Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Listen: Move Into A Van.

I'm sitting in my life is easy chair, and I'm cooking noodles down by the river. I stopped worrying about cops again: back to normal. I'm keeping an eye out for a cop so I can have a conversation. I'm almost wishing one would stop by. Preferably the same one who visited a few nights ago. I bet the only reason that cop knocked on my van is because I was parked in a place that would be blocked by minor road repairs in the morning. That's a guess, and I think it's a good one. I would have preferred hearing that explanation at the time, rather than "ASHLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT!!!!," which does not explain much.

Now I'm sane about such situations again, and if more cops start knocking on my van I'll be more prepared to take it in stride. It's only natural to piss yourself the first time you have a grizzly bear pounding on your cabin. I'm parking in smarter spots again, but I'm not squeamish and I'm not over thinking stealth locations. I'm doing well enough, moving every night, and trying to park next to trees that will provide an extra hour of shade in the morning. I don't look over my shoulder while the sun is up. I sit around and cook and read in my house with the doors open. When I open my doors, my house becomes a porch. At 7:21pm I was sitting in my cozy chair on the porch right by the park. I was cooking noodles, and I even had tomato sauce, parmesan cheese and hot sauce.

I implore some people. Take action.

Move into a van. I, Chris Harne (with a silent 'e'), recommend getting off the fence about it. You don't need to be handy or inventive, or know anybody who is. I'm not handy, and I can be almost sinfully lazy. I'm going to summarize my experiences and recommendations here, so you don't have to sort through my past musings with squinted eyes and a fork. It would be smarter to review all information at That's a better resource. The following information is just one approach.

The first step is picking a vehicle. I love my van. I truly love my van as much as a person can love a vehicle. There are several aspects that I find particularly appealing. I'm living in a conversion van. The walls and ceiling are already padded, the roof is raised a few inches higher than average, and the floor is carpeted. It comes with a few cabinets already installed. There are ambient limo lights, and four bright reading lights that can be turned on individually. I didn't need to figure out how to install any of that - it came that way. Perfect. All of this padding and cabinetry and lighting served to make my van feel instantly like home. The padding makes the interior very calm and quiet, and also tends to decrease outside volume coming in.

I have not done a single thing to improve my van. I absolutely love seeing vandwelling setups that are planned out and organized. I love seeing kitchens with sinks, propane refrigerators, beds with storage below, custom cabinets, heaters, coolers, generators, solar panels, roof fans, and deep cycle marine batteries. I love those setups, but I have had none of that stuff for many months of vandwelling, and my cup still runeth over. Here's what I've got. I have my conversion van with the padded, lighted, living room feel. I put all the back seats in a dumpster. I used clips from Staples to hold up gossamer table cloths from K-Mart. The tablecloth curtains allow me to see out, and light to come in - but if you cup your hands to the windows, you can not see in. If police or other idiots shine flashlights in, they will not be able to see one centimeter beyond that curtain. That's enough for me. My bed is on the floor, and takes up almost the whole thing. I have three cabinets on the ceiling towards the front of my living space. One is used as a medicine cabinet with wet wipes, toothbrush stuff, deodorant, spare AA batteries, hair buzzer, etc. There's room for a lot more. The middle (TV) cabinet contains books and magazines. When I finish a book, I have a conversation with someone about it, and I give it away. The last cabinet contains socks and underwear. I have three small unused cabinets in back. One of them contains a stack of carefully flattened Life Cereal boxes. I'll file that under "unused." My pants and shirts get folded and stacked right beside my bed. I have 7 t-shirts, 3 long sleeve t-shirts, 2 hoodies, 2 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of shorts, rain jacket, rain pants. T-shirts and pants and shorts go beside the bed. My less-used clothing, and some winter gear is stuffed in a vintage hiking pack. I have bicycle touring and camping gear stuffed in bicycle bags - panniers - and that is laying beside the bed.

I have been very comfortable and stealth just like this. No need to wait until you can get a deep cycle marine battery, and a roof fan, and a working sink and all that stuff. Just move into the van, and everything you need will be worked out like magic. You'll change your organization a few times and get a good feel for what you DON'T need. Kitchen? No: camping stove. Sink? No: gallon jug of water. Part of the appeal of a van house is the simplicity. Don't complicate it by trying to jam an entire house into a cocoon. It's automatic. Your home will come together naturally as you realize your real needs vs. the previously imagined ones. Van life is easy.

