Posts tagged "Thoughts"

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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.

I would argue that my life is obscenely convenient in some ways, and the ways that it isn't convenient are important reminders of just how good I have it.
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: Calendar from ClipArtix, truck still from Clker. Slapping them together done by me, a weak first attempt at using Adobe Illustrator.

Staying true to my well-documented inability to write timely posts, here's a post that I probably should have finished three months ago.

I wasn't always the truck-faring degenerate that I am now. Reading some of my earlier posts, I can vividly remember a (roughly four percent) younger, more hesitant Brandon, sitting in an airport terminal, running through the plan over and over in his head, making sure he didn't miss any important details. I'd picked out a class of vehicle, I'd picked out a place to get my private mailbox through, I'd scoped out parking locations. It was all there, I just had to go out and do it. I had some ideas about what truck-life would be like, but no experience to say whether or not my trepidation was justified.

It's hard to believe, at least for me, but I recently celebrated my one-year truckiversary. One whole year. Inside the box. Just a man and his moving truck. And somehow (even in spite of my last post), I managed to survive it without being arrested, abducted, robbed, murdered, or otherwise maimed in some bizarre truck-related incident. Not to say that the intervening year has been a quiet one. On the contrary, it's been pretty eventful. Between surviving my first night, a host of Home Improvement projects, planning the future, my eventual eviction, and all the pseudo-philosophizing along the way, I've been busy.

To celebrate the milestone, I thought it'd be interesting to go back to one of my first posts where I weighed out the pros and cons of adopting my truckly ways, and see how right (or wrong) I was. For your convenience, my dearest reader, I'll quote each pro/con from the original post here.

Pros

  • Money Savings. Even sharing bedrooms, rent in the Bay area is going to cost at least $1,000 a month. That's a bare minimum, it doesn't include utilities or anything else. It's $12,000+ a year that I'm practically just burning. No return, no equity, just gone.

This one definitely held up. Whether it was paying off my student loans or utilizing tax-advantaged accounts, the truck definitely gave me some financial flexibility. What I didn't realize at the time was the different ways those savings would compound. Not only do I get to invest all of that redirected rent money, but I get to invest all the money I'm not spending on furniture, and utilities, and buying food just so my refrigerator doesn't get lonely. Sure, now I spend money on weird truck-improvement projects, but those are comparatively cheap and I usually end up learning something too.

  • Life Experience. I've never truly stepped outside my comfort zone. After living in California for a summer, I realized just how little of the world I've actually seen. If I do plan on travelling the world, I'll need to be comfortable with unconventional living situations, and this is certainly a good place to start. Plus, there is never going to be a better time in my life for me to try this. I'm young, flexible, and I don't have to worry about this decision affecting anyone else in my life.

This one was also spot on. Up until last year, I felt like my life had been pretty tame. I felt like I was following the prescribed course, the one laid out in front of me. You know the one: work hard in high school to get into a good college. Work hard in college to get a good job. Work hard at your job so you can fill your suburban home with stuff you don't need to impress people who don't care. Retire, then figure out what you want to do. I know, I've said all this before. It's true though. And it's also true, I was passively barreling down that exact path, right up to the "fill your suburban home with stuff" part. That's where it kinda lost its appeal for me.

I'm glad to say that the truck has definitely broadened my horizons. I can think of a handful of times where my justification for doing something crazy was, "Hell, I already live in a truck, why not?" Now that my comfort zone can be summed up as "anything that won't definitely kill me", I'm much more open to experiencing everything the world has to offer.

  • Transportation and Proximity. Having a car is very much a necessity, and by living in it on campus, I can cut my commute down to a few seconds instead of hours, which means I can spend my time more productively. Plus, I hate traffic, and my company's 25,000+ employees ensure that there is a whole lot of it in the morning and evening hours.

This actually isn't as big of a deal as a I thought it would be. Since I wake up so early, I wouldn't really deal with traffic even if I was living in an apartment a town or two away. That said, I'd like to think I'm saving resources by not having heating/cooling/electricity and minimizing my driving. I'm no Captain Planet, but it doesn't hurt to do your part.

  • Health Benefits. If I'm living in a van, I have no choice but to go to the gym on campus to shower, so living in a van provides me with a strict daily regimen. In a similar vein, since I'm eating all my meals at work, it means my diet will be organized into three meals a day during the week, without any late-night snacking.

This feels about right, though I might have been a little overly optimistic. I usually exercise 6-7 days a week, but my "strict daily regimen" isn't quite the army drill I made it out to be. I definitely snack a bit at work. I go out to the bar with my friends on occasion, and usually end up dragging myself to the gym an hour behind schedule the next day.

I guess there is a small sorta health-related downside I didn't consider though. I don't get sick very often, but when I do, it's tempting to blame the truck. If I have a sore throat, I'll catch myself thinking "maybe there isn't enough ventilation in the truck", or if I have a runny nose it's something like "maybe the truck is too dusty". I have no way to prove whether or not these things are true, but the fact of the matter is I still get sick less frequently than I did when I lived in an apartment, so even if the truck is occasionally striking down my immune system, it's not often enough to be an issue.

Cons

  • Social Suicide. I will most certainly be "That Guy". No amount of planning or forethought excuses the fact that I'm the psychopath living in a van in the parking lot. People will eventually find out, and it will affect my social life.

This one goes both ways. I was right, people definitely found out. But I was also wrong, too, because I thought it would affect my social life for the worse. Instead, I've been meeting up with like-minded mobile home enthusiasts and I'm more likely to take impromptu trips with friends. Speaking of friends though, mine have no problem filling lulls in conversation by talking about how I'm "the truck guy". And the response I get, without fail, is always, "Oh you're that guy?!"

  • Inconvenience. Living in a car is not convenient. There's no bathroom, shower, or refrigerator in a reasonable distance.

This one ended up being a bit overblown. I don't know if I have superhuman bladder muscles or what, but I've never found myself running to a bathroom at two in the morning or anything ridiculous like that. And as a consequence of my routine, I don't end up missing the lack of shower either, gyms have more than handled that one for me. As for refrigerators, the only reason I could possibly want one is to bring home leftovers after going out for dinner, but I'm a human garbage disposal and my plate is always licked spotless by the end of a meal, so that's a moot point.

  • Stress and Anxiety. The whole process is supremely stressful. Picking out a van, buying it, converting my license, getting insurance, all without a car and all before I've even started working and making money is a lot to deal with. Not to mention the illegality of most of it. Then once all of those things are out of the way, I'm still pretty anxious about being caught, and how I'm going to sneak into and out of my van.

