Let’s make this easy. If you need help installing solar panels on your van, check out the video right here. But if you need even more help and some extra details, scroll down a bit further for the step-by-step written version. Either way, by the end of it, your solar panels will be installed and you’ll have all the electricity you could need…if you’ve designed the electrical system correctly.
I’ve stopped taking pictures.
This all started when I was traveling in Thailand. It’s very hard for me to be present in my everyday life, but in Thailand, I found myself doing it naturally. I was experiencing a world vastly different than my own. I was meeting fascinating people from all over the globe. I was trying to learn enough language to survive. I had to figure out train and subway schedules. I was eating things we normally throw away. “Wait, what the fuck are visa requirements?”
In short, I was living for the now. I was experiencing my life rather than planning for the next 3-12 months into the future.
There was no time for pictures. Not planned, orchestrated, composed pictures. That would have detracted from my experience. From the moment I was living.
You simply cannot pause a moment of laughter while sharing a meal with people from China, Australia, Czech Republic, Thailand, and Argentina after a long day of climbing just to setup a camera. I could not ask the boatman to stop the longtail and go around the other side of the island because the lighting was better. You cannot stand behind a lens, and in the moment at the same time.
I have close to 1,000 or more pictures from the 3.5 months I spent in Thailand. In the beginning, I wanted to document everything. Blog post this, e-book that, Instagram fame there. It all became overwhelming. Cluttered. Distracting.
And then I had the moment where I realized: Just Stop!
That’s why, if you scroll through my feed during those months, there aren’t a lot of pictures. Not as many as you’d expect from a traveling blogger with ambitions that hinge on the success of my online reach. The pictures I did take weren’t ‘good enough’ for social media, nor did I want to give people the opportunity to criticize the photos. Those photos are not for them, or for you, or for anyone. They are for me, and they don’t need to be spectacular. They just need to be ‘good enough’ to remind me where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with.
The same can be said for my climbing trip to Potrero Chico in Hidalgo, Mexico.
Sure, I published close to one picture per day that I knew would receive high engagement, but I did not take many more than that. In fact, I spent the last two days frantically taking point-and-shoot photos of the landscape to have proof I was there and just in case I needed them for a freelance article in the future.
The things I value most while traveling are the uncaptured memories with the amazing people I spend my time with. No amount of Instagram likes, Facebook comments, or page views per month can replace the bonds made, even fleeting and temporary during a simple walk to the crag, with people you know may only become another profile picture on social media. You may intend to nurture that friendship far into the future, but life gets in the way and people have their own plans. What if you would have ruined a smile, interrupted a deep conversation, or distracted someone else’s view of the clouds as it passes in front of the full moon just to get a picture?
This is not to say I still don’t enjoy photography and taking beautiful pictures of where I am. Sometimes the process of taking the picture is the experience in and of itself. But when humans are involved, every moment is temporary. Picturesque mountain landscapes will be here for the next several millennia; however, seeing your friend’s face light up as they share the day’s climbing story is something you have to cherish as it happens. Because it will be gone in a couple of minutes.
Sean Penn states it perfectly in a discussion with Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty:
Walter Mitty: When are you going to take it? [the picture of the Snow Leopard]
Sean O’Connell: Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
Walter Mitty: Stay in it?
Sean O’Connell: Yeah. Right there. Right here.
And to not stay in a moment, to be distracted by a camera, to not be ‘right there, right here,’ is a moment I would truly regret.
Hiking, biking, streaking. Camping, canoeing, climbing.
Crossfit, lift, run. Yoga, pilates, pole dance.
Inside or outside. On your back or on your stomach.
With someone or by yourself. With a dog or a cat.
Sleep like before you were an adult.
3. Go outside
Maybe to Move. Maybe to sit.
Feel the grass. Touch the trees. Breathe. Look.
Act like there is no internet and Netflix.
4. Help others
Maybe they’ll ask. Maybe they won’t.
Maybe they’re visibly down on their luck. Maybe someone is just putting up a facade.
Everybody needs help. But not everybody knows how to ask.
(Picture from Shay Skinner – Skin Poetre Photography)
5. Find a hobby
It can be knitting; it can be climbing; it can be reading.
It can be whatever you want it to be. As long as it brings you genuine joy.
It’s not a band-aid to mask other fractured parts of your life.
6. Challenge yourself
Complacency is easy. It’s lazy. It’s stagnant.
Work. Grow. Become better.
7. Take a cherry pit minute
Appreciate your now. Find beauty around you.
