For one year I’ve lived outside with just my hammock and bicycle, which I intend to continue. I’m experimenting with this for increased freedom and enjoyment of life, hoping to inspire others to leave a better world behind. I am amazed with how good it feels when you take away the conveniences of modern life, which are in fact causing more inconvenience overall.
A house (or camper) takes an enormous amount of time and energy to finance and take care of, but its comforts only provide a very shallow kind of well-being, and quickly enough you will take it for granted. Your life becomes a never ending list of jobs that need to be done, or messy and disorganized. Real life experiences become a nuisance. Just think of what you could be spending the money from rent and bills on instead. Or the time wasted on your job.
Most people don’t have any outdoor sleeping experience other than a tent, so they think sleeping on the cold hard ground in an uninsulated muddy space is inherent to outdoor living, but it’s not. You just need to understand basic heat flow, use it to your advantage, wear the right clothes and insulation, and plan your day around the predicted weather. The body is well adapted, especially with an active lifestyle such as cycling and growing food. It’s only the contrast with indoor living that makes it feel uncomfortable. The body needs to keep an exact temperature for the formation of proteins and other processes, so the sudden change in temperature when going out of the house causes physical stress, signaled to your brain as feelings of discomfort. When you are always outside the temperature will be steadier and your metabolism has plenty of time to adapt. I never get cold or ill.
I chose a hammock shelter because it’s the smallest possible shelter that provides full comfort and versatility. It takes minimal time and materials to make and maintain. It doesn’t become dirty but can be washed if necessary. The Mayan hammock provides a flat surface rather than banana shape, you can make as much space as you want, it can be tied out on the sides to hold it open and steady, there are hammock designs for couples, you can put a stormproof tent or tipi around it which also provides privacy, and instead of trees you can use tied down sticks, a bicycle or lightweight poles.
I tied my hammock so it automatically closes at the top, providing a good balance between retaining body heat and letting in fresh air; a mosquito net is not needed. Hammocks need the least amount of insulation material, and it works much better because it’s on the outside where it doesn’t get squashed by your body. The material can be layered enough to keep you warm when it’s -50 degrees Celcius outside, and still be portable. No fuel or technology for heating is needed, and a blanket only in freezing conditions. With an active lifestyle your muscles will also hold the heat for a long time, similar to being warmed up by a shower.
The easiest way of cooking is with a solar oven or rocket stove, using (per portion) a handful of twigs, dry leaves or grasses. Both are easy to make; a rocket stove can be made from cob (clay, hay and sand) or a hole in the ground. The most fuel and time efficient way of cooking is to boil water, take it from the heat, add ingredients and cover the pot in a blanket or thick layer of dry grass for a while. It’s best to share a meal with a group of people living together, such as in a community, taking turns in food preparation. Organizing food for bigger groups, such as done in cities, adds too much overhead and stress. Snacking on small portions of raw food picked straight from the garden saves a lot of time as well. Vegetables are more productive when you take small bits and let it continue to grow.
You just need to soak your skin with a bit of water to soften it, and scrub it with an old towel. This feels just as clean as soap, but doesn’t dry it out. Hair still needs to be washed with soap once in awhile, or kept short. I brush once every two days, using one tube of toothpaste a year (and my teeth are still perfect); you could easily use something like crushed shells and mint leaves or pine needles. Cold showers or swims are actually very enjoyable after a little bit of physical activity. It stimulates a different blood flow, which is very cleansing for the blood vessels and feels warm afterwards.
It’s not necessary to wash your clothes everyday. Just sterilize them in hot water (with any kind of soap) to remove oils and reset the breeding of smell producing bacteria, and make sure to clean yourself before putting on washed clothes. I spend 15-30 minutes a week to wash them by hand and dry them by wringing them out and wearing them, which isn’t uncomfortable or noticeable at all. After half an hour most of it is dry. Thin swim shorts are great underwear, dry quickly and double as shorts, so you can take off your trousers when it gets too warm.
Fresh air straight from the trees is a lot better than the stale, polluted air in a house. Even a clean ventilated house will still be full of dead skin in places, a breeding ground for parasites. For children it’s good to be exposed to dirt once in a while, so their immune system can develop properly, because after a certain age the body cannot develop new strategies to fight different forms of microbial attacks, resulting in allergies and colds.
The freedom that a car provides is a complete illusion; people simply don’t get enough time off from their job and lost confidence in their own bodies, so then it becomes their only option for escape. Marketing-based culture associated it with taking you away from the stresses of modern life or giving you an advantage over other people, but of course in reality cars are a source of problems, dependency, overspending and stress. A bicycle gives you more options than a car to go where you want; you can even walk it over piece by piece across rugged terrain; impossible with a car. You just have to slow down your life a bit and enjoy it more.
