and am in my mid-20s. I don’t have a car. My employer offers me a modest public transport subsidy that effectively makes commuting by train most days free. I can telework 2 days every week. My workplace has a gym and shower that I could use for a relatively small annual gym fee. I am healthy, like the outdoors but am pretty green and don’t have a lot of experience doing anything on the extreme side of the Personal Finance spectrum. I don’t see a certain sized “stache” as a goal to my ERE journey. Instead, I am drawn to the idea that implementing the principles from the ERE book can lead you to live a more self-examined and deliberate life.

This idea is in an infant stage right now, but these are some preliminary considerations:
  • Financials – Obviously will be reducing housing costs and bundling housing and transportation. Vans/small RVs are expensive though so I wouldn’t see significant financial gain until maybe 2 years into the experience. Will I last 2 years?
  • Travel – I can spend more time hiking and exploring the northeast. I won’t be confined to a big city without a car. Will I spend way more money on gas/transportation than I currently do though?
  • Safety – This includes safety from physical violence, robbery, and weather. The northeast can get cold and I’m sure big vans are targets for the destitute.
  • Loss of ability to develop other skills – If I am living in a van, space is at a premium and I will be on the move a lot. Gardening and carpentry, two skills I am not good at but would like to develop, might be more difficult to work on. What skills can I work on to replace those I can’t?
  • Social Life - I am an introvert so need little social interaction. But I do need some and don't want to rely on work colleagues. I imagine that this kind of thing destroys any hope of a romantic relationship.
My biggest concern is my own fear of following through and committing for 2+ years. I hope this will be a lively discussion and will help me think through my concerns.

white belt
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Re: Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by white belt »

This has been discussed before and you might be able to find some old threads if you search “van living” in the forums. Also check out C40’s journal as he did it for a number of years.

If you are just doing it to save money (as opposed to spending a lot of time traveling), then it will probably be cheaper just to live in an apartment with roommates. Another issue with van living is that it will likely severely limit your DIY project options because you won’t have much space to work or to store supplies/tools.

Having said that, some folks swear by van life, but I never really understood the appeal if you’re working a 9 to 5 office job in a regular city. Some kind of traveling job or nomad lifestyle is a much better match in my opinion.

Edit: Of course Jacob lived in an RV during his blogging years, but that was hooked up to city utilities in an RV park, which is not boondocking.

sky
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Re: Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by sky »

One way that might work is to rent a space in a driveway with electric power and an indoor bathroom. You could get by with a minivan or larger van. A class B van would be like a studio apartment.

The challenges start when the weather goes below freezing. You can't use water, grey or black tanks because they freeze up. You can get around that by carrying jugs or bottles of water on a daily basis and using inside bathrooms. You could use a pee bottle and trash bag - pail toilet. You can heat the interior using a diesel parking heater or a propane rv furnace, but if you have 120V AC electric, an electric heater is the best method of heating a camper van. Sleeping in cold weather is not much of a problem, just make up your bed with enough insulation and you can sleep well even in extreme cold weather. Getting out of bed when it is cold is the hard part. It is nice to be able to turn on a heater system and wait a few minutes before leaving the warm bed.

Hot weather is another challenge. In some ways it is easier to stay warm in a camper van than to cool it down. You can run AC if you have 120V electric power. A roof vent and parking in the shade might be enough. Some van dwellers leave the van in the morning and do not return until after dark when things cool down.

You could start out in summer with a cheap minivan to see if you like it. Grand Caravans are good, they are large and you can fold the seats down into the floor to get a flat surface. Put a cot in the back, hang a curtain behind the front seats. Put an RV air vent on the roof. Internet is easy, get a cell phone data plan with tethering. It is not hard to find a place to park overnight, especially if you have a small, common vehicle like a minivan. Don't put in a heater or electric system, just use it as a simple build for a few weeks and see if you can deal with vanlife. Early Spring before it gets hot would be a good time to try out living in a van.

One of the more difficult things is to get rid of excess stuff. If you can get all of your possessions to fit in two or three plastic bins, then you have a good chance to make it work.

Will it save you money? Can you avoid eating out at restaurants because you don't have a nice kitchen? Can you avoid driving around a lot and burning up gas? Are you in an area where you might be ticketed for living in a vehicle? Can you avoid buying a lot of gadgets to make vanlife easier? Is your van reliable so you don't have to pay for a hotel room while it is getting repaired? If you do it right you can probably save a lot of money. It depends how much you would pay in rent if you lived in a house/apartment. If you could get a room with cheap rent and did not need a vehicle, you might not be saving much money at all.

