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The Van 2.0

VanPano-1VanPano-1-4VanPano-1-3VanPano-1-2

It’s been more than three years that I’ve been enjoying my van in every possible way; I’ve lived in it, I’ve partied around it, I’ve camped with it, I’ve transported massive amounts of people in it, I’ve travelled with it, and much more. Most importantly, it’s taught me a lot about self-sufficiency, continuous learning, and the importance of minimalism.

Over time, I’ve been able to see what works well and what doesn’t work so well in the van.  I’ve also been able to research what others are doing with their mobile living-spaces to see how they have created their rigs. Using this knowledge-base, I decided it was time to renovate.

The first thing that I was motivated to change was the sleeping situation. In the past, I had a single bed that only allowed me to sleep comfortably in the van – if there were any guests, sleeping on the floor was the only option, and believe me, that was not a comfortable option. After removing the original bed and checking out the situation, the problem became more apparent – how is it possible to have a king-size bed and still have room for storage?

BackDoorWithRacks

The bed had to be carefully designed to allow room for accessible storage underneath; Since it wouldn’t be convenient to dig items out by crawling under the bed, I made sliding-rack boards (out of plywood and 2x4s) that could be pulled completely out of the back of the van so all space under the bed could be utilized.  There are pros and cons to this configuration. On the plus side, the majority of your storage underneath the bed leaves plenty of space for a large, comfortable sleeping area that can fit at least two for sleeping and many more for traveling. The downside is that your stored goods are for the most part inaccessible from the inside of the van, which may reduce stealthiness and be inconvenient to access during inclement weather. The larger bed personally works for me because I only access a handful of items inside the van; food, drink, a few clothing items, hygiene products, and entertainment (usually a laptop, book, or cell phone).

On the left side slide-out board I drilled three plastic bins into the plywood which fill all of my storage needs. In two of the bins I have an array of tools used for working on all of the van’s systems, and in the third one I have various camping items. When I hit the road with the van again, I’m sure this arrangement will change to include food, the most critical tools, clothing, and other various needs. On the right side I currently have a small plastic storage compartment, and several long items (longboard, umbrella, tripod, etc) that fit in well. I plan on optimizing this space (most likely making another slide-out board, because I think I can maximize the storage efficiency even more.Slide Out Racks

Now that I had created under-bed storage, I needed to design my bed. I made three three long supports (a bit more than the length of my body) out of 2×4’s that extended from the back of the van towards the front. On top of these rails, I made cross supports out of thin pieces of wood, then put down two pieces of plywood on top of those. Voila, instant bed frame! Finally, I topped this creation off with memory foam toppers, sheets, a comforter, and pillows.

vanmanNew-3

One of the biggest improvements over the last design is the new electrical system. I upgraded from a single 75AH Optima battery to two 110AH batteries running in parallel, giving me 220AH to throw around. The huge benefit here is both how much longer I can run my electronics as well as how many more electronics I can potentially run. The main power drains in this system when on the road are the microwave, the sound system, the secondary air conditioner, the Koolatron camping cooler, and the heating blanket. Having more energy storage allows me to be more liberal with the electronics I have on hand. The original 2500 Watt inverter is running off these batteries, which powers all of my AC devices (Air conditioner, laptop, air purifier, tools, etc). Also running from these solar-powered batteries are my DC devices (Roof fan, LED lights, and car audio system) which all controlled by a toggle switch board.

Electrical System Batteries 2

As far as aesthetics go,  I felt obligated to sexify the van up a bit – especially since I’ve gotten pretty sick of the “creepy van” perception over the past couple of years – frankly, it gets pretty tiring to always have people’s first impressions be a negative one. I am aware that this exterior modifications are not on the minimalist list, however I consider my van an investment.  On the exterior I got the van painted with a full black glossy coat, upgraded the wheels to four gloss black/chrome😄 Series Hoss’s, and put on four brand Firestone Destination tires. Basically, the van went from looking creepy/dangerous, to 100% hardcore/awesome.

Van 2.0

Van 2.0

Toilet and Refrigerator 2On the inside of the van, I made some changes to make the van feel more like a home. Each one of the walls is now a poster-board of memorabilia from the experiences I’ve had along the way. Shag carpet lines the floor and ceiling of these now much-heavier insulated areas, and an insulated metal barrier separates the front cabin from the rear living space. A toilet and camping cooler are now in place for discreetly using the bathroom as well as keeping food cool in transit. In order to add a bonus level to the comfort factor of the van, I setup a full surround sound system, complete with a subwoofer and Bose speakers – I absolutely love music/movies and having this awesome system just really makes the experience even more rich. Finally, I added a 16 foot LED light strip on a dimmer switch that illuminates the entire back area of the van while using an extremely low amount of power.

Subwoofer

I’m pretty proud of how far the van has come – I picked it up from an auto-auction place down in southern Virginia for about $5000 and since then have put quite a bit of time and effort into it. It hasn’t been all easy either – I’ve had the transmission rebuilt, the water pump replaced, the timing belt replaced, the IAC replaced, and the fuel injectors replaced. And those are just the tough lessons that popped up along the way – I learned quite a bit more about how to be proactive and how to properly maintain a high-mileage vehicle. However, when I look at the before and after, I’m happy with the major improvements and look forward to doing even more with it.

