Thoughts from Inside the Box

Because home is where the heart is you park it.

Source: All the photos in this post were taken by my tremendously talented travel companion, who has an acute eye for good photography.

Happy Holidays!

I'm going to need a minute to blow the dust off my keyboard here, I haven't posted in an inexcusably long time. Accordingly, I won't bother with excuses, I'll just get along with the post. To start, a relevant question I received:

Hi Brandon, just wondering if you'll convert your blog into a travel blog if and when you give up the truck to travel?

This is probably in reference to the time I was figuring out when I'm going to sell the truck. Short answer: yes. Slightly longer (and also rhetorical) answer: why wait until I give up the truck to start talking about travel?

For anyone keeping track, my list of travels is woefully short. At the beginning of the year it would have just been 'murika, as in I had literally never been outside the country in my 23 years on this planet, which was deeply troubling to me. Not even Canada. Not even Mexico. Hell, I didn't even have a passport. If not for a chance business trip to Canada and (randomly enough) Bulgaria, my entire list of visited countries would still be a single three-letter line.*

Well I'm excited to share that I added my honest-to-God-first-actual-leisure-travel destination to the list: Iceland.

My plan of record was (and continues to be) to save up, retire early, and travel for some indeterminable amount of time, but that doesn't mean the road to retirement needs to stay stuck in the States. Plus, reading about all of the potential journeys I could take made my travel trigger finger a bit itchy, so when $400 round trip tickets to Reykjavik, Iceland appeared, I had to bite the bullet (excuse the poor combination of expressions) and book the trip.

Preparing for the trip

It's not a huge secret that I don't have a lot of stuff. I've got a bed, a dresser, and about a week's worth of clothes. For reference, here's a recent picture of my closet:

Not a lot going on in there.

One thing worth noting is that my wardrobe is unarguably meant for California weather. After all, it's one of the main reasons I can do what I do. I've got a light sweatshirt and a pullover, but I'd still probably be a Brancicle** in Iceland wearing both of them together. Not only was winter coming, but I was heading for winter. Real winter no less, none of this Bay area oh-man-it's-dropped-below-sixty-it's-so-cold "winter".

So I started entertaining the idea of how to go about getting real winter gear. Did I want to borrow it from a friend? Should I find a place to rent it? Should I just buy some cheap stuff and dispose of it after? After all, truck space is limited. I had to think about this a little bit, and I did a bit of consulting with my past self and Thoreau's Walden. One thing that stuck with me from Walden (not that I've finished it yet) is the idea that if you are going to buy something, make sure it's high-quality. That way, instead of saving a little bit of cash in the short term buying something cheap that needs to be replaced regularly, spend a little bit more and make it last for life. This makes sense, and looking forward, I knew I'd be going to Boston (for Christmas), Zürich (for business), and Alaska (with friends) over the next few months, so I'd clearly be getting a lot of use out of whatever winter gear I bought. After a bit of review-reading and shopping around, I ended up buying a few things to start my winter wardrobe.

In total, I spent around $1,000 on winter gear. Not cheap for sure, but still less than a month's rent for a shared apartment in South Bay. Plus, it's unlikely I'll ever have to buy any of these things ever again. And now for the end result, a happy, unfrozen Brandon:

Me playing with chunks of ice on a black sand beach.

Travel Philosophy

Since this was my first time traveling for no other reason than my own amusement and edification, I didn't really know what I was doing. I definitely had an idealized version of what travel should look like, but outside of that, I was pretty clueless.

To me, travelling isn't about collecting selfies to show off where you've been to people who couldn't care less. It's about learning, and experiencing something new. There's this natural human tendency we have to surround ourselves with people like us, which probably explains why my Facebook feed is an echo chamber for all of the things I want to hear. Unfortunately, that's not how you actually learn anything, or grow as a person. You learn stuff by stepping outside your bubble and looking at things from a new perspective. All of the interesting perspectives are hiding in other people's heads, and the vast majority of those people don't live in Mountain View, California.

Another thing that I'd been thinking about is how, more often than I'd like, I find myself worrying that I'm not living in the moment, that I'm mindlessly going with the ebbs and flows of my daily routine, than my headphones are buried too far into my head too often, which in turn is buried too far into some shifting racket of pixels. I worry that if I don't make a conscious effort to be alive, I'll just be mechanically going through the motions and I'll wake up one day shocked to find out that I'm old and had blindly let life pass me by. I know, I've had this particular flavor of existential crisis before (and it's pretty much the plot of the movie Click), but it's not entirely unfounded. Research shows that time seems to go faster as we age because our brains don't even bother forming long-term memories for our cookie-cutter daily routines. Getting back to the topic at hand, all I'm trying to say is that when I started travelling, I wanted to make sure I was living in the moment and really experiencing it, as opposed to passively observing it, particularly through the potato-quality camera on my phone, but I'll come back to that later.