Be present. For at least one minute. Everyday.
8. Don’t be afraid to fail – take risks
Big decisions are scary. What if something goes wrong?
What if it doesn’t?
9. Surround yourself with the right people
We are a representation of our social surroundings.
Are your friends helping you achieve your goals or ridiculing them?
10. Embrace the days that suck, let them suck, then move on
We can’t all be happy, all the time. Time is endless. Your life is not. To say you’ll live your entire life without one bad day is ludicrous.
Learn how to deal with them. Let them hurt. Then realize tomorrow is another day.
11. Eat healthy most of the time – Eat whatever, however, some of the time
Nutrition affects physique which affects psychology which affects biochemistry which affects the type of foods you’d like to eat.
The reverse is true as well.
Don’t stress over a binge day. Don’t hate yourself because you ate a bag of Doritos in one sitting. Eat better tomorrow. And the day after.
Maybe after four or five consecutive days of eating well, open that tub of ice cream. You body and mind will thank you for it.
It’s time to rip off the Band-Aid.
I mentioned it during the doom and gloom post two weeks ago:
I’ve been afraid to leave the security blanket of parking outside a house I’m welcome in, for any amount of time I’d like.
Just because I’ve been sleeping in my van, does not a VanLife make. Not when I have a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and wifi at my disposal as if I were living and paying rent at that house. My sister also pointed that out to me around 5:00am after drinking vodka for the past several hours.
This reason alone, and my own call to other online personalities to live more transparently, is enough to motivate me to leave my comfort zone in the rear view mirror, but there’s even more.
Right before leaving Boulder for the week of Christmas, I was on a very consistent gym routine. I had also been hiking local trails and even made it out to the mountains for a short snowshoe. I thought, “This is what it could be all the time if I weren’t terrified to leave a house full of wifi.”
I was reminded of why I wanted to live in a van in the first place.
I am publishing this on the day I fly back to Colorado. I’m beyond excited. I have huge plans:
- Consistent training for Potrero Chico
- Considerable time in the mountains
- Including some winter mountaineering and backcountry boarding
- Dropping the Holiday weight
- Many hours of “free time” for working on my own business ambitions
- Along with new freelance clients (VanLife continues!!)
- I love reading, but when a couch and Amazon Prime are available, why would I choose reading? Now I won’t really have a choice.
Dreams are one thing, reality is another. I have experienced this time and time and time again.
- Think I’m going to travel for a year — end up coming home after 3.5 months.
- Think I’m going to have no problems supporting myself financially — almost close up shop within a year.
- Think I’ll come back from Thailand and immediately start living in my van — end up working on it for 5 weeks in WI and then being too afraid to leave Boulder.
So I’m still not without challenges in front of me. I’ve just been surrounded by my entire family, unlimited wifi, and a gluttonous amount of food and drink for the past 7 days. Of course spending time alone in the mountains and in my van sounds attractive. But I also know that once I open my van door for the first time again, reality is going to smash me in the face like a 250lb. NFL linebacker.
But I think I’m ready for it this time. I really do. By my own convictions, support of amazing friends from around the world (literally), the motivation of new freelance opportunities, and the laser-like focus on getting in the best shape possible for Potrero Chico, now is the time.
Everything will be different now.
**This post contains affiliate links. If you end up buying any of these things, I make a very small percentage of the sale, but the cost is the same to you.
It gets a little annoying being asked,
In the grand scheme of things, is pooping (or not) really going to stop you from living your dream life in a van? A bigger and more important question is,
How am I going to power all of my electronics so that I can live and work comfortably as I normally would?
Because if you can’t charge your phone, charge your cameras, charge your laptop, and turn on some lights, how will you continue working (and stave off boredom by watching movies on your computer)? And if you can’t keep working, how will you afford to do this full-time, year round? Here are several different electrical configurations, based on your needs and budget.
The Day Trip
Do yourself a favor, leave the laptop at home, but go ahead and bring your cameras, phones, and tablets for on the spot inspirational moments. Then recharge with this external battery, and if it drains, plug it in to the 12V inverter above.
The Long Road Trip
If you’re only going to be gone for a week or two, you might still be able to get away with just charging off your vehicle’s battery. However, you’re going to need a little more juice so you can bring your laptop. This is the exact 300W pure sine wave inverter I bought for my van. Of course, you can plug-in and charge anything up to 300W.
