Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Life On The Road. . .Living in 50 Square Feet - Part I

Life on the road is a unique lifestyle embraced by only a very small fraction of the population in the United States. As in most things, there are variations on the theme. Here are some examples: over the road truck drivers; traveling nurses; traveling specialists (engineers, technicians, consultants, evangelists and others); travel writers and photographers; artists; musicians; homeless/jobless; disabled; retirees and others, perhaps . . . like me. Another entire genre of “mobile” people include those who live on the water. But, that's another story for someone else.

Of course, the reasons, motivations and inspirations for all the people I've mentioned (and others I couldn't think of off the top of my head) are as varied as the various kinds of on the road people I mentioned. I should also mention, at this time, there are probably as many women, perhaps more, as there are men enjoying this lifestyle.

Those who are “housebound” or live in a fixed residential situation may not understand why people, especially like me and an untold number of my traveling friends, live this lifestyle. Many say they envy my freedom. Many are probably thinking, though unspoken . . . poor guy, he's broke, homeless and hungry. None of those are true in my case. I freely chose this lifestyle. Maybe I'm just reverting back to the “hippie” days I traded for college, graduate school, the Air Force during the Vietnam era, a business career and family.
Certainly, there are some less fortunate people who are actually homeless by circumstances. They may have lost their homes due to losing their jobs or divorces or becoming disabled. Some of them desire to be back in a fixed residential situation, but currently can't handle it. Others, end up embracing the lifestyle that may have, at first, been an unfortunate circumstance.

But, for most of the people I enumerated, moving to this lifestyle was a conscious, premeditated, researched and planned lifestyle CHOICE. That's right, I said choice. Why would anyone, who didn't have to live with wheels under them, choose to do so? There are several words that describe the motivation for this choice. Some of them are to simplify, minimize, economize, downsize and go maverick. But, probably the two most powerful motivators are Personal Freedom and Happiness. All of those played an important role in my choice. But, the two most important motivations for me are personal freedom and happiness. They are also the two I hear articulated most frequently by the other folks I cross paths with and share time with from coast to coast.

Case Study: Ed Helvey

I am my own best case study. My story is not dissimilar to thousands, perhaps, a million or more, of other people living in a variety of “tiny houses” on wheels. Frankly, I've lived a great life and enjoyed many, if not most of the conveniences and luxuries one might desire. Sure, there were ups and downs, life is, after all, a roller coaster of sorts. But, in looking back, it was far more on the up side than the down side.

I have always been entrepreneurial. I began at age 12 with one of the largest newspaper routes for the local evening, six day a week paper in my hometown. Yes! I was another “paperboy” and proud of it. At age 12 and 13 the paper route helped me develop a work ethic and an understanding of what it took to earn money. It also taught me the value and power of money. I learned to put money in perspective and to not worship money or those who had a lot of it.

While I never had, what most would consider, an “honest” full-time job, working for someone else, I did learn and understand the employee mentality and work life. I had several part-time jobs in my youth and through my college, graduate school and military years. They ranged from being a cash register checker in a supermarket; a counterman/delivery boy in a small delicatessen near my home; a counterman and short order cook in a Kosher delicatessen; a very short-lived telemarketing job for the educational division of a high tech company (of the time); a field technician for a closed circuit TV, master TV antenna and early cable TV company; a counselor for an upward bound project; a production engineer for a state wide educational radio network; a junior college instructor teaching radio and TV production methods in a community college and a radio program producer/writer, engineer and voice-over talent for the Secretary of the Air Force. It was a pretty broad spectrum of experiences. They all helped me affirm my entrepreneurial aspirations.

During this period, I was learning and honing my entrepreneurial “chops,” because that was ultimately my career choice. And, to be more specific, while it all started, primarily, in the recording and live sound industry, it ultimately encompassed the:

  • recording studio and location recording business
  • vinyl lp record business
  • high-speed tape and cassette duplication business
  • conference recording business
  • video production business
  • professional audio and video equipment sales and distribution business
  • creation and marketing of my own internationally distributed audio magazine
  • book publishing business
  • business consulting
  • professional speaking business
  • voice-over business

As you can tell, I had an amazingly, at least to me, diverse and exciting career.