Thanks to all my family and friends for your help and advice along the way – the van lives on!

-Eddie

As a final note, I’d like to mention that the intention of writing this article is to help generate ideas/possibilities for your van. This is just how I’ve come to evolve my personal van project, but I’m genuinely interested in how others may see things differently. Please feel to write me or comment any time so we can discuss ideas!

After an incredible 4 month stint in Central America, I landed back home in the United States once again.  I’ve once again built up a solid, healthy routine that’s helped me put more money towards remodeling the van. I was quite happy with the previous design, however, I believe that things can always be improved and optimized. We should never stop evolving.  I’ve had a lot of time to research and rethink a more efficient and convenient design in the past months, so recently I decided to slowly start putting those ideas into fruition.

I will be posting a detailed update when I complete version 2.0 of the van. The plans include:

  1. a window AC unit
  2. an electrical system upgrade
  3. an interior remodel
  4. new equipment/amenities
  5. and quite possibly (if it’s in the budget) – a change to the exterior look

Until then, take care and keep on living and enjoying life!

VanMan

 

The Dive Shop

Rich Coast Diving’s newly designed storefront (by the incredible local artist, Carlos Hiller)

It’s been about a week of experiences at Rich Coast Diving as I write this now and I have to admit it has been the most intense and challenging time of my life. I’ve been working (on average) 12 hour days for a week straight at a very high pace. I usually have to wake up around 5:30AM to make it in to the shop by 6AM. As soon as the doors open, it’s go time; the crew works together to transport a considerate amount of tanks from the shop into the bed of the dive truck, then to the beach coast, then to the boat, and then after all that fun, we setup all the customer equipment on the tanks. We do this with about 4 or 5 crew members for the three dive shop boats, and then the customers get transported to their respective boats on Rich Coast’s dingy (la panga).  What boat the customer is traveling on depends on the dive location; some locations (such as Bat Islands and Catalinas Islands) can be up to 1.5 hours away.

The northern portion of Coco’s gulf.

After the morning hustle, a few things can happen. The schedule determines whether your role for the day will be dive master, assistant (on the boat or in the water), instructor, shop keep, or student. Everything completely depends on the volume of customers diving with Rich Coast. If all four boats are filled, additional staff will be called in to work the necessary positions (even if it’s your lucky day off – which you only get one a week). Also, If there is a trip leaving to the Bat Islands, you must be in at 6AM in order to prepare for the trip, otherwise you can be in around 7:20AM to prepare for the local dive trips. If you’re lucky enough to work the closing shift, you get to wake up early AND stay until 6:30 (or whenever the dive shop stops seeing traffic) to prepare things (like customer gear, shop supplies, etc.) for the next day.

Crazy things happen… and so far it seems like they happens often. Three days ago, one of our boat’s (Stray Dog) engines stopped functioning, so they became stranded at the Bat Islands (1.5 hours west from Coco, in the Pacific Ocean) for several hours before a tow boat could reach them. Just about everyone came back super agitated; both the Argentinean customers and the Rich Coast crew.

Coco Bay minutes after the sunset.

The number one crazy situation award undeniably goes to when one of the 25 foot Rich Coast Diving boats, Dos Gatos, sunk in the bay. The action began for me around 8:00AM, when I found out what had occurred over the night. Jose, Carlos, and I scooped up nine empty 55-gallon oil barrels from a resort in Ocotal, then brought them out to the sunken ship. At that point, two dive shop managers (Martin and Ernst) and Captain Jaime showed up to join in. I could go into a lengthy discussion on the who, what, where, when and how – but, in summary, we spent 12 hours using rope, the newly acquired55-gallon barrels, several tanks of air, dive equipment, and excruciating manual labor (I must mention that we were swimming in skin-burning, gasoline-infused salt water for hours) bringing Dos Gatos back to the surface. We failed once about half way through, which both caused the ship to tip on its side as well as evoke a cacophony of curses, but eventually we persevered and brought the several ton boat back to the surface. I’ve never seen or participated in any event like that in my life; it was extremely tiring, difficult, dangerous, and painful… yet rewarding.

As for the high level stuff – Brenda (the shop co-owner) and Ernst (the operations manager) must know and work with everyone’s certification level, experience, abilities, special accommodations/schedules, strengths, and weaknesses in order to assemble the perfect team for every occasion. They have a very difficult job because there are so many variables in the dive shop operation: the customers, the equipment, the boats, the employees, the finances, local regulations, and everyone’s best friend, Murphy’s Law. Although the shop could use some fine-tuning, I must say that the management team is exceptionally proficient in solving even the toughest problems (like when a boat broke down 1.5 hours out and the customers were angry for losing a whole day, all while dealing with local police at the same time).

All things considered, this small-business dive shop operation here in Costa Rica puts a smile on my face every day. The mix of people and the job itself keep me diligently and purposefully pushing forward.

