So you’ve decided to make an effort to save the planet – that’s awesome! One of the recent trends of saving the planet is realizing you don’t need a 4,000 sq. foot mansion for just yourself. That’s super impractical and actually pretty selfish, if you think about it. (No offence if you currently live in a mansion)
But before you get too swept away in the Instagram aesthetics of living tiny, you’re gonna have to make some pretty hard decisions. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes, and it’s true. You can’t 180 your lifestyle overnight. Not only is that not practical, but even if you had giant gobs of money to do that with, you would fail miserably because you’re trying to do everything all at once, and that isn’t good for anyone.
There are a lot of things to consider when deciding to take the plunge, and that’s because this is a life changing decision. You’ll want to do as much research as you can before diving all in, because no one wants you to waste your time (or money) or something you aren’t really feeling/are unsure about.
So, first things first: why are you wanting to change your current lifestyle? Figuring out your motivations for changing will be a big tell on what you are and are not willing to change. The next big question: what does your end goal new lifestyle look like?
Do you want to end up full ‘hippie’, living off grid, having your own garden and using as many mason jars as possible? Or are you thinking more of wanting to save the planet, minus the inconvenience?
One of the easiest/smallest changes you can make for yourself right now is to stop using single use plastics: grocery/produce bags, water bottles, straws, etc. They all suck major balls for the ocean, and unless you’d like to swim in garbage, maybe you should stop contributing.
Instead of using the plastic grocery bags, buy (or diy) a tote bag, that you can use again and again for shopping. Think about investing in a reusable (metal!) water bottle, instead of buying the cases of plastic ones every week. Maybe even get yourself a filter so you can drink tap water? (Seriously, growing up in Toronto, I’ve been drinking the tap water every day for years and I’m fine.) I realize not everyone may have the option to drink tap water, but then again, those people most likely also don’t have internet access. You I’m sure could at least try one of the above without exploding, so why not go ahead and try? (I 100% guarantee you won’t explode)
You came here to find out how to save the planet and live more in line with your core values, right? So go ahead. It may seem weird/foreign at first, but trust me, you’ll get used to it.
Okay, now that we’ve spoken about small ways to change your lifestyle, let’s look a little farther down the line: what do you want your life to look like in the future? Your ‘ideal’ life, if you will.
Probably something you wouldn’t be ashamed to post on Instagram, am I right?
All joking aside, if you’re going to be in this for the long haul, you’ll definitely need to think about whether or not you want to continue to live on grid, or explore off grid options. (Especially if you want to become a traveler)
Okay, okay, quit starring at me like I have three heads, I get it, you have no idea what I just said. But that’s okay, you’re here to learn, and I’m here to teach.
So, first things first: what the heck do ‘on grid’ and ‘off grid’ living mean?
On Grid means living ‘plugged in’ to the system: your water comes from the city (or towns’) supply, you’re connected to hydro lines, and you’re connected to sewage. Basically, you’re ‘plugged in’ to the systems used by the city. This is probably the way you’re currently living.
Off Grid means you aren’t connected – you use alternative means to get what you need, and are cut off from the citys’ supply. This could mean you use solar panels for your electricity, have a well for your own private water supply, have a septic tank for your toilet, etc. A much more hands on way of living.
Depending on how far down the saving the planet/hippie rabbit hole you want to go, you’ll have to think about which of these options would be best for your future. One of the greatest advantages of being on grid is since you’re tied into the system, you personally don’t have to worry about your resources, and they’re all pretty immediate and hands off.
One major downside though, is if there’s a black out, you’ll be left without until the issue is fixed. Another downside of on grid living is getting a bill each month for using the services. You also don’t have very much freedom in terms of moving around/leaving. (Unless you get the world’s longest extension cable, or [again] have a massive pile of money somewhere you can use on plane tickets, in which case, why are you reading this?)
Okay, now that we’ve kind of established the pros and cons of on grid living, let’s take a look at off grid:
One of the best advantages of off grid living is not being tied to one spot, and being completely (or mostly) mobile, not having to pay a monthly bill. A downside though is there are usually a lot more up front costs, and the services are more hands on: you’d have to get your own water, chop firewood to keep yourself warm, empty your toilet by hand, etc.
As you can see, both lifestyles have advantages and disadvantages, which is why it’s important to think about the type of life that’s right for you. Maybe the call of travel supersedes the ick factor of having to be hands on with your waste, and that’s awesome! If you think you can do it, I say go for it.
But be realistic.
