Technology is changing the world of work, and along with emerging ideas about minimalism and do-it-yourself self-sufficiency, is transforming what we believe is possible with our own lives. An increasing number of people are joining the freelance economy, starting their own online ventures, which allows them to work from anywhere in the world. Combined with a minimalist approach, it can ultimately means freedom from the conventional social trappings of having a big house and car, and the big mortgage that typically goes with it.
American builder, entrepreneur and recovering architect Ross Lukeman of Alternative Homes Today is one of these new digital nomads, who lives, works and travels in a minimalist cargo van he converted himself. Lukeman began his journey about five years ago, after having gotten an architecture degree, working for a few years in jobs that paid the bills, but didn't allow for much freedom for him to explore his own growing interests in alternative housing.
Lukeman began formulating an exit plan into the digital nomad lifestyle: working full-time while working on his own online business for five years, and also building out his van, finally quitting his job a couple of months before completing the build-out. There are some very nice features in this clean and pared-down van, as we can see from his tour:
What's amazing about the van is how clean it looks, and a lot of legroom too. But there's a lot of storage hidden under the flip-up twin mattress, in the hidden closet off to the side, and utilities like water storage, batteries, panels -- everything -- is tucked behind a panel or somehow nicely integrated into the surface somewhere.
Lukeman's office is nicely designed too: his swivelling set-up consists of a homemade mount connected to two store-bought items (Bretford MobilePro Adjustable Wall Mount with an iMac VESA Mount Adapter Kit), which allows a full-size iMac desktop computer to be used as a workstation. For those of us who hate craning and squinting over a laptop, this is a brilliant idea.
Lukeman also takes a conscientious approach to insulating his home: no spray foam here, but UltraTouch recycled denim insulation. He also went easy on the protective polyurethane coating, only applying it to high-use areas like the kitchen to reduce the amount of VOC's. The van is solar-powered, using a 300-watt LG panel that's hooked up to a 200 amp-hour battery bank. The van is vented with a roof vent fan and interior box fan, and a propane heater is used in colder weather.
Best of all, at the very back of the van, there's an integrated bike rack designed by Lukeman. It secures the bike snugly while travelling, preventing theft and avoiding having a bike outside, which screams "there is someone living inside".
Living and working on the road does have its challenges, but there are myths to bust, says Lukeman:
Everyone was convinced that I would run into a bunch of crazy, violent people out here, and that has turned out to be a completely unfounded fear. On the contrary, I’ve met a lot of great people. The biggest challenge for me at first was getting enough social interaction, as I was constantly moving through new places. Small talk with cashiers and baristas wasn’t enough. Two of my solutions have been volunteering at Habitat ReStore in Taos, New Mexico, and renting desks in coworking spaces (Seattle, Phoenix and LA) so that I have coworkers to talk with during the week. I never knew how important that water cooler talk was until it was gone!
So far, Lukeman has travelled much of the west coast and inland during the last 8 months, enjoying both cities and the wilderness, and continues to finance his travels by working on his own business, helping people convert their vans and giving workshops. He offers a cargo van conversion course online, and you can find a copy of his Ultimate Van Conversion Cheat Sheet here, or you can visit Alternative Homes Today.