Living without a Fridge

img_20161030_1736031During the summer months, food can go bad in no time. Whether you store your groceries in your vehicle, your backpack, behind a bush, or inside a storage container, the heat will spoil many items rather quickly. Don´t think that changes during winter; although many food items will stay fresh longer, quite a few, including vegetables, don´t do so well in freezing cold temperatures.

No fridge – no Problem

Certain foods keep just fine without refrigeration, while others simply need to be consumed a little quicker. Make sure to check your food thoroughly before consuming it; this includes the inside of fruits and vegetables. Unopened food items last longer than opened ones.

As a rule of thumb, anything canned can safely be stored outside. However, that doesn´t mean that your food won´t change. In summer and winter alike, anything solid will slowly but surely transform into a liquid with each major temperature change. I´ve experiences this with potato soup before; by the time I was ready to eat it, there were barely any chunks of potato left. I`ve had canned emergency soups in the back of my car for months without any problems. Have you tried the canned version of your favorite fruits and veggies? My favorites are canned pineapple, baby corn, and mixed vegetables.

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Fresh fruits and vegetables can be stored without refrigeration for about a week depending on the temperature and kind of food. In my experience, kiwis, bananas, avocados, carrots, grapes, and cucumbers last the longest, while bell peppers and tomatoes go bad rather quickly. Berries of any kind, such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, go bad within a couple of days. Vegetables that completely freeze tend to turn to mush upon defrosting.

Beverages, such as ice tea and orange juice, last just fine during the winter, although you may encounter solidly frozen liquids instead of your favorite drink. During the summer, you don´t want to keep opened juice bottles for longer than a week.

Anything dried, such as cereal, crackers, and oats, will last as long as it takes you to eat it. No worries here. This leads to an amazing conclusion: If you can find a dried version of you favorite food, you can store it much longer. For example, I am really excited about dried milk. It lasts forever (figuratively speaking) and, depending on the brand, tastes just like regular milk. Just add water! Similiarily, I´ve discovered dried hummus, soups, instant meals, oatmeal, instant mashed potatoes, and more; all of which you don´t have to worry about spoiling.

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Bread seems to last as long outside as it does inside. Jelly may spoil within a couple weeks, while honey may crystallize, but doesn´t go bad. Peanut butter seems to last forever, probably due to its high fat content.

DO NOT consume fresh animal-based products that have been left without refrigeration. This includes, but is not limited to, fresh meat, milk, eggs, sea food, yogurt, and cheese. Don´t risk it. Best case scenario, you´ll be worshiping the porcelain god for a couple days. Worst case scenario, you find yourself at the hospital with some unpronounceable illness.

Keeping food fresh longer

Personally, I´ve always kept my groceries in a “food box”. This can be any box really, however, a thick-walled plastic container with lid works best. Makes sure to insulate your box as much as possible; covering your box with a blanket helps a lot. If you keep your food inside your vehicle during the summer, try to park in the shade and use window shades to keep the inside cool.

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Dream On

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During one of my many discussions with my family regarding my lifestyle (“Houseless? What´s that supposed to be? You are homeless, whether you´d like to admit it or not!”) I realized that really, I only have one issue: People. My tiny mobile home is comfy and very much a “home” to me. I am well-fed, warm, healthy, clean, and happy. I am employed, working on my Masters, and am self-sustaining. In short, I have everything I need and I am everything I want to be.

For many of us, the trouble starts when we are trying to find a decent place to sleep. Society decided that living on the wrong side of those four walls is utterly unacceptable. So we have to be quiet and invisible. I´d love to do a little reading before bed, but any light would give me away. How relaxing would it be to sit outside my car, or even just roll down a window, to watch as nature lays itself to rest; can´t do that either. It´d be nice to be able to open my doors in the morning to let in some much needed air, but, as you´ve probably guessed, that´s not a good idea either.

Even worse than being frowned upon, is the fact that my lifestyle can get me in trouble with the police. Society decided that living outside of a house or apartment is such a horrendous act that it should be against the law! Somehow I imagined freedom to mean something different… I´d very much appreciate being a full member of society instead of living in the shadows.

This leaves me dreaming of a society in which I can freely admit to my lifestyle without being judged and prosecuted. Oh how nice would it be wave a hello to my housed neighbors and watch the sun rise without worrying about being seen.

Why would you wanna live like this?

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I suppose this post will end up a little more personal as I really can’t speak for anybody but myself. I can assume that others may have similar reasons for becoming a hobo, nomad, houseless, or homeless, but I can’t be sure.

To this day my family is rather… dissatisfied with my lifestyle. Although they’ve finally started joking about it (“If she gets a dash cam, it’ll be traffic and home surveillance”), which is good, but I know that they are still far from fine with it.