Pura Vida!

Cheers and happiness to you all🙂

Eddie

A bridge that spans over a small, ocean-fed tidal pool.

Flying over the coast of Lake Nicaragua into Costa Rica

Amazingly enough, it’s only been a little over 24 hours since I’ve landed here in Costa Rica. Ever since I hit the ground, I feel like I’ve been going at top speed. It’s really nice to finally sit down and take some time to collect my thoughts and refocus myself.

I landed in (the new and improved) Daniel Odubar Airport in Liberia, Costa Rica around 1:00PM yesterday (8/19/2012). It was a beautiful flight coming in; From the plane I saw dolphin pods in the Caribbean, two coastlines (one in USA, one in Central America), tropical rain forests, Lake Nicaragua) and the smoking crater of Arenal Volcano.

After cruising through immigration, customs, and baggage claim without any issues, I needed to hail a cab. Believe me, it’s not difficult – as soon as you leave customs you are assaulted with a gauntlet of hungry Costa Rican business-people: taxis, adventure tours, car rentals, and much more. I went directly through the gauntlet shouting no’s, even mistakenly so at a taxi rental company… oops. I negotiated with a cab driver and got a ride (tip included) to where I needed to go – Coco.

After about a 15-20 minute chat with the very helpful and patient cab driver, I arrived in Coco. He helped drop off all of my luggage at the entrance of Rich Coast Diving and then away he went.

So here I am, in a Latin American country, at the entrance to a dive shop with practically everything of value I own, thinking, “My fate is now in their hands – let’s see what happens!”. I walked in, set my stuff in a corner, met a few dive shop workers (including a course director), and then out popped my main point of contact, Brenda. I had exchanged numerous emails with her back in the states for several months, so she was the most aware of my situation and my needs.

Almost immediately, Brenda began working her magic and I had enough educational materials to drown in as well as a real estate agent, Mari, on her way to meet me. Brenda pretty much laid out my path for me in no time flat – which made me feel extremely comfortable and confident (I need to have a mission or purpose, wherever I am). Mari arrived soon enough, and we were off to find an apartment. Mari spoke excellent English and found me a sweet one bedroom, one bath place pretty much right across the street from Rich Coast Diving (Los Albatros). It is literally less than a 2 minute walk to work every morning… Pura Vida🙂

After taking a small nap much needed after the travel, I organized my gear in the house and headed back to the dive shop. I asked some of the guys there about local food spots and they were extremely happy to help. After getting the information I needed, my next stop was the local SuperMercado (less than a block away from the Dive Shop). I spent a lot of time here reading, learning, poking, and sniffing all of the items that were either different or foreign to me. I ended up spending about 45,000 colones (1000 colones = 2 dollars) and running back to the apartment before the sky let loose on Coco.

I put away all my new food treasures, ate a homemade salad, finished organizing my stuff, sent an email to the family to let them know I am alive, changed my clocks, set the alarm, then passed right out like a brick falling from the sky.

Today was my first breakfast in Costa Rica – I ate cereal because I was not aware you need matches to light the propane stove-top in the house… and now I know! I will have my eggs, damn it! After breakfast I ran to the SuperMercado for a freshly-made cafe con leche (coffee with milk). It was pretty freaking delicious, and I would have loved to finish it, but I had to run to work to make it there by 7:30AM.

At work I spent half the day doing dive shop things (cleaning, organizing, preparing, assisting others, etc.) and half the day studying for my EFR (emergency first responder) certification. I currently only have the first half (CPR) and this portion is the last certification I need before I can begin my intensive DiveMaster training. After closing the shop, I made some quick food and now here I sit.

So, those are the things I’ve been experiencing externally. Internally, I’m half in a state of continuous, fastidious learning and half in a state of culture shock. I met one other American girl from the Boulder, Colorado area who is here briefly, and she told me that one of the most difficult parts of travel is the loneliness from not having others who share your culture. I can honestly relate so much more with the bold and brave immigrants to our country- it takes a lot of fortitude and self-discipline to not lose yourself or your cool in a place foreign to you. I’m sure this isn’t the MOST difficult place to be an outsider, but it sure is a challenge.

However, like the wise man, Vin Diesel, once said, “I LIVE FOR THIS!!!”

Even after a mere 24 hours and some change,  I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss the comforts of American culture that I know and understand. I miss the understanding and ease of communication I’d have with the American people. I miss the opportunities to crack jokes and have everyone understand and laugh. I miss driving my van around.

The ROME IT crew piled into Chris’s house – good times🙂

With that said, I have no regrets. My intentions are clear – I want to become a PADI Dive Instructor. I want to learn as much Spanish as I can in 4 months. I want to understand and develop an appreciation for Costa Rican life and culture. I want to expand my horizons and lift the veil of American-centricity from my eyes.

This is the way.

I love you all… cheers and happiness all around!