One issue is that there is a lack of privacy when living in a van. Other people may walk by at any time of night or day. That is the nature of living in a vehicle parked in a public place. Is that person looking in my windows? Are they going to break into my van? Lack of privacy might bother you and you might get tired of it after a while. Another issue is boredom. Not only are you bored, but you are sitting in a vehicle in a street that is probably not the nicest place. It can lead to distress and a desire to get out of living in a van. Avoiding and overcoming boredom is entirely up to you.

AxelHeyst
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Re: Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by AxelHeyst »

We also need to be very clear here. You said "boondocking", which means parking out in the boonies. But your description seems to imply in or very near to a city, which is not boondocking, it's typically referred to as "stealth camping". The considerations are different for each of these strategies.

Financially, vanliving during accumulation phase makes the most sense when you're in a VHCOL area and finding conventional affordable housing is simply not feasible. The SF Bay Area is the poster child metro for this. The Bay is also ideal for stealth camping because the weather is mild all year, and the culture is relatively tolerant of "clean" vanliving. You look completely respectable compared to all the tent cities springing up in every nook and cranny of the bay.

Once you move away from VHCOL, mild weather, tolerant culture locations, the case for stealth camping starts to become less of a slam dunk. You'll need to bring subjective reasons and motivations in order for it to "make sense". Typically, those subjective reasons involve travel and a high level of commitment to certain outdoor pursuits (climbing, hiking, trailrunning, paddling, skiing, etc). The level of commitment to outdoor pursuits, I should add, has to be very high indeed to maintain stoke on the van lifestyle.

Social: For what it's worth, I found my current and very serious GF two weeks in to my boondocking journey. I'm sure it's a little different in the NE vs the mountain towns of California where "dirtbag" is an honorific, but you'll probably find that once you get plugged in to the community of people who share your specific outdoor interests, your lifestyle will only encourage deep and meaningful relationships with like-minded people. You're also more likely to find people who live and breathe frugality as well.

One thing that surprised me was the amount of time I spend on basic logistics, particularly if I'm traveling in a new place. Where am I going to park tonight? Where am I going to refill my water tanks? Where am I going to dump my greywater? My poop bucket's getting full, where's the nearest national forest? Where's the nearest public toilet? Can I drive down this road and turn around, or will I get stuck? Is that sound a mouse? Oh dear god, I don't have a mouse in my rig do I? I'm thirsty, but everything except the Bacardi 151 is frozen solid. I need to submit this project for work, but my battery is low and the sun isn't shining and my cell hotspot isn't working, how am I going to get this done? etc. I spent way more time on all of that stuff than I thought, and way less time hiking, climbing, and mtb'ing than I thought I was going to.

A wood stove might be necessary to make the van work in winter. Condensation leads to mold. No one wants to be in a moldy rig.

For what it's worth, I've been mostly boondocking (not stealth camping) while working remotely for about two years. I'm currently working hard on figuring out a more stable lifestyle that allows me to work on other things like gardening and woodworking, and also somewhat paradoxically will give me greater freedom for outdoor pursuits and travel.

classical_Liberal
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Re: Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by classical_Liberal »

eco-anxiety wrote:
Mon Dec 07, 2020 8:42 am
I don’t see a certain sized “stache” as a goal to my ERE journey. Instead, I am drawn to the idea that implementing the principles from the ERE book can lead you to live a more self-examined and deliberate life.
I really think this a wise way for young people to approach ERE. Two things considering this statement and your idea for van-life(or any other EREesque activity for that matter).

First decide what you want to do based on your personal desires and ethics.

Second, consider how these choice might interact with you while living in 9-5 working land. I've found that the time and life energy requirements many ERE-type activities beyond pareto optimization were incompatible with also having a FT job (for me). So, if you try van-life (good advice on try it before you buy it up thread), don't necessarily think about the outcome based on your current life circumstances. Rather, if you want to van live, and it's not working, think about how you can adjust other aspects of your life to make it work.

IOW, think lifestyle desires first, work and accumulation of capital second. This will keep you in line with what you wrote above.