I learned, through my own research, reading and following a number of people, I considered “gurus.” I learned that being an entrepreneur isn't necessarily about how much money one makes, but in providing quality products and services that fulfill market needs and result in personal satisfaction and fulfillment. I learned that entrepreneurs have to be resourceful. There is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. And, I learned living well didn't necessarily require the accumulation of great wealth.

Of course, all of this is determined by each individual's understanding of their own needs and wants and what price the individual is willing to pay. There are still no free lunches. Everything has a price.

Time Does Change Hearts and Minds

As I grew older and experienced a number of pivotal life events, my thinking, my heart and the things I believed I held dear, began to change. Wisdom comes with time. As I grew, I realized I could find ways to live the lifestyle I wanted to live much more economically than the average person was living.

I've enjoyed numerous vehicles throughout my life. Several of them were new. The majority were used. I came to realize that a vehicle could be a status symbol or simply transportation. If you worked the angles, they could be both. So, I drove many luxury cars. I never bought any of them new. For those who were impressed by “status,” it didn't seem to matter if I bought it new or used. They didn't know. They only knew I was driving in style. Personally, I bought all those vehicles at fantastic bargains, they lasted me for long periods of time and in the end, cost me less to buy and drive than buying new or newer economy or mid price range cars.

I owned a couple houses. What I learned from those houses was that they were money pits. One of them was an older cottage. I could write pages on the cost of that cheap little house. The other house was almost brand new. It was a nice house, but it cost and cost and cost. There was always a mortgage payment, tax bill, lawn mowing bill (or I'd have to buy and own and work the expensive equipment myself, plus the time consumption factor). There were improvement costs, repair costs, utility bills and the list goes on. One day, I realized what I really wanted. I simply wanted to live in (and operate my businesses from) a house, not be a slave to it.

So, when I decided to leave one part of the mid-Atlantic region and move to another, about 150 miles away (for business reasons), I chose to lease – A House, not an apartment. I ended up leasing properties for the next 24 years. The result was terrific. I lived in better homes and in better locations than I could have afforded to buy. Additionally, over the 24 years, I saved at least 50% of what it would have cost me if I had bought and owned my homes. That includes the supposed appreciation and tax benefits I would have realized.

So, where have I lived? The last three places covering 19 years included living in a pretty chalet on the shore of a lake with my own dock to boat, swim and fish from. It also included a mountain top house, a brick, bi-level ranch style with four and a half acres and views into the valley and to the next mountain. The views changed with the seasons. Finally, I lived on a 50 acre ranch in a beautiful brick ranch house. I had horses I permitted to be boarded in the pastures. There was plenty of room for roaming and wooded portions with an abundance of nature and wildlife. And, of course, I ran my businesses from my homes.

Do I feel like I missed anything by not owning the properties? Not hardly. And, again, as I said, it saved me at least 50% of what it would have cost me to live in these properties had I owned them. I only needed to use and enjoy them and that's exactly what I did.

This only represents a portion of my life. I've also stayed in the finest four and five stars hotels. I've traveled, fairly extensively, including some exotic and historic places. I've experienced all kinds of adventures and sports activities. And, I've done it all amazingly economically.

This illustrates two things about me. First, I am resourceful and used resources wisely. Second, I am pragmatic. A home is primarily a place to provide shelter, but convenience and some luxury is nice when you can have it all economically and pragmatically. Operating my national and international businesses from my home allowed me to live better while saving the cost of a commercial business location. I did lease commercial locations for about ten years of my business career and it detracted from my personal lifestyle.

A motor vehicle, is a motor vehicle. It's primary function and purpose is to convey one from point A to point B and back again. Beyond that, luxury and conveniences are all “fluff.” They are nice if you can have them economically, but not necessary to fulfill the primary purpose of the vehicle.

But, A Nomadic, Full-Time Traveler In 50 Square Feet?

So, how does one go from the lifestyle I was living to that of a nomadic traveler living in a mere 50 sq. ft. That's a big . . . no, make that a HUGE jump. What could cause a person to give up 50 beautiful acres of pastures, woods and rolling hills in horse country to live in a van? What kind of disaster caused this? Or, was it a disaster at all?