Cycling is the most efficient mode of transport, making optimal use of momentum and balance. When you go at your own speed the muscles don’t go sore and you don’t get tired, while getting a long subtle workout that extends your life and the quality of it. So you actually gain time by taking this slower mode of transport. Your leg muscles will quickly grow and make it feel automatic, as if you were driving a car. The experience of cycling is very meditative, and not just because the runners’ high kicks in.
Bikes do require fuel in the form of food, but you get to enjoy it, and the amounts that we are used to eating are already much more than we need. For some people that “indulged” too much in modern life it might be too late to switch to this kind of lifestyle, but cycling is a very accessible sport.
I ride a front wheel drive recumbent; they started to appear 10 years ago and have a very comfortable position without the downsides of normal recumbents and upright bikes; it’s clearly visible to cars, uses normal bike parts, doesn’t require special clothing, rests your back and optionally your neck, and is more efficient uphill (not putting any stress on your back), although you’ll have to switch to walking on very rough roads. It’s a different way of cycling that involves the arms and shoulders as well, but everyone can do it right away. I made two bike versions like this from old bike parts; it doesn’t need welding, and most cities have a bicycle repair club run by volunteers, where you can use the tools for free or a small donation if you can spare it. I also bought a commercial version of this bike design, which packs down into a suitcase together with the helmet and tools.
In contrast, driving a car makes you lazy, easily irritated, stressed, fat and in many cases dead or disabled for the rest of your life; for a hitchhiker it’s not much different. Even a bike on the highway is statistically safer than a car. And you have to pay for gas, maintenance, repairs, insurance, taxes, registration, parking and the inescapable fines. It needs regular cleaning just to preserve it, you can’t use it for long-term travel across borders, it’s very difficult to camp for free, you’re forced to use it regularly to avoid damage, and you’re very dependent on repair shops. For a bike you can easily learn and carry all you need to keep it going.
Phone contracts or prepaid systems are another big money waster; I haven’t had it for years. It’s only needed because of jobs and because people make themselves dependent on constantly changing plans at the last moment, rather than thinking ahead, sticking with it and having a plan B ready. For social interaction it’s much more satisfying for everyone to see people in person, and live in the moment with the people around you. For making plans you can use the internet to avoid interrupting the peace of others, and be able to read back the details later; most places have public libraries with internet close by.
I carry a tablet with full laptop capacity for my computing projects, powered with a little solar charger. It can be used as torch, camera, navigator, media player, book, instrument, art medium, guitar tuner, phone for emergency calls (sim card isn’t necessary), etc. No other electronics are needed, it’s very weatherproof and easy to hide in a double bottomed bag or case.
Work and Family
When living outside you don’t have to be a bum and you’re not lowering your social status if you use your time to volunteer and help others, educate yourself, create cultural or intellectual works, exercise, travel the world, etc. The minor inconveniences of outdoor living are well worth putting up with, to enjoy this stress-free, productive, healthy, social and satisfying lifestyle.
I saved the money from my job for 1.5 years (at a bank that doesn’t invest in child labor, fossil fuels, etc.) and receive some interest. Together this gives me enough for about 10-15 years with my current rate of spending (traveling the world, including global medical insurance), after which I could repeat it. I’m not worried about retirement as today’s value will be worthless by then. Instead I focus on changing the way people value life, and on self education and building communities, where people have the time and motivation to take care of the elderly they got to know and love. There’s even a chance that new technologies might keep my generation young and healthy enough to make retirement a thing of the past. Another reason why a free, slower way of living is important.
Spending money is in fact the current political system; democracy is just a facade. Only with your purchases you’re casting a real vote. Big conglomerates own every aspect of life and have all the power and motives to corrupt politicians and other people in influential positions. They only have this power because the consumer gave it to them to get the dirty work done without having to feel guilty about it. Any small parties or alternative companies that become significantly influential will be taken over or sabotaged. Buying sustainable products from family businesses might seem to be voting for that kind of world, but with the current consumer culture, it would not be feasible to have companies that are fair and just. Any revolution would result in the same corruption, because people demand purchasing power, which means things have to be produced cheaply, no matter what the cost; just hide it from the public eye so we can continue spending without guilt. People in the west take it for granted that they are able to buy anything they want at any time of their lives, even though most western jobs are useless and only have economical value by increasing consumption even more. No job comes even close to compensating for a basic western lifestyle. This is why I try to avoid using money; I only use a little bit to be able to educate myself and find out an inspirational lifestyle that could work for everyone and restore this physically and psychologically damaged world.
I spend almost no time to provide my standard of living, and use almost nothing beyond food and some recycled clothes. I can produce most of it myself, use resources that can be shared with everyone in the world (unlike houses and cars), and the few pieces of modern material I use can last a lifetime and can easily be recycled again and again from existing products with minimal effort. At the moment I don’t have land to produce my own food, but I’m planning to get some; there is still plenty of cheap land available in places. I regularly volunteer on communal farms for food and education. Where possible I recycle the tremendous amount of perfectly fine food wasted by supermarkets.
