For some Moab minimalists, home is where you park it

Brett Hardin, 30, stands in front of his 1995 Chevy G30 van with a big box built on the back. He originally bought the rig in Philadelphia. Photo by Aidan McClean

Scattered throughout Moab are people who dwell in homes on wheels, such as vans, box trucks, trailers, buses and even cars.

Living this way is not so unusual when so many of the locals share the lifestyle. For some it is choice or circumstance. For others it’s a passion for the great outdoors that leads them to this style of habitation; downsizing from an apartment or home has attracted many people to be “home free,” finding it sensible to live life with less stuff, and redefining “home” as being “where you park it.”

Moab’s dire housing situation has people looking at alternative options. With the average household income at $41,000 and the average house for sale at $300,000, it’s almost impossible for some locals to afford to live here.

Brett Hardin, 30, a home-free van-dwelling Moab resident, said he has everything he needs in his 1995 Chevy G30 van with a 6-foot by 9-foot box built on the back. “It’s a good amount of space with functionality,” he said.

He doesn’t have amenities except for solar power, but he says the push to find essentials when he needs them keeps him social. He’s lived in his current van for five years, initially switching to van life after a six-month trip to Chile, leaving behind everything except a backpack worth of items and a tent.

Once he returned to apartment living in the U.S., he said he realized that type of housing just wasn’t for him anymore. “Home can be a place or a group of people; a house is just a place to put your stuff,” he said.

He came to Moab on a recommendation from a friend. “A lot’s changed in five years” he said, “but the people are still here that make you feel at home.” He bought the Chevy G30 for $1,500 and has since had the same amount of work put into it. “You don’t need to spend much, just get out there,” says Hardin, who travels at least four or five months out of the year.

Some people choose the mobile life so they can try living in various locales, providing what they consider a great alternative lifestyle to those who have an endless amount of curiosity and adventure coursing through their veins.

Mandy Howard, 37, moved to Moab because she fell in love with the area when passing through. She knew she had to come back some day. Currently situated in Willow Springs with a 26-foot travel trailer on free BLM land, she loves full-time camper life for its affordability and because it suits her personality. “People think it’s me on vacation temporarily, but I’ll always go mobile. Houses and apartments aren’t for me.” She’s had a few different trailers, but after living in the one she has now, Howard says that she would like to downsize, knowing now that she needs even less than what she has.

What Howard would like to explore more of is the mobile life community. She currently follows other van-lifers on social media, but knows that since many people in Moab live this way, she’d like to get to know more people like her, which could provide a resource of fun and shared knowledge.

“Being a single person, one of my main challenges is learning how to care for the camper when it comes to mechanical setbacks,” she said. “It’s like taking care of both a car and a house, and campers aren’t always built very well, so they tend to break down often.” Despite the challenges, Howard sees herself bopping around a lot more in the future.

The most downsized one can get is to live in his or her car. Johnny Kaplan, 26, currently camps in his 2008 Lexus GX 470 that was twice handed down – first from his uncle and then to his dad and finally to him.

Still, when it comes to living out of a car, a Lexus is a luxury, said Kaplan, who notes that he has enjoyed living the car life for the last couple of months. “Although there are amenities at, say, a hostel, like coffee and people to talk to when you first wake up, I’d rather be in my car to have my own space.” He is content with having a place to sleep and being able to take all his things with him wherever he goes.

“I live wherever I’m parked,” Kaplan said, typically parking by the recreation center for 48 hours every few days. Since he is living in a car, there’s a potential for getting in trouble with the law, although Kaplan says he’s had no interference with law enforcement to date.

“There are certain ordinances,” says Kaplan, “and it’s kind of one of those situations where it’s illegal to be homeless, but calling me homeless would be off base. This is just home for now.” Kaplan preferred to live a minimalist lifestyle before being “home-free,” so the transition to car life was an affirming choice, and he, like Hardin, likes the push to be more social.

“I’ve become more generous, and I’ve noticed more generosity [from others] by giving up some privacy,” he said, noting that the friends he’s made are more willing to share what they have with him. He feels the same, adding, “It’s been a privilege to live this way, and for people who are hesitant, if you have the chance to do it, I’d highly recommend it.”

Van life, camper life, trailer life, whether temporary or permanent, can be thrilling and freeing, some say. The reduction in taxes, mortgage and utility payments, combined with the flexibility to uproot to wherever adventure takes a person can be appealing to some and a smart alternative for the future.

“You learn what you don’t need,” says Sheryl Saunders, 57, a neighbor of Howard’s at Willow Springs. She lives in a 20-foot by 8-foot “box on wheels” she bought off the Kansas City Facebook page under the title “Homemade,” proving that a home can be anywhere you make it.