Why would I want to live like this? Let me try to explain.

  • Freedom is important to me

I don’t enjoy being held back by my possessions or obligations. Think of all the things that come with renting an apartment for example. You have to keep it clean, you have to work your rear off to pay for it, you are stuck in a particular area at least for a while, you own furniture and carpets and curtains and desks and chairs and tables and oh my! You spend all your time at work, at school, outside, running errands, just to come home to a place that is half the reason you are never home. Is this madness or what?

I own a vehicle, which gets me from A to B. I also rebuilt the back to offer a bed, storage for clothes, food, and hygiene articles, and an area to relax after a long day. If I drive anywhere, I already have everything I need. I can leave for the mountains in the spur of the moment. I have time for personal growth and living life. And, other than my student loans, I do not have to worry about money.

  • I save A LOT of money

If you are like me and absolutely cannot deal with having roommates anymore (it worked for many years, but I am just over it), you’ll pay at least $800 a month for an apartment in my area. If you are fine with random shootings and living next to a bar and a liquor store, then you may be able to squeeze by with $650 a month. At just above minimal wage, I’d have to work 22 hours a week, just to pay for an apartment. By the time you add food ($125 a month), gas ($130 a month), utilities ($100 a month), and cell phone costs ($25 a month), I’d need to add another 10 hours of work per week. What about clothes, hygiene products, cleaning products, fixing the car, and school supplies? Add another 5 hours for good measure and I’d be working 37 hours a week just to scrape by. And of course I am a full time student, which means I spend an average of 20 hours in class and studying. Why on earth would I want to live like that? Just in the last year, I saved a little over $6000, which will be my down payment for that van I’ll be purchasing soon.

  • Psychological factors

These factors may overlap with my need for freedom, but they are not quite the same. My upbringing was very restrictive and abusive, and while I have done well for myself after leaving home, some things stuck with me. Being inside for long periods of time is depressing to me. I feel locked up and lonely. Not being able to spend time outside within nature and enjoying life leaves me depressed and anxious as well. I simply cannot be spending every day of the week working AND be happy. I become miserable if I don’t get to break free every once in a while. I need quality time to enjoy life. Who doesn’t?

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  • What I do actually matters

I’d rather spend hours setting up a camp, cooking food over an open fire, scouting out new spots, or cleaning my vehicle, than spend 40 hours a week at work. What I do matters for my survival and health. When is the last time you’ve done something at work that actually mattered? Sure, there are many professions, such as police offices and doctors, who matter in most of the activities they do at work. But how many of us sit at a desk, push papers, and spend countless hour staring at a screen just to receive money at the end of the month? In comparison to withstanding mother nature in one’s daily journey of survival and LIFE, what does it really matter if I copy another student’s paperwork and enter it into the system. To me, that feels like a cushioned version of what could possibly resemble life. But not life as it is “meant to” be lived.

  •  Nature

Even before I began living life houseless, I wasn’t consuming as much as most people around me. These days, however, I am consuming even less. I don’t have my own electricity, running water, or heat. I buy a majority of my clothes from goodwill, buy used whenever possible, recycle, and walk everywhere.  Of course, my vehicle is the great exception eating up resources like a starving wolf on a sheep farm, but I suppose that’s the price of keeping one foot in society. Overall, I’ve not just gotten closer to nature, I feel like I am a part of it.

What’s on your mind? Comment!

Enjoy!

How to be a Happy (Urban) Camper

I’ve complied a list of “hobo etiquette” that will help you stay safe, undisturbed, and it good terms with the neighbors. Enjoy!

  1. Mind your own business

This rule is one of the most important, yet can be incredibly difficult to adhere to. It starts with the common courtesy of giving others space and privacy.

  • Don’t be peaking in a fellow hobo’s living quarters, residents’ apartments or houses, or vehicles parked around you.
  • Keep your distance from peoples’ homes and vehicles as much as you can.
  • Don’t be that creepy person who is watching everyone from inside their vehicle for fun

Seems simple enough, right? Well, sometimes things are a little more complicated. The better you are at camouflaging yourself, the more activities you’ll be able to observe that usually lie hidden.

