Sojourning Seattle

I want to live in a van. Is that so crazy? Maybe.

I came out of college with a ton of student loans and I’m intently working to pay it off. It’s a load on my back that I’ll one day be rid of, but for now I just have to deal with it. If there’s anything I’ve learned from being in debt, it’s that I don’t want to be in debt ever again. I don’t know if that’s a realistic goal, but the last thing I want to do after getting out from under my student loans is to get under a 30-year mortgage. Renting is a way I could stay out of debt, but the rent paid month after month would be money I’ll never see again. I sure don’t want to do that. I need an alternative solution.

There are people traveling the world by van, by truck, or by sailboat to name a few. I figure if they can live out of their vehicles as they travel, I should be able to live out of a van as I live my day to day life. Home would be mobile, I could live wherever I want (within legal bounds of course), and there would be no mortgage or rent to pay.

It’s not just about money either. I want to live a simple life with less stuff. I want to challenge the idea in my head that says I need to live in a big house and buy a lot of stuff to be happy.

You may be thinking, “How would you shower?” or maybe you’re thinking this. I’ll shower at the gym. It’s down by the river.

I think I’ve got the logistics figured out, but they are just theories at this point. So, in order to test out my theories, I’ve decided to live out of my Xterra for a week. This project will give me a taste of what it’s like to live out of a vehicle, and I’ll get an opportunity to try out some ideas that I have. I hope you all are as excited about this as I am!

Prep

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For this adventure, I’m packing four sets of work clothes (wearing one), clothes for sleeping, workout clothes, and toiletries. I have my backpack that I usually carry for adventures; which contains a rain jacket, flashlights, first aid kit, cordage, matches, etc. The back seat folds down and the front passenger seat pushes forward to make a space long enough for me to stretch out in. My bed is made up of my camping mat, sleeping bag, pillow, and a luxurious microfiber blanket. Cozy.

To keep things simple, I’ll be buying food from the cafeteria at work for the most part. Other than that, I’ve got some granola bars at my desk and I’ll keep some apples, cheese, and yogurt in the office fridge.

Day 1

After a long day of work and school work, it’s finally time for me to head over to the gym to work out and change. It’s already late, so I might skip the working out part. Tonight, I’ll be staying in Georgetown somewhere. I don’t know exactly where, but I’ll be looking for a non residential street with cars parked overnight. What I am hoping for is that the Xterra would blend right in and nobody will bother me during the night. If somebody does come knocking, I honestly don’t know what I would do. Let’s just hope it doesn’t happen.

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Day 2

Success! My first night went off without a hitch. Well, I did wake up once during the night because I thought it was morning and my arms were cold. But other than that, it was smooth sailing. I’m gaining confidence in my ideas about van living. Actually, I might not even need a van.

I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill while reading Walden on Wheels. It’s a memoir of a guy who lived in a van while attending grad school to avoid going into debt. I relate a lot with the author’s struggle to pay off his student loans and he put into words many thoughts and feelings that I’ve had myself while dealing with student loans of my own. Reading this book has reaffirmed my conviction to never go into debt again once I’m out. If you are struggling through student loans or if you want to understand the struggle of having student loans, I recommend this book to you.

I left work early to get a shot of the Seattle cityscape, but that didn’t take as much time as I thought it would. I found a spot that I liked and I’ll be going back around sunset to take some more pictures. Until then, I have hours to burn.

School is on break today, so I don’t have class, which means more free time for me. But the problem is, I am SO BORED. I drove around aimlessly for miles and miles. I wandered around SoDo, I wandered around Beacon Hill. I parked on the side of a street somewhere, but people were staring at me as if they knew I wasn’t from around there; so I left. I racked my brain for ideas of what to do and the best I could come up with was Home Depot. I wandered down nearly every aisle, bored out of my mind. Helpful people in orange aprons would ask me, “Are you finding everything okay?” To which I would reply, “I’m just looking.” Looking for what? I don’t know.

Later tonight, I’m meeting up with some people from church to serve dinner to those who are homeless. We meet downtown every other month under I-5 to serve home made spaghetti to hungry customers. My mom jokingly told me that I should get in line to be served food rather than serving food to those in line. Needless to say, (but I’ll say it anyways) my parents are not thrilled about me living in my car.

I found it to be ironic at first; that I’m serving food to the homeless when I am living out of a car. But if I really think about it, it’s not ironic at all. My situation and their situation cannot be compared. A lot of people I’ve talked to before are fresh out of jail, recovering from addiction, or jobless because they are in the country illegally. One man has even told me that it’s better to be homeless in America than it is to live in Guatemala. These people live lives full of hardship and turmoil. In contrast, it is out of economic privilege and personal curiosity that I’m doing what I’m doing. But who am I to refuse a free spaghetti dinner? “Extra sauce please!”

Walmart. You may know it as a place to buy stuff for cheap. It’s also a place of controversial business practices. But a lesser known fact about Walmart is that it’s an overnight haven for RVers and van dwellers. Except for the one in Renton! There are signs that read “NO OVERNIGHT PARKING” on every lamppost. There’s one RV and couple vans, but I’m not gonna risk it. Too bad I don’t have a plan B.

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I found my plan B. I was driving around not knowing what to do and wandered into this hotel parking lot. The parking lot isn’t too packed and it’s not too empty. There are trucks from nearby businesses parked here as well. Some hotels require parking passes to be displayed on the dash, but the cars I drove past didn’t have any. It’s late and this will do for tonight.

