Nomad questions answered

In a previous post 6 months living in a tent I received quite the response, mostly very positive and excited for me, many shared their experience of doing something similar and encouraged me to keep it up. While other comments were bitter towards me, suggesting that I’m somehow financially independent, suggesting that I’m a trust-funder living off of someone elses money, so this post is to clear that up and answer other questions.

Q. How do you afford this lifestyle?
A. Let me first clear the air, I am not financially independent, not a trust-funder, etc. I started this adventure with next to no money, and I still have very little. Nearly every expense I have is a business expense; the trips, the gas, camera gear, I can write off most of it (yet I still had to pay a ton of taxes!) I pay myself just a touch over minimum wage which I only buy groceries and other necessities with. My income comes from teaching photography workshops and tours primarily and the eBook I wrote on night photography was a large part this year. This allowed me to purchase my van, which I did finance and is my only debt now, I decided to do this because with zero debt my credit score was dropping quickly (what an awful system we have that requires you to stay in it or suffer the consequences). I was very fortunate to have my flight to New Zealand paid for, I won’t go into details, but I am fortunate, not wealthy. I have sacrificed having a safe haven to afford this lifestyle as well, I have no home to go back to if I’m tired or burnt out, I just have to keep living.

Q. How can we follow where you are?
A. I regularly update my instagram, facebook and facebook fan page. I have also added my current location to the sidebar in the blog, I will try to remember to update this regularly! If I’m in your area and want to meet up let me know, I will try to make it work!

Q. What are your average costs per week?
A. Campgrounds – $0 to $100 worst case, this would go up dramatically if staying in RV parks. Gas costs vary widely but is my biggest expense as I’m always on the move, I probably average $100-200 but I’m just guessing as I don’t have time to dive into the data right now. My other big expense is groceries, it’s one area that I refuse to cut corners on, I believe eating good quality food is the most important thing we can do for our overall health. I buy mostly organic vegetables, grass fed beef, buffalo, pastured chicken, etc. My grocery bill is $100-200. There are many other expenses related to my business but I won’t get into that.

Q. How do you go about registering vehicle, billing address, etc…
A. There are 3 states that are friendly to nomads (South Dakota, Texas, and Florida) in these states you can become a resident simply using a mail forwarding service, plus these states have no state income tax. I became a resident of South Dakota because my parents happen to live there and they help me sort through the mail. You can read a lot more about this on Technomadia, an extremely good resource for the nomad.

Q. Are you planning for retirement?
A. I’ll just be honest, no. I have zero faith in the 401k system/stock market in general. I hate the entire system and feel it is slowly eroding this country. The housing bubble is going to burst a second time because the same things that got us into the first bubble are happening all over again. The other reason, is I choose to enjoy life while I’m in my prime and healthy. I see most people spend their healthy years working themselves to death in a job they hate, saving their money for retirement, when someday they believe they can live out their dreams of traveling. This does work for some, but the vast majority end up getting sick instead, cancer or heart disease strikes and because the medical system in the US is so horribly broken all of their money is gone in an instant from the insane cost of medical treatment. What are you left with? A life you devoted to work to enjoy life someday, now instead you are sick and have no money to travel, and full of regret, would’ves, could’ves and should’ves. Wishing you would have done what you wanted when you were younger. I”m sorry if this is your story, I don’t mean to offend. I only want to inspire those that still have a chance to to jump out of the system and enjoy life. Don’t fear the future, do what you love and the universe will provide for you.

Q. How do you find a campsite every night?
A. There are several resources I use, primarily iPhone apps. The first is The Ultimate Campground Project which shows all the forest service, blm and state park campgrounds in the country, I would be lost without this app! (he has an android version coming soon) Allstays is a very similar app but more targeted to RV campers, it also shows commercial RV parks which can be useful at times of desperation. I try to stick to free campsites which is referred to as ‘Boondocking’, these are simple dispersed camping sites that have no ammenties, usually just a campfire ring at most, occasionally you may find a picnic table. For this I use the Boondocking app or, each has their own unique sites listed with some overlap. Finding a good campsite is the most challenging part of visiting a new location, mainly because I try to keep my expenses as low as possible by finding the free or low cost sites.

