Tag Archives: 1 by One

Why I Don’t Have Solar

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The title of this post is a little misleading. I do have solar panels and deep cycle batteries and an inverter to provide electricity for my fifth wheel out in the desert, but I don’t have any sort of solar setup for my van.

There was a time when I seemed to keep meeting men 15 to 20 years older than I am who liked to tell me, You need solar! without taking into account my particular situation. They had a solar setup; it was working well for them, so they thought I should have what they had. I know these guys were trying to be helpful, that they thought solar power could help me as it had helped them. However not only did I bristle at having someone who barely knew me tell me what I needed (none of them ever asked if I’d considered solar power or what my reasons were for not having a solar setup), my individual situation kept solar power off my list of needs.

Most importantly, for at least the first four years of my solo vandwelling, I simply couldn’t afford the components necessary to provide my van with solar power. Even if I could have gotten the installation done for free at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or some other van gathering, I couldn’t afford all the necessary pieces. I still live pretty much hand to mouth. Add in a van that seems to need a repair every six months or so and has needed new tires three years in a row (!), and I just haven’t had the several hundred dollars I’d need to buy solar panels and a deep cycle battery and an inverter and all the other pieces and parts I don’t even know I need.

Up until I got my fifth wheel last winter and was able to use it as a place to store some of my stuff, lack of space in my van was a huge issue. Anyone who lives in a van with every single item s/he owns knows space is at a premium. I am not a minimalist, and for most of my life as a vandweller, I could not image where I’d put a deep cycle battery. I literally had no place for such a thing.

Another factor in my hesitation to spend a bunch of money on a solar setup was my place of employment. For the last three years (and this year too) I’ve worked in a National Forest during the camping season from mid-May to mid-October. Forest = trees and trees = shade. What good are solar panels that aren’t in the sun? Not much good! I’d have to move the solar panels around all day to keep them in full sun, and my work hasn’t been conducive to such uses of my time. It never made sense to me to spend a large hunk of money on something I couldn’t use fully for at least five months out of the year.

I’ve figured out ways other than solar panels and deep cycle batteries to meet my vandwelling needs. I use solar powered Luci lights to see by at night and a small, foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One to charge my phone. I also have a 140 watts Schumacher power converter that plugs into my 12 volt power supply and allows me to charge my laptop and phone, as well as a USB power adapter which allows me to charge two phones at once. I spent about $20 on the most recent Luci light I purchased via Walmart.com, under $25 for the power converter, and about five bucks for the USB power converter at a Family Dollar store in a small desert town. I received the folding solar panels as a gift (and now I can’t find them on Amazon to tell you how much they cost my benefactor).

abstract, beach, brightDon’t get me wrong. I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t get a solar setup for their van (or car or RV or truck camper or whatever). The solar setup on my fifth wheel (which was already up and running when I moved in and was very reasonably priced) is very convenient. What could be easier than flipping a switch and having a light come on? Remarkable! However, because the fifth wheel is out in the desert, the solar panels are out in the sun for hours almost every day. I don’t have to move them around to catch the sun. I don’t have to do anything to make the system work.

What I’m saying is that I don’t need an entire solar setup to live in my van. Most rubber tramps do not need an entire solar setup. A nomadic life can be lived without it. Heck, for years I didn’t have a power converter and only charged my laptop when I had access to electricity in a house, business, or library.

If you want to use solar power in your rig and can afford a full setup, go for it! However, if you’re a nomad wannabe without a lot of money to get started, don’t think you have to delay your nomadic life until you have solar panels on your roof and a deep cycle battery next to your passenger seat. Most folks actually need very little to start living nomadically. Get your rig. Move in. There you go! You’re ready to hit the road, even if you don’t own a single solar panel.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-silver-solar-panels-159397/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bright-countryside-dawn-daylight-302804/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/abstract-beach-bright-clouds-301599/.