The initial process was stressful, and reading this over I can feel my blood pressure rising at the thought of those early days. I don't worry about being caught anymore. For one, I found out that it is actually legal to sleep in your car where I live, as long as the car is legally parked. For two, I've been doing it so long that it doesn't really phase me anymore, which I talked about a bit in this post. Hell, just last weekend I hopped out of the back of the truck in the middle of the night because there were a bunch of kids sitting on my tailgate. They were talking about tagging up the side of my home and I wanted to let them know that I'm the only one who does any truck decorating. The look on their faces was totally priceless.

  • Upfront Expenses. At least with renting an apartment, I'd be paying gradually, without too much upfront cost. But between buying the car, buying insurance, fixing the car, setting it up, and the taxes and fees on top of all those things, it's a pretty big financial burden for someone who hasn't even started working yet.

It's true, the cost of the truck would have cut my student loans in half if I had spent the money on that instead. However, it's more likely I'd have been using at least a few thousand dollars to pay for a security deposit and a few months rent when trying to land an apartment. At the time, it seemed like I was signing my life away for this box truck, but after a few paychecks it didn't matter anymore.

  • Good luck getting laid. Interestingly enough, it was my mom who asked me about this one. I can only imagine that it's going to be next to impossible to get laid when I'm the van guy. Sure, I can get a hotel for the night, but it's still strange and I still have a bit of explaining and convincing to do. Since I'm not nearly smooth enough for that, I've accepted the fact that I'm going to be celibate for the next who knows how long.

People have always been uncomfortably curious about this one, so I'm sure my continued silence will be disappointing to some. But as it is, my life is not an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. And I can pretty confidently say that I don't want it to become one, either.

I've said before (and will say again now): I'm consistently surprised at how receptive people are to the lifestyle I've chosen. At the very least, very few people treat me like the trailer park-reject I thought I was going to be seen as. Because of how expensive it is to live out here, my housing situation comes up more often than not in casual conversation, even without any coaxing from me. It normally leads to some genuinely interesting conversations around goals and priorities.

Summing it up

Overall, I like to think the truck has changed me for the better. I'm certainly more cognizant of my tendencies to judge, of my work-life balance, and of what simplicity means to me. And looking back over my list, it's good to see I was more wrong about the "Cons" than anything else. I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I would change if I did it all again, and I usually don't come up with much. In fact, if I could go back in time and give my younger self advice, right when his plane had just landed in California, I'd really only have one thing to say: try a smaller truck.

Source: Thomas Carroll, though the fade was added by me. It's supposed to be a metaphor for the desire to shop/acquire an unnecessary gamut of nonsense dwindling away, or something like that.

It's been a while since I last lambasted any of the ideals that keep the American Economic Engine™ chuggin' along. I'm talkin' about things like "Exceptionalism", "Overconsumption", "Materialism", and any other ‑isms and ‑umptions you want to throw into the mix. Given my relative reticence on the topic, I thought it was high time I took some pot shots at Uncle Sam. Subsequently, I've spent a long time staring at this blank expanse of screen, musing over what edgy and Forced Witticisms™ I can put here. Strangely enough, nothing I put down feels particularly pleasing, probably because I don't think I have anything useful to say on the matter.

Making fun of how we do things in America just feels like low hanging fruit, or more fittingly, a cakewalk. It's a lumbering, slow moving target, weighed down by one too many Big Macs.* Plus, Wall-E already did it way better than I could anyway. So instead, I'm hoping it'll be slightly more productive to shift the focus and talk about how I personally make my purchasing decisions. Summing it all up in a flow chart that came out more complicated and less aesthetically-pleasing than I was hoping for:

Should I Buy that ShinyNewThing™?

If the chart is too small, you can find a bigger version here.

Before we get started, let me just say that this grossly idealistic decision-making process only really applies to buying stuff: physical objects that I plan on keeping around. It doesn't make sense for the necessities like food or toiletries, or experiences like trips and concerts. I'll maybe touch on that at the end.

Step 1 - Recognize the Reality

The starting point of my flow chart is:

Will you literally die if you don't make this purchase?

And the answer is No.

I put this at the tippity-top because it's important to go into a potential purchase with a properly prepped and calibrated cash compass. The fact of the matter? Life will go on even if you don't buy yourself that ShinyNewThing. If you're reading this, there's a healthy chance you live in a wealthy, developed nation and are not in any real risk of starving to death, or dying of a untreated illness. Whatever the object of your affections, however ravenously you find yourself drooling and hankering, your heart will not actually stop beating if you don't acquire it. The Earth will keep spinning. The sun will continue to turn hydrogen into heavier elements. And we'll all still be inhabiting a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

Step 2 - Check your Inventory

Okay, so you've got your heart set on acquiring ShinyNewThing. It glistens like a diamond and you get butterflies any time some of its calculatingly-crafted marketing material flutters past your eyes. It promises to be revolutionary, and improve your life in ways that you can't even begin to understand until you've got your hands wrapped around…whatever it is. But have you taken a good, hard look at what you've already got?

Personal Example: The Samsung Galaxy S7 is out. Compared to my current phone, the S7 has a higher-resolution screen, better cameras, a bigger battery, a faster processor with more cores, twice as much RAM, improved water-resistance, and supports quick charging. Not only will I be able to Snapchat at the speed of light, but this phone will improve my libido and cure most forms of cancer too. And to think, I could buy one with a single week of rent-savings. It seems like a no-brainer, so why haven't I tossed my dusty, worn down, three-year old phone out the (hopefully proverbial) window?

Because it still works.

Not only does it work, but it isn't any less functional just because a newer, better phone came out. It's not like Samsung released the S7 and suddenly every other phone developed crushing feelings of inadequacy and stopped working. If something I own already does the job for me, why would I be in the market for another one? I'm no worse off just because something newer and shinier exists. If I wasn't struggling to make do without it, why get it? Why be complicit an active agitator in a growing E-Waste problem? Why not allocate that money to some other more productive or actually useful area of my life?

But Brandon, what if the thing I already have is broken?

Well in that case, you've just found a great opportunity to learn something new. Do a bit of research and see if it's something you can fix yourself. The Internet is a pretty incredible resource as far as DIY/fix-it projects are concerned. Smartphone took a tumble? There's a decent chance you can fix your phone or laptop screen. Eyeing that new Keurig? See if you can unclog your old coffee maker. A new jacket tickling your fancy? You can probably fix the zipper on the one you just got. Personally, most of what I know about the innards of computers came from replacing dead hard drives and screens and upgrading RAM on my friends' old discarded computers and then using them for my own nefarious purposes. Why not breathe some new life into your possessions and gain a new skill while you're at it?

