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Vandwelling is a lifestyle of living full or part-time in a wide variety of vehicles, mainly window vans that have been modified with basic amenities like house batteries, solar installation,  a bed platform, some form of toilet, sink and storage space. Although the term can apply to living in other types of vehicles, it is mainly associated with vans because the word vandwelling is a portmanteau of the two words van and dwelling. Some vandwellers live this lifestyle by choice; seeking freedom, self-sufficiency and mobility without paying into conventional stationary housing. Vandwelling may be done using a bus, school bus (Skoolies), Campervan, Recreational vehicle, Travel trailer, or a mobile home. However, SUVs and larger station wagons can also be lived in.
The history of Vandwelling goes back to horse-drawn vehicles such as Roma Vardo wagons in Europe, and covered Conestoga wagons in the United States. One of the first uses of the term Vandwellers was in the United Kingdom showman and Van Dwellers' Protection Association, a guild for travelling show performers formed in the late 1800s. Shortly afterwards in 1901, Albert Bigalow wrote “The Vandwellers”, about people living on the verge of poverty having to live a nomadic life in horse drawn moving vans. After the introduction of motorised vehicles, the modern form of Vandwelling began.
The view of vandwellers to the general public range from urban campers to mobile homeless, who are one step away from losing their last shelter or prefer to live in a non conventional house. A lot of people will accept the idea, however there are some who dislike the lifestyle because its not "responsible" if you live rent free and own your home outright. Some municipalities have laws prohibiting overnight parking, regardless of what businesses are OK with vandwelling. Oftentimes this law is selectively enforced at certain parking lots, such as Walmart or Homedepot, some of which allow basically any RV.
Some places such as Venice or Playa Vista in California have special police funding to enforce Los Angeles vehicle dwelling laws and sometimes even impound and arrest Vandwellers. Other counties in Southern California have also put in laws about vehicle living including fines and parking violations for those who are parked for extended periods of time. However the majority of places who do not have overnight parking restrictions will ask that a Vandweller move someplace else; whether that be private security, store employees or law enforcement officers.
The vandwelling lifestyle can allow for significant autonomy due to lack of a mortgage or rental lease. Vandwellers are free to stay in one location or travel as much or little as they would like. Some vandwellers choose to remain in one city, and work full-time or attend school while living in their vehicles. Others travel full-time, while working remotely via the internet or finding other short term employment opportunities.
Since vandwelling consists of living in a vehicle with a footprint no larger than a parking space, there is usually little to no space for a shower or washer/dryer. So some vandwellers use gym and truck stop showers or cleaning wipes when showers are not available. For washing clothes they often use a bucket and the van's vibration to agitate the water, or will go to a laundromat or use friends or family members washers and dryers; usually in exchange for work, money or security, like when the homeowners are on vacation. Vandwellers will usually go to places close by for weekends and holidays; which would be anything people living in conventional housing would do in their free time.
There are van conversions with accommodations on all parts of the spectrum. It can be as simple as a folding bed in the back, with only the engine battery for power; ranging to vans that have function like micro-apartments on wheels; with complex power setups, kitchenette, and even primitive plumbing. For the simple end vehicles like the Volkswagen Westfalia, factory van conversions, an owner modified regular passenger van, or a cargo van, which can easily be modified for day to day living by a professional conversion company. Complex van conversion have most of the amenities of a conventional home; including heating, AC unit, house battery systems, 2 burner stove, permanent bed, and other modifications that make the vehicle fit for full-time living. School Bus modifications is also common between Vandwellers.
Vandwellers do not have a permanent address, so they will use mail-forwarding services so they can have a real address, and not just a P.O. Box. It is useful to receive packages and other mail. The service works by receiving mail, then mailing it out to any address when the vandweller can access. Vandwellers pay their bills online along with other essential finances. VoIP phone service is used to have an actual phone number, along with a cell phone. Usually Vandwellers will access public Wi-Fi, or even have a mobile broadband device to get online.
Vandwellers will usually work seasonal jobs, ranging from national parks to warehouse jobs. A lot of vandwellers work only half of the year then use the money they made to live on the other half. This is possible because there are no house payments, whether that be renting or paying a mortgage; which for the average American costs 40% of their income or more.
Vehicle dwelling legislation
Some cities in united states such as Los Angeles have municipal codes about times and places where somebody is authorized to live in a vehicle.
- Bob Wells (CheapRVLiving) - Living in the area of California. Creator and host of the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, and minor Internet celebrity
- Jamie Dimon (Enigmatic Nomadics) - Formerly van dweller, currently lives in a Skoolie
- Alex Honnold - professional rockclimber
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 2010-06-17.