My Off-grid plan

Treetop Jen has returned home to the UK, and now she is wondering how to reshape her life.

"I want to be free"
"I want to be free"

Aim: to live off-grid in the back of  a minibus, simply parked in a  ‘normal’ town, with a job in the charity sector, still part of  ‘normal’ society.

WHY? Hmmm…where to begin?

Well – like most people, I have spent some of my time in life pondering on the future; imagining how my life may turn out & how I might feel in each of the imagined outcomes.

I also spent (& still spend) time observing my others’ lives around me as they currently are. These two activities left me less & less inclined to live in an ‘ordinary’ house with a mortgage & equally less willing to rent accommodation; whilst it gave me some respite, knowing that the mortgage could be via the Co-operative Bank (www.co-operativebank.co.uk) or The Ecology Building Society, I still was not happy with the prospect of being part of the common “mortgage trap” where I’d be ‘reliant’ on or constantly hoping for house prices not to fall if I wanted to sell & would be committed to long term, huge amounts; yet more monthly payments on top of taxes, utility bills & student loan repayments.

It did not seem very attractive to me. So – I turned to the idea of renting forever more…yep – I even researched about pensions, to ensure (presuming politics wasn’t to change much in this area) that if I lived for long into old age – I’d still be able to afford renting & very basic living costs.

Again, the volume of money is not attractive to me here, though some comfort was provided to me with the idea of using more ethical, alternative energy suppliers (e.g. Good Energy www.goodenergy.co.uk).

I am also not comfortable with the average landlord/lady profiting from my rent. Renting/mortgages for typical housing is relatively inflexible or requires a lot of work & extra cost for conversion to eco-friendly as well.

I am also not interested in all that most renting/housing establishments offer (e.g. conventional toilets, superfluous space & extensive cooking & washing facilities). This does not fit well with me whilst there are still many lacking in the world. The fact that both options are also permanently fixed to the ground puts me off further as does the ever decreasing amounts of green/wild/free land (of course there are other big causes of this too but more and more houses being built is not helping). Having said all these reservations, I was still initially thinking I would rent.

The knowledge required for anything else seemed unreachable to me, requiring perhaps years of study & living quite apart from society, which I had not prepared my CV for.

But then….I read Nick Rosen’s book “How to Live Off-grid”. I found it easily readable & non text-book-like. I learnt that living off-grid in a way suitable to my views seemed doable for me! Yay! Realistic, relatively inexpensive & simple. Then, with a little extra research I realised that it is definitely doable. And so I began on my preparatory path for it. Basically, my reasoning is very well covered in Rosen’s book; environmentalism, a sense of independence, self-sufficiency & freedom, a dash of survivalist attitude (especially considering if global warming does occur & I live in a minibus on the coast – I can simply drive away if rising tides increase too much, as opposed to the tides engulfing entire fixed properties. I would of course also save a lot of money that I could instead spend on more life-fulfilling things. So, why would I like to stick around in a bigger town instead of living off-grid in th emiddle of nowhere?

I would still like to be part of society. I would like to work in the charity sector & most of these jobs, matching my experiencce, will be in towns, at least, or cities. Why in a minibus? This mode of living would be less conspicuous than a caravan & easier to handle in order to just get me started. I don’t really think I’ll need or want more though either – maybe check back for updates in a couple of years to see if it has stayed this way!

I am not proposing this compact and quite basic level of living for all, I just know that I’d like to try investigate it further and show what’s possible. I believe I have it all worked out….One solar panel on top of the roof – enough to hopefully power a netbook, mobile phone charger (or I can do that at work), mini-heater (for the winter; I did consider a mini woodstove but I believe this wood be deemed a nuisance by the public) & perhaps a lamp.

My research also suggests having two batteries for storage of the solar energy will also help for periods when there is no or limited sunlight. I have also come across websites that assist in estimating how much sun, on average shines in various UK regions. As far as bathroom, washing & toilet facilities are concerned, well, I shall be making full use of public facilities…and perhaps making use of the great outdoors on the odd occasion. And food?

Yep – I do not plan on installing cooking facilities & my recent experiences with a raw food community has shown me how to live very healthily without the need of cooking. I am equally enthused about boat off-grid living, if not more so. However, again, living in a minibus seemed more immediately tangible to me…perhaps boat off-grid living will be something I move towards in the future, especially if I keep the interest up as a hobby. I’ve read it may be hard to find a permanent spot to moor the boat, it’s more expensive, requires more knowledge & may be more liable to be vandalised. Off-grid also means more for me personally than it is currently defined as.

I extend its meaning to include a small as possible input into unethical corporations as well. I will gladly report back to this website with updates. Many thanks for reading and to Nick Rosen for the existence of this website and for writing of his off-grid book!