Brandon, you don't understand. The thing I already have is really, really, irreparably broken.

Perfect, now you have a chance to see if you can live without it. Sometimes you can't, and the answer will unequivocally be "No, I can't live without this because of my job/family/lifestyle/pet tarantula/whatever", and that's fine. But other times, maybe you'll realize that you're actually better off not replacing whatever broke. Maybe your life is simpler without it, or you have more free time because you're not so glued to it, or you just never really needed it in the first place.

A prime example from my life is a pocket projector I had for a few months, which I bought so my friends and I could watch movies in the truck (which we totally did). And that was all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day it was still just another device for me to charge and store and generally have to deal with. It didn't exactly break on me, so this isn't really the best example, but I ended up selling it and felt generally better off for having done it.

Setting up the projector for Truck or Treat™, where I had some friends over to watch Hocus Pocus on Halloween.

Step 3: Just Think About It

Too often we just jump into purchasing things without ever stopping to question what it means to us. We set our sights on some object of our desires, and buy it as soon as we can afford to. That's not hard-coded into our DNA though. It's not like we evolved the desire to buy stuff. We did, however, evolve mushy meat brains vulnerable to being manipulated in lucrative ways by carefully crafted marketing campaigns.** But if we take a step back and look at the decimals and dollars of it all, we can make a more informed decision about how important a purchase is to us.

Where does most of my money come from? Well, since I'm not (yet) retired, it comes from me spending a double-digit number of semi-waking hours each week doing assorted tasks for other people, being just proficient enough that they compensate me for it. I exchange my time for money via my job. Time goes in, money comes out. Simple. Since most of my money comes from my time-commitment to work, it makes sense (at least in my head) to view money as just a loose abstraction over my time, right? Everything I buy takes some non-zero amount of time for me to earn. Thinking about it this way, why would I want to throw my time away for things that aren't worth it? Why would I want to trade weeks or even months of my time for that ShinyNewThing? When will my rant/bombardment of rhetorical questions end?

To clarify: I enjoy my job. I genuinely do. That said, if money was taken out of the equation, it's unlikely I'd continue working the exact same number of hours I do now. If I had unlimited dollar dollar bills y'all, I'd definitely make a few changes in my day to day life, but I'll save those for another post. If you have other plans for your days besides working, why not use the money to make that a reality? As early retirement extraordinaire Mr. Money Mustache will gladly tell you: if you spend a dollar, it's gone forever. But if you invest a dollar, it's now working 24/7 to make you more money, usually through dividends or capital appreciation. And since money is basically time, you're creating more time for future you, which translates to more freedom in your work/life balance. So, at least from my perspective, instead of pouring time into getting that new 52 inch, 4K, 240 Hz, super flat-screen buzzword magic TV, it makes more sense to take those extra dollars and put them to work for me.

The thing is, at the end of the day, a flat-screen TV does nothing to make me a happier person. Neither does having a nicer car, or a shiny, carbon fiber road bicycle. And if it isn't making me happier, healthier, or just plain better as a person, it's not worth wasting my time/money on. Life is horrifically short in the scheme of things, and I'd rather build for my future and invest in experiences. ShinyNewThings eventually become DustyBasementFixtures, but experiences become fond memories. I guess that's my philosophy on spending money: invest in memories, not accessories.

*In my opinion, one Big Mac is approximately one too many Big Macs.

**The color red makes people hungrier. Luxury items cost whole, round number prices; discount items end in "99". Checkout aisles are full of impulsive items. There are entire college degrees dedicated to figuring out how to make people feel a certain way. Etc, etc.

Way back in July of last year, someone gave me the idea to track how much money I was saving by not having to pay rent in the area. I crunched the numbers (in reality, like two numbers) and wrote the code, and the savings clock was born. When I flipped the switch, it showed a fairly disheartening negative $6,000 because I was still half in the hole from purchasing my Ford-fabricated flat. But in the intervening seven or eight months, I've had the pleasure of watching that number dwindle its way to zero (where I hit my break-even point), and as of this writing, work its way up to five digits in our (just as arbitrary as my formula) base 10 number system.

So Brandon, you've successfully saved $10,000, plus another $10,000 or so if you sold the truck. Has it been worth it?

This is a paraphrased version of a question I received recently, and it definitely made me think a bit. First off though, I'm not sure I agree with the phraseology, because this is basically the equivalent of saying: Would you live in a truck for nine months for $20,000? and I don't think that's the right approach. The short answer to both of those questions is unequivocally "Yes.", but I don't think that's really doing it justice. Phrasing it like that makes it sound like a dare, like it's something I'm enduring just for the money. It's not about being worth it or not, it's about finding a lifestyle that fits my needs. It's about figuring out where my priorities lie and what my goals are, and then picking a life that makes them achievable. I've said before that being in the right mindset really is everything. And that applies more generally than just software engineers living in trucks too; going into any situation with an open mind and some goals will do wonders for your perception and overall happiness. I've written pages of posts expounding all the good things the truck lifestyle has done for me, but to put it into perspective, let's take a stroll through the hypothetical life of a much more vanilla Brandon, who chickened out of his crazy truck-centric life plans. We'll call him Normal Brandon™, or NB for short

What would Normal Brandon's life look like?

When NB first moves out to California, he spends two weeks living in his corporate housing, filling up his days with an endless search for long-term housing. After trawling around Craigslist, Zillow, and the "New Engineers" group his company set up, he eventually finds a roommate or two who are interested in living in South Bay, and together they find a place to inhabit. They all agree on the cheapest option they can find, which happens to be a second-floor apartment just outside of Mountain View. For ~$1,500 per person each and every month (plus utilities), they each get roughly 80 ft2 of bedroom space. They also each get a complimentary half-hour commute in the consistently bumper-to-bumper traffic along the 101. In the event there is any amount of water falling from the sky, make that an hour-long commute. Not ideal, but certainly not the worst thing that's ever happened.

NB starts work and quickly settles into a routine. Since the corporate buses don't start running until around 7 am, he ditches the early morning exercise routine he adopted in college, and instead exercises after work, around 5 pm. As it turns out, this is peak gym time, and half of his workout consists of aggressive thumb-twiddling while waiting for a squat rack. To pass the time, NB silently judges everyone around him, criticizing form, or outfits, or any number of other silly things because NB is jaded and cranky over wasting so much time. He starts going to the gym less frequently to save himself the frustration. Back at his apartment, his roommates are thinking of getting some furniture to make the place less spartan-looking. NB agrees and chips in, and the trio pick up some Ikea couches and end tables, and a 46" flat screen TV.

