View from the Bugout Machine: Stealth Van Living

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on November 15, 2015

Discuss this article at the Bugout Table inside the Diner

You can find out a lot more about Stealth Van living at Cheap RV Living

RE-BM-LadderRead Part 1 of View from the Bugout Machine

As most Diners know, I am a big fan of "Bugout Machines", aka RVs.

I don't see BMs as a Vacation Tool or something you travel around in regularly, they are a PREP, an emergency means to keep a roof over your head if things go south for you in one way or the other.

The classic example would be something like Katrina, where you need to evacuate PRONTO, but would prefer to have a more solid roof over your head than just a tent, if you are even wise enough to at least have one of those.  The BM also provides you with on board cooking facilities, storage of water and fuel, refrigeration, toilet & shower, in fact just about everything that a typical McMansion would have, just packed into a smaller scale on a Fossil Fuel powered vehicle.

Economic Events like losing your job also make having this option available a good one.  You're not homeless immediately when you can't pay the rent.

Said BMs can get extremely huge and complex, the big Class A Diesel Pushers that the more successful Boomer Retirees have purchased over the last 20 years or so to tour the country make the Rock Star tour buses of the 70s pale in comparison.

Slide outs to expand living space, hot tubs, some of these suckers just have the WORKS here in terms of amenities!

For the Prepper though, they have a lot of issues.  First off of course is the mpg you get with your gallon of Diesel, which while it has now cheapened some as Demand Destruction does its work, still will run you into a decent chunk of change if your drive it around often enough.  Which if you actually do live in the thing full time, usually you do although some folks rent out a space and keep them parked most of the time.  In that case though, instead of the Diesel bill for the month, you have the monthly rent check to pay on your parking spot, hopefully with Full Hookups for water, electric and sewage. next problem for the Prepper hoping to use his BM to live in if he loses his job and his McMansion gets foreclosed on is the fact that in most places, the Local Gestapo do not look kindly on your parking anywhere you feel like doing so and setting up your living arrangement.  You're not paying Property Taxes!  A Big Ass Class A Diesel Pusher is so fucking obvious that you are bound to get harassed by the Gestapo if you stay too long in any given location, other than an official RV park you pay rent on.  There are a few exceptions to this, Truckstops primarily.  The Truckstop is generally happy to provide you with free parking, because they figure to make some money off you buying Diesel, meals in the Truckstop Restaraunt and potato chips in the convenience store.  In my years doing OTR Trucking, there were many occassions when freight was not moving too well that I stayed parked in a spot for 2-3 days at a stretch,

Similar with Interstate Highway Rest Areas.  Generally speaking, you can park in one of those for a day or two also before you start getting harassed by the State Troopers usually handing out speeding tickets on the highway, but who will hit the Rest Areas when they get bored.  Eventually, you have to move on, and of course every time you do move on it costs you more money in the form of Diesel.

This still works out OK and pretty cheap as living goes, at least as long as you own the BM free & clear.  New Big Ass ones can cost as much as a McMansion, so unless you are positively loaded you don't want to spend that on a Prep you may never use.  So for myself, when I woke up to oncoming Collapse issues back in around 2009, I bought an older BM on the used market for $5K.  In great shape for a vehicle 30 years old, only 50K miles on it!  Many people who boughts these things as "Recreational Vehicles" hardly ever used them.  They sat in driveways across Amerika for DECADES unused or barely used!  Maybe once or twice a year for a family vacation to Yellowstone or some other Tourista Hot Spot for RV "Campers". A very good value here, but they suffer the same problem as the more expensive new models, which is that they are fucking obvious as living arrangements and unless you are parked in an "official" RV Campground paying rent on your parking spot, you're bound to get harrassed by the Gestapo at some point.

So, if you are down to the bone here, full scale BM living has its own costs and problems.  Besides that, most folks who just woke up to these problems can't afford to go dropping $100K on a bugout machine anyhow.  Also, as long as some form of BAU is ongoing in the Big Shities, you may want to keep living in those neighborhoods, pulling down a $20/hr paycheck even if that paycheck is not sufficient to pay the rent in this neighborhood because Rich Chinese are scarfing up all the good apartments at Bubble Prices.  What to do here about this problem?

Answer, the Stealth Bugout Machine!

Stealth BMs are most often Vans, in this video the BM Dweller goes through the amenities he so far has installed in his van.

You can find out a lot more about Stealth Van living at Cheap RV Living

Ideally, from the outside the Stealth Van should look either like a typical working van for something like a Plumber, or as a typical Family transport vehicle.  If it has windows, they should have tinting or shades that prevent people outside from looking in and seeing a person sleeping in the back.  The exterior should have no signs that it is being used as a dwelling.

Another alternative to the van is the cargo trailer.

