For a large part of the world’s population, living in a car is not the most desirable thing. The other part of the population, who get excited at the idea of being able to take their “house” with them wherever they go, is probably mostly rock climbers, hippies, and retired folks.
When I passed through Portland, Oregon, a couple years ago I gave my aunt and uncle a “tour” of my 2005 Chevy Astrovan. It’s not a long tour—I opened up the back doors, pull one or both of the six-foot-long drawers open, revealing the storage for my climbing gear, food, and kitchen stuff, and point at the $100 IKEA mattress sitting on top, and that’s it.
After the Grand Tour, my aunt asked a very pertinent question: Where do you go to the bathroom?
“Starbucks,” I joked. Which is actually more than partly true. In a van, there’s no room for a bathroom—which I think is a good thing. So I go where everyone else driving a car goes: public restrooms. Starbucks usually has reliably clean and fairly nice, private bathrooms. So do a lot of grocery stores. Otherwise, it’s the side of the road.
The other question I was often asked is: Where do you shower?
Showering is one thing you do a lot less of when living in a van—it’s just a reality. The most beautiful places in the American West have plenty to offer in rock climbing, hiking, singletrack, sunsets, wide open space—but not usually free public showers. Which is fine with me. If I can get a shower every three to eight days, I’m happy. Others around me may not be so happy.
When you get the opportunity—a pay shower at a campground, state park, or other facility (Coyote Corner in Joshua Tree!)—you take it and pay the $5–7, sometimes fed in coins into a little steel box before your shower, and then again when the water stops running and you’ve got both hands stuck to a head full of shampoo. Other times, when things are dire, you check into a $40 hotel for the night (but only if there’s free breakfast with the room) and take a shower. Between that, when friends offer, you take them up on their hospitality.
Then, there’s the big question. Not living in a house is so different from what people are normally doing, and a departure from the way most of us were raised. Everyone you talk to thinks of one or two things they would not want to live without, and they ask: Don’t you miss ________? Don’t you miss having a coffee pot 15 steps from your bedroom, don’t you miss having a decent bed, don’t you miss having fresh fruit in a refrigerator nearby, don’t you miss television, don’t you miss having a shelf full of books, having neighbors, your favorite restaurants, having friends nearby, having a clothes washer and dryer in your apartment—the list goes on and on.
Yeah, I miss that stuff. Some of it more than others. But mostly everyone is living without something they want, whether they live in a van or a beautiful house somewhere.
The thing that kept me mobile for almost three years, driving around with all my stuff packed in the back of a van, was the fear that I might miss being able to go somewhere new every day, and wake up with a different sunrise coming through the windows of my van. But when I finally signed a lease on an apartment in the middle of a city and moved my stuff in, the immediate joy of making toast for myself and showering whenever I wanted definitely made up for the lack of sunrises.