It takes a few weeks of parking on the street and in various other places before you get a feel for your ideal kind of spot. I use small residential streets almost exclusively. It took a few weeks for me to adjust to being in a van with people walking on a sidewalk two feet from my windows, unaware that I was sitting an arms reach away. At first you can feel very exposed in a van. When cars drive close enough, you can hear them and they move your house a little. It becomes natural. It just does. I don't give it a second thought, and I've grown to love both of these things. Waking up, and stepping out of my cocoon in the morning has become something I love. I feel blessed and lucky.

I'm always seeing people who are "living vicariously" or are "on the fence" or are "planning to start vandwelling." Well, now is the time. Not later. The preparation can be zero. You don't need to have a setup that takes time and thought. You can just start sleeping in a van and work out the details later. I recommend a conversion van for a setup that's instantly cozy - but if you want to do the work on a stealth cargo van, go for it. I like having huge windows.

I spend all day at coffee shops and the library. I spend all day reading books in the park. I spend all day walking to the grocery store because it takes longer, and it relaxes me. I spend all day riding a bicycle and dancing on the pedals at a tempo that doesn't match that of the song on my iPod. I spend all day outside and I don't get cabin fever, even in the unmeasurable quantity that occurs whenever you see The Price is Right or an episode of Law and Order. This is good.

I have one last thought: A medium sized comfortable chair has been so much more valuable to me than any kitchen counter setup could ever be. My happiest times are sitting in my life-is-easy chair, looking out through my swing-out side doors. It's a porch. Enjoy a rainy day on the porch with the rain drops falling on your feet while you read a book. Shake your head and wonder why so many people are hiding in a house. Living in a van takes almost no planning. It's stupid easy, and you might fall in love.


Anonymous said...

Mr Chris Harne,
I've lived in my delivery van for 4 years now, and I love it. Eloquent posts like this make me 100% satisfied that van life is getting the exposure that it deserves! I'm enjoying your blog, and LOVE this post. It's all true, and for more people than just Chris Harne! :) :)

"Don't complicate it by trying to jam an entire house into a cocoon."


Living the good life....together!! said...


I know exactly what you mean here. All this time that we had been planning to move into a van and even after living in the van, I find that we were very nieve going into it. We thought we would need all these great amenities. Then after about 3 months, we realized we dont have to have all those things. I still want a small fridge but can get a 12v mini fridge and I think that will be everything because we already have a small outside grill. I think our main problem is wondering about money. Travel costs alot in gas and grocery....i want to launch as soon as possible but we're not sure if we should save enough money for about 6 months or.......?

About your parking said residential areas...we have not done much parking in that area. Isnt it hard to find places to park that isnt right in front of someones home?

About "conversion vans," we have a conversion van too. You said it right, it is the best way to go if you dont want to have to do alot of work to it. We have running lights on the ceiling which gives a nice ambient feel, and the spot lights that can be turned on individually which are great for reading.

I love living without TV. TV gets on my nerves, and it just doesnt hold my interest. I would prefer to read a good book and use my imagination.


Anonymous said...

Agreed! Anyone who's thinking about it should just try it. If you're worried about try it in a campground for a week. They're a great way to get used to the idea of sleeping in a vehicle.

Anonymous said...

Hey, that's what I've been saying. :)

Issa Waters said...

Great post! Just do it! I tell people that, too. I didn't have very much figured out when I moved into my van. All that came in time. I've got a big cargo van, and I did make a bed, but that was just nailing some 2x4's together. I don't have a "house" battery, a sink, kitchen set-up or any of that. And I agree with you about the chair! I've got a wonderfully comfortable chair that takes up a huge amount of room, but is worth the space.

rykelo said...

A great way to make money also is to busk, i actually make more money busking than i did as a bike courier. At fairs I can make like $400 in a day drawing portraits, and in a city with a guitar I definitely make more than min wage on a busy street corner!

Anonymous said...

I live in a camper so it is about halfway to Van-Living. I just can not give up having a shower every day. I believe that I am heading to a house truck sometime soon as my old camper slowly gets too dilapidated to live in. First I will need a large box truck... Meanwhile I have purchased a GMC van as a prime mover for my camper and as an emergency shelter.

Nicholas Wright said...

thanks for the inspiration mate.... i am planning to buy one mid way through 2012

Unknown said...

I get my van tonight, $100 got me a Coleman propane stove and propane bottle, cast iron skillet, 4 gal water jug with spigot, a plastic bowl plate thing, one fork, one knife, and one spoon, and enough waterproof matches to last me a while, everything else comes from military service, and what I already own.
While van dwelling, I will be working full time, and sleeping less than 5 miles away from my job site...
This article confirms my happiness in beginning this adventure.
Thanks for the excellent post...