#VanLife · Personal Finance

The Van Life Squeeze

How do you crap and wash, when the washer and crapper are locked?

One of the central problems to any “lifestyle” is the existence of the single point of failure, a factor which can bring down the ship despite an otherwise solid condition. In the case of #VanLife, this rests around the brick and mortar facilities used to discharge waste and feel like Mr. Clean.

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic erupted, governments have been instating draconian shutdown orders which force businesses like gyms and recreation centers to close. The result has slammed mobile life residents, who rely on those spots to release and refresh. With work gyms and showers being similarly shuttered, the list of hygiene allies grows thin.    

There is always the possibility of purchasing a solar shower or portable toilet, though the former can be less ideal in colder climates, and the latter takes that sweet aroma out of the #VanLife romance, depending on one’s typical diet.

Other pandemic problems include the impact of social distancing on parks and parking lots, where many car lifers will camp for the night. Closures in the first case and closer scrutiny from department stores or police on the other create a significant problem. Plus we have the “watchful neighbors” turning into Stasi informants for the government in some areas.

Yet another factor would be the restrictions on access to libraries, where VLers may use Wi-Fi and check out movies, or simply enjoy the AC.

This is not to say the lockdown will be indefinite, although some crazies want it extended for years. Instead, people who romanticize the mode of living need to understand what difficulties and sacrifices are entailed.

If you want a clearer idea before taking the leap, check out my book: Six Months In A Van


How I Chose a Laptop

In my book on van life, I wrote about my struggle surrounding the purchase of a new vehicle. You never get exactly what you want, or that very thing ends up with a crucial flaw unmaking its viability.

When it comes to a new laptop, things are much the same way. Too cheap means poor quality, but sometimes going pricey isn’t much better. The carnival marches on.

Initially, I set out with the objective of securing a machine that would properly balance between gaming, video editing speed, and a large storage capacity. The first aspect was less important, as I don’t game much anymore, but it’s rare to find a model with a basic graphics card which can do the others equally well.

After some preliminary searching, I found the Acer Nitro 5. This guy seemed to have the right combination of features for a good price, although it also appeared too good. As it turns out, the model enjoys subpar battery life, and the build quality plus graphics card are not terribly impressive. Furthermore, Acer’s reputation is spotty, to say the least.

Buoyed by some positive comments about Asus, I investigated the TUF FX505DT, which was a step up from the previous one, albeit still at a solid price. A couple of factors turned me away from it though, including the limited storage options and mediocre reviews for the Ryzen processor. To be fair, reviewers may be techies themselves, but for me a laptop is a long-term investment, not something for a couple of years.

Another one that received attention was the Lenovo Ideapad L340, a feller with good general reviews and a largely positive manufacturer reputation. I have heard that Lenovo’s quality declined over the past few years however, probably driven by the same industry obsession with cheap build material to subsidize costs.

I would almost end up pulling the trigger on the L340, save for it’s less capable processor and, once again, poor storage options. Someone will start screeching about the cloud or externals right now, but I’m, old-fashioned when it comes to memory.

My final and conflicted stop would be with the HP Omen 15-CE198WM. I currently own an HP that has lasted almost eight years, and the Omen offered a decent provision of storage, graphics performance, and speed wrapped up in one. Probably a bit too expensive given the age of the components, but I’m happy with the results thus far. My biggest gripe would be the fan noise and slightly jagged edges on the exterior.

Regardless of what you choose, a laptop is prone to having issues at some point, so I elected to purchase a 4-year protection plan through Asurion, which is less costly than options from other providers.

Personal Finance

How To Stay Warm Sleeping In Your Car

Is there a way to car camp in the cold comfortably?

This is a pretty common question among van dwellers who aren’t somewhere in the Deep South. That’s because most of us can sleep in humid regions without too much trouble, especially considering the aid of a cooling mattress or some battery-powered fans.

On the flip side, cold weather car camping always becomes an issue. Part of the problem is that heaters draw so much power, making battery-operated versions quite rare.

Sure, one can try to install an inverter or keep the heat on all night, but that way lies the risk of Carbon Monoxide. Propane heaters are not much better, especially if you intend to sleep in a smaller vehicle.

So where does that leave us? As it turns out, with a couple of decent options.

1. Use a Proper Sleeping Bag

Ditch the Coleman easy rip zippers and choose something durable. I’ve found the WolfTraders -30 model to be quite satisfactory, even if it is a bit expensive. Remember, minimalism doesn’t mean Cheapito thinking, particularly when it comes to holding in the heat.   

2. Bundle Up

You probably heard as a kid that the body loses heat at its ends. Make sure to wear a fresh pair of warm socks, some gloves, and a thick hat or balaclava while resting. The head is especially crucial, because it is usually more exposed, and you don’t want to be covered by the bag completely, or breathing will create moisture and possible sickness.

Invest in some thermal shirts and long underwear. They’re not terribly expensive, but do the job well.

3. Utilize Hand Warmers

A large pack of these little guys will run 14-20 bucks, but provide excellent comfort. One or two in the bag or in a hoodie pocket can make a lot of difference. Just avoid sticking them in that place.

4. Hot Water Bottles

This is one few people will readily think of, despite the ease and affordability. Purchase one or two of these fellows with the fabric case and boil water at work with an electric kettle or somewhere with a free outlet and place them at the bottom of your bag. They will prevent that chill that builds up around the feet, especially if that end is near a car door or trunk.

5. Get a Remote Starter

Although pricey (usually around $300.00) this feature can be a major boon in chilly weather. Once you get out of the bag upon waking, the change in temperature can be uncomfortable and cause sickness. Instead, keep the button close by and tap it so the car heats up before exiting. This also works as a precedent to going to sleep so the car is not freezing when you get in.

To be cautious, purchase a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector and keep it in the car as a safeguard.