I was down in Portland, having a good-bye lunch with my father and uncle. In two hours I was going to get back on the highway and head back to Solace. They started chatting about something or other and my attention drifted. I always keep an eye on van prices around Seattle as I’ve been toying with the idea of buying one for months. I realized I never perused the listings in Portland while I was down here. A quick look came up with the beauty you see here. 145K miles. V8, Chevy 350 engine. Professional camper van conversion. All for $1,250.


My New Camper Van

The van was located just a few miles from where we were at, so after lunch my father and I went to take a look. We’ve both worked on Chevy 350 engines, so we knew what to look at and listen for. The engine appeared to be rock solid. We crawled underneath and inspected the drive train. Looked great. Took the van for a test drive. Handled nicely. There were several cosmetic issues that would be easy to fix. The brake caliper on the passenger side needed to be replaced as soon as possible. That was the worst of it.

Playing In the water

I managed to get out on the water with the family on my trip to Portland.

It turns out this van had been impounded when the driver was caught going 75 in a 35 mph zone while under the influence of alcohol. For one reason or other she never came to pay the tow company to get her van back out. They only needed to recoup their costs, so that explained the great price. Like I said, I’ve been keeping a close eye on van prices for the last year. I knew a steal-of-a-deal when I saw one. I reached into my savings and laid the cash down.

The next day I filed the paperwork for the title, parked the van at my parents’ house, and drove north. It’ll wait down there for me until I’m ready to fix it up. I first started toying with the idea of getting a van to compliment my sailing adventures on my adventure to Alaska . That’s also when I got my hands on the book Walden on Wheels, which was my introduction to the concept of Van-Dwelling. Van-Dwellers (or vandwellers as is the preferred spelling) are people who live in their van, car, or truck. The idea is generally stealth over comfort, as RVs, while comfortable, are conspicuous. Some spend huge amounts of time away form cities, ‘boondocking’, others live in urban areas and work regular jobs. Some do both. There is a Van-Dweller mailing-list support-group of sorts that I’ve monitored for a couple years now. Last year I got to meet the van-dweller, blogger Glenn on his way through the Pacific Northwest.

Oak Harbor Sailboat

There are a lot of great sailboats, like this one, that make good eye-candy when sailing around Oak Harbor.

For me, buying this van feels like the last tumbler in a lock before the key turns. It’s the final piece of my personal infrastructure. The sailboat performed admirably this summer. Over 4 months I consumed approximately 35 gallons of gas and traveled over 1000 miles. I came back with food. There is no doubt in my mind that I could live indefinitely on my sailboat. I’m looking forward to doing the same build-out with this van over the long-term. It will become my land yacht. All the basic infrastructure I’ve built aboard Solace will get duplicated aboard the van. Not right away, but eventually.

Working on Solace

Now that I’m back from Portland, I’m diving into several projects that need attention before I move the boat to San Juan Island for the fall.

There are many high-tech port towns in the Puget Sound. If I needed to make some serious money, I can always go back to a cubical in big-tech. The one catch to picking up a dock slip in one of these towns is that many of them do not allow liveaboards. Most marinas only allow people to stay aboard their boat for a maximum of 14 days per month. The van is my loophole out of this restriction. Having a van I can discretely camp in, means I am free to immediately accept work anywhere in the Puget Sound. This gives me a huge advantage over others in a competitive job market.

But the thing I am most excited about are the road-trips! There are as many road-trip opportunities along the Sunshine Coast as there are boating opportunities. Everyone I’ve met that has road-tripped Vancouver Island assures me it would be an ideal place to take a camper van. In September I’ll be heading down the Olympic Peninsula on a scouting mission for great, weekend camp spots. My recreational universe has just doubled in size.

I’m continuing to pursue the hunt for a part-time, telecommuting job. If I don’t land something in the next two months, I’ll try my hand at freelance work for the winter. I’m committed to finding part-time, telecommuting work that will allow me to travel, in a frugal manner, as much as I desire.

And because labels like ‘vandweller’ mean different things to different people, let me clarify with this video. This is the kind of vandwelling I plan to do:

Related posts:

Spirituality and Self Sufficiency
Leisure Time
Digital Nomadism
3 Responses to “VanDweller”
  1. Alex says:

    That’s great Chris, what a deal! My wife and I recently quit our jobs to travel in a camper. Right now we are back home in Reno for Burning Man but after that we plan to head North, possibly to include Vancouver Island. We do a lot of boondocking and love it. One thing I love about sleeping in a land vehicle as opposed to a boat is it never drags anchor!

    • Chris says:

      Wow! I checked out your site. You two are really living the dream. Congrats! If you’re ever around San Juan Island, look me up.

    • kenny says:

      she may not drag anchor but i had my turtle slide down the hill on ice while camped at a trail head in the rockies. it was quite a surprise when the “thing that went bump in the night” was me…

      PS: nice ride Chris!

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