Sunday, April 10, 2016

Camper Van: The Next Frontier

When you were in high school, you were more than likely trying to find ways to break away from your parents and school and be independent.  You wanted to go off and find your own way, blaze your own trails, and choose your own path.  You wanted to be your own person and find out who that really was.  You wanted freedom to run your own life and face the choices you made, and when you turned sixteen, freedom came to you by way of automobile.  Nothing says first tastes of freedom quite like your very first car.

While this was technically my third vehicle, it was the first to run and drive.  Bought it in 2005 when I was 17 for $500.
Whether it was bought, given, inherited, earned, or even loaned, nothing had given you the kind of freedom a car did.  You probably had quite a few miles on that old Huffy, but you'd match it in a month with your new wheels.  Your car became an extension of yourself.  You were suddenly untethered.  There was nothing keeping you from going as far as your wallet and your gas tank allowed.  Nothing said good day quite like a full tank, a V8, a couple friends, a cooler of Mountain Dew, and the open road.  Livin' life one mile marker at a time.

I learned that if you leave the hubcaps off, they can't self-eject and get lost.  Plus, it adds that Nascar look.
Life was good, but then you graduated from college.  You've got a job and debts, an apartment and bills, an economy car and soul-crushing stereotypical expectations to live up to.  You're tied down in your current position, locked down in your status.  You'd love to quit your job, but you're stuck there because it's hard to match or beat your salary with just starting pay.  The fun has been sucked out of your life, and you're quickly becoming that crabby, old boss you had as a teen that made you always wonder how someone could be such a buzzkill.  You can't help but think about how you got here, where you went wrong, and how you can somehow get back some of your youthful inhibitions and reclaim some of your freedom.  Then it hits you...

... like the brick that it is.
You quit your job, move out of your apartment, and buy an Econoline.  You're gonna go live in a van!  A camper van is really the only way to experience the same kind of freedom as your first car once you're older and tied down.  Living in a van can be very inexpensive.  It's also very liberating to thin out your stuff to just have the things you need.  If you can pare down to only stuff that fits in your van, you could ditch your house or apartment and not need to pay that rent or mortgage and upkeep.  Even if you need a storage unit, you'd save a lot monthly by not having to pay for housing.  Some people will quit their jobs and find little jobs as they travel or just have a job that you can do remotely.  I'm not sure how they find these "road jobs."  That really intrigues me.

A van for every terrain.
The big thing with owning a camper van is that you can drive it wherever you want and park and sleep wherever your heart desires.  Imagine waking up in the wilderness of Colorado, California, Canada, or Alaska and popping the doors open to see the amazing views from your bed.  It really gives you the opportunity to inexpensively see the country only having to pay for gas and food instead of hotels, flights, and rental cars.  If you're near a small camp ground or truck stop, you're even more in luck because they'll have showers you can use for cheap.  Or just find a lake!

Just look at how cool that is!  And easy to maneuver too.
I want to get a camper van so I can inexpensively see the country and maybe even the whole continent.  I have these trips I want to embark on and photo excursions I'd like to experience, and I always find myself thinking about the logistics of getting there, lodging, funding, and getting out of work.  If I didn't have to pay for lodging, and I had low enough overhead that I didn't need a job or could find freelance writing or photography gigs that could fund me a bit, I could probably make that work and bail on the "normal" life.  I'd love to run away in an '80s Econoline, and I keep finding more things that could help to make that possible.

So much win here.  I dig the slotted mags and the bubble windows.
I would have a somewhat basic setup in my van.  Mechanically, I'd find a 6-cylinder van and swap in an overdrive automatic and some taller gears for better highway mileage.  Aesthetically, I really want a cool blue metal flake with bubble windows, a strobe stripe, black roof, and dual sunroofs, but that might stand out a bit in urban areas at night.  But I don't want a turtle top.  As far as making it habitable, I would add the bed and a counter/desk area, and I'd try to work in a small fridge, convection oven/microwave combo, induction hot plate, and a docking station for my laptop that would include an aux input to the stereo in the van (which would have a dual zone type of speaker setup).  Under the bed, I'd have storage, as you'd expect, but I'd like to find a way to fit my camp grill and lawn chair too.  As far as power goes, I've recently been made aware of a really cool battery/power station product (check it out) that has a battery and inverter with different outlet options on it, and you can add solar panels to your roof etc to recharge the battery in the power station.  That alone could make the van far more self-sufficient and have a much higher range than it would if I had to plug in every night.  I need to see if there's the option to add more batteries to the circuit to have higher power capacity because I'd love to be able to run things for a few days without having to worry about power consumption or overcast skies.

I wouldn't go too crazy inside.  This seems pretty decent to me.
This one is also very cleanly built inside.
The one in the back had my same idea about the dual sunroofs.  One for while you're driving, and one to look up at the night sky as you drift off to sleep.
I'm starting to think that a van is really the right answer for my Alaska trip, but it would also enable me to do other fun excursions.  I'd like to take more pictures of urban industrial areas at night, and there are some in other cities that really seem to call my name.  I want to make a photo book of the port of the Great Lakes both in Canada and the US by circling all five lakes.  There's some great, classic highways I'd like to drive and write about.  It'd be great for driving to cool car shows or events, especially if I get into professional auto journalism (which I want to do).  I could power my lights for taking cool car pictures.  I'd really love to be able to get out and drive where the wind blows me and experience more of what Americana our country has to offer rather than just up in the Midwest.  I could really go places if I had a van and some gas money.

I'd have to leave the wheels and chin spoiler off until I got back from Alaska.
In the end, if you're feeling stuck in your job or your situation in life, think about the things you want to do with your life, and will avian help you achieve those goals?  I say, "yes," and with that, I'll add, "do you know anybody with a cheap, stubby Econoline for sale?"  Then I'd just need gas money...

Looks like home.
This guy built an addition on his rolling home.

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