Figure out what you are and aren’t comfortable with, and see which would be a better fit for you. Even better, figure out what you’d like, and see if it can be adapted to fit either the on or off grid capabilities. If getting a bucket toilet is too gross for you, but you like the idea of being off grid, look into having a black tank for your waste instead. It’s more of a hassle to empty (in my opinion), but maybe you won’t mind having to drive to find the designated dumping grounds.
Another thing to consider when wanting to live off grid: will you have internet access or continue to use your cell phone, or be completely remote? Where will your mail go? The post office can’t deliver to ‘the van in the middle of the forest’. (Though how convenient would that be?) Do you have family that would let you use their address or will you pay for a P.O. Box? What will you do for money while traveling? Will you work on the road, or save up and take a more vacational approach?
I’m sure some of these things you never even thought to consider, but that’s okay! You’re just learning right now, so that you’re prepared when the day comes to make the plunge. It’s much better to figure all this stuff out now before you’re in your van 3 countries away with no idea what to do.
I’m going to list some of the other big things you’ll want to figure out before going too much further. This way you can turn the info over, research, and see what feels right for you.
Off Grid options
- Solar Panels – these are one of the most popular options as it’s a renewable resource, and they’re relatively easy to find/install. The only downside is they can be pretty expensive up front.
- Wind turbine – another great option using a renewable resource, though wind turbines would be easier to build if you didn’t plan on using a vehicle. I’ve only seen a small number of van lifers using a wind turbine, and the ones who are, are using it in addition to the solar panels
There are many ways in which to get water. You could get water tanks and fill them up so you have a small stash while you’re travelling, or if you’re not planning on being on the road often, you could keep the van/bus water-less and just bring in bottles with you. Though I’d only recommend this option if you were only looking into part time travel, such as excursion weekends.
Or, if you’re not planning on living in a vehicle, you could dig your own well to have water on your property. You will of course also need to think about whether or not you’ll want a water heater so you can have hot water, or if you don’t mind having to boil water using a stove, or will you be able to deal with cold/room temperature water?
While on that note: how are you going to get your water from Point A to Point B? Will you fill up a bucket from your reserve/well and carry it to wherever you need it? Will you have a water pump to push the water wherever you need it, so you can just turn on your tap and have it, or will you consider using a foot pump, to help control the flow of water?
What will happen to the ‘used’ water? Will you get a grey water tank to hold it, or build an elaborate set up to irrigate the used water into your garden/plants? What about rain water collection? (Fun fact: collecting rain water isn’t legal in every province!)
- Real Wood Burning Fireplace – will you be able to keep up with the maintenance and needing to go out to chop firewood? Will you have enough clearance for a stove and to store the wood so you don’t accidentally set your curtains (or couch, or anything else) on fire? Do you want to be able to heat your home and cook on the fireplace, or would you rather have a separate stove for cooking?
- Gas fireplace/stove – do you want to deal with propane on top of everything else you need to take care of? Do you feel safe having propane around, or would you rather not risk the potential explosion? Do you want to feel more like camping, with having to set your stove burners alight using matches, or do you just want to turn it on and have it work, no fuss?
- Electric – yes there are electric fireplaces (and stoves), though like most other things on the off grid list, they’re a bit more of an up front cost. And, you need to think about whether or not you want to heat your home using your electricity. Will you have a big enough solar panel (or wind turbine) set up to handle a fireplace/stove as well, or would you rather not have your heating pull from another resource?
Make sure to check in with yourself, and ask which of these options will fit your lifestyle best or what are you willing to try changing so you can live the life you want?
For example, if you’re someone who takes really long showers, if you want to live off-grid, you may have to try to cut your showering time down to 5-10 minutes, or look into military showers. Also, ask yourself: would you realistically be okay with not showering every day in an effort to conserve water? Or will you need to include water tanks big enough to hold enough water for you to shower everyday?
Will you get your drinking water out of the same reserve as the water you use to shower, (and wash dishes) or will you have a separate system/holding container? Are you the type of person who could walk up to random businesses and ask them if you could refill your reusable bottle/water tank, or are you uncomfortable with that?
Okay, I’ll ease up now. I’m sure that was a lot of info you may not of even thought about, but that’s okay. Take some time to do your research, and keep these questions in mind while you continue to plan to make changes.
Remember: Helping the planet does not have to be an all or nothing! If all you can do is switch to a reusable water bottle, (or some other small change) that’s still 10x better than the guy who’s not doing anything. The planet will thank-you as long as you’re trying. Everyone can always be doing more to help save the planet, but you gotta start somewhere, right?
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