Eddie

Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica

In just one short month I’ll be saying goodbye to my family, friends, and girlfriend here in the states. Before today, I don’t think the reality of the situation had kicked in fully. The feeling is bittersweet. On one hand, it’s all excitement; I’ll be moving to a brand new country and working at a PADI dive shop 6/7 days of the week. I mean, how could I not be uber enthusiastic? This is a dream I’m making coming true. Yet, on the other hand, I’m anxious to be separated from the people I love and the comfort my American routine offers me. However, I am fully confident in my decision because I know I’ll see everyone again soon enough. Four months is but a mote in the big picture of my life.

So just like you would for any other big moment- I have been planning relentlessly in preparation for this trip. It was over a year ago I decided I wanted to do this, and once I knew what I wanted, the planning began immediately.

Step 1: Make decision and inform close friends/family.

Once I dropped the bomb on those around me, I was challenged quite a bit by those close to me. I am thankful I have such awesome people in my life, because being put through the gauntlet really helped me decide whether or not I really wanted this. Opening up to these critical people helped me solidify my plans as well; They raised great questions, brought up things I should be considering, helped prepare for the trip, and poked a little fun at my “random, crazy trip”🙂

Step 2: Plan your work and make a timeline.

One of the greatest quotes I’ve ever read was also one of the simplest: “Plan your work and work your plan”. I read it from a van-dwelling blogger and it’s just one of those things that really stuck. So for this step, I had to think of myself as a project manager. I started by asking the big questions and then breaking them down.

1. How much money will I need? Some considerations were monthly rent ($250 a month when split with a roommate for 4 months), costs for the PADI instructor classes ($1200 for all classes and books), food money ($150 a month for 4 months), cash for having fun ($50 a month for 4 months), a round-trip plane ticket ($700), and some backup money for emergencies ($2000).  So, I’m going down there with about 6 grand in the bank in savings. However, I’ll be making money down there so it won’t all be costs without any income.

I also plan on converting a decent amount of cash to Costa Rican dollars and understanding the foreign exchange rates.

2. What other resources will I need? I need all my SCUBA gear, my underwater video camera rig, all my PADI certification cards, plenty of clothes, my computer for communication purposes and editing videos/photos, emergency health insurance, and some reading material – especially my Costa Rican spanish vocabulary book.

3. When can I have absolutely everything that I need? After analyzing how many resources I would need in the bank for the trip, it was simple to figure out exactly when I could leave. I make X every month, I can put away Y into savings every month, and in Z months I’ll be able to fund the whole trip.

4. What do I want to accomplish with this journey? I want to learn to speak better Spanish, shoot as much underwater photo and video as possible, become a more proficient diver, and ultimately, land a job as an underwater cinematographer or dive instructor – something SCUBA related.

Step 3: Work your plan.

Now that the list of requirements is complete and you have a schedule, it’s time to get down to business.

1. I knew I needed a certain amount in the bank by a specified date, so I made a budget and stuck to it. I’ll admit I had issues passing up some things I wanted (and also going out a bit too much), but I did everything in my power to make sure I had the money I needed. I did side work, sold my dirt bike, and limited impulse purchases.

2. I had I researched health insurance (credit goes to the advice of my parents), downloaded and learned Final Cut Pro X for video editing, and trained in underwater cinematography with the owners of Chesapeake Bay Diving in Virginia.

3. One of the toughest parts in determining when to leave was quitting my stable job at NASA Langley. I made so many great friends and developed so many positive work relationships that I cringed whenever I thought of leaving the place. I had to give myself a reality check and really dig deep inside myself – ultimately I realized that I am the only one who has to live with my decisions, so I put in 2.5 months of notice in June that I would be leaving.

4. The whole trip could really be romanticized, but I want to make sure I really take something of value away from this excursion. I wrote down goals to accomplish so I can keep focused during my mission. Like I said before- I want to learn to speak better Spanish, shoot as much underwater photo and video as possible, become a more proficient diver, and ultimately, land a job as an underwater cinematographer or dive instructor – something SCUBA related.

Catalina and Bat Islands, Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

Step 4: No regrets.

I understand the things I am giving up in order to do this. I’m leaving behind some potentially amazing opportunities like furthering my IT career at NASA Langley, a great health insurance/dental plan, relationship stability, and some of the most incredible friends I’ve ever known. But it’s pointless to think of what “could have been”; If I’m going forward, I’m going to do it with all my mind, heart, and body.

I can’t wait to begin this exciting new chapter in my life.

Cheers and happiness to all of you.

Eddie

A Change of Direction

It’s been since April 2011 since I’ve last posted here, and I feel that it’s most definitely time to dust this blog off and begin catching up.

It’s amazing how much can change in a year. I’ll take the time machine back and recall as much as I can from my adventures with the help of my trusty photo catalog.

The van under the stars in New Kent, VA

My friend, Mike, looking over the peak of McAfee Knob in the Shenandoah Mountains.

