Friday, September 13, 2019


When I told my friend Webb Chiles that Layne and I were planning to start our retirement in three years in a camper van, he said thoughtfully " I could live easily in something like that." He is the man who has sailed around the world in a boat almost the size of a conversion van so when he looked at the plans and said he could live like that I believed him. Our modest van will have amenity such as he will never have in Gannet, his world girdling Moore 24 which is three feet longer than our mere 21 foot Promaster van.

Webb gets it and when I see him in Chicago this weekend I am sure we will have a laugh together at how much amenity my Promaster 3500 will be lugging around the world for us compared to his tiny little boat. But for other people of my acquaintance the idea of cramming two lives into a small space has the air of deprivation that they could not stand. My wife and I have talked about it and she is totally enthusiastic, just as she was when we lived and traveled on a sailboat  together twenty years ago. She's ready to go again. But we both agreed a van would work better this time as we want to see more of the land cultures and I don't want to worry about my dog as we travel. Taking a dog on a sailboat journey requires massive amounts of time and effort to exercise the poor creature on the land and give it the chance to stretch its legs and mind. A van require simply opening the get "ashore." Much easier!

So when I published the picture above I started to get all sorts of messages referring to Van Life, the faddish lifestyle hashtag now populating social media. I have to say I am puzzled, especially as the tone of the articles is always negative, on the order of "You Don't Know What You Are Getting Into." Which I suppose could be fair enough if you didn't know my history but anyone who knows me knows I am used to traveling by the seat of my pants. I have motorcycled in many strange places around the world and after I got married my other preferred means of locomotion, a sailboat seemed the best compromise to seek adventure together.
Van life as conceived by social media is something completely different from the journey we have envisioned. As in this article, somewhat tongue in cheek from Overland Outbound:
"Go ahead and do a search for the #vanlife hashtag on Instagram. I’ll wait. There you will be regaled with photos of beautiful people in front of their beautiful converted vans. Waterfalls flowing in the background, their perfectly tanned bikini bodies glistening in an eternally-glowing golden-hour. The text below the photo contains some inspirational pontification about living your life to the fullest, while the sly smiles on their faces hint that they might just have found the fountain of youth and secret to eternal happiness."
Image result for #vanlife
Let me put it this way: if anything about the above paragraph puts you in mind of myself and my wife perhaps you are not where you think you ought to be on your Internet search. While I appreciate the awful warnings the firmly settled people are sending to me I am looking forward very much to returning to being a nomad. By my traveling standards the van we are having built for us by Custom Coach Creations in Deland, Florida is going to be a very comfortable home on wheels. It will be 6 feet wide and twelve feet long with ample headroom but there is nothing about it that speaks to me of deprivation. Not my build but we will be getting something like this next year:
Image result for custom coach creations deland fl
There is the predictable backlash against what was a trending phenomenon and now the press is hounding the Van Life thing as undesirable. If you, young person think you can avoid your responsibilities to get into debt and settle down think again. Van Life Sucks. It requires you to manage your own life or as we see here in the case of one poorly prepared Van Lifer:
 “We started to see people post things about safety, and that you need to have mace or a gun, and if you have a gun you can’t carry [it] across state lines,” she said. “That started to really spook me, especially traveling with a young girl, our little daughter.”
Even if an emergency situation were unlikely, it still “spooked” her, Lisa said.
Then she started thinking about the time of year. “I like to be comfortable,” she said. “If we’re going to stay in this van, how am I going to sleep when it’s June? I don’t care if we’re in Lancaster — no matter where you are, it’s hot.”
Suddenly, she found herself looking into the cost of campgrounds. With electricity and water hookups, some of them were almost as costly as hotels, creeping up to $50 or $60 a night, she said. Plus, they’d have to pay for gas to put into Van Halen along the way.
“When I added all those costs up, it was cheaper to fly,” Lisa said.
Over the past few years a new wave of young solo 'van life' travellers have packed up their lives and hit the road to explore the country
I guess I find myself taken aback by anyone who would imagine that I follow fashions or fads. I haven't yet and I don't propose to start now that I am 61. I guess the best I can tell you is that for a while, and I don't know how long that may be, my stories and photos will be from somewhere else unfettered by the need to be diplomatic or to protect my job status, and when we do return to Key West I see us choosing to live out our years on a boat. My dream would be to have a low cost simple (always simple!) retirement home afloat, a single engine trawler, with which we could cruise the Bahamas, go swimming and live on the margins of society with our world girdling van in the parking lot to use for trips on land. But the joy of my life is not knowing for sure what comes next.  This was our Gemini catamaran anchored in Pebble Beach Cove California at the start of our two year trip to Key West, Florida, 6,000 miles away.
My wife and I have spent the past two decades conforming, working, saving our pensions and planning to retire self sufficient and with dignity, but neither of us has forgotten our youth, so travels with adventure and uncertainty beckon. It may be that we have to change our plans, that van life does suck even as envisioned by us but what we want to achieve, in any form, are a  few mind altering experiences before our inevitable deaths. The point is as Webb Chiles has said more than once, for the artist to go to the edge of human experience and send back reports. You don't have to leave your armchair to go along for the ride. But for those of us that crave the journey, 20 years of being settled and sensible is enough. I'll write the reports, right here.
One friend of mine said to me that at least we have Rusty, as he will protect us from all the evildoers we will meet along the way. I rather expect to meet interesting kind and thoughtful people along the way. I'll leave the evildoers where they are now, in the streets and neighborhoods of the big cities where cruelty and alienation allow them to rule the roost. I have sunsets to see and hikes to hike in the back of beyond from my cramped unsanitary home on wheels.

For a  taste of what I mean look at this article based on buying a large RV and trying to live in it as though it were a fixed in place home. None of this article makes much sense to me but I have lived on the road and I have lived in a  home fixed in place so the disadvantages of both are readily apparent. Still for a one sided view check out this perspective from someone who has never lived on the road and is writing about financial issues not living life issues:
Yahoo Finance And RVs