When I think back to the days when I was living in a tent (with the man who was my partner then), it seems as if we lived that way for a long time. However, when I do the calculations, I realize we only lived in that tent (the cheapest two-person tent Wal-Mart had) for a few months. Oh how the imagination stretches the unpleasant! I don’t want to go back to those days (for a lot of reasons), and I hope I never have to live in a tent again.
THE SET UP AND THE BREAKDOWM OF THE TENT WAS A PAIN IN THE ASS
Even after I’d grown accustomed to setting up the tent, it was never easy. It was always difficult to thread the poles through the pockets on the roof and sides. It was always difficult to poke the ends of the poles into the pockets on the ground. Every piece of the tent puzzle had to be in the right place at the right moment to make the whole thing work.
Taking it apart was easier, but it was such a struggle to get the tent folded correctly and small enough to get it into the carrying bag.
Setting up and breaking down the tent took time and energy. Neither was a fast process, even after I knew what I was doing. At the end of a long day, setting up the tent was the last thing I wanted to do. And forget about a quick get-away in the morning.
In my van, whenever I decide to park for the night, I can crawl into bed moments after I pull the key out of the ignition. In the morning, if I’ve taken nothing out of the van, I’m ready to go as soon as I get dressed and put on my shoes.
HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO BE STEALTH IN A TENT IN A CITY?
I’m sure some people figure out how to be stealth in a tent in a populated area, especially if there’s a park with a woodsy area or a woodsy area on the edge of town. I only pulled off staying in a tent in a city once, with the help of some street kids who shared their camping squat on some undeveloped land quite a walk from the city center.
It’s easier to be stealth in my van, especially if I get into bed as soon as I park and don’t turn on any lights. A van will blend in with other parked cars, but outside of the woods, a tent is going to stand out.
THE TENT DIDN’T OFFER MUCH POROTECTION FROM THE COLD
Yes, sleeping in the tent kept me warmer than sleeping outside without a tent but warmer is not the same as comfortable. Most of the tent sleeping I did was in late spring and early summer. If the night were cold (and some of them were), I was cold in the tent.
Sleeping on the cold ground seemed to suck the heat out of me. Someone once told me that if one’s kidneys get cold, one’s blood gets cold, and then one has cold blood circulating throughout one’s body. Cold ground = cold kidneys = cold body. I suppose a good sleeping bag or an air mattress would have helped, but I had neither.
Unless the temperature dips into the 20s, I stay warm in my van. I have plenty of blankets and a propane heater I can turn on if I need to. A van is better insulated than a cheap Wal-Mart tent, so it stays warmer. My bed is raised, so I’m not losing my heat to the van’s cold metal floor.
THE TENT DIDN’T OFFER MUCH PROTECTION FROM THE RAIN EITHER
The Southeast in the springtime can see a lot of rain. The spring I was living in the tent saw a lot of rain. The tent was wet a lot. The seams started to leak. Water seeped in at the bottom edges. All of the stuff in the tent had to be piled in the middle to try to keep it dry. (Did I mention my partner and I had no motor vehicle, so there was nowhere to store our stuff other than the tent?) Sleeping bags and blankets got wet. There was nowhere to put our wet clothes to dry. It was a miserable time.
Fortunately, my van doesn’t leak. (I paused my writing to knock on wood.) The rain can come down (and down and down and down), and I stay dry. My stuff stays dry too. I can drape wet clothes around the van, and they’ll dry out eventually. My van is good protection from the elements.
THE GROUND TENDS TO BE BUMPY AND NOT REALLY FLAT
Outside of a campground (and sometimes in one too), it can be really difficult to find a clear, flat piece of earth on which to pitch a tent. If you’ve ever slept in a tent on an incline, you know it’s not really sleeping, as you’re fighting all night to hold your position and not end up pressed against the wall of the tent at the bottom of the slope. It’s also not easy to find a piece of ground that’s not littered with (sometimes seemingly invisible) rocks and sticks. You may not see rocks and sticks, but you’ll certainly feel them as soon as you lie down. If you’re in an area with a lot of trees, it may be impossible to get away from roots. Again, an air mattress or a good sleeping pad might help make sleeping on the ground more comfortable, but that’s a lot of stuff to haul around, especially if you’re carrying everything you own on your back.
In my van, I carry my comfy bed with me. I sleep on top of two layers of memory foam. This bed is more comfortable than several of the “real” beds I’ve slept on in houses. I never sleep on top of lumps and bumps. Sometimes, however, if I’m not careful about where I park, I do end up on an incline and wake up in the night in a scrunched-up woman heap with my head off the pillow and my feet pressed against the wall. Even when I wake up and realize I’ve made this sort of poor parking decision, it’s still better than sleeping on the cold, hard ground.
THERE WAS NEVER ENOUGH ROOM IN THE TENT
Two person tent + two people + two people’s stuff = never enough room
Neither of us could stand up in the tent. I often felt claustrophobic. It was not comfortable to have a friend hang out in the tent with us.
While I wouldn’t say my van is spacious, it is roomer than the tent. My van has a high top, so I can stand up. If I needed to, I could get two or three other people in the van with me for a short period of time. One person could probably spend a night on the van’s floor. There’s room for me to set up my stove so I can cook in the van if I need to, and there’s room to operate my Mr. Buddy heater safely.
THE TENT OFFERED ONLY MINIMAL PRIVACY
Sure, the tent kept people from seeing us naked, but that’s about it. Unless we whispered, anyone nearby could hear what we were saying. I suspect everyone probably knew when my partner and I were having sex too. If my partner and I were both in the tent, we had no privacy from each other.
Once I pull the curtains in my van, I feel I have a high degree of privacy. Oh sure, if this van’s a rockin’ is a real phenomenon, but at least no one’s going to hear every moan and sigh. If I were traveling with someone in my van, one of us could sit in the bed or in one of the front seats with the front or back curtain pulled while the other was in the main part of the van, and we wouldn’t have to look at each other.
THE TENT OFFERED LITTLE SECURITY
Are there tents that lock? I’ve never seen one. Anyone could unzip the tent flap, reach in, and grab whatever they wanted. I guess in campgrounds folks stash their valuables in their locked cars, but when one is carrying everything one owns, there is no place to lock anything away.
Tents offer even less security for my physical self. Is a tent going to stop a bear? No. Is a tent going to stop a murder or a rapist? No. (Not that I dwell on murderers or rapists, but the thought occurs to me.)
I feel very secure in my van. I can lock the doors when I leave and when I’m inside. As my dad says, a lock is to keep an honest man (or woman, Dad) honest. If someone with tools and know-how wanted to break into my van, it would probably be fairly easy. But I do feel like my stuff and I are safe when the doors are locked. (I paused to knock wood again.) While a bear might be able to peel off a door, at least a person with bad intentions is not going to be able to rip open the van’s metal roof.
Of course, I realize a different tent would have solved some of the problems I’ve outlined. A bigger tent could have helped with my space and privacy issues. A three-season tent would have kept me warmer. A better-made tent might not have leaked. A tent with a better design may have gone up and down more easily. But I don’t know how to solve stealth and security issues with a tent.
In any case, I’m so, so grateful for my van. It keeps me safe, dry, warm, and comfortable. (I’m knocking wood again.) I wouldn’t trade it for a six-person, three-season, easy-up, well-made tent with a lock and a top-of-the-line air mattress.
To read another story about tent living, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/06/23/hierarchy-homelessness/.