Summer 2011 –As you may know from my last post, I moved out of my van and into a much more spacious Coleman travel trailer. I took this travel trailer to an RV park in Gloucester Point, Virginia called Jellystone Park. And oh yes, it’s themed after the whole Yogi Bear universe. Boo-boo would roam the Jellystone park roads and give hugs to kids all the time. Very creepy… Aside from the costumed creeper, it was a great place to live. It had a fishing pier, laundry facilities, a pool to play in, and all the nice amenities like power, water, and sewage. I thrived throughout the whole summer in Jellystone. Since I possessed a well-stocked refrigerator and freezer, I cooked much more often than when I lived in the van. I ate well and saved up some decent money. Every morning I’d have a similar routine and then head out to work at NASA Langley. My girlfriend was right across the water in Yorktown, so naturally, we spent a lot of time together over the summer as well. Together we travelled to Chincoteague Island, went crabbing in estuaries of the Chesapeake River, went to a wine festival in New Kent, and got into other kinds of adventures. I spent time with friends at the RV park and climbing McAfee Knob Mountain. Overall it was an amazing summer. It wasn’t until Shannon’s kitchen caught on fire after the hurricane, Irene, that the mood went downhill. The power coming back on surged and destroyed her whole kitchen – forcing her out of the house for about half a year. That turmoil and stress was excruciating for us – mostly for her. I was on my own for a while shortly after this.

A tree at Newport News Park, VA.

Fall 2011- I needed time to refocus, to find myself. I spent a lot of time reading novels, self-help books, and writing about my strengths, weaknesses, skills, goals, and ideas. It was about this time that I decided exactly what I wanted to do with my youth life. I became set on my goal to become a PADI SCUBA Diver Instructor and decided I wanted to do the advanced training in Costa Rica. I focused, planned, and set up a schedule for when I was going to accomplish this goal (and I’m still on track!). It was also this season that I became heavily interested in Photography; I read several books, magazines, and internet articles on the subject. It became more than a hobby, it became my form of art. I knew I was in deep when I made the decision to purchase a Canon 5d Mark II (a real punch in the face to the bank account). As winter was approaching, I moved from my travel trailer to Sean Dubiel’s house. I had the place to myself since he was enrolled into adult time out. During this time I did my very first modeling photo shoot. Until then, I had never shot anything but landscape pictures- this was the most intimate shoot I’d ever done. I loved it. I ended the Fall of 2011 with a hike to Crabtree Falls in the Shenandoah Mountains.

Winter 2011 – I’ve never been a cold weather kind of person, but I did manage to stay relatively active over this winter. I spent a little time with an ex-girlfriend from the past, only to realize very quickly why I moved on from her. I guess I needed a refresher. Or maybe I was just lonely with some female company. I spent a lot of time exercising, shooting photos, and fixing up my travel trailer so I could sell it. The house I was in had its heater break mid-winter, which caused a lot of drama and suffering between me and the landlord, his mother. I worked through several photography/video projects – two of which failed to come to fruition, and two that were a magnificent success (that brought me out of my social comfort shell quite a bit). Soon enough, I worked with my hair and make-up friend, Kirby, to create a much more professional style modeling shoot; it was a major success. In my relationship life – my workout buddy, Josh, left for a personal trainer job in Chicago, I reconnected with some old friends, and eventually rekindled my relationship with Shannon.

Meredith, an extremely talented model, who I photographed in one of my first model shoots.

Vacuum Chambers at NASA Langley, Hampton, VA.

Spring 2012 – My Costa Rican travel plans were becoming closer and closer to fruition. I spent quite a bit of time getting all my ducks in a row before I made the leap. I struggled internally over quitting my current job; a NASA IT job that provided comfort, a job that I felt secure in, a job that I was really talented at, and my first big job out of college. Since my landlord was soon to be out of adult time-out, I moved into a new apartment for a few months. It helped get me organized for Costa Rica as well as give me a place to reassemble the van into a new design. My new interior design included a larger bed, more storage space, a larger battery, and a cleaner, more organized look. When the van was complete, Shannon and I were in full swing. We spent a lot of time together, which meant I was at her house almost every day.

Bit Shifter performing at BlipFest 2012


Summer 2012-
The beautiful, warm weather kicked off more activities outside – including Ultimate Frisbee and soccer. I absolutely love playing Frisbee; it’s such a relaxed, chill sport that includes a lot of cardio and strategy, so I would try to play at least twice a week for about 2 hours a session. In May, me and some good friends, Jesse and Pete, went to New York City to see BlipFest2012. BlipFest is a collection of musicians that perform hybrid electronica, 8-bit, synth, gameboy, techno-ish music; also known as chip-tunes. We rocked out for two nights of the festival (spending 12 bucks a drink :/)and explored the bustling city in the gaps. When I came back, I did a day-long photo shoot of my friend EJ’s girlfriend, Renee. I noticed my confidence in model photography had soared in the matter of just a few months – I absolutely love working with my tools, talented people like Renee, and the post-processing software. My art helps in keeping me fulfilled.

So here it is, mid-June, and I just put in my two-month notice to NASA IT a few weeks ago. They know I’m leaving for Costa Rica and are very supportive of my decision. I know I’ll be leaving this company (and by far the best group of people I’ve ever worked with in my life to date) the right way. Never burn bridges, treat people right.