Ice and Fire

So let's talk about Iceland. I knew almost nothing about the country before I left, having done a downright pitiful amount of research beforehand. Iceland was first settled by Vikings around the 9th century, which fits right in with my preconception of the Vikings as hardy badasses who looked frosty death in the face and laughed heartily. At some point in 11th century, everyone adopted Christianity, though locals tell me the real religion of Iceland is The Church of The Almighty Lamb Hotdog, with houses of worship on every corner.

The hotdogs have crunchy onions and some green Mayo-esque substance. They taste amazing, and I'm not proud of the fact that I averaged more than one per day.

Culturally, Iceland is super interesting, especially if you're from a more mainstream first-world Western country. Nearly a third of the population owns guns, but the police don't carry them, and on average, there's less than one fatal homicide per year. It probably has something to do with the fact that 97% of the population identifies as "middle class". Other factoids on the highlight reel include that Iceland runs almost entirely on renewable energy, mainly geothermal. Ooh, and Iceland's economy is dominated by the fishing industry, and more recently, tourism. I remember reading on the plane that during peak tourism season in 2017, there will be more tourists than Icelandic residents (>300,000).

Left: The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa. We went right from the airport.

Right: An open-faced breakfast sandwich. Fresh fish isn't hard to come by.

Aside from history and random factoids, the entire country looks like a tourism ad. It's stupidly photogenic. It's got giant glaciers, active volcanoes, stunning waterfalls, hike-able ice caves, unique architecture and so much more. At times, it's easy to believe you're on a different planet. Here's a random potpourri of photos:

Top Left: Hallgrímskirkja, a really mathematical-looking church.

Top Right: Downtown Reykjavik, as seen from the top of Hallgrímskirkja.

Bottom Left: Hundreds of square miles covered in volcanic ash from a past eruption.

Bottom Right: Hiking in some ice caves.

Lessons Learned

So, having completed my first international mini-vacation, it's time to reflect and see what I learned, not just about Iceland, but about myself. Unsurprisingly, I met a ton of wonderful people, locals and tourists alike, from a whole variety of interesting backgrounds, and had the opportunity to acquaint myself with an array of languages, foods, customs, and cultures. I saw the Northern Lights, ate and drank local delicacies, learned a few Icelandic words, and toured some of the most awe-inspiring natural sights I could imagine.

More personally, I learned to balance out my travel idealism with a bit of practicality. It's nice to want to live in the moment and appreciate things for yourself, but that shouldn't preclude documenting the journey. I've noted before that I keep this blog because I have a Swiss-cheese memory, and writing these posts is how I make sure I remember all of this. Well, the same goes for travelling. Watching the sun set on a black sand beach and taking in the beauty of the moment isn't mutually-exclusive with memorializing it in a photo. Stuck in my own idealism, I failed to realize that, and didn't really take any photos. Were it not for my travel companion, my future self would have no way of reliving this adventure, and it was definitely unfair of me to leave that burden on them. Without them, this post would certainly be less interesting, and missing most of Iceland's unique character. So I guess I learned a bit about how to actually travel, which I'll put to use on future excursions.

More than anything, I'm looking forward to seeing where I end up next.

*Just for completeness, the whole list would be:

  1. USA
…and nothing else.

**A portmanteau of the words Brandon and Icicle.

Source: Goat Rock Beach, from Wikipedia

I've had a few opportunities to learn that I definitely shouldn't read comments about me (or anything really) on the Internet, but sometimes morbid curiosity gets the better of me. Firmly not learning from the past, I found myself sifting through a hundred or so of these Internet comments earlier today. The general consensus seemed to be that I'm wasting my life and I'm wrong for living in a truck.

But that really confused me, because I don't live in a truck.

You wanna know where I live?

I live at Goat Rock, where I went outdoor rock climbing for the first time today with a few friends. I watched deer dart back and forth across a hillside while I was hanging from a boulder, slicing my hands sliding against rough rocks.

I live on a hundred miles of biking trails, sometimes for hours at a time. I ride along highways and over bridges and beside marshes and anywhere that my bike is willing to take me. Sometimes I don't even know where I want to end up.

I live at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, and the Fox Theatre, The Independent, The Regency Ballroom, and half a dozen other random venues, where I dance around like an idiot and belt my heart out to my favorite bands.