NB spends most of his waking time during the week working. Normally he'll either go out Friday or Saturday, and then spend the other nights hanging out and watching a movie or two and playing some video games. Oh, and he sleeps in until like noon.

This goes on for a decade or so until NB's biological clock kicks in and he finds himself in a serious relationship, at which point he gets married, buys a house in the suburbs, produces 1.9 children, and spends the next 30 years working to pay off his mortgage and finance trips to Disney Land.


You're probably thinking, "You know, NB's life doesn't actually sound all that bad." And I'd have to agree, it sounds like he has everything in order and is living some variation of the American Dream. He certainly doesn't sound unhappy.

He does sound boring though.

And that's what I'm most worried about. He sounds comfortable, he sounds complacent, and he sounds decidedly average. I'm worried he's going to wake up one day and realize he's 65 years old, wondering where the time went, all while he watched his perfectly unextraordinary life pass him by. I'm worried that he'll forget all of his goals and dreams and aspirations and he'll be content simply existing, a passionless lump of aging and dying cells smiling soullessly and nodding along to the tune of yet another water cooler conversation. And then he'll retire, ready to experience his new-found freedom just as his body begins to fail him.I apologize for the grimness, I swear it'll lighten up now

So yes, I've saved $10,000+, but I've also reshaped the path I'm travelling on. Granted, this whole discussion suffers from the straw man fallacy, it's not like I can grab myself from an alternate timeline and see how he turned out. Nonetheless, the relative comfort and ease of the life I didn't choose leave a lot to be desired. For one, I wouldn't be as painfully aware of my work/life balance. I enjoy what I do for work, and it's easy to get lost in it. If I didn't have to think long and hard about how to live so close to work without it becoming my life, it's likely I'd end up like the slowly boiling frog: working ever-longer days just because I didn't know what else to do, until eventually that's all I do or know or am. Without the threat of not showering and becoming a total bum looming over my shoulder, I wouldn't have nearly as much motivation to stay active and exercise, and I wouldn't be as consistent with it. And god forbid I had electricity and a living room, I'd end up buying a whole host of things that do nothing to make me a happier, healthier person.

But if it really came down to it, I could handle working longer, I could handle being less healthy, and I could handle owning things I don't need. What I would have trouble handling is the idea that I could lose my passion for life so easily. Getting into a routine is a double-edged sword. On one hand, everything goes much smoother when you've figured out a schedule that flows from one thing to the next. On the other hand, it's too easy to fall back to a routine just because it's what you're the most comfortable with, even if it isn't the best for you, or even what you want. And while I have all these websites and apps I want to build and posts I want to write and books I want to read and languages I want to learn and places I want to go, I could see all of those things just casually fading into the background noise of my perfectly acceptable normal life. The truck is a ridiculous, obnoxious reminder that I'm not ready to give up on any of that. And that is what makes it "worth it".

Source: Truck from Teletrac and Map from Simple Icon

Brief note: I wrote most of this on the plane, but it took me a few days to getting around to polishing it up.

I've thought travel, I've talked travel, but aside from a few fleeting flirtations with decidedly domestic destinations, I hadn't really done much of it.

Until now, that is.

By the Numbers

I'm currently writing this at 35,000 ft, traveling at 556 mph on my way back from a business trip. By the time I touchdown in San Francisco, I'll have covered 13,587 miles in the sky and 34 hours and 31 minutes in airplanes and airports, meaning that this trip handily accounts for more travel than any two of my previous trips. Spanning four countries and as many languages, I had the chance to explore what might as well have been new worlds to me and dust off my paltry high school French knowledge in the process, which was actually même pire que je pensais. My genuine apologies to anyone who was forced to struggle through a conversation with me and my rusty, awkwardly accented French.

Making Memories: Montréal, Munich, and more

Aside from the business portion of the trip, which proved to be wildly insightful and informative, I had some opportunities to really get a feel for what certain sections of the world have to offer. In short: new perspectives and a few centuries of lush, vivid history to explore. I ogled at Old Port, partook in poutine and attempted to understand the underground. I meandered around Mont Royal, savored smoked meats, marveled at massive museums and cathedrals, and even won a few Leva at a Bulgarian casino. I chowed down on Currywurst in Frankfurt and put back a beer in Bavaria. I — I could keep going, but I'm sure you get the idea at this point.

Reaffirming the Future

The trip also served to remind me of my plans for, well, the rest of my life. As a refresher, the current course I've been carving (hopefully) leads to retiring young, traveling the world, and working on technically challenging projects of my own design. But up until now, most of what I liked and knew about travel was learned secondhand, vicariously absorbed through books and videos of people who'd actually made their way out into the world. Looking back, it was probably a little risky to plan for a future I knew so little about, and dedicating years of my life in pursuit of it. But now I've gotten a taste, and I can imagine myself spending several seasons in the cities I basically sailed through and still have more to see and explore. It's easy to get caught up in your own little comfortable corner of reality, forgetting that there's a whole world full of ideas and perspectives and cultures that you'll never experience if you don't dive into them. I've said before that I enjoy stepping outside my comfort zone, and being dropped in a country where I can barely tell the bathrooms apart was certainly a great way to do that. So on that front, it was nice to see reality lining up with my goals.

There's this weird dichotomy that exists with planning things. I like to be spontaneous and leave myself flexible for anything that may pop up, yet I'm planning details for things ten years down the road. It's confusing, to be sure. I recognize that I'm not the same Brandon I was two years ago, and that Brandon was different than a Brandon from two years prior. I'm an undulating, four dimensional stream of Brandons being shaped by my own ideas and environment, trying to figure out what makes sense to do with the one shot I get at this whole "life" thing.* I can't expect that Brandon ten years from now will be anything like The Brandon I Am Now™, except for hopefully a few guiding principles. Trying to setup for a future is dangerous like that, and the best I can do is open as many doors as possible while I'm young so that all I'll have to do is pick one when the time comes.

*Reading this over, it sounds like I'm stoned out of my mind, rambling on about the universe and higher dimensions. I can assure you that that isn't the case, but looking out over a stunning skyscape above a glimmering Greenland will do strange things to your perspective.

Source: The blurryface treatment returns for my dearest mother, who stopped by to see my new digs and make sure I haven't become too deranged, back in November. I like the juxtaposition of a normal family photo with a decidedly non-traditional backdrop.

I've discussed my homelessness on here before, but between my camping trip a few months back and my early retirement revelation, I now have a whole new lens to examine it under.