 

10 More Items to Make Your Van Life More Comfortable

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Like I said in my post “The Rubber Tramp Artist’s Ten Essential Items for Vandwelling,” you don’t need to get a bunch of fancy stuff before you start your van life. Just get a van, start sleeping in it and voilà!—you’re vandwelling.

However, if you do have the money and the inclination to get things to make yourself more comfortable, here are ten more items that enhance the quality of my van life.

#1 I love to drink cold water. When I’m in civilization, I fill my water bottle with ice whenever I fill my gas tank at a convenience store or eat at a fast food restaurant. In the past, I drank the ice melt from the ice containers in my cooler, but a lot of cold air escaped from the cooler when I reached in and rummaged around for the ice containers Last fall I bought an Igloo 5 gallon cooler with a dispenser. I put in a bag of ice (no problem with such a wide opening on top) and three or four gallons of water (the cooler fits in a Glacier water dispenser), and I can drink cold (or at least cool!) water for days. When the water gets too warm for my taste, I just add more ice. Easy!

#2 When I’m boondocking, I have to bring enough water with me for all my washing and drinking needs.  There are two kinds of jugs I like for storing water.

The first is the Reliance Aqua-tainer BPA free 7-gallon jug with a spout. While seven gallons of water (over 55 pounds!) is more than I can carry for more than a few steps, the spout (which can be opened and fully closed) is super convenient for handwashing. It also helps me conserve water because I can dispense the amount I need without spilling excess water on the ground. If I’m traveling alone, I usually put five gallons of water in each jug to make carrying the container manageable.

I also like the American Maid BPA free 3-gallon water jugs with handles. I can totally carry three gallons of water with no problem, so these are my go-to water jugs. They are stackable when they’re empty, saving space on the way to fill them.

EcoVessel BIGFOOT Triple Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Tea - Fruit and Ice Infuser
#3 I’ve tried a lot of water bottles, but I’ve never found anything else that keeps drinks cold like my Eco Vessel. I’ve kept ice in mine for over 24 hours on more than one occasion (depending of course on the temperature of the liquid I’m adding to the bottle and the temperature of the air outside the bottle). It’s not unusual for me to drink all of the cold water from the bottle, then have to wait hours for the ice to melt into drinkable form. (I solve this problem by filling my Eco Vessel from my 5-gallon Igloo jug as needed.)

My first Eco Vessel was the 750ml Boulder, which I bought at a natural food store on a whim one exceptionally hot summer day. I used it (and loved it!) every day for about two years before upgrading to the 1300ml Big Foot. I still use the smaller bottle for backup. If I fill both bottles with cool water in the morning, I have plenty of cool water to drink during an 8-hour work day on the mountain.

#4 During my first six years vandwelling, I used 1-gallon propane canisters to power my stove and my Mr. Heater. (For a short time, I had a butane stove, and that was before I owned my Mr. Heater, so during that period, I didn’t use any propane at all.) In any case, until I met The Man, I used 1-gallon canisters for my propane needs. Almost from the moment we met, The Man encouraged me to use a large, refillable propane tank. His reasoning was sound: refilling a large tank is more cost effective than buying multiple 1-gallon canisters and keeps a lot of waste out of landfills. Win win!

#5 I’ve used the single-burner style stove that sits on top of a 1-gallon propane canister and found it cumbersome and unstable. Food seemed to take longer to cook on that style of stove too. (I never did a scientific experiment to test the cooking time required on different stoves, so the difference in cooking times could be my imagination.) Also, the single-burner stove didn’t work so well when connected to our large propane tank. I’ve mostly blocked the experience from my memory, but I think there was a puff of fire and unusually  quick thinking on my part when I reached over and turned the knob on the propane tank to CLOSED. In any case, we figured out the single burners are not designed to be used with the large tanks.

For several months before I met The Man, I used a one-burner butane stove. I liked its flat, stable design, but I was awfully unhappy on the occasions when I couldn’t find the necessary butane bottles at the store (including Wal-Mart once). The butane seemed to go faster than the propane in the small green containers, but again, I didn’t do a scientific experiment to test my theory.

