Tag Archives: Van living

Ask A Digital Nomad: How Does Your Life Actually Work?

The most common question people ask me is “how does it work being a Digital Nomad?” “Where do you do laundry?” and “Where do you live exactly?” are popular too.

On reason I haven’t fully answered this question so far in a post, is that I hadn’t answered it in my life! The way I live will continue to change and evolve, but up until recently there were still major problems I hadn’t solved. There was so much stuff in my van that I couldn’t use it as a room, I lacked places to record music, and the van bed wasn’t actually comfortable.

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Van – a bit too full for comfort.

That mostly sorted now, so this is a practical post for those of you who like to geek out on alternative lifestyles, possibly with a mind to try it yourself.

Method: Creating a plan A & B for everything

When I started this incarnation of houselessness, 3 months ago, I’d worry if I didn’t have either a solution that would all the time, or a million backup plans. For example, when it came to internet access (VITAL) I thought I wouldn’t be happy unless I could get it in my van. As it is, I’ve never needed to use the internet from my van – there have been plenty of other spaces I can use.

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It’s possible to get internet in the van, but it’s very slow.

So, nowadays I feel pretty secure with a simple plan A & B.

E.g., Laundry

Plan A: Stick my few clothes in with a friends’ washing, in exchange for something or other

Plan B: Hand-wash / launderette

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Spring brings new laundry drying methods.

Although I feel secure knowing plan B exists, in 3 months I’ve hardly had to hand-wash, and never laundrette.

Having a plan B frees me from worrying about my needs, so I can focus my attention on the people in my life and our relationships. I love the way in which this lifestyle brings me closer to my friends and wider community, through asking and exchange, but I prefer the vibe that comes from me asking out of choice/preference rather than need. That’s why Plan Bs are important.

Plan A usually involves a person, whilst plan B is usually an independent solution. As shown:

Workspace

Plan A: Use a friend’s house as an office.

Plan B: Wifi cafe / wifi in the van (v. slow)

Plan A is more favourable, fun and social, but plan B is also workable and fine.

So, here are my plan As and Bs for most aspects, which hopefully quells your curiosity.

Eating

A: Eat with whoever I’m docking with, and contribute in some way.

B: Eat out / supermarket picnic / in the van

I’m not in my van enough to justify stocking it with food, but I carry a food-bag containing non-perishables such as tins, cheese and hardy vegetables if I’m between van and “docking”. When travelling van-less I carry snacks in my Life-Bag, and my next meal. I’m willing to eat cold or raw food quite a lot, but cooking in the van is also possible.

Sleeping

A: Docking / Housesitting / Van

B: Van

My “Sleeping On The Floor” experiments have helped me to become much more flexible about where I sleep. In this case, I’ve put van under plan A and B, as sometimes it’s a pinch to sleep in it, and other times it really is my number 1 choice, especially now it’s spring. I’m very lucky because so many people have welcomed me that I’m regrettably even having to turn down house-sits sometimes.

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Learning to sleep on the floor has many advantages.

Washing Me

A: At someone’s house

B: At a service station / swimming pool / gym

Amazingly I haven’t had to use plan B yet, and the longest I’ve gone without a shower is 2 days. Prioritising staying clean is very, very important when you’re nomadic, trust me…

Exercise

I have a 10min routine I can do each morning no matter where I am, but beyond that I haven’t got a schedule together yet.

Music Practice

A: At someone’s house

B: Outdoors / In van.

Now it’s spring, outdoor spaces are a wonderful resource, however houses are still better. The van is a last resort: I hate playing sat down.

Recording Music

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In session with Mo and Greg, at Mo’s place.

A: At someone’s (quiet) house / studio

This is the only thing I don’t have a plan B for, and that bothers me to an extent. On the other hand, despite feeling insecure, I’ve actually been able to record enough. Guess we all need to feel vulnerable in some areas of life.

So there you have it. The only thing I’d like to improve on at the moment is finding more spaces to record. This happens so infrequently that when I do get to a space, I have to work very quickly, and this is hampering me a bit. But all in all I’ve been amazed by how welcoming my friends and community have been to me and my current way of moving through the world.