So, this blog used to be a story of my van-dwelling adventures. It is now headed a new direction; it will be the collection of stories, photos, videos, and ideas of my life. I’m a multi-faceted,dynamic person and I have quite a lot to say about a variety of subjects.

Cheers to you all and the pursuit of happiness.

Eddie

After a year of miserly spending and carefully saving, I have recently accumulated enough funds to upgrade my mobile life to purchase a 2002 25 foot Coleman SLB Travel Trailer and a 2004 Yamaha XT225 street legal dirt bike.

With a van that more than adequately supported my basic needs, why would I do this? Although the van is indeed enough to keep my alive, it could be more than a pain at times- I had limited headroom, could not cook inside, could not store food very long,  had to leave the van to find a bathroom, and spend quite a bit of money/time tooling around while using expensive gasoline.  Enter the solutions: a convenient travel trailer home base and a 50+ MPG dirt bike.

So without further ado… let me take you on a digital walk-through of my new home:

As you walk into the travel trailer and look to your left, you can see what makes up about half of the trailer’s space – a kitchen area, a 4-person dining table, a built-in radio/CD player, and a bathroom.
As you can see, there is a TON of space compared to my van. I have plenty of storage for more than all of my belongings and headroom to walk around without bending over like I had to in the van. This much space should be more than enough for two people two store everything they need.

Here’s a more detailed view of the kitchen – complete with with a double compartment sink,  an oven/range combination, a microwave, and storage to the max! One thing I will have to pay attention to is what I put down the sink. There is no garbage disposal installed and I definitely don’t want to end up clogging the plumbing in here. The plumbing and electrical for the trailer seem to hug the walls behind all of the storage space. I need to understand how these systems work, but let me tell you I do not look forward on the first problem I encounter with these systems:-/

The final piece to completing the kitchen is on the opposite wall. This refrigerator is unique for a few reasons: It has locking doors so it won’t throw everything on the floor when the trailer is in motion and it can run off  electricity or propane. If the electricity is unplugged, it will automatically switch over to propane refrigeration to ensure the food stays preserved.

Next door to the bathroom, you can see there’s plenty of room for company. The previous owner had three kids and a wife that were all able to pile into this trailer while still being relatively comfortable. In the future, I may actually turn this into more space for storage. I’m thinking about taking out the top bunk and putting a large tension rod in here so I can hang a ton of clothes. On the bottom, I’ll buy some tupperware for even more storage. I am open to suggestions, I am seriously not used to this much space. (This trailer is already starting to spoil me)

 

Now, lets take a look inside the bathroom. Not too much storage space in here, but hey, I’ve got a shower and a toilet now, so I’m not complaining at all. I can add space for bathroom supplies using tupperware or even by installing another shelf on the wall. With more space comes more options!

Okay, so lets head to the other side of the trailer. What do we have over here? Oh snap, it’s a living room and a queen-sized bed! The couch folds down into a nice, comfortable bed with plenty of room underneath for storing even more stuff.

So there it is – my mobile life upgrade. I’ve got all this space and nothing to fill it with.. it’s such a great feeling. Contrary to what one may infer from this upgrade, I still believe I am living true to minimalist principles. Although the van life was amazing, I craved more space – to make my stuff more accessible, for my friends to hang out, and for my girlfriend.

Best of luck to all of you – feel free to come by and hang out if you’re local!

Eddie

Van-Dwelling in the Winter

It was mid-November this year when I realised I was not adequately prepared for the winter here in Virginia. I felt prepared- I had an electric blanket (which I soon found out was shipped to me broken), a nice warm hat, a portable propane heater, and a thermal Coleman sleeping bag… until I woke up in all my gear at 2AM one frigid morning and took a look at my thermometer. It was 25 degrees inside the van. I was breathing frost, my face was dry, my nose was chilly, and I was surprisingly thirsty. I tried turning on the propane heat for a while, but the temperature would not rise fast enough. This whole fiasco resulted in zero additional hours of sleep, supreme discomfort, and a ROUGH work day.

I knew I couldn’t continue staying in the van under these conditions. Luckily, my girlfriend let me stay at her place until I could make some critical adjustments to the chilly van situation.

A reader of the blog (awmwas777) and I have been chatting back and forth about the warmth issue a bit, and he had a lot of great advice to offer that I wish to share with you. I’ve also added some ideas of my own that I plan on implementing the next time I need to endure the cold.

