On the road with the American ‘vandwellers’
As the US housing crisis worsens, many retirees have embraced the freedom of living in small vans.
It’s a 15 minute drive from Quartzsite, Arizona to the area where the so-called “vandwellers” live.
These are people who live in converted vans full time; we’ve gone to the desert to find out what drove them to live in these small, mobile spaces.
Debra Dickinson has been living in a van in Arizona for just over two months.
She previously lived in Texas. About five years ago, she set the goal of living in a van when she retired.
She wanted to live in a van with a kitchen, restroom, and shower. But a brain injury that keeps her from working fast-tracked her dream in a different way.
The van Dickinson lives in is much simpler than what she had dreamed; everything is organised neatly in drawers and storage units.
She says, “If I wake up disoriented, I have my two dogs with me. Waking up and seeing everything I own and knowing everything is very comforting for me…Before doing this I tried living with different family members and different friends even and I would end up having seizures because of the noise or activity.”
Alan Christensen worked in advertising as a freelance art director and copywriter.
During the 2008 financial crisis, he started thinking about retiring early as his client base shrank.
He opted for a van because he was fed up with owning a house; recreational vehicles, while mobile like vans, were big and cost too much to maintain.
Christensen’s tidy van has a bed and a refrigerator, a luxury for van living.
Since he sold his house he’s been paring down his possessions. The morning we visit he’s pulled together a bag of items to donate to charity.
Christensen says he “wasn’t very good about paying into a retirement fund. And then of course a lot of that disappeared in 2008. Right now I’m living on the proceeds of the house and social security.”
He currently lives without medical insurance. His monthly costs for fuel, food, and mobile phone and internet access are about $800.
Like Debra, vandwelling has been comforting for him.
“I don’t worry about a lot of the things I used to worry about,” he said.
His only concern is some day he’ll be too old to live in a van. When that day comes, he says he might move in with family.