-Kimwei

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:

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Music @:

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The Wooden House

 

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Wooden House living room

I’m writing from a farmhouse in the Loire Valley, just having completed a 10 week house sit in a beautiful self built eco Wooden House just 30mins from here. Our host and friend arrived yesterday for a handing over of the keys, welcome meal and an afternoon’s unpacking and rearranging before we headed on, van packed to the gills.

 

At 10 weeks, this is the longest house sit yet, and although I’ve been calling it a “sit” that’s not truly accurate, because I don’t honestly think this friend needed their house occupied for that time period – it was more of a favour/exchange. It’s been the most ambitious house sit yet, being abroad in France where I don’t (yet) speak the language plausibly. It’s also my first try at being a true digital nomad, in that over 95% of my income for the period was from online work (Skype teaching).

DSC01545.JPGAs you can see from the pictures, we have been exceptionally lucky with a gorgeous location and beautiful house, however I wanted to write mainly about the challenges presented by a longer house-sit abroad and what I learned from them.

Van: I travelled without breakdown cover, because it would have cost £200 and I was advised that in France garages are plentiful. There were two problems in 10 weeks (that’s the type of van I own!). One non-starter – the local garage came to fix it, and one flat tire – I actually managed to drive to the tire-shop without creating further damage.

IMG_0056.JPGHaving no cover is quite high risk and I do still feel uncomfortable with it. Because I didn’t speak French, it took me two weeks to get the van fixed in the first instance, meanwhile cycling 14miles back and forth for food shopping. My bike was my “breakdown cover”. If you’re thinking of travelling without cover, it’s best with spare food, a bed and a bike in the van, not to mention never leaving the house without your phone and wallet. I learned that the hard way.

DSC01573.JPGHouse Care: With a longer house sit, it’s much more difficult to remember to put everything back in its original place. You might move furniture, or hide away precious ornaments you feel nervous about. I took reference photos, but even then it was tricky – which cupboard was that cheese grater originally from? I’d also ended up leaving my own stuff in many different places in the house without even realizing – a pain for packing up. If I did it again, I’d be stricter! I also wish I could travel with less stuff:

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My things. Music stuff on the left – recording studio, keyboard, guitar, flutes, live kit including amp. On the right, my personal possessions including cycling stuff (bike in van). May not seem like a lot but feels that way when you have to keep moving it. Sadly I’ve actually used all of it, so what can I discard?

DSC01578.JPGBeing in a house for longer there’s also more chance that something might break. I’d never broken anything during a house sit, but this time there were two broken glasses, a joint snapped on a chair and the plumber needed calling out when the toilet leaked. This panicked me! I prefer to leave a house just as I found it if not better, often cleaning, clearing or sorting some corner as a thank you to my hosts. Although we did plenty of that, I was still terrified. In the end I just had to accept that these things will happen from time to time.

IMG_4483.JPGFrance: The house sit was located in rural France, meaning that for the whole stay I really only spoke to 5 people besides shop staff. Although I wasn’t lonely, I felt very exposed, lacking the recourses of a more populated area. If I needed something, it wasn’t always possible to buy it. As a result, I joyfully found that the few neighbours were extremely collaborative. One picked me up from the rail station an hour away(!), after my train was delayed and the busses had finished. Another neighbour I took to work when her car was totalled. A culture of lending and giving freely was engendered by this isolation, despite the language barrier. Amazing!

Being a Digital Nomad: Focus focus focus! Many people must be imagining me leading the French lifestyle, a man of leisure, never having to go to the office. Whilst it is pretty idyllic, of course I go to the office, or rather the office comes to me. IMG_0087.JPGRight now, this is my view, sat in my van working. I’ve just had a Skype call with a colleague discussing a student’s essay draft, and look forward to writing up my lesson reports this afternoon, and preparing my tutorials for the evening. My schedule is different every week, but the most important thing is to be focused – both to be working when I am working and to play when I am playing. I’m still learning this and will write a post on it soon.

Hope this post has been useful to anyone thinking of trying house sitting, digital nomading, or other alternative lifestyle ideas.