1. Thermal underwear – This keeps an additional layer of warmth between your body and the external environment. Any cold-enduring outdoorsman can emphasise the importance of this  clothing.
2. Neck warmer – According to awmwas777, they can be worn any of 3 ways: just around the neck; around the neck and over the head, or around the neck, over the head, and even covering the mouth. Mine are thick fleece, and very effective. This might be exactly what I need to prevent me from breathing in cold air during the middle of the night.
3. Warm, insulated hat/cap and/or ski mask – awmwas777 wears this on top of the neck warmer/cap. I was prepared with a warm hat this winter, but it is not enough by itself. The head needs more insulation since it is the body part that emits the most heat energy into the environment.
4. Warm fleece sweatpants – This is a great piece of clothing to put over your thermal underwear in order to keep your body warm.
5. Warm fleece top – This is another article of clothing great for keeping body warmth where it needs to be… with you and not leaking into the environment.
6. Warm socks – I use a pair of hefty, wool socks. These usually do the job of keeping my feet warm, but there have been a few cases I’ve worn light socks underneath these.
7. Gloves – Personally, my hands have never been all that uncomfortable in the van. If you have chilly hands, a nice warm pair of ski gloves or insulated thin gloves will do the trick. Double the insulation, double the fun, double the pleasure, winter’s not fun…
8. Sleeping Bag – I currently own two sleeping bags: A Suisse Sport ultra-compact mummy bag and a normal Coleman sleeping bag. Many people feel constricted in the mummy bag but I have never felt uncomfortable in it. If you are claustrophobic or you like to spread your feet, a mummy bag may not be for you… otherwise grab one because they are totally warm.
9. Blanket over  sleeping bag – more insulation can’t hurt, can it? Unless you’re already decked out and comfortable with what you have at this point, this is a cheap additional layer of insulation for your bed.
10. “Hot Hands” – So you need a boost of heat to get you through the night? Thank awmwas777 for a great suggestion: “I just bought these at WalMart last night. $1.99 for a package of six. Instructions say they can take 20-30 min. to heat up, but will last up to 10 hrs. If a person uses two for each cold night (one for hands and one for toes) that’s less than 75 cents a night (and only relevant for the cold months). (In your honor, I’ve just opened one and while writing this email am waiting for them to get activated so I can tell you if they do what they’re supposed to do.) (Okay, after about 15 minutes of having one in my back pocket, I can tell you it definitely works. It does heat up, and will help keep fingers and toes warm, though it won’t solve the entire warmth/cold problem by itself. After 30 min. or so, it’s warmer” Tested and approved, this is a great idea.
11. Hot water bottle – An interesting heat solution recommended by awmwas777.. the hot water bottle. This gem can keep warm for up to 8 hours with boiling water in it. Some of the higher quality bottles have reportedly lasted more than 3 years. Check out this hot water bottle heater from Amazon.
12. Electric Blanket – If you have a power source this may make your nights very easy. I recommend wrapping the inside of your sleeping bag with one. You’ll feel warmer than a microwaved burrito.
13. Portable Heater – These are life savers to make your entire small environment warm very quickly. Propane is relatively cheap and lasts a long time, but be wary of the safety precautions. An example is Mr. Heater. This one is indoor-safe and runs on propane.  Approx. $90. Not cheap, and one may want to take some safety precautions, but it is designed for indoor use and doesn’t require modifying the vehicle or fancy installation.
14. Catalytic heater – Another great recommendation from awmwas777, is this catalytic heater. Although it is about $200, it is said to be more effective, and use less propane. Safety precautions need to be taken, but users find it effective at doing its job of warming up small spaces. This will most likely need to be permanently installed in your mobile dwelling, but once it is, heat may no longer be an issue. The questions you should ask are “how cold is it in the environment I park in?” and “is it more cost effective to buy this one heater and call it a day than buy all of the little pieces to warm me up?” Here’s an example of a catalytic heater.                          15. Vehicle Storage Space – Unfortunately, I thought about this after winter. There are some climate-controlled facilities where you can store your mobile dwelling in an enclosed space. As long as they have 24/7 access, you could use this like a daily garage to keep your living environment relatively warm! Check your local listings for storage facilities to find the best deal possible. WARNING: Do NOT keep your vehicle on in an enclosed environment, you will DIE from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Is staying in the van as easy in the winter as summer? No. It requires a lot more time and effort to stay comfortable, it’s a pain to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and waking up dreading the walk to your driver’s seat is not necessarily the most pleasant way to start your day.

But is it possible? Of course!  Use this guide and do some Internet browsing for more ideas. I’ve learned the hard way over this past winter about all the do’s and dont’s of winter time van-dwelling, so please take some of the tips both awmwas777 and I have to offer so you can reduce your suffering… I know I’ll have a completely different strategy for next winter! Do yourself the biggest favor you can do and take care of the cold before it actually comes. Be prepared ahead of time before it’s too chilly to work on your rig.

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining” – John F. Kennedy

 

Take care and best of luck!

Thanks to my mother’s work connections I was able to schedule an interview with Fitzalan Gorman of the Ashburn Patch, a popular news site in Ashburn, VA.

This article is about van-dwelling, minimalism, and the realities associated with van-dwelling. Check it out here: http://ashburn.patch.com/articles/van-dwelling-ashburn-native-experiments-with-minimalistic-lifestyle

Thanks for reading, let me know what you think in the comments below!

Eddie

 

UPDATE: It also looks like Ashburn Patch’s opinion writer, Mike Conway, had some interesting musings about my van-dwelling experience. Here’s what he has to say:

http://ashburn.patch.com/articles/a-van-down-by-the-river

Not all of my skills involve living in a van; I support my lifestyle with the technical know-how of the IT world as a contractor at NASA Langley, Virginia. I’ve picked up some great tools of the trade as I’ve worked here that I would like to share with you.