  • Drug dealers: Absolutely none of your business. Find a different spot.
  • Loud-mouthed folks: Annoying but not worth getting in trouble or revealing yourself for. Just leave.
  • Fights/Shootings: That’s a tough one. What you should and should not do really depends on the situation. However, you should put your own safety first. Know that you should only be the one calling the cops if shit hits the fan, as you will have to reveal your homelessness to the authorities (which is never a good idea). In other words, I wouldn’t suggest calling the cops over a loud argument in a parking lot. Get the hell out of there and be done with it. If, however, someone was shot or got beaten up badly, call the cops and help. If the perpetrator is still at the scene, consider your own strength and weapons before facing him/her. Sometimes, simply blowing your horn and turning on your lights can scare an attacker away.
  • Domestic violence: Most definitely your business. Call the cops.
  • Animal abuse: I’ve reported animal abuse to the humane society before. You should too. Should you confront a drug dealer who hit his pit bull? If you value your own life and future safety, let the authorities handle that.
  • Theft/Damage: In most cases you can actually submit anonymous tips after the crime occurred.

2. Sleeping spots are for sleeping only

Unless you are on a designated campground or in a RV park, within city limits your presence will be tolerated at best. Many cities have made urban camping illegal and law enforcement keeps an eye out for you. Despite this, I see folks running around socializing, drinking beer, making people uncomfortable, washing their cars, putting up grills, and much more (you wouldn’t believe!). Not only do these people reveal themselves to law enforcement and the public, they compromise the sleeping spot for everyone.

  • Park. Sleep. Wake up early. Leave. End of the story.
  • If you need to get your car ready for the night, try doing so without stepping outside. It will attract a lot less attention to you.
  • Engage in low key activities only, such as reading, drawing, coloring, knitting, or whatever else floats your boat. Park under a street lamp for light. Producing your own light will attract attention to your vehicle.

3. Scouting and Rotating

I can’t emphasize this enough. Scouting is important in order to find a safe and hidden spot. In terms of etiquette, however, rotating spots is the more important step. If a store such as Home Depot, Kmart, or Walmart tolerates you on their property or you’ve found a great spot at a park n’ ride or church parking lot, don’t push the “welcome”.

  • As a rule of thumb, don’t use a spot more than once a week. Don’t park on a schedule, as law enforcement may be expecting you.
  • Letting spots “rest” is a good idea when the owners/law enforcement are catching on to you. Simply abandon said spot for several weeks or even months. In neighborhoods, however, you vehicle may be noticed more if it is not part of the usual landscape. Use your own judgement.

You can find more information regarding scouting and rotating here.

4. Present just another vehicle

Towels covering the windshield, trash pilled up on the dashboard, dirty laundry stuck to the windows, and a vehicle that is in desperate need for some serious TLC. Come on, make an effort! In order to go undisturbed you want to blend in.

  • Tinted windows combined with dark fabric on the inside of the vehicle make it almost impossible to discern your vehicle from others at a first glance.
  • Keep it clean and neat.
  • Trash or laundry strapped to the top/back of your vehicle is not OK, unless you own a closed carrier.

5. Keep your spots clean

I can’t see any good reasons to litter one’s sleeping spot with trash. I can, however, come up with a bunch of reasons why one ought not be a litter pig!

  • It’s utterly disrespectful towards the workers who have to pick up after you
  • It’s utterly disrespectful towards the company who tolerates you sleeping on their property
  • It’s utterly disrespectful towards mother nature
  • Littering makes the houseless community as a whole look bad
  • Trash reveals hobo parking spots to law enforcement, the public, and property owners
  • Excessive littering compromises the spot and area for all urban campers

Agree? Disagree? Do you have something to add? Comment!

Let’s put up some signs!

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I find this anti-homeless campaign utterly shameful and a huge waste of resources. Instead of helping families and individuals in extreme poverty, this city is ridiculing each and every homeless person. I am very surprised to find such a conservative and ill-informed advertising in modern day Europe (Nottingham, UK).

Hobo Signs

These can come in handy if you find yourself in a new place and need to figure out your surroundings quickly! Personally, I typically rely on my scouting skills to find good places to sleep, rest, and hide out from the cops, but I do pay attention to “Camp here” and “Cops active” signs.

What´s for Dinner?

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Living outside comes with a variety of challenges, one of which is nutrition. Unless you own a camper, you will most likely not have access to a well- equipped kitchen. This guide is aimed towards individuals who have access to a non climate controlled environment for food storage (i.e. a vehicle).

The most important aspect to consider regarding eating well are storage, preparation of food, and a varied diet. For many without means to support themselves, obtaining food is the biggest problem. The issue of where to get food from to begin with, will be addressed in a separate post.

Storage

Depending on the season and your home base you will have to use different methods for storing your food. As a rule of thumb, if your food looks, smells, and/or tastes weird, don’t eat it. Trust your gut feeling!

– During the summer, vehicles and storage containers will heat up and greatly affect perishable food items. In order to keep the temperature down, try to park in the shade as much as possible and utilize sunshades. For my Ford Explorer I use one large foldy sunshade for the windshield and bought a set of oval sunshades for my back window. In addition, I try to crack a couple windows as often as possible. A crack the size of your key (flat side) is sufficient for letting out some of the hot air. Please consider your and your vehicles safety before cracking the windows for more than a few minutes or if you are planning on leaving the vehicle unattended.