-Kimwei

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Make Your Dreams Reality (By Playing Yellow Car) Part 1

I’m writing this post from a beautiful 4 bedroom wooden house in rural France. It was lovingly built by its owner and I’ll be here until spring. This marks my first outing as a digital nomad. I’ll be mentoring on a Music BA over Skype through the blended learning project AMBA. It’s a dream come true and I’m very grateful to everyone who helped it to happen!

DSC01595So how did I get here? Many people make the transition by going independent in the same job they’ve had for years, such as photography or journalism. Others simply ask their employer if they can work remotely. Since my income came from music performing, teaching and lecturing, as far as I knew, there weren’t any options for working from home.

I brainstormed lots of ideas, including becoming a busking minstrel, running a mobile recording studio (which I still do, and am currently making albums with 2 clients) and working as an illustrator.

Then, quite out of the blue, a company I used to teach with called me up and asked if I would be the main Skype Mentor on a blended learning Music BA they was setting up as a new venture. I was in the middle of the £0 Challenge at the time and was therefore totally unemployed and free to take up the offer. I’ve now been working with that project for a full year and have never enjoyed a teaching role more! Lucky? Yes, but there’s more to it than that.

There are many “how to” guides out there on how to become a digital nomad, and lots of advice on how to “make it happen”. This may just be my personality, but trying to make things happen doesn’t work for me. The way I see it, everything exists somewhere on the planet, so if we tune our minds to it, we start to spot it. The path of my life has come to me by focusing on what I want, then allowing it to happen by saying yes when opportunities come up.

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By co-incidence I do actually have a yellow car, which came to me when I was housesitting in rural Devon and noticed a neighbour washing it in his driveway. He said he was preparing it for a Gumtree ad, so I bought it on the spot.

It’s like the game Yellow Car. I’m sure you’ve played it – spotting this rare car colour on a long drive. Although yellow cars are unusual, it’s amazing how many you see when you’re looking out for them. Someone might ask “How many yellow cars did you see today?” and you’d be able to tell them easily. But, if asked “How many red cars did you see?” I doubt you’d have a clue.

I believe the same can be true with opportunities. We can set our yellow-car-lense to “digital nomad” or “free firewood” or “size 14 denim jacket”. It doesn’t necessarily mean these things will immediately appear, but once we are tuned up to look out for something, we can’t miss it when it comes along. On the other hand, if we’re not focused on what we want, those opportunities could whizz by like red cars without us even noticing.

That’s the overview, but there are other stages to this process too (there are even more stages/aspects than list here so I might do a follow up article).

Really figure out what you want.

It’s important to boil your dream down its key components. When I was a kid, my dream was to earn a living backpacking through the lake-district as a watercolor painter, selling my work to local galleries. As an adult, I’ve boiled that dream down to a few key things – freedom, creativity, needs met, sense of adventure, and gravitated towards opportunities that offer me that.

BUT many times I’ve had to let go of a dream because it no longer brought me those things. Two years ago I planned to busk around Europe in a van, but so many restrictions appeared that I abandoned it. I widened my dream to “I want to have new experiences whilst enjoying earning my living”, which has led me to where I am now.

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My space in the wooden house, mezzanine level.

If your dream is to own an expensive sports car, boil it down to what you want. You can do this by asking yourself what you would experience if that dream became reality. It might be simple: “I’d enjoy driving a fast car. I’d feel exhilarated.” Fine – save up and buy the car, or if your priority is purely driving, you could hire one. If you can afford neither, you might have to give up your attachment to the racing car but might find exactly what you need by seeking other experiences that you find exhilarating.

But if your immediate answer is “I’d be accepted by my peers” or “I’d feel successful”, some further digging could lead you towards a deeper dream. You might be lacking a circle of close friends who don’t judge you on your income, and could re-orientate yourself towards cultivating that. Then you could buy the car anyway if you still want to.

Our true dreams are usually fearless and naturally draw us to be giving towards others.

If it’s not working, do something different.

There’s no point looking at the world through your “yellow car” lens if you’re not even near a road. Sometimes it’s not obvious whether we’re in the right place for an opportunity to come to us. My approach is: if in doubt, do something different.