Getting Nostalgic*

So let's take it back more than 12,500 years: humans aren't doing anything productive. We're hunter-gatherers, we set up camp near wherever we think the food (berries, plants, and huntable animals) will be at. We build simple structures to protect ourselves from the elements, but we take them down and start over somewhere else when the food supply dwindles. Most of our time and energy is put towards the highly productive task of not-dying.

It isn't until we get our collective act together and develop agriculture about 12,500 years ago that we actually settle down in one place and make permanent homes. Here, homes still have the purpose of protection from Nature's hissy fits, but also act as more durable places to set up shop for the long haul. So people build settlements, but naturally there's not a ton of infrastructure; it's not like you can ride 50 miles in any direction and still have your daily Starbucks latte. Anchored to their large slash-and-burn farms, people tend not to move around much, barring war or particularly malevolent acts of nature.

How 'bout Now?

A lot has changed in the past decade or thousand. It took two days of me lounging around in a tent to realize that we have the luxury of an unprecedented level of mobility. Long before home ownership became something to check off of the "American Dream Bucket List," homes were just a place to not die, conveniently positioned near your farm and the rest of your relevant infrastructure. In this wondrous modern era, resources like food, water, plumbing, electricity, and even Internet are more or less ubiquitous in most of the desirable parts of the planet, and we have the modern miracles of cars and planes to travel to them. This means that, for certain lifestyles, the home can take a position of obsolescence. Anecdotally, I had no problem leaving everything (not that there was much to leave) behind for a weekend, and settling down 200 miles away with nothing more than a wallet and a bag of clothes. That's a big difference from 12,000 years ago: if you packed your bags and traveled 200 miles you'd likely find yourself 200 miles from the nearest human being, and you'd make some nice puppy chow for a pack of wolves. More comfortingly, now that humanity has settled pretty much everywhere and bent nature to our will, we have all the allowances of modern life all over the place, with a greatly reduced risk for puppy-chow-ification.

The reason we don't take advantage of our profound mobility is obvious: we've cast our anchors. We're anchored to our jobs, to our families, to our weekend tennis club meetups, and even to the piles of stuff we've been accumulating in garages, sheds, desk drawers, and cabinets. For the majority of people (who by and large are not travelling salesmen), it's completely unfeasible to dig this ever-more massive anchor out of the mud it's so firmly embedded in. Who would have thought that a basement full of forgotten Christmas presents would be a modern day Excalibur?

Loosening The Sword

I'm making a very conscious effort to make sure my life doesn't play out like the scene I set above. While the truck is still my "home", the traditional idea of home plays a much less important role in my life. Yes, I'm still anchored to the Bay by my job, but if all goes to plan, that'll only be the case for a proportionally short period of time.

When I first set out on this journey eight months ago, I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to truck it up for a few years, and then spend six whole months travelling before returning to work for the next 30-odd years. This was before I knew about the Trinity study and withdrawal rates and 401k's and HSAs and IRAs (oh my). But now, with everything falling into alignment, it seems silly that I thought six months would be enough time to do all the travelling I've spent my youth dreaming about. How could I possibly see everything there is to see when travelling 500 miles in any direction might as well be a new planet?

I guess I was worried that if I didn't travel soon, I'd never do it at all. But, if a bit of delayed gratification is all it takes to turn a six month trip into a lifelong adventure, I'm more than on-board. Plus, now that I'm more settled in my job, I'm finding that I do get to do a fair bit of work travel (in fact I'll be visiting two countries next month alone). My work-sanctioned excursions will be more than enough to tide me over until I can make travelling a full-time job. Then, I won't even have to drag up my anchor (since I'm hellbent on keeping this metaphor going). I'll just quietly cast the chain overboard and watch it sink down as I drift off into the sunset.

*I did really, really poorly on the AP US History exam in high school, so take everything I say with a kidney stone-inducing amount of salt.

Source: A poorly-drawn metaphor for a balance of work and life. I call it: The TruckYang

People have all sorts of suggestions for how you should spend your 20s, and they land pretty much everywhere on the spectrum. Some say you should work extra hard to provide yourself with a solid foundation for the future. After all, you're young and void of life's later obligations, put that time to good use. Others say you shouldn't squander it toiling your best years away in monotony. As is probably evident from some of my other writings (read: ramblings), I fall somewhere in the middle. On one hand, I recognize that I'm setting up the foundation for the rest of my life right now (little to no expenses, investing early, yadda yadda yadda). But on the other hand, as I'm one to note, I only get to be this young once and I'll be damned if I don't make some memories to reminisce about when I'm old and gray. Plus, one of the main reasons I decided on the truck life was to minimize the time until I could start travelling.

Anyway, this is all just a long-winded introduction for the actual topic at hand: striking a work-life balance when you literally live at work. Sounds tricky, right? When your lifestyle blurs the line between working and just living, how do you make sure that they don't amalgamate into one never-ending workday? Early on, this was a legitimate issue for me, and I didn't even realize it because of how natural it felt. During the week, I would wake up, head to a gym (at work), shower (at work), work (obviously at work), and hang around the office (working, mainly) until it was time to go to sleep. Rinse and repeat. It took me a few weeks of this routine to realize that I was spending 70-80% of my waking time working. I ever-so-briefly became a zombie, constantly and mindlessly working away at whatever problem I was given, reduced to a machine that turned food into code and waste. It wasn't that my workload was too high, I just didn't know what else to do, and that happened to be the path of least resistance. However, after a few months of experimentation, I think I've figured out a reasonable formula, but I still have to be very cognizant of what I'm doing, lest I slip back into my bad work habits of yestermonth.

Separation of Truck and Work

The first thing I had to do was to realize that just because I'm relying on work for most of my basic needs (showers, bathrooms, food, laundry, gym, etc), I can still draw a clear line between when I'm working and furthering the goals of the company I work for, and when I'm enjoying my own free time. Recognizing this was the first step, once I was able to understand the difference, I just had to define which was when, and add a little bit of regimentation into the mix.

Set Work Hours - And Stick to Them

The first thing I did was put my foot down and establish what time of day I would be working. Any other time of day, that's Brandon time. I decided that 8-9 hours a day of working was more than enough to get everything done that I needed/wanted to. There is very little I currently work on that is too important to wait until tomorrow if it's getting late. And I figure I normally workout, shower, and head to breakfast by 8 am, so 8 until 4 or 4:30 pm sounds like a pretty reasonable work schedule. Okay, let's say I've done my time and 4 o'clock rolls around, what's next?