I live on a picnic blanket in a bunch of different local parks, where my girlfriend and I take turns reading The Martian to each other and playing fetch with her tiny, adorable dog.

I live at the gym, because I always want to be healthier and stronger and faster, and I'm at my happiest when I'm improving.

I live in a handful of small coffee shops, where I hack away at a hundred different side projects and read because life is too short to not know stuff.

I just sleep in a truck. Living is what happens when you wake up.

Source: Truck clipart forever from Clker, bathroom stick peeps from ClipArtBest

I feel like it's been a while since I started a new series of posts. Sure, we've got Truck Tech and Home Improvement and Tips from the Truck and Q & A, but I'm pretty confident we have room for at least one more. If titles weren't supposed to be short, I'd probably extend the series name to: Incredibly Obvious Facts About Box Trucks (And Their Implications), just so we're all definitely on the same page. Anyway, these posts will be all about inherent properties of box trucks, and what that means for how I structure and live my life. Our first patently obvious fact about box trucks: they definitely don't have bathrooms.

To illustrate the above obvious fact, here's a recent* picture of the box.

Not a single bathroom in sight.

Box trucks are well-suited to a wide range of activities. Need to make an area more sketchy? Park a box truck there and watch the surrounding property values plummet.** Worried you don't own enough things covered in graffiti? Buy a box truck, they're magnets for impromptu community art sessions. Got some stuff to move? I know seven satisfied customers who can testify that Brandon's Ad Hoc Moving Service™ comes in handy on occasion. Box trucks are great for hauling crap around…just not in the literal sense.

Which brings us back to the (decidedly unglamorous) topic at hand: my home of choice doesn't have a bathroom. But what does that mean? Well, I've already talked at length (arguably too much) about the implications of not having a nearby bathroom, so we'll gloss over that part. Basically, it's not a huge deal because I'm never in the truck except when I'm sleeping. It does change how I think about bathrooms though. It's not a room in my house where I keep my hygiene-related stuff. For me, it's any place where I can get myself ready for starting or ending a day. This is what my bathroom looks like:

Sure, there's no marble countertops or glass walls, but it gets the job done.

Or from a few other (equally unflattering) angles.


I own more Axe® products than a prepubescent boy preparing for his first date.
For the record, I'm neither of those things.

Uh Brandon, I know you're slowly losing your mind and all, but that's definitely a travel bag…not a bathroom.

Why not both? That bag has everything I need to not look/smell*** like I live in a truck, just add water. And really, it's hardly any less convenient than a personal bathroom would be. In fact, it's definitely got a few perks. For one, normal bathrooms are hands-down the worst part of a house to clean. Aside from the general uncleanliness that pervades bathrooms by their very nature, they also have that whole Portal to Hell™-area going on behind the toilet. When was the last time anyone willing stared into that abyss? Never. Seriously, that place is a straight-up war zone, with different gangs of bacteria and mold-like creatures fighting for turf. There are more unclassified species back there than in the Amazon. I'm downright joyful that I don't have to fight that battle.

That's not to say I'm just pawning off cleaning and making it someone else's problem though. I'm an ardent subscriber of the whole "Leave things better than you found them" philosophy, and always make sure to clean up after myself and then some. For example, and I'll never understand this, but for some reason people love to strew their gym towels haphazardly around the locker room on Friday nights. When I come in on Saturday morning, it looks like a washing machine projectile vomited all over the place. Or like a bomb went off in the laundry bin. In any case, I'll usually take a few of them and toss them in the actual towel receptacle (a mere three feet away) on my way out the door. It's certainly not the most heroic act ever committed, but it stops me from feeling like my questionable life choices are to the detriment of others.

The only (incredibly minor) downside is that no bathroom means no mirror, meaning the first time I see my ugly mug is after I've subjected everyone else to it at the gym. When I stroll into the gym with Beyoncé blaring, I quite literally "woke up like this".

*I've gotten rid of the wood, extra insulation, and tire since I took this photo. I also built the previously pictured coat rack for my shirts.

**Unfortunately, this doesn't work in the Bay Area.

***I don't know if the truck has a scent or not. If it does, it's certainly not the one I want to smell like.

Source: Question mark from Online Web Fonts, clock from ClipArt Best. Looking at this again, it would have made more sense to put the clock in the dot of the question mark…oh well.

As of me typing these words, my little truck experiment has been going on for over a year and four months. That's been more than enough time to see a thousand different questions fly through this site and my inbox, and every so often I'll sit down and answer a few of them. But there's one question that I haven't answered, and can't seem to escape. It's usually one of the first questions to come up in conversation, and half a bazillion variations of it are sitting in my queue:

How realistic is it to live in a truck for the next 10 years?