The trailer arrangement has the advantage that you can use it with any car that has a trailer hitch, so if your old clunker gives up the ghost, you pick up another one on the used market and you don't have to move all your systems from one van to another one.  You can also detach it if you have a safe place to leave it where somebody else won't hook up to it and drive off with it.  Storage Unit facilities often provide such spots with 24/7 access with gates and fencing.  I rent space in such a facility for $40/month to keep my Bugout Machine ready for an evacuation if a Wildfire threatens to burn down my regular digs.  If you have friends in a given neighborhood you might borrow their driveway, or better yet garage if they have a space.

The downside of the trailer arrangement is it is much harder to park, particularly in urban environments, plus you have to get out of the vehicle you are pulling it with to go sleep in the trailer.  You also need to have the door to the trailer set up so you can close and lock it from the inside, which most storage trailers are not set up to do.  So that takes some modification

There are two main areas which can prove difficult for the BM Dweller, cooking and bathroom facilities. the case of cooking, you can mostly resolve this with 12V DC cooking apparatus that truckers use, plus some propane fired camping gear as I wrote about last week.  It's also worthwhile to have a few inverters in various wattage ratings to use with AC apparatus.  If you are going down that route, you'll need additional power storage as well, in the form of a Deep Cycle Marine Battery.  6V Golf Cart Batts also work well wired in series.  It's mostly not a huge problem though, you can buy prepared food or frozen foods in many supermarkets and just use their microwave ovens.

For Leftover storage, you'll want to have a Thermoelectric Cooler which runs on 12V DC.  In most circumstances, this will keep your food cool enough for a couple of days of storage without it going bad.  Also keeps your beer cold! šŸ™‚  You also can use portable icemakers, or buy a DC powered fridge.  Whichever method you use, you will need to have enough electric storage and a way to keep your batteries charged.  This can be done with a generator or Solar Panels if you have enough room and a safe place to deploy them. bigger problem is bathroom facilities, because neither vans or cargo trailers are really big enough to have a fully functional toilet system, forget showering.  You mainly need to use convenience store and Walmart bathrooms for the most part, and hopefully also still have enough money to buy a membership in a Health Club where you can shower regularly.  You don't want to get stinky and dishevelled looking, this makes getting a job almost impossible and also will target you by the local Gestapo.  Maintaining a clean appearance is IMPORTANT!

However, quite often you can find yourself in the position of having to GO, with no nearby toilet in the vicinity.  What to do?

For Urination (Pissing), it's not usually too big a problem, you can mostly use the great outdoors for this.  A bit harder for women then men, but still possible.  In urban areas though, if you get caught doing this, you'll have a nice fine to pay.  So you don't want to piss outdoors unless you absolutely have to.  For myself during the trucking years, the solution to this problem was simple, I kept a 1 gallon empty water container and would just piss into that if I woke up in the middle of the night with my bladder needing a release.  The following morning, if in a remote location I would just go outside and fertilize the nearest tree from the container.  If in  truckstop, I would go to the bathroom in the morning with the piss container in a backpack and pour it into the toilet.

For women, the problem is a bit more difficult, but not by that much.  Women just need to use a jug with a wider mouth than men can get away with using,  My ex-wife could piss into a wide mouth jar in a moving van without spilling a drop!  So this solution works for both genders.

Defecation (Shitting) is a bigger problem, particularly in urban environments if you are not near a public bathroom.  Hopefully you have a fairly regular timetable on bowel movements so you can be near a bathroom when necessary once or twice a day, but unfortunately the call of Mother Nature on this is not always perfectly regular.  What to do if you are parked in some lot and there are no stores open in the middle of the night and the Mexican food you had last night from Taco Bell gives you a case of diahreah?!?!?!?!  Acccckkkk!!!!

For this unfortunate circumstance you need a good bucket that seals well at least, a small Porta-Potty is better of course.  Once you have emptied your bowels into this, you seal it and then store underneath your vehicle until the next day (even sealed this can stink up your living space).  Then the following day you find a public bathroom to dump the shit into and after flushing it down the toilet use fresh toilet water to rinse out the container.  Do this at least twice before leaving the stall to clean the container as well as possible for the next emergency use.  During the OTR years, I only had to resort to this method twice in 7 years, most of the time I was near enough to an open public bathroom I could get there in time to dump straight into the local sewage system through some toilet somewhere, or in few other cases go take a dump in the woods.  lol. these main problems, there are a series of smaller ones to deal with.  Daily Energy needs are an important one, keeping your cell phone and laptop charged, etc.