Edit: see @theanimal's journal for an example someone who has put lifestyle and ERE first and capital accumulation second very successfully over a long period. @RoamingFrancis journal is an example of someone early in the path of attempting this.

jacob
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Re: Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by jacob »

eco-anxiety wrote:
Mon Dec 07, 2020 8:42 am
Also, would appreciate input on the idea from an ERE “development of a renaissance skillset” perspective, i.e., what are the lifestyle trade-offs.
You'll learn a lot, specifically that there's another way to live than e.g. "renting a stick house and calling the landlord when the toilet breaks". Basically, it's an education in optionality and range that goes beyond just "I know it's possible in theory". It's a crash course in "the essence of life"---what do you really need. You might find that "not worrying about little things like maintenance, etc." is one of your needs. Having done this, you know there's another way insofar "normal life" fails. The uncertainty is less scary/unacceptable and so the "internal freedom" is higher.

http://earlyretirementextreme.com/what-is-freedom.html

Side-effects include forcing a minimalism that doesn't come naturally [to most] when there's more space. This prevents geographical anchoring which will make switching tracks much easier.

eco-anxiety
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Re: Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by eco-anxiety »

Thank you all for the feedback! The thoughts so far definitely cleared up some of the questions and considerations I need to look into. I guess it would be more like stealth camping but I feel like I would have enough mobility given my work schedule to be out in the boonies 30-40% of the week (obviously northeast is pretty densely populated so relative). I really like the buy a cheap minivan and test it out over a summer idea. I think that the northeast culture is probably more material-goods obsessed/status-seeking directed than other areas like California so maybe not a hospitable area for frugal-minded people to begin with.

I think right now I am driven by one big factor. I like my job (not love) but don’t really like living frugally in a VHCOL area. I feel by constraining my finances down to the “Level 6 – Yield and Flows” Wheaton Scale, I have sacrificed some of that freedom of just like getting in my car and driving away or going out on the town and having an experience with a bunch of other idiots. I guess the wealth accumulation phase is probably just one of those sacrifice xyz so that in the future you can increase other dimensions of freedom (e.g. not having to work for the man). Part of this is internal and maybe its growing pains from adjusting to living frugally which will with time change how I think about relationship with things. -shrug-

My worry is with “wasting” this phase where I have a steady job, decent amount of free time, and my youth and not getting anything more in return than a big bank account. So adding some adventure via boondocking/stealth camping could add some unique value. Anyway, much to think about. I’m going to dig into some of these other threads suggested.

Alphaville
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Re: Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by Alphaville »

winter in a vehicle can be harsh (hence rv dwellers tend to be snowbirds.)

i spent a winter in a (cheap, borrowed) travel trailer working on location in a project, and we burned a lot of propane even though we had electric hookup. was during bush ii so propane was $$.

wasn't comfortable, but the project got done... would not do again though.

trailer had higher occupancy than it was designed for so maybe if we had stayed within specs it would have been more livable.

rent or borrow maybe before buying?

a room in a house might be cheaper and/or more practical but ymmv

also ne is big so depends. vermont or maine will be friendlier to campers. i've slept in minivans in said states unbothered. also rural mass. (while traveling though, not on a permanent basis).

ps depending on cities walmart welcomes travelers and will let you sleep in parking lot.

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Re: Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by unemployable »

http://rvwiki.mousetrap.net/doku.php Read this, every word of it, twice if possible. Hard to distill all the ramifications any better than here.

https://www.reddit.com/r/vandwellers/ This is the largest related subreddit; some subs with more intuitive names are nowhere near as busy. Signal to noise ratio is not what it used to be with lots of "look at this picture of my van in a pretty place" posts nowadays. Lots of technical questions which you may or may not find useful. Also check out /r/urbancarliving/ and /r/priusdwellers/ and perhaps /r/vagabond/ to get a taste of the nomadic life.

https://www.cheaprvliving.com/ and the forums therein

I have "lived" out of my SUV for up to two months at a time, most recently this last summer, although not accompanied by the burden of having a job.

How easy would this choice be for you to undo? If you find out you hate it you can just go back to an apartment, right? Money doesn't seem to be holding you back either way -- I mean you want to save money but it's not a constraint to either paying rent or buying a vehicle. In that case, why not?

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Re: Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by jacob »

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B77UDWU/ famously (eventually after being discovered) lived in a van at the university parking lot while in grad school.

bottlerocks
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Re: Boondocking during Wealth Accumulation

Post by bottlerocks »

A google worker who eventually got kicked off company property: https://frominsidethebox.com/

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