23 Responses

  1. Hi Jen
    Just found this link whilst listening to Nick Rosen on RedIceRadion. Good to hear more people thinking along the same lines.
    Have a few more ideas for you from my own recent experiences living on the road. I bought a low roof van using similar logic to yours. This is ok for short term but for long-term living is good to have a space you can stand up in.
    Great source of information I found is http://www.sbmcc.co.uk – they have fantastic info on so many technical and legal issues. You should look out on there for “stealth” campers (skylights instead of windows so can hide in urban areas).
    For winter living, important to have as much insulation as possible, important consideration in early stages.
    Even with the drawbacks, a woodburner is the best form of heating/cooking – currently researching rocket stove designs with very little smoke but no definite solution yet. Recently found gel fuel fires but not sure if this works in a sealed space (very important – lots of people still kill themselves from carbon monoxide!) Electric heating is not viable as would trash even a large battery bank quickly.
    With battery power, get a cheap electrical meter for under a fiver and voltage reading can be converted to show charge level. Look at split charge units to switch on alternator charge to leisure battery when driving. Even with large batteries, keeping electric consumption down is most important factor. LED lighting is the best low energy option by far. Avoid transformers/inverters as they use too much. Some laptops only need big voltage to charge battery and can run off 12v without the batt pack. Better PC solution are mini-itx computers that can run off 12v and use v little power.
    Hope some of this helps. Been researching lots of this for over 5 years and have lots of other lines of research ongoing.
    Biggest issue is somewhere to park, especially south of England. Lots of friends are trying to find small plots, or struggling to develop some sutainable sites. If we can get lots of these places linked up, could have a good network of places to move around
    Love and Peace

  2. Adrew! – cool….thanks for messaging. You must be so excited. Couple of questions for you:

    Will you be living in your vehicle? i.e. not only for recreational purpose….if so….how do you sort the minimal requirements of insurance out? I cannot find an insurance company willing to provide insurance for a vehicle when living in it…..even with the Caravan Club and more alternative places……

    Hopefully you can enlighten me…? :-)

    – I wonder how that is all proved though????….if making a claim how can they prove you were living in your vehicle at the time rather than living at a permanent address of your parents/ friend……they couldn’t seem to answer these questions for me…..though they did get quite a lot of entertainment form this ‘barmy’ idea of wanting to live in a minibus! :-p :-)

    Jenny :-)

  3. Great story Jenny!! So inspired now. In Toronto Canada and beginning my new life in 2 weeks when my last rent payment clears for my greedy landlord. Luckily I have a great vehicle to be mobikle in and a great job for evrything I need. My only bill i will keep is my 25 dollar a month gym membership. Other than that I am totally free. Thanks so much for your story. If anyone is interested I will keep you posted here on how I do. Cheers Jenny

  4. Sounds a marvel of a retirement Roy. :-)

    Thanks Lamar – looks like you have a marvel there as well….congrats!
    A particular congratulations on setting up the website and the very cool, informative, simple video….helping to spread the message! I will aim to do the same when I eventually get up and running. :-)

  5. I have 1426 days until I retire and will be off-grid back in the mountians. 60 a., year round creek, wild animals, small apple and plum orchard, small garden spot, good water, and noone to bother you. No power unless you make it. No close nieghbors, no traffic, nothing but the quiet and the peacefulness of back woods. The nearest town 54 miles, with stars you can see at night, and the warmth of a fire if you want one. Listen to the brook as it travels over the rocks and watch the wild animals live. Snow in the winter and flowers during the summer that change every two to three weeks. Good fishing and good hunting. No Tv, one radio station, no cell phone reception, no stupid people telling you your grass is to high and you cannot make noise after 6 pm or before 7 am. Your doors are unlocked and keys are left in your truck. If your nieghbor needs something they come and get it and leave you a note. If they recieve unexpected guests they’ll raid your pantry if they are short of food, but they will replace what they take. We cut wood together for one week each year and everyone has enough. Who ever goes to town gets a list from everyone and we are happy to be backwoods people. Just counting the days. MtMnRoy

  6. Wow! Thanks for your post Simon….I wish you much fruitfulness in your endeavours.

    You may not have the time but I would love to discuss your hit and miss raw food diet (I like your description too, hehee) more with you and your whole philosophy surrounding it…..please email me if interested at treetopsjen@hotmail.co.uk.

    Thanks also for enlightening me on a new term: ‘boondock’ – sounds great I think….my new favourite word perhaps.