A new experience or approach has merit simply because you’ve not done it before. You could meet someone new, gain a new skill, see a new place and this could be the key to getting you onto the road and finding your “yellow car”.

I often hear people say “then I was sat next to this guy on a train, and it turned out he had a flat to rent/cocoa farm for sale/kitten who needed a home, and it was just what I was looking for!” Sounds like a co-incidence, but in a way it’s not that far fetched. When we focus our yellow-car-lens, we think about our yellow car all the time. When we talk, we can’t stop talking about our yellow car. Soon, all our friends know we’re looking for a yellow car, and they might mention it to their friends, one of whom might just have a yellow car. But if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. We just keep on talking about that yellow car to every new person we meet, until eventually someone says “hey, I’ve got a yellow car – do you want it?”

-Kimwei

Follow up article: Make Your Dreams Reality Part 2

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Design 2 – My Dream Small Van (Part Time)

The 2nd in my series of Dream Tiny Home designs – A small van for part-time living.

This is what I’ve chosen for my current lifestyle – a vehicle I can sleep in at a moment’s notice and live in comfortably for a few days at a stretch without any planning, but that isn’t suitable for full time living.

A bigger fully self-sufficient van is useful for weeks on end in nature or an urban life in which the van essentially acts as a full time home. You can stand up in it and it has enough room for a wood burner.

View From Rear Seat

Interior of my last big van, with mini woodburner.

Unfortunately it’s also easy to spot and invite hassle, on account of the chimney, long and difficult to park. Having such a low MPG, it could be prohibitively expensive to drive.

Alternatively, a moderate sized van can sleep two, may not have enough room for standing or for a burner, but will be as economical to run as a large car. It’s a better choice for a lifestyle in which long distances are covered, and cooking/sleeping in the vehicle fill the gaps between using indoor spaces. The money saved on fuel can be spent on the occasional cheap accommodation, or using coffee shops for office space.

The nightmare comes when you need a live-in vehicle that you can also drive long distances…I haven’t found a solution for that problem yet.

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My current setup – quite similar to my ideal design but with less storage space

 

So, I’m currently running: a short wheelbase VW Transporter. It’s a squeeze. I’m continually pairing down my possessions. My pet gripes with this lifestyle are that it’s not possible to set up my studio speakers in a van so small, and I have to store most of my instruments in a friend’s cupboard. It’s too cramped a space to act as a useful practice room, so I’m sad to say I’ve practiced less since having a small van.

My dream small van represents how I’d upgrade my current van. To summarise, I’d double the cupboard space and buy more sports bags and packing cubes.

Van Top viewOver time I’ve come to love the simplicity of my current van furniture – one bed and one kitchen cupboard set. I wouldn’t do much to change it. At first I was frustrated with a few things but soon discovered they were symptoms of having a small van not design flaws in the furniture

  • IMG_2569The bed is too low to fit boxes underneath, but if it were higher I couldn’t sit up in bed.
  • The bed is too short (5ft), but I’ve got used to it now and lengthening it would only eat into the living space.
  • There’s no bike rack, so I have to take my bike out of the van and lock to a lamppost literally every time I want to use the back space. But actually, a rack would cost £200 and then it would keep costing by decreasing the van’s MPG, so I won’t bother.

Other things that you may have to deal with in a small-van:

  • No heating: The gas stove can be used in short bursts but that’s it really. Fortunately such a small space warms quickly, but having no wood burner can result in damp just from breathing – air your van regularly.
  • Limited kitchen: I currently have no running water and no fridge, but re-fill water bottles whenever docking. If I started spending more days in my van I’d upgrade, but currently it’s better to have more cupboard space than to have a fridge sitting empty half the time. Most foods except meat keep ok in the kitchen cupboard and I don’t mind eating tinned food for when needed.
  • No toilet: This hasn’t been a problem so far. In urban areas toilets are often available, especially when docking in a driveway. I’ve also a funnel and some piss-bottles (emptied when facilities appear). In nature, a trowel enables bears to shit in the woods.
  • Low headroom: Bad weather during a trip can mean being shut in a tight space with no room even to stand up for days on end. Solutions are to buy a bigger van, just deal with it, or go to cafes. In an ideal world I’d get a pop-top – currently out of my budget at £3.5k

Having accepted all this, until recently I still found my van too small for all the stuff I needed to carry to make my life function. I pared down hugely, but was still stuck. Then I discovered the key – It’s not about how many cupboards you’ve got, but about what’s going on IN the cupboards.