Long Term and Full-Time
This is where thought, consideration, and a bigger wallet comes in. Make sure to keep your eye on Craigslist, online forums, garage sales, and friends-of-friends that might have some of this stuff lying around. If you can get any or all of it used or free, you’ll save a ton of money.
At the heart of any system is the battery. There is much debate on good, better, best so for me, it comes down to what is good enough for what I can afford. In general, you want deep cycle and not a starter battery. After that, look for something sealed. And then you can start trying to decide if you want flooded lead-acid or gel. (Or a bunch of other varieties.)
I’m not going to regurgitate the hour I spent researching because like I said, it still comes down to what you can find for the price you can afford. I will, however, link you to the best source on the internet to learn about the best batteries for using in an RV.
I ended up with two of these 6V flooded lead-acid batteries….because they were free. I wired them in series to get a 12V system (6V + 6V = 12V).
Charging – with your alternator (cheapest)
Charging with your alternator isn’t as easy as hooking up your house battery in parallel with your starting battery. If you did that, you’d drain the starter battery while the van isn’t running. Drained battery = Dead vehicle
In order to keep the two batteries separate when the van is off, but charge both of them when the van is running, you can add a cheap and simple solenoid. You’ll also need a self-resetting circuit breaker to handle the overcurrent surges during engine starting. This is what I bought and connected everything with 10AWG wire:
Charging – while plugged into a regular 110V outlet (cheap, or maybe not)
I’m about to give you two options. For either one, I recommend getting a charger with overcharging protection. You’ll spend more money on the initial purchase, but you’ll save money by not damaging your batteries when you forget to turn off the charger.
If this isn’t a permanent install, you could get a portable battery charger and keep it in your garage or closet when you’re not using it. Then just connect and disconnect as needed.
In my case, I wanted a permanent installation. Not only that, but I needed a charger / power supply that would be able to deliver enough current to charge my batteries and power my loads at the same time (including a refrigerator). Once again, I got this for the price of a couple cases of beers, but I would have paid for or found something similar if I needed.
Charging – Solar (expensive)
You’ll need a panel (or panels), fuses, and a charge controller.
You can get portable ones or permanent ones. Again, it’s up to your application and budget. The biggest considerations are how fast you want to recharge your batteries and if you want to power your loads directly from the panels at any point.
I currently don’t have any solar panels, but I know that all of my loads add up to around 200W. If I were going to go out and buy something tomorrow, I’d end up with two or three of these 100W panels.
Solar Charge Controller
This is a huge topic. One that I’m not ready to tackle just yet. It’s not that it’s overly complicated; it’s just that there are a ton of different features and options based on your application. So I will keep it simple. A cheap version that will work decently well for most applications, and my option, which is a little more complex and expensive.
The cheap one:
This is a very basic, very easy plug and play module. It does everything you need a solar charge controller to do: charge, monitor, and prevent overcharging. However, some of those things can be improved with added complexity and price.
The one I have:
The one I got was the Solar Boost SB50. That model is now discontinued, but you can still find them around or the newer models. I got this for free as well.
This is an adjustable MPPT solar charge controller and gives me greater flexibility to optimize it for my system.
The Whole Solar Kit
If you really don’t want to think about anything and be good for most typical installs, I would really suggest something like this. If I didn’t get so much of my system for free, it is most definitely the route I would have went.
Of course, there are other, more expensive options similar to this kit with better and upgraded components, but staying within budget is more important than convenience features.
My Electrical System in the Van
My electrical system consists of:
- Two 6V batteries
- A 12V Continuous Duty Solenoid
- IOTA DLS45 charger/converter
- Blue Sky Solar Boost 50
- Samlex 300W Pure Sine Wave inverter
And a bunch of interconnect cables, bus bars, fuse blocks, switches, outlets, and several LED lights. Take a look here:
Your Electrical System
The details I left out are the details that can only be addressed on a case by case basis. I don’t know exactly your loads, your space, your budget, or your intentions. Do you need bus bars; do you not? Are you powering enough outlets and lights that you’ll need a fuse block or can you just use inline fuses?
For a free download of all of my electrical schematics and what I used to design my system, just enter your email below. If you’re in the process of designing your own system and need some one-on-one help, you can also sign-up and send me a message.
This project out of the entire van build got me the most excited. It gave me the opportunity to use my degree as an electrical engineer, and I absolutely love geeking out on this stuff. Don’t hesitate to sign-up and ask me anything you got.
It’s such an ugly word, isn’t it? It’s a mortal sin.
If you believe in that sort of thing.
