Why I live in a bus

•December 26, 2008 • 54 Comments

I’ve been living in a 1977 VW Bus for about 6 of the last 8 years, since my second year at college.  I think it’s a great way to live, and I want to make a list of advantages and disadvantages, with accompanied advice, for anyone considering it.

First, to give you an idea of the bus (whose name is Charlie – look here for some examples of what it looks like.)

  • It has two batteries and a solar panel, so I can sit in there on my laptop or charge a phone from the sun’s energy.  Wifi internet can often be used off nearby homes — otherwise I use my iPhone as a modem for the laptop.
  • It has tinted windows and dark curtains so I can be in there with perfect privacy.
  • It has a huge moonroof in the back so I get natural light in the day and can see the stars above me at night.  
  • It has a small sink and stove so I can cook if I feel like it (I usually just eat raw foods and eat out once a day).  
  • It has an ice chest that I open at night and close in the day, keeping the food quite cool, especially in the winter.  
  • It has an inverter so I can plug in 120 volt stuff if needed.  
  • It has a cd player with a remote control and speakers in the rear of the bus so I can listen to music.
  • It has a bench that turns into a bed in about 10 seconds; sleeps two people who like each other.
  • It has a place to hang about 15 shirts and a coat so they don’t get wrinkled, and it has ample cubby space for other folded clothes and an astounding amount of crap.  
  • It has a place for all the tools and cleaning supplies I need to take care of it if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere.  
  • It gets about 18-20 mpg, has great clearance and off-road ability since it is rear wheel drive and all the weight (the engine) is over the rear wheels.  
  • It has windows which can be open and still keep the rain out.
  • It has a bike rack and bike on the back.
  • Three trash containers to separate waste.
  • Two bottles to store urine – I empty these down storm drains or in public toilets about every 4 days.  I shit in public toilets or restaurants.  I shower at the gym every day or two.  

ADVANTAGES

Low impact: No electricity, no heating, no natural gas, small land use, low construction materials next to a home.  Decreased or non-existent need to commute since you just park and stay wherever you need to be.  I usually only drive once a week, for special trips or just to move the bus.  I use a bike, public transport, and feet to get most places. The whole concept of commuting depends on the separation of workplace and living place.  This is not necessary with a nomadic lifestyle.  

Freedom: No lease, no rent, no mortgage.  I can move to a new city or part of town by turning the key.  I can leave the country easily as long as I can find a safe place to park it or a safe friend to take care of it.  Road trips are a snap.

Preparedness:  Every where I go, I have everything I need.  I have camping gear, backpacking gear, rock climbing gear, formal and utilitarian clothes, food, and tools to fix most things.

Financial ease: a 600 dollar monthly rent costs 20 dollars a day — that’s approaching the cost of a cheap hotel!  And that’s how much less I have to sell my body and mind to pay the bills.  My monthly expenses are: 

  • Phone and Internet: 85
  • Car insurance: 60
  • Health Insurance: 50
  • Post office box for mail: 7
  • YMCA membership and locker: 65
  • Gas: 40
  • Automechanics: 50, on average
  • Food: 400 – I eat well.

Simplicity: I can’t buy or keep a lot of crap because there is no room for it.  People don’t give me crap because they know I have no room for it.  

Cleanliness: Everything has its place, and I have to keep things put away or it gets chaotic quickly.  I find I’m much more messy in big spaces because I can be.

Health: I go to the gym most days, and bike most places.  I eat a diversity of vegan food, most of which is raw.  

Beauty: With a little driving I can move my home to the places where people spend millions of dollars to live, or  to where people are not allowed to have homes so that the natural beauty is preserved.

Connection to community: It keeps me spending a lot of time in public spaces — gyms, cafes, parks, restaurants.  I meet much more people, and different kinds of people, than I ever would if I could just stay in my little room somewhere all day.  I get to know the service workers, baristas, YMCA yogis, and homeless.

Resourcefulness: I learned a ton working on and improving the van.  I now know basic automechanics, electricity, sewing, carpentry, bike repair, and project design.  Fun!