  7. Hi Jen..n Len,
    Thank you for an inspiring post(s).
    I am currently living abroad, away from my family and although we are always trying to live as eco as possible (harder when i’m in the UK), I’m always looking for an alternatives.
    I like many feel something is “missing” from our life in the UK, and combined with renting abroad, I really want the next step… I am already looking for a van to “boondock” whilst in the Netherlands, and hopefully can do this with my hit n miss raw food diet… Who knows…
    Thanks again, I will write again once living in the van, and let you know how i’m getting on….
    Good luck Jen, luck forward to the next chapter…Simon

  8. Hi there Kevin, Jason & Chris! :)
    Many thanks for your comments….helpful advice and hints!

    Kevin – I am intrigued…..why do you see renting workshop space as different? I looked at some prices online and they seem very pricey…and I presume there would in most cases still be a too-rich-for-my-liking owner of the space…? Though of course it’s a big step in an alternative kind of direction by not renting yet more space to live in….
    Thanks for the info about Scotland – yes, I have heard Wales is easier for Off-gridders too….however, even though it is tempting to go where it is easier, if we wish to help the movement, I wonder if it would be preferable to try to live off-grid where it is harder to do so…in the hope of making it less hard to do so in the future….but of course, it will still be of benefit adding to the Welsh or Scottish Off-gridders. :-)
    And yes! – I agree…..only plan to sleep on the front seats if I have a friend or couchsurfer staying :)

    Jason – inspirational quotes you mention there :)

    Chris – Hello!…Many thanks for the info…..I did not know of this….I believe some renting in a flatshare can be equally as cheap though….including bills. …..but I would imagine I’d rather the money go to a caravan campsite owner than a typical landlord/lady…..….you can also get youth hostels as cheap and even cheaper than £12 per night as well!….although that is of course sharing a bedroom with a few others……but definitely something to investigate further….maybe not all are as expensive as £12 per night….the website was playing up a little….I’ll investigate at another time further. :)

    Cheerio for the moment.

  9. hi,
    great letter jenny, fyi, the caravan club, and the camping and caravan club, have small cl’s all over the country, they are cheap and are often close to towns and city’s. many full timers use them. good luck with your project.


  10. This is of course one of the most interesting topics in society today. In the book Vanabode the author demonstrates that “This lifestyle is about cost reduction and the enhancement of your life by spending time living a fun life rather than spending money trying to buy a fun life”. The other point I think that is so important in this regard is the one he talks about in the “sustainability chapter” – “When you die nothing you ever owned matters much and everything you ever did does.”

  11. im not to sure a minibus would be my first choice, just to many windows for peeping in.

    i have lived for over 5 years in various off-grid guises. Alas i now got married the wife having a nice cheap council house. hence this way is not entirely suitable, but im getting a campervan kitted out for many travels. Im completely against private rent for profit, it is a form of slavery, and i vowed never to pay it again. I stuck to my guns on this and never did, i rented a workshop for my buissness for 2 years and kitted out an office in their to live, but this is not the same thing.

    i live in highlands of scotland its perfect for van living, no-one will bother you here not only that you dont get that same disrespectful look that you can get further south. So many do it here that its an accepted part of the area. For most of the year there is campervans ect driving all over so you fit right in. Lots of off-grid communities here too if thats your thing, some were mentioned in the off-grid book that i got from the library which inevitable brought me here.

    there are many places to park up here that can be 20 miles or more from the nearest house, so no problem with nosy neighbours. Also all the local toilets up here are very clean and well looked after with most having showers included, lots open 24/7.

    I am now starting out in a new venture as a market trader due to the distances involved i wont be able to get home every night, so i am kitting out my van in the rear in the area of the side sliding door for overnight sleeps. Priority is comfort, ive done all that kipping in a sleeping bag on the front seats and having to run the engine to keep warm, this time a proper bed with a tv and handbasin and night heater, and of course got my mobile internet.

    I have found the main issue is to feel comfortable, this in turn makes you feel relaxed about your living arrangements and you dont feel like some homeless person, this in turn gives you a happy pre-disposition to your situation and makes it all a realy enjoyable expirence,especially on they dark wintry nights. not forgetting the great feeling no landlord is sitting on his ass living off your graft.

    good luck jen will enjoy reading how you get on.

  12. Thank you for your interest Jessica! Lovely to hear from fellow supporters….I wish you well with your continuing research and book! :)

    Lauren – hello! :) – if you have specific questions concerning your ‘wanting to know more’ please feel free to email….

    Grant! Howdho – glad to know I am not alone as well! :))…yes takes quite a lot of preparation……good to know living examples of people who are paid well but sill feel inclined to live in this way :-)…are you based in the USA? :)

  13. Just stumbled upon this article by complete accident, it reminded me of when i lived in a hired fiat uno with 2 friends mooching around ireland for 2 weeks, something i can not recommend at all! Never heard of the term off-grid until now but hope to be doing this by the year end, not quite as radical as a camper van but a boat somewhere in the midlands. good luck!!