Find Places to Go After Work

I quickly realized that it wasn't quite enough to just say that work ended at 4, I had to physically get up and go somewhere. Sure, I could just sit at my desk and work on my blog, or plan my travels, or code up some side projects, but being physically located at my desk meant that I was much more likely to accidentally get wrangled back into doing work stuff. Plus, being at my desk for 10-12 hours a day, every day, probably looks pretty strange to my coworkers. The solution? Go somewhere else. If I don't have any other plans, I have a mental list of locations to hang out and enjoy my own time. Some of them are just different places on campus far from my desk, others are cafes downtown, and still others are random places near where I pick up mail from my faux mailbox. So that covers the week, but you're going to need a new game plan for when Saturday shows up at your truck door.

Planning Weekend Activities

I like to wake up bright and early Saturday morning and do all of the week's laundry.* Up until last month, I had a laundry room in the same building as my office. That sounds super convenient, but what ended up happening was that I'd hang out at my desk while I was waiting for my laundry to finish, and inevitably my feeble mind would wander back onto work topics. I'm sure someone with a better understanding of basic human psychology would be able to explain why that happens, but I certainly don't have that answer. In any case, doing laundry in a building other than my own, far from the temptation of productivity, solved that problem. My routine is now doing laundry and exercise in parallel, killing two proverbial birds with one proverbial stone. That only accounts for 2 or 3 hours of my whole weekend though, surely there's more to it. After all, the truck likes to pretend it's an oven during the day. It's not as if I can just hang out in there all afternoon, and I actually prefer it that way. At some point I'll dedicate a whole post on how to have a successful night on the town with the truck in tow. For now, just know that I prefill my weekends with cafes, trips to the city, parks, errands, events, movies, and questionably appropriate levels of alcohol. Note the emphasis on the "pre" part, if I don't plan things out in advance, I'll inevitably end up back at my desk, which I consider a Bad ThingTM.

Know Your Limitations

Living in a truck makes some types of fairly normal leisure activities more difficult. Namely, not having a TV/reliable internet (and by extension cable/Netflix) means I can't just plop on the couch, throw on some Beverly Honey Hills Ninja Boo Boo Warrior, and let my brain matter leak out of my ears. I can't watch Netflix on my laptop in the truck because I don't get quite good enough reception, and I just feel off doing it at work. I'm okay with this though, because it almost forces me to find something more productive to do, which I don't mind in the slightest.

The takeaway here is that having a life of your own outside of work is important, truck or not. Truck living is easier in some ways, harder in others, and just plain stranger in some places. But making a concerted effort to only give a portion of your soul to your employer means that you still have some left over to put towards your dreams. Maybe a little too sappy and idealized, but the sentiment is there.

*Sidenote: This was definitely a good habit to get into. It turns out a full laundry bag of sweaty gym clothes can make a small confined space, say a box truck for example, smell pretty bad, pretty quickly. So regularly purging the demons of well-worn clothing from my life improves my quality of living fairly dramatically.

Human beings didn't become the dominant lifeforms on the planet by being rigid and inflexible in the face of change. We're able to adapt, when we receive similar stimuli over and over again, we react to it more and more efficiently and effectively each time. Naturally, these stimuli come in an endless procession, in innumerable forms. On a physical, nearly tangible level, repeated stresses on our bodies build muscle mass so that we're better equipped to handle these stresses in the future. Biologically, our bodies learn to handle repeated threats by developing antigens after the first encounter. Socially, we modify our habits to fit in with our habitats. When we uproot our lives and move to other locations we learn local customs over time, and our interactions with our environment become more fluid over time. My situation is no different, and I'm definitely noticing the ways I've adjusted, both consciously and unconsciously, to my environment.

I noticed it earlier tonight, while I was getting ready for bed. I threw open the back gate of the truck, a now-familiar cacophony that I've come to associate with home. I tossed my gym bag in first with a loud thud and some clanging, and then I hopped in. As has become ritual, I started flipping through the music catalog on my phone looking for an accompaniment to my routine. Once I found something good, I plopped the phone onto my bed and started unpacking and re-packing my bag. I pulled off all my work clothes, dumped them into my laundry bag, and put on some pajamas. I'm presently laying in bed, listening to the playlist I picked out, and writing this post.

Now contrast that with my first night. It's only been three months, but it turns out acclimating to a new routine happens pretty quickly. The body craves consistency, and is definitely much more comfortable when it doesn't have to work too hard to maintain hysteresis. On my first night, I was a nervous wreck. The whole evening leading up to it was torturous. I was still grappling with the idea of not having a fixed home, full of concerns about my relatively unknown environment, and futilely trying to process the constant information overload. When I was within sight of the truck, I became paranoid and uncomfortable, my eyes darting around like everyone was onto me. I scurried across the lot with my heart racing at a hundred miles a minute, and I didn't even start unlocking the back gate until I had convinced myself I was the only person in a 10 mile radius. Similarly, opening the back gate happened at a slower pace than tectonic plate movement, and I winced at each and every loud, unavoidable creak. Once inside, I crept around like a field mouse, and listened intently to the silence of the surrounding area for minutes before I even considered getting undressed. My whole routine for getting ready was awkward and inefficient, tip-toeing back and forth, treating the squeaky floorboards like landmines. It took more than twice as long as it does now, and was just all around not well-tuned for the situation.

But that's the power of adaptation. It doesn't even require a concerted effort on the part of the adapter, sometimes the driving force is just a subconscious desire for a better plan of action. It's a powerful tool against all shades of strife and adversity, a weapon so graciously bestowed upon humankind by a few billion years of fighting against our environments. It's certainly a reassuring thought, at least for me, that time is all it takes.

Source: Taka Iguchi

As a forewarning, this post doesn't really provide tips on how to be invisible, it's more of an observation of human nature.

One of my biggest stressors when I was considering living in a van, as is undoubtedly evident from my earlier posts, was my unshakable fear that I was going to be caught, arrested, or otherwise reprimanded. I was worried that I wouldn't be discreet enough, or I'd make some grave mistake one day, or anything but a perfectly executed ninja-esque routine would spell my end. One too many loud creaks at night, not closing the back gate quietly enough, climbing out at the exact wrong time, parking in the wrong place, etc, the ways I could screw things up seemed limitless. But a fortuitous combination of rote observation and apparent realization led me to the following declaration:

The Realization

The realization that I had was that the vast majority of bad things that could happen to me required another person. Someone to see (and subsequently report) me, someone to tell me I needed to leave, someone to be so taken aback by my (in my opinion, untheatrical) actions that they saw it entirely necessary to go out of their way and see that something is done about it, etc, nothing truly bad could happen to me without a definitive, intentional action from another human being. Understanding this, my very survival (as a box-truck inhabitant), hinged on one of the two following things being true:

  1. Nobody ever seeing me
  2. or
  3. Nobody feeling inclined to interfere

The Observation

If one of those two above-mentioned things were to be true, everything might just work out.

