One of the blogs I read is vaninspirations. It’s written by a woman, Liselle, who began the process of living full-time in her van in the summer of 2015.
Unlike me, Liselle is still working a full-time job, and she is sleeping in her van several nights a week in the city where she works.
In a post called Freedom from August 3, 2015, Liselle wrote of her concern about spending money every evening at Starbucks where she was going to charge her cellphone and use the restroom before bed. She wrote,
Things that can use improvement include not eating out so much. I’ve found this to be a little more difficult than anticipated. For one thing, in order to use a restroom in the evening to prepare myself for the night, I feel like I need to buy something. This puts me in a place to have an evening snack at Starbucks. Last night, I just ordered passion tea though, and that was fine, it’s just that I don’t want to spend an excessive money on these kinds of things. The idea is to save money so I can do the things that are important to me… and that doesn’t include Starbucks. Tonight I might try just using a gas station bathroom, but these are usually much dirtier than the one at Starbucks. I don’t know… maybe it’s worth it to buy something small at Starbucks.
and later in the post
Another issue is that during the week, I need something to do between the time I get out of work and the time I park to sleep. What I’ve been doing is sitting in my van in a parking lot at a strip mall and playing a game on my phone. This wasn’t my intention. And it is this that leads me to needing to charge my phone at Starbucks before sleeping.
I offered her some advice.
Can you charge your phone at work? Can you get rid of some apps so the phone’s battery will last longer?
Is there a public or university library you could hang out at before bedtime? Libraries are great because you don’t have to buy anything, they have restrooms, and many of them have electrical outlets where you could charge up your phone. Also, libraries don’t get suspicious if they see the same people every night.
There is a library. I didn’t think about that, but that’s a great solution. Thanks for bringing that up Blaize.
I realized I had a lot of experience figuring out where to use the restroom and charge my electronics without spending a fortune. I think the information I’m offering in this post might be helpful not only to full-time rubber tramps but also to folks exploring a new city who don’t want to buy a meal every time they need to use the restroom or charge a cell phone.
My big disclaimer is that experiences are going to differ depending on who you are and where you are. A McDonald’s in inner city New Orleans is probably going to treat you differently than a McDonald’s off the interstate in the middle of Indiana. If you look like a sweet granny, you will probably be treated differently than a young guy who looks like he’s been hopping trains. Is such different treatment fair? Hell no! Is it the way the society we live in works? Yes. (Whoever lied and told you life is fair, kid? my father used to say to me.)
By all means, protest unfair treatment. Or just say OK and walk away, if that’s what’s best in your situation. I’m writing from my personal experiences, which will not be the same as anyone else’s experiences. Use my experiences as a starting point to figure out what works for you.
As I told Liselle, my number one favorite place to meet my restroom, WiFi, and charging needs is the public library in whatever town I’m in. Every library I’ve ever been in has had restrooms. Even better, I’ve never had to buy anything or answer any questions or even show a library card in order to use the restroom in a public library. People can also read books and magazines at the library for free. Often libraries have free internet access, either through the library’s public access computers or from free WiFi.
I’ve been to some libraries where only people with local library cards could use the public access computers, but I’ve been to even more where “guests” were allowed access. Sometimes I’ve had to show my driver’s license to get guest access, but not always. Frequently libraries have electrical outlets and allow patrons to use them to charge their electronics. Because people are expected and even encouraged to hang out in libraries, it’s unlikely anyone spending several nights a week at one will get any funny looks.
Another great place to spend time is a university campus. While dormitories and gyms might be off-limits, student unions, university libraries and food courts, and even classrooms may be good place to spend the evening hours. Any of the buildings I mentioned are sure to have readily available restrooms. University libraries offer the same access to books and magazines as public libraries, although a student ID would probably be required to use a library computer. Classrooms typically have an electrical outlet and there are usually several empty classrooms in any hall after four o’clock or so in the afternoon. Also look for electrical outlets in the student union or any other buildings where students might spend time between classes.
Even if you are older than the typical college student, there are people of all ages on most large university campuses, especially in the evenings when nontraditional (older) students tend to take night classes. Maybe people will mistake you for a professor if you look older than the average student. Also, some universities off free or cheap lectures, concerts, films and other activities in the evening that are open to anyone in the community.
Often the workers at fast food restaurants and chain coffee shops don’t care if someone sits in the dining room for a few hours charging a phone or laptop, utilizing the free WiFi, and visiting the restrooms when necessary. I’ve been in McDonald’s restaurants, Starbucks coffee shops, and Paneras across the country, seldom buying anything while using the store’s dining room and electricity, and I’ve never been asked to buy anything. (The only time I’ve ever been asked to leave a McDonald’s, I was trying to buy food.)
I think most corporations don’t want to alienate potential customers, thinking even if someone hasn’t bought anything right now, s/he might have bought something from their company earlier in the day or might buy something at a later time.
Of course, fast food restaurants with WiFi don’t necessarily have electrical outlets. Most McDonald’s now have WiFi, but maybe only half of the ones I’ve been in have publicly available electrical outlets. More and more Burger King restaurants have WiFi and electrical outlets. Starbucks and Panera almost always have several electrical outlets to go with their free WiFi. All of those places have restrooms too.
(If I get to choose between a Starbucks and a Panera and a fast food joint, I will always pick Panera. Panera sells delicious, healthy food, so I can something nutritious if I decide to spend money. Also, Panera has an ice dispenser near their beverage dispensers, so I can fill my water bottle with ice before I leave. Finally, Panera offers a customer reward card, so if I do buy something, I earn free food and drinks down the road.)
Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/library-high-angle-photro-159775/.