  14. Hello there Big Cyril,
    if you would like to discuss your comment further pleas email me on treetopsjen@hotmail.co.uk – I would be happy to discuss my thoughts on this in detail. In short, no – I do not consider myself to be a lesbian and…who do you speak of setting a good example to? I presume fellow people & future generations. Even if I & others were ‘obliged’ to be setting a ‘good’ example, in my opinion, I would be doing a grand job and it would the majority of others setting the ‘bad’ example…..but to me, it’s not about right and wrong, nor good and bad….
    I look forward to hopefully haring from you – I am very open-minded and willing to learn and change.
    Many thanks,

  15. I was on here a year ago because I lost my job and was always interested, and it seemed like a good time to do it, but turns out I wasn’t ready then. Now I have a great job and good pay and I find myself back here for the new year. Your story is the first thing I read and I loved it. Your thoughts almost mirror everything I think. Glad to know I’m not alone :)

  16. I would love to hear more about your plans and experiences. Making this lifestyle choice and telling others about it is important.. it’s hard for me (and probably many others) to imagine living so sparely. Good luck!

  17. Hello Friends,
    Thank you for sharing your interesting stories. We have much in common including an intense drive for freedom. I do own a home, but it is solar powered (PV and thermal) which is why you caught my eye. My current life goal is to pay off my mortgage so that I am no longer a slave to the bills. I too live in S. Florida where I run a solar company. I am writing a solar book and in researching reference sites I found your blog. Anyway, I just wanted to say hello and agree that the obsession with money and extra stuff in our culture is shameful and shallow. I am all about simple, no bills, no frills, just my little (ecofriendly) home with my little native butterfly habitat, good friends and good literature. Happy 2010!

  18. Hi there again! :)
    Many thanks indeed Len, Bill & Robert for your comments!! It’s lovely to receive some feedback from my article, advice and to hear what off-grid entails in your lives and/or thoughts. Would love to hear your updates of your plans as well Bill :).
    As I say – I will be posting my updates…..will be few years yet though! :-p
    …..and have never thought of that B&E perception risk….too true.
    Oki doki…..well, cheerio for the mojo.

  19. Sounds reasonable. I lived in a half ton van for a bit when I first moved here while the rest of my family waited for our house to sell. We could not afford the cost of rent which would cost us as much as twice what the mortgage is. (and our place is nicer) All I had was a bed, small heater, lamp and a lap top. As it was temporary, I did eat out a bit. I found that the marina had the latest open bathroom, and I had a bucket for midnite pee. I also used the van for daily transport. Even though I blacked out the windows (black plastic bags put over the window frames and screwed back on), I still had a visit from the local police one night. Lucky me I was on company property with permission and company ID. People do watch… I’ve been on the other side wondering if that car with people sitting in it was casing the houses for a B&E (could have been some one looking for a place to sleep too). Watch where you park. I used the shower at work every morning… or after. People think nothing of some one with the back of their van open in a park cooking/preping food, side streets find it a bit odd. Move often or maybe for different times of the day. Pick a van (or whatever) that doesn’t have too many identifying things about it. I would guess that I would have been classed as “homeless” but I never felt that way. It was my choice.

  20. Great article by Jenny and a good comment by Robeert!
    They made me realize I have had years of experience living off the
    grid, mainly on sailboats. I just did not look at it that way. I’ve lived at anchor in Miami, Coconut Grove, and the Keys, Florida
    and in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
    Later I got married, got a solar panel for Y2K, and got enivronmentally aware. A solar panel has facilitated living on a
    boat after our house was destroyed by a hurricane, plus many week
    ends in a Pagan primitive campground.
    Jenny’s story has given me the idea of making speaking presentations while living in a van or camper. It will help me show that we can make great changes in lifestyle and still be happy.
    (Now I’ll read the rest of this Website!)
    Thanks and Namaste,

  21. I owned a twin engine, V hull cabin cruiser, 24 feet, 1973, fiberglass, which I used for many months off-grid. In South Florida near West Palm an island in the intercoastle known as, Peanut Island, beside the Blue Herin Causway provides safe free mooring. As the storms moved in I learned to weigh the anchors and mooring to various locations escaping the dangerous waves and wind. The currents helped sometimes to move the boat with a little help from the gasoline twins which I never converted to Bio. With a small island so close to the causeway bridge there are several locations where the wind of a hugh storm is completely blocked. That Peanut Island is perfect for free mooring and has plenty of social life from the college students and locals. Sail boats are better except in very low tide. Later

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Join the global off-grid community

Register for a better experiencE on this site!