If you are driving regularly and have a good budget for gas or diesel, this is not an issue at all, your alternator produces all the juice you need for low power draw appliances.  However, if you stay parked for longer periods and don't have money to burn by burning gas to keep your batteries charged up, then you start looking into things like Solar PV panels and RV Wind Turbines.  The problem with these auxiliary forms of renewable energy production is that if installed on the outside of your vehicle are yet aother DEAD GIVEAWAY that the vehicle is not a Work Van for a Plumber or a Transport Van for a Soccer Mom, but rather a Residence for an Indigent, non-Property Tax paying itinerant Gypsie in the society!  The Gestapo does not like people like this and neither do Doctors and Dentists paying beaucoup Property Tax in their neighborhoods!,  There are all sorts of laws on the books to keep you from pursuing this lifestyle in such neighborhoods, so you need to avoid them for the most part.  However, even in less wealthy neighborhoods, if you have stuff on the exterior of the vehicle that pegs it as a residence, you will run into problems.  Not just from the Gestapo, the locals may see it as a nice target for a rip off of your stuff too!  While street parking in NYC with my Astro Van, it was broken into twice and I lost most of my stuff.

So maintainin Stealth while at the same time providing Energy to live inside the industrial culture is a bit difficult to do.  If you do have a Solar PV Panel and RV Wind turbine, you probably want to keep it inside the van or trailer, and only Deploy it when in certain SAFE locations like campgrounds, which you probably have to pay a nightly or weekly fee on.

Keeping your energy collection apparatus inside you Bugout Machine runs you into another problem, which is obviously quite limited storage space!  It's tight enough already with just the basics for carrying around water enough, food enough, cooking equipment enough etc.  Add to that inside such a small space  storing electric generation apparatus and you are going to start running out of room to sleep, even for a single guy!  Given the amount of time and places you could deploy your energy apparatus effectively, do you really want to fill up your vehicle with these things?  If you have in addition a Storage Unit it becomes more feasible, but this will cost you anywhere from $50-100/mo these days in most urban locations.

It's not just the tech hardware that is an issue with storage space, it's basic items like Clothing also.  Look at the Stealth Trailer pictured above.  Where in there is his storage of Winter clothing, jacket, boots, gloves, hat etc?  What about just regular changes of clothing?  Socks, Undewear, shirts & pants, etc?  To negotiate the mobile lifestyle in a vehicle this small, you need to seriously reduce your total wardrobe!  If you are retired and no longer seeking work, you can probably cut it down to three sets of basic clothing (shirts, jeans, shorts), but if you are still seeking work you're going to need at least one set of more "formal" clothing for job interviews, and you alse need to be able to store them in a way they won't look rumpled when you need to don this attire.  That takes some kind of hanging closet arrangement. have enough clothing available in my truck for a 3 month long stint out Over the Road, I used a net camping hammock strung up over the bunk.  I didn't need to worry about having "nice" Jacket & Tie type clothing, but I did need to have clothing for a variety of weather situations.  In any given week, I could be anywhere in North America, from Mexico to Canada.  Temperatures varied widely.  I also need foul weather gear, you don't want to be outside hooking and unhooking trailers in a T-Storm without good rain gear, good boots, etc.  Same deal in a Blizzard, good parka, gloves etc.

You also need good sleeping gear for a variety of temperatures.  While you can run your diesel engine all night when the weather gets real cold (and actually have to do that if you expect to get rolling in the morning when the temperature is -20F), for any temperature above around 20F you don't want to run the engine all night because that diesel costs MONEY!  So a good sleeping bag is essential, and a 12V DC heating pad or blanket is also useful.  If you drive enough miles every day, your battery is plenty charged up to run one of these things all night and still will start your truck the following morning.  Better still is to add a Deep Cycle Marine Battery for more electric storage besides the starter battery for the vehicle.

Then you have all your communications electronics.  For a trucker, a CB Radio was a must as well as a Cell Phone.  I was one of the first truckers out on the road with a Laptop, now that is an essential.  Same with a portable GPS unit and mapping software.  This gear got me out of a lot of bad situations you really don't wanna be in with 70' of tractor trailer to negotiate on some dirt road somewhere.  You're going to need some means of keeping all that stuff charged up, which can be done directly off the DC outlet (cigarette lighter) of the vehicle, or you can have an AC Power Inverter arrangement as well.

I went over cooking apparatus last week in the SNAP Card Gourmet Gumbo article, so I'm not going to cover that territory again here.  The one apparatus I didn't go over was a Microwave Oven, which some folks swear by and can't live without one of their own in the vehicle.  Microwaves are pretty big power hogs though, so you'll need a good electrics system and powerful inverter to run one.  I personally never found it necessary to have my own microwave, usually I was in areas where I could just use one in a convenience store.  If I was out in the sticks, I would just use my camping gear or DC electric hotplate and slow cooker.

The mobile life has a lot of rewards, among them it can bring down your cost of living substantially and you can travel far and wide looking for work if you are not yet retired and pulling down SS and a pension.

On the downside, this lifestyle probably has a limited number of years left where you'll be able to get hold of affordable gas to run the machine.  Until that day arrives though, living on the road brings with it a sense of freedom that is rapidly disappearing in this world.