Fortunately, we live in the digital age where computers are the facilitators of multi-tasking simplicity. Unfortunately, after you buy your expensive PC hardware, the agony of buying more expensive software soon arises. These FREE software packages will save you so much future time, agony and money that you should put these on any computer you can get your fingers on.

Listed below are different functions and helpful tools that will enrich your digital experience:

1. Brand new PCs – See all that junk on your PC?  Use this program and Viola… clean PC.

If you just bought a new retail computer (from Best Buy, Costco, Sams, Walmart, etc), run the software from PCdecrapifier‘s web site to clean up all of the unnecessary junk like “Try AOL for free for a month!” This application will clean out all the advertisement and trial programs that initially bog down a fresh PC (Yes it is okay to get rid of Norton Antivirus, the sooner you realize that the better off you will be):

http://www.pcdecrapifier.com/

2. Web Browser– Substitute Internet Explorer with Firefox.

This change should be a priority on your PC-things-to-do list. I could go on for days on how Firefox is faster, easier, more flexible, more secure, more customizable, and less prone to viruses. After you install this and cease all use of Internet Explorer, Google “top Firefox plugins” and see what this beast is really made of:

http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/

3. Data Backup – Substitute Windows Restore with SyncBack Free Edition.

Ah, backups… the most neglected and important part of a person’s digital life. Think about this -If you lost absolutely everything on your computer right now, how upset would you be? Your answer will determine the level of backups you will need.

Internet file storage – Dropbox. This program stores 2GB of your files online so they are accessible from anything with an Internet connection you ever touch. Visit the site and watch the movie on how to get started: http://www.dropbox.com/

External Hard Drive file storage: SyncBack Free Edition. This program requires you have an external hard drive. Keep your backup external all plugged in, download/install SyncBack, set up a backup schedule using SyncBack, and then sit back worry-free about your data.  http://download.cnet.com/SyncBack-Freeware/3000-2242_4-10413802.html

4. Music Organizer – Substitute Windows Media Player with iTunes.

I’m sure you’ve heard of iPods, a.k.a. the world’s most popular mp3 player, a few times before. iTunes is the software that manages the music for these little devices, but you DO NOT HAVE to have an iPod to take advantage of this software from Apple. Give it a spin and you’ll find that this program is much more user-friendly than the crummy music management software Windows gives you off the bat:

http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/

5. Picture Management – Substitute Windows Picture Viewer with Google’s Picasa.

Welcome to the Cadillac of picture management software. With features including facial recognition, one click “upload to facebook” plugin, color correction, resizing, cropping, easy organization, easy-collage, slideshow-making, and tons more:

http://picasa.google.com

6. Antivirus –  Windows doesn’t come with AntiVirus built in, but Microsoft has come up with a pretty decent solution, Microsoft Security Essentials:

This goes a little against my anti-Microsoft software trend, but I can’t deny a good product when I use one.

http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/

7. Email – Don’t go with Windows Live, hotmail, or msn accounts unless you want spam removal to be your part-time job. Get a Gmail account since it blocks the most spam and has the most storage space:

http://mail.google.com/mail/signup

7a. Email Client – If you like Email clients, such as Outlook, then sync your online accounts up with these:

Guys- Mozilla Thunderbird (Lots of plugins!): http://www.mozillamessaging.com/thunderbird/

Girls- Incredimail: http://www.incredimail.com/english/splash.aspx

—————————–ADVANCED USERS—————————

This section is for more advanced users. I’m not belittling anyone, I just know that most people will be perfectly happy with the functionality they’ve gotten from the section above. For all you Windows power users, read on!

8. Copying/Moving/Erasing and other normal file operations– Substitute Windows copy with TeraCopy.

This program will make your desktop management life much simpler. Check out the website for all of the great benefits:

http://www.codesector.com/teracopy.php

9. Task manager – Substitute Windows task manager with Process Hacker.

Do you know many programs your computer is running at any one time? It’s possible a lot of that stuff just isn’t necessary. Use process hacker to analyze what’s really happening behind the scenes, because a lot of the times, task manager just doesn’t cut it:

http://processhacker.sourceforge.net/

10. Disk Defrag – Substitute Windows Defragmenter with Defraggler.

Unlike the Windows Defragmenter, you can schedule defragmentation with this program. One less thing to worry about. Also- a much more appealing interface to analyze your hard drive’s fragmentation.

http://www.piriform.com/defraggler

11. Disk encryption Truecrypt.

For the security enthusiasts and business-savvy, Truecrypt encrypts all of your data with a custom-set password at computer start-up. It doesn’t matter if the CIA steals your machine, they aren’t getting anywhere without that password.

You also have the option to only encrypt certain directories or files.

Warning: Don’t ever forget that password you’ve set.

http://www.truecrypt.org/

I realize that change takes effort and time- Give these tools a shot and you will realize that the small amount of time put into learning them (they are mostly intuitive) was definitely worth the payback. Worst case scenario: Uninstall the programs and you’ll be right back where you started, slightly more knowledgeable of alternatives to what’s been given to you out of the box.

Enjoy!