How long will you continue to live in the truck?

Are you going to use your savings to make a down payment on a house?

Are you comfortable living in a truck indefinitely?

You get the idea. Basically, people want to know when the hell I'm going to get my shenanigans together and be a normal, functioning member of society. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I've been avoiding the question, it's just that I've never had a good answer. Normally I'll say something like:

"Whenever the truck stops making sense."

Standing alone, that answer is pretty useless, and I definitely don't have enough of the Mr. Miyagi swagger to make it sound sagacious or insightful. But anyway, this post is all about figuring out just how truck-filled my future could be.

If you've been following along with my story disjointed ramblings for a little while, you probably have a pretty good sense by now that I have literally no idea what I'm doing. At all. Sure, I plan things out sometimes, but I hardly ever consider how to piece it all together. I'm just kinda playing things by ear: trying to live as simply as I can, attempting to figure out what I want out of life, and deciding what happiness means to me. So it's fair to say that I haven't put a ton of thought into a timeline for migrating out of the truck and into a more permanent crash pad. In my defense though, the actual "migrating out of the truck" part would take all of 10 minutes. But anyway, to figure out how long it makes sense to stay in the truck, let's go back to the beginning, to figure out how we even ended up here.

Beginnings

When I started this adventure, all I knew was that it didn't make a lot of sense for me to get an apartment. I'd spent a summer out here two years ago, and from that experience, I could confidently say that I'd rarely be home. Plus I consider traffic a form of torture and I'd rather spend my money building stupid things, like bike racks and my future. So this was the logical conclusion extreme, and I bit the bullet betting that this lifestyle would be simpler, without actually sacrificing my happiness or anything else I cared about. And I like to think it's paid off. So as weird as it is, the truck just made sense for me, given where my priorities were (and still are). There's not really an endgame; as long as my goals stay the same and the truck remains a valid tool for achieving them, I'll stick with it.

So... how long will that be?

If we're looking for a milestone that makes sense to stop with all this truck business, losing my go-to parking spot probably would have been as good a time as any to call it quits. Clearing out my student loans would have been a satisfying high-note to end on, and rounding out an entire year in the box would have worked too.

More recently, someone asked me how my retirement nest egg is doing, because the savings clock only shows how much money I'd have saved over a hypothetical apartment. Between the various retirement accounts, I just broke into six-figure territory a week or two ago (semi-independently confirmed by Mint). $100,000 is a nice round number, why not call it a day, drive my truck up to the city, and toss my bed and dresser into a respectable studio apartment? Hell, why not take those savings and put a down payment on a house? Why am I still spending my slumbers surrounded on six sides by an super-sized sardine can?

Well, because it still makes sense.

While a lot of stuff has changed over the past year, that hasn't. And if after two years, or five years, the truck still maintains all the properties that originally drew me to it, I'll still be here. It's weird though, because on the other hand, there's actually very little that keeps me from abandoning it at any given second. For example, if I went back and found some huge hairy mutant spider in the truck tonight, there's a 96.4% chance I'd never sleep in it again.

Or maybe I'll go back one night and find it burned to the ground in some freak accident. I honestly don't even think it'd be a big deal. I mean, what would I really be losing? A bed and a week's worth of clothes? Hardly worth ruining a perfectly good day over.

But let's assume for a second that the mutant spiders only come out while I'm sleeping, and the truck doesn't burst into flames on a whim. What do I think the plan will look like?

The Closest Thing to a Plan

There's always this implicit assumption in every question about my future plans: that I'll be moving into an apartment/house at some point. But, if everything goes to plan, it'll be the exact opposite. I've talked pretty seriously about spending the rest of my life traveling, so let's take that as a given and see where we're at.

Through that lens, the truck feels more like a stepping stone, a transition phase. In the same way that college is a transition from living at home to living in the real worldideally, the truck is a transition from living in a singular, fixed place to living everywhere…and nowhere at all. Becoming sufficiently comfortable with the truck, my next home will ideally be nothing more than a backpack. I'll hop around the world as passports and seasons and retirement monies allow, staying in hostels and exploring the places that words in my travel books couldn't possibly do justice.

So long story short, I don't know how long the truck will be a part of my life, but I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Source: My actual "closet", aka a pipe bolted across the back of the truck. And it only took me 6 months to finish.

It's that time again, when I realize that I've been neglecting people's questions for too long and they've reached a critical mass. It's time to clean out the closet. Not the literal one pictured above, though I should probably do a write up for how I threw that together too.

I just read your leather strap solution to your drawer problem. Have you considered magnets?