Coleman Stove Ppn 2 BRN Ml Triton
These days I use a Coleman two-burner stove connected to a large propane tank. A half-dozen years ago, I tried two different models of Ozark Trail two-burner stoves because they were less expensive than the Coleman stoves available. Both of the Ozark Trail stoves were junk. I was never able to light the cheaper one, and the more expensive one (that I thought would be of better quality) only lit once when I tested it immediately after purchase. Luckily I’d saved the receipts and boxes for both stoves and was able to bring them both back for full refunds. I hope to never again be in a situation where I need a stove and can only afford one made by Ozark Trail.

Several Coleman two-burner stoves I’ve used over the years have been made well and all have worked great. I enjoy the convenience of being able to cook in two pans at once when I’m doing something fancier than my usual one-pan meal. I like the stability of the flat burners and the convenience of being able to fold the whole apparatus for easy transport and storage. Also, I just found out that if the regulator on the stove quits working properly, I can buy a new regulator for around $13, instead of having to spend $40+ on a whole new stove. I love a company that lets me replace parts!

(Read more about my stove experimentation in my post “Cooking While Vandwelling.”)

#6 I like to sleep in the dark, and I like to be surrounded by beauty, so I have colorful curtains to cover my windows.

My side windows in the back of the van are completely blocked with thick foam board my sibling gave me when it was no longer useful in the windows of the family home. Over the foam boards, I put up colorful curtains. At night I hang a cloth shower curtain I got at a Goodwill Clearance Center over the windows in my side doors. The driver’s area of the van is separated from my living space with heat and light-blocking curtains I got at a thrift store. The mismatched curtains give my van an eclectic, free-spirited feel.

#7 I have difficulty sleeping if I’m too hot, but my small, battery operated fan gives me just enough breeze to facilitate my slumber when the nights get warm.  I would like a fan I could run from my 12-volt outlet; such a fan would need a long cord to reach from the front of the van to my bed. Until I find the right fan for the right price, my 8-inch O2Cool brand fan works well enough.

PROTIP: It’s really worth the money to buy Duracell or Energizer batteries to run fans. I learned that while the Sunbeam batteries from Dollar Tree only last one night, the more expensive batteries last at least a week.

Schumacher Electric 140W Power Converter SI1
#8 Speaking of running things off my van’s 12-volt power outlet, I love my 140 watts Schumacher power converter. It has both a USB port and a good ol’ electrical outlet so I can charge my phone and laptop. If I don‘t need to charge my laptop, I use a smaller USB power adapter. It has two USB ports so I can charge two phones at once. It’s nice to be able to charge my devices even when I’m away from electricity.

NOTE: The small devices have never drained my van’s battery, but the large power converter did once when I charged my laptop several times in day without running the van. If I’m not driving the van, now I only use the power convertor to charge my laptop once in a day.

#9  My foldable 24 Watt solar charger manufactured by 1 by One is a gift I cherish. If I’ve got sun, I can charge my phone.  I haven’t tried to use the solar charger to charge a tablet, but I think it would handle the job. I like that it’s lightweight and folds up small and thin for storage. It’s easy to hang and easy to transport. Love it!

#10 When The Man built my bed, he made sure there was plenty of storage space under the platform. The platform is tall enough to fit large tubs under it. Now that The Man has his own van, I’ve thought about going back to a single bed, but I’d hate to lose my storage area. I’ve decided it’s better to have a roomy double bed (especially since Auntie M gave me a comfortable double mattress she wasn’t using) with room for lots of stuff under it.

Note: I’m endorsing these products because I like them. No one asked me to endorse them. No one paid me to endorse them or gave them to me for free to review. The pictures you see in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those links, you will zip over to Amazon. Anything you put in your cart and buy after clicking on my affiliate link will earn me a small advertising fee at no cost to you.