Saturday, March 28, 2015

I Live in a Van Down by the River!

 "I live in a van down by the river!"

Okay, not really, but I've always gotten a kick out of saying that. Actually, if I had a driver's license, which I don't, and if I had money to buy a van, which I don't, I would probably be living in a van down by the river.

Why? Because a) I despise debt, and b) I hate spending a lot of money on housing, and c) it's much easier to live simply and frugally if you don't have to pay rent, and d) living in a van is a dirt cheap option that seems a tad bit more secure than living in a tent, and a bit roomier than living in a car, and offers much more freedom and independence than sleeping on someone else's couch, or living in your parents basement for the rest of your life.

In other words, you could save a lot of money by living in a van.

It's probably not an ideal long-term strategy, but it certainly beats being homeless, or the servitude of being heavily in debt, assuming that living in a van can be viewed as a tool for eliminating debt, and living debt free.

That's what this book I just finished reading is about, it's called Walden On Wheels: On the Open Road From Debt to Freedom by Ken Ilgunas. I gave it 2 out of 5 stars on But if it were an option, I would have given it a 2.5, because the subject matter interests me, and his writing is good, but the content falls a bit short from what I had hoped for.

First of all, two thirds of the book has nothing at all to do with living in a van. So the title, and front cover picture of the book, is a bit misleading. Mostly it's about a recent college graduate who finds himself heavily in debt, with no marketable job prospects, traveling across the country (mostly by flying, but also by hitchhiking), working odd jobs to pay off his student loan debt, and this is done by taking low paying jobs, mostly in Alaska (he's from western New York) but because they include free room and board, he's able to save quite a bit, and pay off his loans in just a couple of years. Anyway, once he pays off his thirty-something-thousand-dollars worth of debt, he goes back to grad school, which he is able to afford, without taking out any loans, by living in his van, and the last third of the book is devoted to that.

Okay, it's not a terrible book, he's actually a pretty good writer, but it's no Walden, far from it. The problem is it reads like someone who is able to write well about things he doesn't know much about. In other words, he's a bit shallow, but also somewhat sweet, in a naive boyish sort of way. I don't mean this as a personal attack, or insult, I don't know this person, and I could be way off in my assessment, but that is the impression I got from this book.

And if you want to get a good feel for the overall vibe of this book, and the reason why I felt that this book did not speak to my heart, and that this person is on a totally different wavelength from myself, and that made this book impossible to love, here's a quote from the book, in the author's words himself, that speaks volumes:

While I admired the works of the great American nature lover John Muir and, later, Henry David Thoreau, I never really understood the glorification of nature. Thoreau saw the world in the veins of a maple leaf, and Muir, it seemed, could find God in a mouse turd. Nature, to them, was transcendence, beauty, divinity. To me, nature was more like a football field or hockey rink in which games are won and lost.

I guess that's what really turned me off, it's not just this particular passage, but the fact that even if he hadn't said this, the sentiment behind these words is pretty much felt throughout the entire book. Even though he longed to experience more, to see the world as Muir and Thoreau did, to form a spiritual connection with the natural world, you get the feeling from this book that he never did. Okay, maybe he did, who knows, but that experience did not make it into this book. And so, even though the subject matter interests me, that of living frugally and simply and debt-free and close to nature, this book didn't resonate much with me, it fell a bit short. It was an okay read, not entirely worthless, but it could have been better.


del said...

Yeah, anyone who would write something like "nature was more like a football field.." doesn't get it at all.

I hate it when contemporary authors try to build themselves up by needlessly dropping the names of the greats like Muir and Thoreau or spattering half-relevant quotes from Leopold and others throughout their writing. Most of the time their writing is mediocre and their arguments weak so they try to associate with better authors or well known books. When I see a lot of that going on in a book my b.s. detector starts beeping.

I think there is a new subculture spooling up around vandwelling and full time RVing as a counter reaction to the rat race and traditional modern living. I often see them camped in the forest on my way to various hikes and such. I think they're mostly harmless, but probably not great for wildlife. Google up Interstellar Orchard or Bob Wells' There are many others too.

Cym said...

Yeah, one of the first blogs I ever read, which actually inspired me to start a blog of my own, was He wrote about his experiences of living in a van way back in 2003 and 2004, something he did to fund an epic around the world adventure. Back then there were very few blogs about living in vans, his was the first I had read, but in the past twelve year's it's become, not so much mainstream, but definitely more common than it used to be, or at least more people are writing about it.

It's definitely a growing subculture, not just something that losers or creeps do, but regular, responsible, hardworking people, as you said, people looking for alternatives to the rat race, ways to live more frugally, eliminating housing costs to have more time doing the things they love, not spending all day at a job they hate to pay for things that aren't really making them happy.

Anyway, although I had been familiar with the subculture for more than a decade now, this was the first book I read about van dwelling (well, one third of the book is about that anyway), and like I said it wasn't totally worthless, some of it was actually very entertaining, but too bad he was a bit of a poseur, in regards to being anything at all like Muir or Thoreau, inasmuch as being thrifty, being only a small part of what they were about, doesn't make one Thoreauvian any more than owning a bible makes one a Christian; I'm pretty sure that seeing nature as nothing more than a football field would disqualify anyone on that front.