It’s only the border laws of countries that require me to spend money on traveling; if there was no time limit on my stay I would be able to cycle and sail instead of paying for airplane tickets. The only other things I use are internet and sealed roads; neither costs a lot of money per person and the latter isn’t necessary, although it does conserve a lot of energy.
This lifestyle is also the best you can offer your children. You actually get to be with them and teach them and they can create a deep meaningful bond with other children and adults from the community. They would be able to run around freely without walls, cars, valuables and dangerous objects. Their immune system, metabolism and creativity can develop naturally. Growing a bit more food adds maybe an hour of work per child per week, and they will quickly be old enough to contribute themselves as part of their education.
Many people fantasize about a career and accumulating wealth, not for themselves but their family, thinking this would make them happy. But you can’t get that much money with an honest, satisfying job; you would have to sacrifice your character and health, and you would probably end up alienating yourself from your family. The things you buy will only give them a short lived, shallow kind of happiness, and as a consequence they will have trouble motivating themselves in life, making sense of it all and feeling satisfied.
In fact money is a terrible motivator; only inhuman jobs need motivation that way, and they are only necessary because of the over-consumption of modern unsatisfying lifestyles. You have to realize that all motivation comes from natural chemical processes in the brain: for bonding and security, and to balance creative mind wandering with patient concentration.
Children should be nurtured to find activities that develop a healthy dependence on these motivational drugs made by the brain itself (made for a good reason). For instance with construction toys, artistic pursuits, outdoor living skills, illustrated informative books for children, etc. For me it was computer games and in particular learning myself how to program software that really got me hooked on learning all kinds of things in life. Being somewhat of an outcast but not unpopular, and in a loving environment, I didn’t need to conform and so I had full freedom for my pursuits. Music has also been very central in my life (I carry a small guitar on my bicycle). It’s the only thing that stimulates the entire brain at once. A good balance between social boundaries and freedom of resources is required for children to start a self-motivating contributing lifestyle.
Studies of people over a hundred years old show that they organize their lives around intellectual and physical challenges in a social environment, for instance running creativity classes for kids and going for a daily run in the park, and generally being at peace with their circumstances. MRI scans show that their brains continue to grow on the outside, while people with passive lifestyles such as watching TV, and who feel powerless and insignificant in the world, have shrunken brains with important brain hormone producing parts dramatically smaller, and they are not able to take care of themselves anymore because of this. The same studies show that the brain starts to grow again right away when elderly people change their lifestyle to a more positive one. Brain cells die due to toxins and aging and cannot be repaired by the body; you have to stimulate it to regrow existing memories and skills.
Once children grow up to be motivated adults, they will continue to look for challenges, automatically filling in the gaps in work that needs to be done. They are pleased to help other people because of the bonds they created. Drug abuse will not satisfy them, as it blocks the production of natural chemicals produced by the brain. They would not be able to balance their brain enough to solve challenges that satisfy their natural addiction. I know this works very well for me.
Activities such as crime also provide an interesting challenge for people to get into, for people in ghettos this is usually the only option that could provide a good life for themselves, their mates and family. But currently it’s mostly due to the popularity of it in the culture, especially in minorities that are discriminated against, and impressionable young minds that grow up in a world where money and worldly fame mean everything and can only really be acquired with unfair behavior. Some even believe that criminal music has been intentionally popularized by the companies that have interests in both the music industry and the prisons that were privatized shortly after, which provide a huge slave wage industry.
Crime would be very rare in an intimate environment where deep bonds were created and maintained. Crime against loved ones would soon enough cause withdrawal of the natural drugs for bonding and security, creating a feeling similar to a breakup, loss of a loved one or homesickness; all literally a weaker version of heroin withdrawal. For the same reason it’s important to keep close ties with surrounding communities; conflict is never productive now that we understand our own evolution and don’t have to kill anymore. In modern lifestyles there is no time and energy to create real bonds, and in many subcultures the nuclear family and the country comes first at the cost of other people, which seems noble, but are both very dangerous and stressful ways of thinking.
Many people believe that money-less communal living isn’t possible because there are too many people that would abuse it. Those kinds of characters are often formed during childhood, and there might not be much that can be done about it, except starting communities and preventing the same fate in future generations.
So.. How Do I Start?
It’s very simple: start getting rid of your stuff, bills and debt right now, recycle some good gear, save up a bit of money, quit your job respectfully, be grateful for but don’t abuse your western privileges, and do what you want to do, where you want to do it, with the people you want to be with. Slow it down to enjoy the simple life; make learning, sharing, music and helping people a central element. Keep your mind open and your energy positive and inspiring. Live in a way that everyone can live, not just the privileged western people, so don’t depend on houses and cars. Stop thinking about yourself and learn from the African ubuntu mentality: how can I be happy when others are not? Personally, I identify with the experience of universe as a whole, rather than living selfishly just because it appears that my body, the “camera” is the only thing I need to take care of.
In another article I will explain why you need to go this far to be a sustainable pacifist.