Some Practical Advice for Perma-Campers

The lap of luxury for a perma-camper. (From dave_7, Flickr Creative Commons.)

I heard a story on NPR the other day about NPR’s perma-campers. What’s a perma-camper you ask? Well, it’s someone who exists in the nebulous place between having a roof over your head and the homeless. Here’s an example:

Some of them are old-timers, but there’s also a wave of newcomers and younger people, like Marcus Featherston, a 20-something who lives in a Ford Econoline van.

Featherston’s van has a fold-out couch, a miniature sink and a fridge running on batteries. He moved into the van last year, after losing a couple of jobs.

“It was kind of either food or rent, and I ended up selling a car that I had and moving into the van and deciding to go to school,” Featherston says. “[The decision] was kind of freeing, to be honest.”

When I start to ponder the plight of the perma-campers, I keep thinking about the RV-couple from Into the Wild. You remember them right? The hippies who live in their RV, making a living by selling old books at flea markets and the like. To be honest, I kind of wanted to be them after seeing that movie so I can see how Featherston would find the move into his van freeing. Someday, when I retire, I’d like to hop in a camper and drive around  the country. In fact, I’ve given this quite a bit of thought (as did my friend and her boyfriend, who quite their jobs last year and spent several months traveling the country in an RV and shooting videos about it for American Odyssey.tv).

I blame my grandparents for my desire to travel the country aimlessly. When I was a kid they bought a big Ford Van and we roamed the country for weeks at a time. But the Seattle perma-campers seem to be running into parking problems. I’m not quite clear on why they seem to congregate in one neighborhood, so I’m here to share some advice.

Tips for Perma-Camping

  • Spread out! Obviously you’re going to tick off the neighbors if you all congregate in one neighborhood, but if you spread out, they’re less likely to catch on (or care).
  • Get out of the city! In the winter it’s hard,but now that the weather is getting nicer it might be time to head into the country…or at least the suburbs. I know it might be tough on the gas budget, but hanging out in a mall parking lot or near the entrance to a hiking trail is probably less likely to get you noticed than parking in front of someone’s overpriced Seattle condo.
  • Head to your nearest Walmart! Normally I don’t condone Walmart, but the company is notoriously friendly to campers and truckers passing through. You can find them parked in Walmarts across the country. And you can use their bathrooms, and maybe grab a sandwich or something while you’re there. Heck, if  you’re anything like Natalie Portman in that movie about the girl who gave birth in a Walmart, you might even be able to catch a good night’s rest in the camping section. You might even end up like this lady:
  • Pass yourself off as a hippie and team up with them! As I pointed out with my Into the Wild reference, people have been living on the road for years. If you can team up with them and learn from them, life in your car might be a bit less terrible.
  • If you can find your local Occupy movement, pitch a tent with them. There is strength in numbers.
  • I know it might be hard to look on the bright side of things, but if you have enough money for gas… hit the road! This may be the only time you’ve got the freedom to travel the country. Go from Walmart to Walmart if you have to.
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