If you need to, reread everything up to this part of the article and the answer should be apparent.

I was seeking:

  • to simplify my life and lifestyle
  • to minimize my life
  • to downsize my “footprint”
  • to economize and reduce my overhead
  • to live as personally free, on my own terms, as possible in our society
  • to be as care free and happy as one can aspire to be
And remember also, I'm:

  • pragmatic
  • resourceful
  • creative
  • skilled
  • experienced

Put those eleven bullet points together and making the life choice to my current lifestyle didn't require any rocket science. Could I have aspired to and had more during my lifetime? Of course, I could have. But, is that what I REALLY wanted from my life? Was my life all about acquiring wealth and “stuff” I didn't really need, but for some perverse reason, may have wanted? Would any of that have made me feel freer and happier? In my case, the answer is no. The more I had the less free I felt and it never made me happy. Maybe I felt a little glee for a very short time, but then, it was just so much more “stuff.”

Here is the paradox of my life. I acquired a bachelors degree in Education. I earned a masters degree in Television and Radio. I took control of the “system” in order to work in the career field of my choosing for the top man in the U.S. Air Force to gain what additional knowledge and experience I could in my chosen career. And, I read and studied and attended the seminars and workshops of the great marketing gurus of our times and hung around in their circles.

I spent most of my adult career being a marketer. It was a necessity to be an entrepreneur and small business operator. I may never have been one of the great marketers of my lifetime, but I managed to do very well and pulled off some pretty clever and successful marketing programs. Fifty years later, after acquiring my degrees, I am not a proponent of commercial television. I virtually never listen to commercial radio. The first question I always ask myself when I go into a Costco warehouse, a Walmart, a Kohl's department store, scan the myriad of Amazon and other ecommerce marketers I receive a daily deluge of promotions from is, “Can I live without this?” Virtually, without hesitation I reply to myself, “Yes, I can most certainly live without whatever it is.” I have become marketing averse. I am appalled by the statistic that on any average day the average American is bombarded by 5,000 or more marketing messages. It's inescapable. I have become the contemporary marketers' worst nightmare.

So, life on the road and living in 50 square feet was really not a difficult choice for me. I had started my adult life in small apartments. The smallest being a one room efficiency apartment with a small galley style kitchen. During most of my last couple years living on the ranch, I had downsized my living space requirements. I turned the master bedroom into a one room efficiency style apartment. The rest of the house ended up being a “warehouse” full of stuff I wasn't using and didn't need any longer.

I have always loved traveling since the day I acquired my drivers license in New Jersey at 17. Living and working compactly wasn't really an issue for me. Originally, I thought, as my “Emancipation Day” was approaching toward the end of 2008, I would need a 40' motor home to accommodate my living and mobile lifestyle requirements. So, that became a plan.

My research and going to many RV shows and dealers indicated I was going to be jumping from the frying pan into another frying pan. It was going to cost me a comparable amount to my monthly overhead at the ranch. The expenses of operating, traveling, maintaining, repairing and financing a behemoth motor home were going to be significant. The day I left the ranch my overhead and expenses decreased by about 80%. I definitely didn't want to reverse my savings. So, ultimately, I went back to what I knew well, a van and 50 square feet.

So, there it is. Going from a very traditional and comfortable lifestyle to a life on the road and living in 50 square feet. I've never looked back. I have no regrets. Am I on the road 100% of the time? No! I do have a couple base camps (with friends) where I can stay for varying degrees of extended time. But, I'm ever anxious to get back on the road and watching mile markers pass by as I'm traveling down the highways and byways of this amazing and beautiful country.

In future parts of this story about “Life on the Road – Living in 50 Square Feet,” I'll discuss the simplicity, minimalist, economics, freedom and happiness aspects of this lifestyle. Each will be a separate article. When I've completed all aspects of this compact living, mobile lifestyle you'll have a very good idea of how one living free, happy nomad lives on the road in 50 square feet.

Until the next time, continue to live free and be happy. EH.