Even if you don’t, the air around that word, envy, makes you feel ashamed. It’s not right to want what other people have. [Read more…]
I originally posted this on my other site, LowGravityAscents.com. Then I migrated some of the posts from that site to this one, including this post. I think insulating your van is one of the most crucial aspects to being able to live in your van year round. In the winter, it helps keep you warm; in the summer, it helps keep you cool. This is not an extensive or authoritative “how-to,” but it is how I insulated mine. If I could do it all over again, I would have saved extra money and paid professionals to just spray foam insulate the whole thing and I have explained my thought process and reasons here:
If you’re looking for a short, abridged, How-to version of insulating a van, you’re gonna have to wait a bit. This is in whimsical story fashion and overly detailed. Plus pictures and videos and stuff so make sure you make it to the end. Once I get done with all the posts of building my entire van, I’ll come back through and make succinct step-by-step instructions with less fun stuff. By no means should I be considered an expert.
If you’re looking for a short, abridged, How-to version of insulating a van, you’re gonna have to wait a bit. This is in whimsical story fashion and overly detailed. Plus pictures and videos and stuff so make sure you make it to the end. Once I get done with all the posts of building my entire van, I’ll come back through and make succinct step-by-step instructions with less fun stuff.
It’s time for another installment of Dave’s Diner. Today on the menu we have Roasted Chicken Hippy Deliciousness.
The hippy part is simply because it contains Fennel and Leeks. I associate those with hippies. Not just those things. Lots of things. Like tie dyed shirts. But I digress, or we could be here all day.
I wrote this up for a Twitter follower, galclimber, that asked my opinion on going Paleo. (That is, trying out the Paleo diet.) She mentions that her friends are telling her she needs to go paleo to increase her climbing performance, and also thinks her current diet is somehow attributing to recurring injuries. Is there any truth to that?
I am just sitting. In the sun. In the wind. My pale, Nordic skin feeling the burn of the uv rays. My hair blowing in the breeze.
I am just
Two years ago (2!!!!!!), I was writing and daydreaming about life without a car. It sounded fantastic and romantic because life without a car actually means more than just not having a car. You’ll have to go back and read that post if you want to know what I’m talking about, but I’m happy to say, I’ve started claiming that lifestyle that I wrote about two short years ago.
Homeownership has been on my mind a lot lately. I’m not sure why. It all started a month ago when I went back to the Midwest to visit friends and family. It hit me like a ton of bricks because prior to that, I thought I had myself convinced that I was bound for a life of travel and adventure. Shortly after my visit home I went to my favorite place in the U.S. (because I haven’t been to that many awesome places): The Black Hills in South Dakota. I thought, “homes and land are fairly cheap here; maybe I could just buy a vacation cabin for now and someday settle in.” That seems like a viable plan. As soon as I got back to Colorado I started scouring Zillow and Realtor.
Like any good adventurer, or any good cook for that matter, I love cooking in, on, and around cast iron. Not so much “around” it, because that’s pretty useless. I just wanted to round out my preposition series.
Until recently, the only cast iron in my possession has been a 10″ chicken fryer. Sure, I can bake casseroles, cakes, and fry….well, chicken, in it, but it’s a somewhat limited piece of cookware. When my grandmother passed away in August, I managed to come home with some righteously old school, high quality cast iron. I got a 3″ egg pan and an 8″ frying pan. The only problems were that they had decades of food build-up and starting rust.
“I’m going to live in a van.”
If you’re not an active member in the outdoor community, people don’t get it.
“Why don’t you just live in a camper?”
“You’ll never be able to do it. It’s too small.”
“You’re going to freeze in the winter.”
“Your life is going to be so miserable.”
“Where do you shower and go to the bathroom?!” [Read more…]
Upsizing My Life
It’s currently April, 2015. I graduated college in May of 2006.
I promptly put my salary to work when I graduated and started buying things.
Things I needed.
Things I wanted.
Things I didn’t need, but thought I needed.
Things that were trendy.
Things that were shiny.
Things that were big.
Things that I was supposed to buy.
Nine years is a long time to buy things. [Read more…]
Full disclosure: I am currently working for YAWP! but that has nothing to do with my decision to write a cookbook, nor are they sponsoring or endorsing any of this. I just happened to have some of the bars on hand when I made this monumental breakfast discovery. [Read more…]
Live Your Life
I have it tattooed on my ribs.
It’s just three words.
On the surface it’s pretty benign.
Live Your Life