Indeed I had, and in fact I use some neodymium magnets to hold a makeshift screen onto my sunroof. I decided against using magnets on the dresser drawers because of their force characteristics. Basically, I didn't like the idea that I'd have to Goldilocks my way to the right strength of magnet: too weak and the drawers do as they please when I take turns, too strong and they become difficult to open, not to mention they might rip the super glue off instead of simply separating. Snaps and straps are much easier to reason about: I snap them closed and the drawers don't move, I unsnap them and I can get at my clothes freely, without a fight.

I'd like to see a widget on the site that provides the current temperature inside the box. Or perhaps a temperature readout associated with the posts you make while inside the box. Basically, interested to see the temperature range and what the temperature drops to overnight in the winter.

That would be an interesting project. Get a little solar panel, a Raspberry Pi or Arduino, temperature sensor, and cell modem, and POST some data to the site every few minutes. I mean, I'm not going to actually do it, but I agree, it'd be interesting. How about a pretty good approximation though? The box truck may very well be an oven during the day, but I'm only ever in it at night, and the truck has basically zero functional insulation. At night, the temperature outside is the temperature inside, with maybe a degree or two difference, so checking the weather in South Bay will let you know how the box is doin'. To keep warm in "winter", I usually just pull a blanket or two over and that does the trick. I put winter in quotes because, as someone from a place with actual seasons, what happens in the Bay Area hardly qualifies.

Is physical address verification required for mailbox renewal?

You know, I really can't remember. I don't think so. Every six months when I go to renew my private mailbox, I swipe my card and that's usually the end of it. When I initially got the mailbox, there were definitely things to read and papers to sign, but I don't think I had to verify any other addresses, just provide a previous one.

You've talked about retiring and retiring early, so clearly the future is on your mind. Are you considering having a family ever/are your calculations based on providing for you alone?

This is a great question, even though the future is scary and I act like a small child. My ramblings at the end of this post explain it more thoroughly, but my strategy for the future is just to create as many opportunities for myself now, so that when the time comes to make Serious Adult Decisions™ (or SAD, for short), I have the flexibility to do what I want. You're right, my early retirement math gets a lot easier when it's just me, but I'm also not naïve enough to think that I know what I'll be like ten years from now. Do I want kids? Who knows. No doubt, there's certainly something attractive about the idea of tiny genetic hybrids of you and someone you think is awesome. That said, I'm fortunate enough to have the luxury of not needing to decide if that's what I want right now. One thing I'll say is that if I did "settle down", I highly doubt future-me would accept the traditional way of doing it. I'm not saying there'd be trucks involved, but there'd definitely still be a whole lot of travelling and something resembling retirement.

Can you please elude to your eating habits? Do you have a small kitchen, grill, mini fridge in the box? Are you going out to eat more often? Lastly, monthly food expense (approx), thanks!

The truck has zero kitchens, grills, and/or mini-fridges. In fact, the truck has zero anythings that aren't beds and/or dressers. I eat three square meals a day at work, and I go out on the weekends. I spend $50-75 a weekend on food, so probably ~$300/month. My diet consists of copious amounts of chicken, with some veggies thrown in for decoration.

Any plans to fix up the inside, like removing the garage door and putting in a wall with a camper-style door…or anything for the walls? It's looking pretty grim in there, man.

I've considered putting in drywall or replacing the rear gate, but I invariably end up asking myself the same question: why? Let's be honest with ourselves here, no amount of drywall or renovation is going to make up for the fact that it's a sketchy old moving van. I can put a new coat of paint on it, I can redo the floors in beautifully-finished hardwood, I can hang up paintings—you get the idea, but it'll still be the same truck. Something something lipstick on a pig. I chose the truck because I was indifferent to appearances and all I needed was a bed and a place to store my clothes. Everything else is superfluous. If I cared about how grim it looked or what people thought of it, it's unlikely I'd have ever gotten a truck (or even an RV) in the first place. The truck serves its function and it serves it well, so it's hard to justify putting in the money, time, and effort to make any "improvements" which do nothing to make me a happier, healthier person.

Thoughts on something like an RV park?

I very briefly looked into it after my unceremonious (but not unexpected or unwarranted) eviction. The conclusion I came to is that no RV park would want me and my MacGyver'd shanty. As it stands, the truck doesn't have much in common with an RV: it doesn't have electricity, water, or the hookups to provide them. Even if a particularly open-minded RV park was willing to take me under their wing, it'd likely be a non-zero distance from my work, negating all of my nice commuting benefits.

And that's all for this episode of Questions and Answers. As always, keep the questions, curiosities, and whatever else crosses your consciousness coming.