Self-selecting friends and lovers: People put off by this tend to be closed-minded or boring, and people interested in this tend to be open-minded and adventurous.  This means that all of my friends and lovers are open minded and interesting!  Sweet!

DISADVANTAGES

 

It’s usually illegal.  However, I have almost never been bothered by the police, and even when they do bother you, they just check your record then ask you to move somewhere else.  Tell them you were driving, got tired, and had to pull over for safety, and they can’t give you a ticket.

May be unsafe for women.  Mainly, this is because you might be going back to your car at night on foot or bike.  Once in the bus I think it is quite safe, because you are nearly invisible.  Also, thiefs who break into cars to steal something are generally in a very different mindset than armed robbers or rapists.  Thiefs want to be invisible, and if anyone sees them or if anything goes wrong they are prepared to run, while robbers and rapists are prepared to use violence.  I’ve caught two people trying to break into the bus to steal something while I was sleeping.  Both immediately ran the second they realized someone was inside.

Less acceptable for working class people, people of color, women, uneducated people, or other marginalized groups.  Living in a vehicle carries with it stereotypes of poverty, dangerousness, filth, “trailer trash,” and insanity.  These are fairly easily countered or tolerated by an educated, middle class, straight, young, white male such as myself.  If I were already marginalized in other ways it would be more difficult for people to feel safe and comfortable around me, and I would have a harder time finding support and connection in my community.

Hot in the summer, and cold in the winter, like life used to be before air conditioners and heaters.  This can be a big deal.  I couldn’t do it in New York, for instance, where the summers would be seeped in humid sweat and the winters would throw me into a hibernation mode, spending the majority of the day huddled in a down sleeping bag.  A possible remedy, I suppose, is to do like the animals do, and migrate with the seasons!  I just live in California where weather is close to perfect all the time (still a bit cold in the winter, and I can’t be in the bus in the summer noon sun.)  But there are improvements that can be done here that I haven’t done: heaters and air conditioners can work on propane that you store in tanks and fill up at gas stations.  Or electric fans can be installed in the roof to suck cool air into the bus — apparently this can make a huge difference without much cost.

Can’t throw good parties.

Can’t cook or clean dishes easily.

Can’t keep things that need cold refrigeration, like dairy products and meat (not a problem for a vegan!)  Also, some newer vans have propane fridges that, from what I’ve heard, are mostly a pain in your butt.

Can’t take a shit in a hurry.

Can’t do most Yoga positions.

Can’t be loud in most places.

Takes some getting used to – can be scary at first, or difficult to sleep because of passing cars or people talking as they walk by.

Getting mail, credit cards, voting ballots, etc. can be a little tricky.  A post office box for about 60 bucks a year solves most of that, but you can’t receive some shipments there (FedEx, UPS), and some applications need a physical address.  In general, it’s good to be able to have a “permanent address” at someone else’s house who will be there for a while and who you trust.  You can have the USPS forward all your mail automatically from there to your PO Box, and have any UPS or FedEx shipments mailed there or to any other friend who is close by.  

 

FINAL REFLECTION

I started living in my bus because I didn’t want to sell my body and mind to capitalist slavery any more than necessary – I wanted to be able to work for the work and play for the play.  I came to love so many of the “fringe benefits” that I came to prefer it as a lifestyle, and even now that I can afford an apartment, I choose to stay in the bus.  The only things that really draw me to want to stay in an apartment are to have a kitchen and to have a community I live with and share resources with.  Still, I eat good food, I have plenty of community I don’t live with, and when I get back to the bus, I still get that warm feeling of “ah, home.”  

Hope that was helpful.

Luke.