– Store your food in a Tupperware or similar container. Don´t ask me how it works, but even on a hot day (90´s), you´ll be able to keep your food at room temperature (Yes, regular room temperature). Since my container has a see-through lid, I also cover it with a heavy wool blanket. This seems to help keep the food cool as well, plus prevents nosy passerbys from seeing what´s inside.

– During the winter, you may be confronted with solidly frozen food items and drinks. Again, insulation is the key! Store your items in a box and utilize blankets to cover said container. Water can be kept from freezing by storing it close you (e.g. in your sleeping back) during the night. Do not attempt to thaw already frozen water with your body heat. In most cases, the few drops of water you may gain are not worth you getting sick or freezing to death.

– Obviously you won´t be able to store just any food in your vehicle. Items such as fresh vegetables and fruits will go bad very quickly. I wouldn´t suggest storing them for more than a couple days during the summer season. Personally, I prefer buying these things shortly before I eat them. Canned food is one of the most ideal choices and offers a variety of nutritious options. I´ve left canned goods in my car for up to several months and other than a change in texture in some products (yeah, that broccoli-cheese soup looked very unappetizing), I haven’t noticed any difference whatsoever. My personal favorites are canned fruit (pineapple, pears, lichee, mango, etc.) and soups. Dried food such as instant oat meal, quick meals, and mashed potatoes will do just fine as well. Military MRE (Meal Ready-to-eat) work as well, but cost a little more. Still, it’s a good idea to have a few handy.

Keeping Healthy

In order to keep yourself healthy, I advice against eating fast food more than once a week. There are other ways of getting your daily meal without joining millions of overweight Americans.

– First of all, there is absolutely no need to eat a warm meal every single day. Most of us are getting more calories per day than we need to begin with. This phenomenon is fueled by the media telling us we need sausage burgers for breakfast and spam our televisions with soda products that have absolutely no nutritional value. How about a cheese sandwich with tomatoes and lettuce, a yogurt, some pineapple chunks, and a couple cookies for dessert? Not used to regular food from mother earth anymore? You better get used to it or the hobo lifestyle will wear you and your body down very quickly.

– Be sure you get your important Vitamins and eat enough of each food group. This website has a variety of useful information regarding nutrition and food. Personally, I prefer a vegetarian diet. This requires a bit more planning but is absolutely doable. If you´d like to know more about it, leave a comment or email me!

– Here are a few items that you can store in your vehicle longer and that will help keep you healthy. V8 vegetable juice (the fruit juice tastes good, but is in no way a healthy alternative to actual fruit), canned fruit (careful, canned fruit tends to have a lot of calories), canned veggies (watch out for sodium content), Pumpernickel (type of bread, very healthy, not for everyone though), raisins, mixed nuts (lots of protein, but also lots of calories), granola bars (again, calories), soups (tomato, potato, vegetable, noddle, etc.), apple sauce, etc.

Preparing a meal

– Preparing a warm meal can be a challenge. Backpack stoves such as this one are inexpensive, lightweight and work great to heat up canned soups and prepare small meals. Use a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature! If your vehicle or storage container reaches temperatures over 120°F (48°C), your stove tank may combust. Gas leaks are also something to worry about. My vehicle´s inside temperature has not exceeded 90°F thus far.

– Personally, I prefer cooking over a camp fire. Obviously, you can´t light up a nice fire just anywhere, but if you are lucky enough to have a decent natural forest close by, a warm meal is within reach. Now, I always wanted to learn how to make a fire from scratch, but just haven´t gotten around to it. However, I´ve gotten good enough to light a fire in pretty much any type of weather. I´d suggest keeping a newspaper handy at all times (fits nicely into a backpack and can be educational depending on the newspaper). Here is a great link on how to build a decent fire. As always, drown your camp fires!

– If you happen to be employed and are lucky enough to have access to a break room equipped with a microwave, you´ll be able to feed yourself well whenever you are at work. Again, canned soups and just-add-water meals work great. You can also reheat leftovers that you may have grilled over a fire the day before. In addition, you can purchase frozen meals before work, and keep them in the freezer. Just make sure you don´t leave a mess!

– Sometimes there is just no way to get a warm meal. If it isn´t fast-food day, and you´ve already spend too many days without a ´real meal´, I´d suggest locating the nearest homeless shelter or church. Often times these organizations provide warm meals at least a few times per week. Next time you get a chance, donate a few bucks or some cans of food for their service (if you can).