Nobody Ever Seeing Me

If nobody ever sees me, nobody can really intentionally act against me, right? This case falls in line with my initial musings, that if I'm invisible, I'll be fine. If I can ensure that no single human being ever sees me entering, being in, or exiting the box truck, and that nobody ever questions its existence, and the moon and stars align, I might just make it out squeaky clean: a smooth, friction-less experience. However, that seems extremely unlikely. I can do my best to minimize contact with other human beings: I can leave early in the morning and come back late at night, I can take careful, quiet, deliberate footsteps, I can open and close the noisy back gate slowly and tenderly, etc. There are a million things I can do to make myself as invisible as possible, but regardless of how sneaky I am, at the end of the day, I can't control all the factors, or chance for that matter. Even if I listen super carefully before leaving the truck, there could still be someone parked right next to me, watching me get out of my truck. Or maybe a security car rolls by right as I'm hoping in. Or maybe a family on vacation bizarrely takes photographs for ten minutes with me and my half-open tailgate in the not-so-distant background. As you may have guessed, all these things have happened. They're just a product of random chance, and regardless of how careful and calculating I am, they're going to continue to happen.

So if it's impossible to stop people from seeing me, I guess I'll just have to hope that nobody steps in, right? Here's where I start making some useful observations.

Nobody Feeling Inclined to Interfere

Like I said above, I have random run-ins all the time. People may not understand what I'm doing or what's going on, but I'm definitely noticed by strangers on a daily basis as I go about my mundane truck routine. So, knowing that, how do I manage to not get caught, or arrested, or whatever else I was worried would happen to me? I'll tell you how. It's because nobody cares. I'm going to say that again, because it's super important:

Nobody cares.

These are other human beings who are going about their own lives, with their own preoccupations, their own responsibilities, their own concerns. My life's brief collision with theirs barely even registers as an event in their lives, in most cases it doesn't even warrant conscious thought. I'm as relevant to their life as a traffic light, and that's a good thing. They have their own stack of worries to mull over, what motivation do they have to exert a non-negligible energy to disrupt my life. Humans are a lot like the electrons I spent so much of college learning about, in most cases, we're perfectly happy taking the path of least resistance. And in the case of fleeting interactions with random strangers, the path of least resistance is to do nothing at all.

And that's why I'm completely fine. Not because I'm a perfect master of stealth, but because people can't be bothered. At best, they've immediately replaced the experience of seeing me with much more real, pressing issues in their lives, and at worst, I've become a bit of conversation-fodder for a dinner table discussion that night. In both extrema, I'm soon forgotten and nobody is mounting an offensive against me or my lifestyle, and that's exactly why I sleep so soundly at night.

Source: MrTindervox

I'm a very judgmental person, I have been for as long as I can remember. It's certainly not a trait that I'm proud of, it's just always been easier for me to dismiss people based on superficial observations than to actually try to understand anything about them. If neither software engineering nor driving buses work out for me, I can readily imagine myself becoming a dunk tank clown, because I'm quick to recognize "flaws" with a cursory glance.* I'm sure a proper psychiatric evaluation would conclude that it stems from some deep-seated insecurity that I've yet to acknowledge, but that's entirely beside the point.

So anyway, a couple weeks ago, I'm sitting in my favorite cafe, as I often do, and I see an older gentleman playing some Anime-styled video game. My first few thoughts upon seeing this went something like, What a weirdo. Jesus buddy, get a room. Seriously, does he even realize how ridiculous he looks right now?, and so on and so forth. And normally at this point, I'd gently scold myself and make no actual effort to reform this nasty, completely unconstructive habit of mine. But on this day, I happened to be feeling a little more self-aware, and as a result, had a much more constructive response to myself, which went something like the following:

Brandon, you are straight up homeless. On a daily basis, you climb into and out of the back of a large, decrepit moving truck. You have met human beings that know this about you, and are still willing to associate with you. If everyone was as dismissive and judgmental as you are being right now, the world would be a cold, sad, awful place. Don't be such a douchebag, your insolence is toxic and is a great way to alienate yourself from all of the really interesting people in the world. More often than not, people have valid and compelling reasons for doing the things they do, and there could be an innate beauty in their hobbies and habits that you simply can't see from your admittedly limited perspective. Don't shut people out and dismiss them so blithely, at the very least, their presence will show you new ways of seeing the world.

That's that. Having a close-minded attitude towards perspectives other than my own doesn't suit me well now, and certainly won't be any more beneficial in my future travels. Applying my own Litmus Test to my actions makes it clear that I'm not doing a service to anyone with my attitude. So that changes now.

*I put "flaws" in quotes because of the idea of perfection that I discussed at the end of this post, mainly that to be flawed is to be human and to expect or want anything else is naive.in my opinion

Source: KSL

Every so often, I like to apply a simple Litmus test to my life to help me figure out a couple things. The test has a single question, and the way I answer this question tells me a lot about how reasonable of a person I'm being, and if I'm living in a sustainable way. The questions is this:

If everyone acted the way I'm acting, would it still work?

It's a simple enough question, and easy enough to apply to every day life. Next time you're on the highway, ask: If everyone drove the way I'm driving right now, would that be safe? Or maybe the next time you're in the office, check: If everyone put in the same level of effort I'm putting in right now, would the company be better or worse off? It's a simple enough question to be broadly applicable and easy to fit to any situation. I wanted to apply this question to my situation, and I phrased it as follows:

Would it be possible for everyone to live the way that I'm living right now?

I don't think this one has an easy answer. Or rather, I think the answer is clear, but it depends on the perspective you're looking at it from. So I'm going to play a bit of Devil's advocate, and answer my question.

Hell No.

I can hardly imagine what the parking lots would look like if everyone at my company lived in them. They would be packed, there'd be no room for everyone, and the traffic would be completely unbearable. And forget about using the gyms and showers in the morning or at night, there'd consistently be lines out the doors, and the facilities would quickly become gross and worn. Not to mention that dinner is only open at a few cafes on campus, and the lines are bad enough as it is. If everyone was trying to eat all their meals here, the company would have to shutdown the perks all together. If everyone was doing what I'm doing right now, everything would devolve into chaos, and it would happen pretty quickly.

Totally!