Van Side ViewCupboards with stuff chucked straight in don’t work – once filled to only ½ their capacity, everything starts to fall out whenever you open a cupboard after a rocky drive. Boxes are better, but you lose a lot of space around the box since it needs to be smaller than the cupboard opening in order to get it in and out. Stuffing cloth bags in can provide more space, but it’s hard to see what’s in them.

Recently I’ve solved these problems using packing cubes – mini nylon suitcases with transparent tops so you can see what’s in them. Sounds pretty basic, but moving over to using a combination of sports bags and packing cubes has doubled the storage capacity of my van – yes that means I can keep twice as much stuff in the same space! To give you an idea, the majority of my clothes fit into 3 medium sized packing cubes, but I estimate that at least 50 cubes of the same size would fit under the bed.

When I first got my van, I started collecting rectangular nylon sports bags because plastic boxes were too tall to fit under the bed. I’d previously thought that boxes were best, but sports bags showed distinct superiority: they could be folded away if empty or squashed into a smaller space if only half full.

Whenever I stay somewhere even for just a night, it’s easy to take most of my possessions inside since all the bags have convenient handles and shoulder straps. Valuables come inside even if I only stay somewhere for an evening, but I never pack and I never unpack.

The main improvement I could make on my current van is to add another set of cupboards to the right of the bed that reach up to the ceiling, and a small set of cupboards to the left of the bed, high up (as shown in both drawings). With my new packing cube system, I don’t even need that extra space  – it would just be for “visitor” luggage.

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The Dream Yurt was 113 sqft (10.5 sq metere) and was about the right size for a modest living space. Designing a a small van will ultimately be a compromise – trading off features against each other because with less than 4 sq meters (43 sq ft) of floorspace, there simply isn’t enough room for everything. Rather have a short bed or a folding bed? Rather have a full kitchen or more cupboards for luggage?  I’d rather be able to ride my bike than give it up for the sake of more space, so I’ve gone for packing my van to the brim and packing smart. This system really shines when I’m working. It’s wonderful being able to pull my portable amp out, strap it to my bike and go for a day’s busking, or to go to a country house with one bag and set up to shoot a https://www.youtube.com/embed/b07rbdJ-UpA” target=”_blank”>music video like this one.

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10 Rules For Van Living:

Some are winter rules and some are just van rules. 

  1. Never get wet. If there’s no source of heat in your van, clothes can take days to dry or simply go mouldy. If you do get wet, it’s unpleasant but quickest to actually wear your clothes until they dry. Having to do that a few days running quickly puts you off ever getting wet.
  2. No shoes in the van’s living area – same reason as above. Keep some in-van slippers if you must.
  3. Keep electrical things in drybags. Condensation, literally caused by you breathing, can wreck your laptop so keep it safely in a dry bag when not in use. By now, you’ve got idea I’m sure – most of these rules are about combating wetness and damp during the Great British wintertime.
  4. Where possible, take the stove outside the van to cook, otherwise everything you own will smell of whatever you’ve cooked, forever.
  5. Wear thermal underwear all the time… Do I need to explain why?
  6. Never leave the laptop or guitar in the van. Just my personal rule. Those two things I could neither live without nor afford to replace, so I don’t leave the van without them.
  7. Don’t go to the toilet in the van, if you don’t have a toilet in the van.
  8. Don’t leave the lids off anything ever. Don’t spill a full bottle of sesame oil in van which contains everything you actually own (I didn’t do that… honest).
  9. Before getting out of the van, check for huge puddles / quicksand / sharks.
  10.  If your van is too low to stand up in, remember not to stand up.
  11. Never get wet… did I mention that already?

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