Day 3

Being able to sleep in my car wherever I want is cool and all, but boy, it’s cold and uncomfortable. I miss my memory foam bed. After the second night, the disadvantages of sleeping in a car are becoming clear to me. The camping mat is okay for sleeping on my back, but it kills my shoulder to sleep on my side. The Xterra isn’t very well insulated either; I’m just relying on the insulation from my clothes and sleeping bag. Brr. I had a dream last night of waking up in the middle of the night, cold and shivering; the romance of living free in a car fading with each drop of degree Fahrenheit. Or was it real life?

Tonight, I’ll be parking at my church. This is by far the darkest and quietest spot I stayed in yet. I figured out that I can make my camping mat more comfortable by adjusting the air pressure. I found my sleep number. This is gonna be a good night.

Day 4

URGENT - WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA
431 AM PDT THU OCT 13 2016

WAZ504-507-509-511-512-555-556-558-559-132330-
/O.CON.KSEW.HW.W.0006.161014T0100Z-161014T1400Z/
SOUTHWEST INTERIOR-EVERETT AND VICINITY-TACOMA AREA-HOOD CANAL AREA-
LOWER CHEHALIS VALLEY AREA-EAST PUGET SOUND LOWLANDS-
BELLEVUE AND VICINITY-SEATTLE AND VICINITY-BREMERTON AND VICINITY-
431 AM PDT THU OCT 13 2016

...HIGH WIND WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 6 PM THIS EVENING TO
7 AM PDT FRIDAY...

* TIMING...STRONG SOUTHERLY WINDS WILL DEVELOP THIS EVENING AND
  BECOME SOUTHWESTERLY EARLY FRIDAY MORNING BEFORE EASING.

* WINDS...SOUTH TO SOUTHWEST WINDS OF 20 TO 35 MPH WITH GUSTS OF
  45 TO 55 MPH ARE EXPECTED THIS EVENING THROUGH EARLY FRIDAY
  MORNING.

* IMPACTS...THIS WILL BE THE FIRST WIND EVENT OF THIS MAGNITUDE
  ACROSS THE GREATER PUGET SOUND REGION AND SOUTHWEST INTERIOR.
  TREE DAMAGE IS TYPICALLY GREATER THIS EARLY IN THE SEASON.
  PREPARE FOR TREE DAMAGE AND SCATTERED POWER OUTAGES. FALLING
  TREES AND LARGE LIMBS ARE AN OCCASIONAL CAUSE OF INJURY AND
  FATALITY DURING WESTERN WASHINGTON WINDSTORMS.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A HIGH WIND WARNING MEANS A HAZARDOUS OR DAMAGING HIGH WIND EVENT IS
EXPECTED OR OCCURRING.

&&

$$

This is the high wind warning issued by the National Weather Service. The parentals are are concerned and have requested that I come home. I understand their concern but I don’t think it’ll be as bad as they think it’s gonna be. My original plan was to spend the night at the Seattle waterfront, but it’s possible that the storm could stir up some big waves and the waterfront might not be the best place to be. I’ve decided to chicken out (a.k.a. execute a strategic retreat) and go someplace else to stay the night; someplace without trees and away from water.

As I was leaving the gym, I see this car high centered on a parking curb and another car parked nearby to help. I stopped to see if I could lend a hand since I’m in no rush to get anywhere. There are these parking curbs to keep people from driving over this steep dip in the parking lot. But it’s dark and rainy and the elderly driver had driven right over the curbs and got stuck on top of them. Luckily, the other person who stopped to help had a shop jack in his car and we were able attempt a rather sketchy recovery. We put the jack under the hub of the rear wheel that was up in the air and drove the car forward while it was jacked. Now if you don’t know, a shop jack has wheels, but this is not how they are meant to be used. The recovery was a success, but don’t try this at home. My sleeping clothes are now wet from the rain, but it feels good to have helped somebody in need.

Seattle has a lot of vandwellers, and I found them all here in SoDo. Keeping my distance from the others, I’ve parked next to a train yard with a sweet view of downtown. It’s raining pretty hard now and I made sure to find a spot where the water is flowing away from me. But even if the street does flood, the mighty Xterra has 9 inches of ground clearance and I will be fine. I really love this car.

Day 5

The storm last night was no big deal, but holy moly I so badly need to pee. And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Breakfast brought to you (me) by Blazing Bagels. I can’t tell if they really have the best bagels east of New York, but I enjoyed my lox sandwich. The macchiato, on the other hand, was not very good. And with that, my sojourn comes to an end and I go home tonight.

After this week, I’m confident that I can travel anywhere in the U.S. without having to pay for lodging, and that’s a good feeling. Not paying for lodging makes travel that much more affordable and opens up a lot of possibilities for adventure. Even though things didn’t always go exactly as planned, I consider this project a success. I got a chance to apply some ideas I have about van living and got to go through the day to day routine of living in a vehicle. Logistically, it’s really not that hard to make it work. The part that I found harder than expected was the social aspect of this experience.

When I told people what I’m doing and that I want to live in a van someday, they generally thought that it was really weird; perhaps they think that I am crazy. They’d ask a lot of questions but didn’t seem to be satisfied with my answers. I thought that I would be more fearful of people thinking of me as weird or different, but along with the fear, I also felt this odd sense of reassurance. It’s as if the cat’s out of the bag and I can stop pretending to be normal.

What’s “normal” anyway?

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2 thoughts on “Sojourning Seattle

  1. Wow, that was really interesting to read! Thanks for sharing your experiment with us. I’ve always wanted to live out of a suitcase, so I think I understand the allure of living in a van. Although, I don’t think I could brave the cold. Anyway, I applaud you for doing this! I think your reasons make perfect sense. And what cat? Haha, I always knew you were weird. That’s why we’re friends. ^^

    PS. Love the Seattle cityscape pic!

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