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non-violenter

•June 20, 2008 • 1 Comment

I was thinking about food in terms of how “natural” it is for us to eat it. That can be defined in lots of ways, but in this case I want to look at it in terms of how much of a loss it is to the thing being eaten, or how violent it is on our part. I suppose I’m also making the assumption that consciousness is continuumy, and that more of it is more important. Behold! (from least “natural/non-violent” to most “natural/non-violent”)


“Red” meat – mammals (octopus and squid should also be here for consciousness)

“white” meat – birds, reptiles, amphibians

“seafood” – fish, shark, most mollusks

insects

eggs/fetuses of above animals (eggs, caviar, etc)

bi products of above animals (milk, honey)

plant roots — harvesting is devastating to plant (potatoes, carrots, ginger, etc)

plant shoots — harvesting is very impacting to plant (celery, rhubarb, sugarcane, wood, etc. Probably put fungus, such as mushrooms, around here. Maybe single celled organisms, like spirulina and yeast, too.)

plant seeds — harvesting is very annoying to plant (nuts, seeds, grains)

plant leaves — harvesting is annoying to plant (lettuce, mint, spinach, basil, etc)

plant fruit — harvesting is exactly what the plant wants us to do, provided we spread that seed far and wide! (tomatoes, avocados, peppers, cucumbers, squash, etc, as well as all the things we correctly call fruit)

water, sunlight, heat, minerals, etc.

Of course, this is highly fuzzy, and exact locations of these categories depend on individual species and each person’s values. But this is just a more detailed description of the typical continuum that ranges from omnivore to vegetarian to vegan to fruitarian to sun gazing and breatharianism etc.

Regarding meat, another aspect to consider is their position in the food chain, since toxins, ecological importance, and energy inefficiency tend to increase exponentially as you move from producers (plants, algae) to herbivores (most fish, insects, birds, and mollusks) to primary and secondary carnivores (larger fish, larger birds, things with sharp teeth, etc.). For these reasons too it would make more sense to eat lower on the food chain.

It would also make more sense for us to eat lower down on the plant continuum, because less devastating harvesting should be more sustainable and energy efficient, and because we would expect the plant to have evolved more defences to protect the parts that are more devastating if eaten. So we would expect shoots to be more toxic and more inefficient than leaves, for instance. Of course, this is a gross generalization, and incredibly complicated by local natural history and ecology, as well as hugely modified by thousands of years of artificial selection mostly through farming, which made many things edible that wouldn’t have been before our meddling.

Another interesting point here is that apes and other primates, our closest relatives, tended to eat mostly fruit, with occasional seeds and other plant parts. Even less frequently did they eat insects and animal bi-products like honey, and probably almost never ate other animals. So our closest relatives were mostly “vegetarian/vegans,” though I bet they wouldn’t refuse a nice steak if you offered them one. But the main idea here is that our closest relatives naturally ate quite “non-violently.”

So all this sort of leads me to the conclusion that the ideal diet for humans should be things that are lower down on this continuum, sticking to fruits and elements as much as possible.

This is where all the counter arguments come in, such as:

“But meat tastes good.”

“I don’t care.”

“Humans need protein.”

“God made the animals for us.”

“Vegetarians are so annoying because they force their eating habits onto their hosts”

The only one I really want to respond to here is the protein thing. Protein is fundamental to life. If what you are eating is not a rock, it has protein, in roughly the same proportions that you do. Further, our body can produce most of the 22 amino acids that make up protein as long as it has nitrogen (ubiquitous) and an energy source. As for the 9 “essential” amino acids that we can’t produce ourselves, they are widely available, and it is difficult to not get all of them if you eat more than one fruit. While people can easily suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies (not if they eat fruit though), it is very difficult to suffer from a protein deficiency without also suffering from malnourishment as well. Meaning, people usually suffer from protein deficiencies because they are not eating much of anything at all, so they have other problems. Protein deficiency is mostly a myth that was encouraged by the meat industry.

But in general, I would respond to these counter arguments by saying: We are omnivores in the sense that we can eat a lot of different types of things, and we get to choose. This is a continuum that suggests that it is better for both you and the world if you choose lower down on the continuum. Since this is a continuum, hard and fast rules, like “I am a vegetarian” have no real use other than psychological encouragement and ego stroking. Instead, I would argue that in whatever way we move our diet towards the bottom of this continuum, we are our benefiting our selves and the world. If you move from meat 7 days a week to 6, that is a benefit and an accomplishment, an accomplishment that we can always improve upon in our lives as we move naturally towards less and less violence.

first post

•June 20, 2008 • 3 Comments

this is just a placeholder for now…  but if you are wondering, I’m in the UK and Ireland for the summer, intending to return to the US in the Fall.

Luke.