Q. How do you charge your camera batteries, etc.?
A. I have a 1000w inverter that I charge my batteries, laptop, etc. while driving. I do enough driving on a regular basis that this works for me, I generally don’t go of the grid for long periods of time. If I did, a good solar system would be in order, but I don’t have the need at this point.

Q. Do you have kids? A wife/girlfriend?
A. No. Living the lifestyle that I currently do would take a very unique woman, I haven’t found her yet, but I’m on the lookout 😉 I often get the comment ‘I wish I could travel but I have children’ Traveling with children is not impossible! Take a look at this post from Technomadia in which they provide links to many travelers that are doing it with children.

So there it is…I’m sure you have more questions, put them in the comments and I’ll do another round!


14 thoughts on “Nomad questions answered”

  1. Inspirational David….It’s a bit funny that I’m the opposite of you in some respects since I make my living by investing and helping people plan for retirement using the stock market, etc…and my living has afforded me the opportunity to travel a bit and take pictures.

  2. Thanks for the app suggestions (& the inverter link too!). After spending last winter photographing Mexico, I came back to the U.S. this Spring, sold all my stuff, and have been full-time RVing since August. I have been amazed and astounded by what Mother Nature can offer once you don’t have the stress of a 7-day vacation to cram it all into! While the transition was difficult and some long-time friends were lost as a result, I’m meeting new nomadic friends and enjoying a new community of like-minded folks — not sure I will ever go back to mainstream American life again! Living quietly, simple & small, while soaking up all the natural world around me just feels balanced and much more "right" than the house in the suburbs ever did. It’s sad that more people don’t figure this out earlier in their lives, but then again, if they did, all our pretty boondocking spots would be jammed!

    If you get any spare time while at Zion, I’ll be there with friends the first 2 weeks of Nov and would love to offer you a lunch or dinner as thanks for the info your fantastic eBook gave me! I photographed my first Milky Way this past summer and had an absolute blast!

    1. I absolutely agree Lynne, this lifestyle simply feels ‘right’ to me, I think it’s a deep rooted biological need to be outdoors and exploring, it’s what we’re meant to be doing, not locked in an office for 9 hours a day!

      Send me a message when you get to Zion, I will be there starting Friday for at least a week, would be great to meet you!

  3. David,

    Do you always sleep in a tent, or is your van setup for sleeping (as well as cooking, etc; pretty much a rolling apartment)?

    Thanks for the great blog post.


    1. Hey Mac, I no longer sleep in a tent unless I’m backpacking. The back of the van has an inflatable mattress pad for now, way better than a tent! For cooking I have a propane stove that I pull out every night, pretty much a rolling apartment (less the bathroom)

  4. Hi David,

    congrats on getting out on the road. Love what you wrote above, especially the potential disaster of putting it off for later life. My wife and I have been on the road for quite a while now and it’s great to note that we’re not the only ones spending ‘too much’ money on good nutrition. We’ve met other couple’s on the road with kids, it’s possible but it certainly changes things. Whilst I’m busy saying hi, I love the fact that in Nightscapes the first obstacle you talked about was fear. I thought I was peculiar, I was definitely scared of the dark.

    1. Thanks Michael, glad to hear you and your wife are enjoying the road! I’m fairly mystified at how little fear I have of the dark now, when I started I was terrified, now it’s no different from the day!

  5. David, very interesting. I tend to be more traditional with a base of operations. I do get the biggest advantage to your current life. You don’t have to motivate to drive somewhere to take photos. Through planning, you are already there. Huge advantage.

    1. It is fantastic, one of the biggest problems I have is stopping. There is always something to shoot, some new place to go and I never get caught up on the business end, or post processing, or blog posting, etc.

  6. So do you always stay overnight at campsites? I mean if a lot of them are free then obviously that’s a no-brainer, but all the months I’ve lived in my car I’ve just parked it in pullouts or out on desolate backroads and have yet to have a real problem. On rare occasions a deputy or trooper will light up the car in the middle of the night, but every one I’ve met has been totally supportive – many of them saying things like, "Well if you’re planning on using this spot frequently I’m happy to check up on you every now and then if you’d like."
    Even in Boulder County, lol

    1. Most of the time yes, usually the places I go to it’s not a problem to find something. I like to setup camp a bit to cook dinner, etc. When I do park somewhere I’m not supposed to for the night I get paranoid and can’t sleep lol, I suppose this will go away the more I do it, good to know they don’t bother you too much!

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