What I foresee in the future is a society in which “jobs” barely exist and van life becomes a king, we will all be forced to decouple “consumption” from “income”. In a society where virtually nobody still has a job (having been replaced by automation, robotics, and AI), it will no longer be viable to have people use job income to buy their necessaries of life. So as a society we then have a choice – we let people live in the woods and fend for themselves as best they can, or we provide people with their necessaries of life whether they have a job income to pay for it or not. It would, in either case, completely remake the entire political, economic and social structure of our society.
One of those options would be socially sustainable. The other would not.
It also depends on a lot of unknowable things. We may have a lot of people vandwelling more out of necessity than anything else. Even looking at current trends, I know that I bought a house because I was told that it was a good investment and a hedge against inflation in terms of housing costs. It has been those things for me. However, van life may be less of a good investment these days and sure isn’t the same hedge against inflation that living in a van would be. There are also trends with younger people choosing experiences over material things and if that continues, I expect we will see more vandweller nomads.
Legal aspects of sleeping in the van
What might change is the availability of free boondocking. There will always be campgrounds one can pay for. From what I understand this is more or less the situation in many places in the East of our country. Even in places like the town where I live, where sleeping in vehicles is prohibited, the enforcement is lax. Anyone who moves on quickly will be ok. I recently got exited because of some van dwellers parked in front of my house. I watched them get ready for bed and then they moved on, presumably to park someplace else. I suspect that they were not hassled. I wonder though how that might be different if there were hundreds of people doing this every night in my town? I imagine that folks would not like it and there would be a call to increase enforcement. So for nomads, I guess it depends on the trends. Usually, though, things like this go in cycles. From a political point of view, what I would do to help would be to help young people and poor people find the housing they would prefer and just count on a lot of people finding SB to be their preference.
The people who may have the most trouble are people who need to stay in one place for various reasons. I brought this up with my city council person since the ordinance is that there is no sleeping in vehicles and I want to sleep in mine in the backyard. His answer was to just do it but to remember that if anyone reports me I could be asked to stop. The point is to do it in a way that doesn’t bother the neighbors and I am cool with that. Again, a lot depends on trends. What can be acceptable to a community when one or two people are doing it can quickly become unacceptable when many are. This is especially so when the people who are doing it are too poor to do it in a way that keeps them out of sight.
At any rate, it is the kind of thing which can be killed by popularity although as was also mentioned, if enough people are doing it, they can organize and work to make it more acceptable and mainstream.
Van life and the risk of being stranded in the middle of nowhere
I met a man stranded on an onramp who had been sitting there in his broken down van, which was obviously fitted out for off-grid living, for two weeks. He was desperate, he needed a tow to a mechanic, he had run out of food for himself and his dogs and had no water. I gave him a bag full of biscuit sandwiches I had just bought, along with two gallons of water and $20. He burst into tears. I wish I could have given him a tow as well, but I’m not set up for that. This was a guy who had been living OK until the breakdown put him over the edge. In hindsight, I wish I had simply called a tow truck and paid for it. I still wonder how he made out. LE was actually treating him well, but not giving him what he needed, which was a tow and whatever repairs he needed.
Just like society, there are many facets to full time RV /van dwelling in the present. Take out your crystal ball to determine the future and place your bets. Spin that wheel!
- Let’s look at the present and we see that it depends on many variables. Current local laws, which are widespread, making sleeping in your vehicle illegal. Knock knock. Doesn’t bode well for the future for Urban camping.
- Geographic and population realities. In the heavily populated and regulated Eastern US, with limited accessible public domain land, will it get easier with heavier demand? Out west with lots of BLM/USF, how will that hold up with increased usage?
- Tendency to regulate and it’s limitations. Going to get more restrictive as it gets more widespread.
- Difference between travelers and stationary. Those who move along, in essence, have the highest chance of success, today and tomorrow. Those with economic limitations and need to reside, will be targeted. And it isn’t, won’t be supportive. NIMBY.
- Van life/ RV dwelling a fad? The appeal and benefits plus economics are too great IMHO. Young and old, are flocking to this for good reason. More users, more stress on the environment. Likely outcome, more regulations, control, limitations. To what extent, that’s the million dollar question. The greatest chance of success, is the remote and rugged West, for now. But who is to say for how much longer? I could see a movement by society to deem that those who full-time overuse and abuse pristine nature and eventuality ban/ control it. How? The government solution to all things, regulate. Required fee based permitting. Simple license plate tracking database. Once initiated, get placed on it, you’re done, my friend. Or probably limited to access. Databases are cheap, easy and the data is permanent. Change plates frequently? Still the same name. Other creative adjustments?
- Urban boondocking and stealth. This, in essence, is living off-grid in town. Not appreciated due to perception, whether right or wrong, agree or not. Everyone will be lumped together as one, outlawed and increased enforcement. Short term doable, as long as you keep moving on. The “resident” dwellers will not be popular and encouraged to move along or seek accepted permanent lodging because taxes are what support and maintain a community. Money. And perceived, public property users (abusers?) aren’t seen positively and won’t be accepted by local taxpayers. Human nature.
- Support or acceptance? Political forces? There isn’t anywhere near enough money to get politic support or acceptance to get protection or laws enacted for full timer benefits/ rights. Political votes of retirees might have some weight, but only if a large enough, organized group. Big maybe. So how do a couple/many million stay low key, out of trouble and legal? That is the real question and there might be many answers or ways dependent on area, location and individual. Walmart won’t always allow, or be allowed to, overnight parking/sleeping. Public domain land won’t always be free and easy access. When, where and how are the details to come. All good things must come to an end. Enjoy the benefit now.
The reality of van life and the influence of governments
The economics of van dwelling overpowering any and all efforts to limit it by state and local governments. Local governments may be able to hassle a few people but with thousands of acres of asphalt to patrol and other things to do, police will not make much of a dent in urban boondocking.
As time has moved on, apartments have had to meet more fire and safety codes increasing rental rates. Competition for land raised rents. Electronic toys, phones, etc. have become necessities increasing the cost of just living. Wages have not gone up to cover the increase in costs.