In a more general sense, experimentation with "decentralizing" the home is not a new concept. A good example of this is the Capsule hotel, which is a type of hotel in Japan where you sleep in one of hundreds of small pods, and have access to a communal bathroom. This is basically what I'm doing, except instead of a pod, I have a box truck, and the "communal bathrooms" are at my workplace. If we ditch the European value of loving to have ownership over things, particularly land, this is a pretty efficient way to go about things. If everyone's homes were just glorified sleep pods and small storage areas, we'd save an enormous amount of land, energy, water, and pretty much every other resource that we consume. Something mankind has derived countless times in the course of engineering the world is that it's always more efficient to do something big and in bulk. Freight shipping is more fuel efficient, giant gas-powered turbines run more efficiently than cars, and having large communal facilities is more efficient than every individual having their own. Granted, I'm not addressing issues of food or leisure, but in this weird thought-experiment, those can remain basically the same as they are now. The point is that, if we had always organized our lives around small sleeping quarters and large communal services, we'd be dealing with far fewer sustainability issues than we are today. So in this sense, the answer is yes, it is totally possibly for everyone to live how I'm living right now.

Source: Wikipedia

This is another post on philosophy, take that as you will.

I went out with a couple of co-workers last Friday, and naturally the conversation eventually ended up on my living situation. I've been continually surprised at how receptive people are to the whole concept of living in a car, normally once I explain all of my motivating factors. Mainly, I get a lot of "That's really great! I personally could never do something like that, but power to you for going through with it!", and that's vaguely encouraging for me. Coupling these conversations with all of the time I have for reflection, I've come to realize a few things about happiness.

But first off, before I get into this, I'm going to paraphrase a quote from the movie Pursuit of Happiness, with Will Smith. The quote goes something like:

The Founding Fathers wrote that we are all entitled to "the pursuit" of happiness as a basic fundamental human right. They specifically didn't say that we're entitled to happiness, because everyone seeks happiness in different ways.

-(kinda) Will Smith, Pursuit of Happiness

Defining Happiness

What is happiness, and what does it actually mean to be happy? At a rote biological level, it's just a specific concentration of various chemicals in various parts of your brain, an evolutionary construct loosely coupled with the concepts of risk, reward, and feedback systems. But that's a boring way to look at happiness, and it totally misses the point. Happiness is a unit of fulfillment. Being happy means that you've established some metric for how you want to conduct yourself, and you're following that metric pretty well. It's how we let ourselves know we're satisfied with our situations, a bit of feedback saying, "Hey, I'm okay with the way that things are going". Conversely, if you aren't happy, it's generally a sign that something needs to change in your life, or you need to reevaluate your metrics for happiness. And naturally, as the diverse bunch of human beings that we are, we all have slightly different metrics for happiness.

A Metric for Happiness

Alluding back to what I said in an earlier post, we are constantly being conditioned to think that happiness correlates with how much stuff you have. We treat consumption as if it's the only way to add value and meaning to your life. Even worse (in my opinion), it's not even just about how much you have, it's about how much you have relative to those around you. Indulging in our primal urges for supremacy, we're conditioned to believe that we should only be truly happy with ourselves when our television is at least 4" larger than our neighbors', or when we're the first ones to get the newest iPhone, or when we have landscapers cutting our yards and our neighbors don't. To put it in frank (and mildly vulgar) terms, we're constantly engaged in a dick measuring contest with those around us, and some more good ol' "natural male enhancement" is only a credit card swipe away. And you know what?

There's nothing inherently wrong with that.

Now certainly, as you can tell from how I'm writing this, this isn't what brings me happiness. But who am I to say it's wrong? If it legitimately brings someone else joy to own more things, regardless of whether or not they need them, why should I trample all over their happiness? It's not my place, and (aside from all of the child and slave labor camps they're indirectly funding), who are they really hurting? That said, I think if we all took a moment and stepped back from our everyday existences to introspect and figure out what genuinely added meaning to our lives, I don't think "buying stuff" would come out at the top of the list. I really don't.

My Pursuit

The way I pursuit, and find happiness, is by going to sleep a better person than I was when I woke up. I want to add value to myself, in the form of knowledge, health, and ability every day. In business-esque terms, I'd like to be an appreciating asset. Without trying to sound too much like Ayn Rand, I firmly believe if you work on bettering yourself, the world around you will thrive as a result. And following in that vein, I try to treat myself properly. You only get one body, you're doing yourself a huge disservice if you aren't actively working to keep it functioning well. Exercise, eating right, sleeping well, and removing stress from your life do absolute wonders for every other aspect of your life.

Now this isn't to say that you shouldn't be happy and content with yourself. On the contrary, I believe it's about realizing that we're all fallible and we're all flawed, and that's perfectly fine. It also means that there are always things we can do to be "better" people, in whatever ways we think make us "better". And that's why I think it's important to reflect on what happiness means to each of us, because if we can actually get down to the root of it, we can throw away all the noise and fluff and clutter, and focus on living our terrifyingly short lives in the way that makes them the most fulfilling, and the best they can be.

Source: Water Life

So I've already laid out my pros and cons of why I'm actually doing this, but there's another aspect to it that I didn't really explore in that post, and it basically revolves around the idea of minimalism.

Background

We do things big in America. We love our malls, our big meals, our bigger televisions, and our huge trucks and SUVs. We live in a time of unprecedented opulence and convenience, but that doesn't come without its own issues. The main one is that it is completely and utterly unsustainable. I remember learning in a high school environmental science class that it would take the resources of four or more planet Earths if everyone on the planet were to live the way Americans do. We're supremely wasteful and consumptive, and it's a lifestyle our grandchildren will certainly not be able to "enjoy".

My Thoughts

I feel that I've always been pretty content with what I have, and I don't generally buy things that I don't need. That said, in high school I bought a 46 inch television and a 1000 Watt sound system, which was completely excessive by any stretch of the imagination. I got great use of them yes, using them right up until my graduation from college, but they weren't necessary for me to live the way I wanted to. I gave them away to my sister and a friend, after all, the only things I brought to California with me were some clothes and a laptop.

And from here on out, I'm going to be perfectly content without unnecessary material. I get the most enjoyment from self-improvement, and for me, that comes from books, exercise, and working on personal projects (like this blog). I wouldn't be any happier with a 50 inch television or a Playstation 4, because those don't align with my goals for life*. Being wealthy isn't a function of material, it's a function of contentedness.

*Disclaimer: I do own a smartphone, nice headphones, and a laptop, and as a result I have undoubtedly contributed to the suffering of many child workers in factories at Foxconn and elsewhere. I view these devices as necessary 21st century tools for doing my job effectively, and I strive to take care of them and only replace them when necessary.


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