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Pahrump man turns to ‘van life’ following health scare

Updated April 22, 2022 - 3:20 pm

With housing prices at all-time highs and showing no signs of slowing down, many folks are looking for alternative means of living. One of those is known as “van life.”

The concept is to consolidate your living arrangement into a van. The price of van conversion can range from $10,000 for a fixer-upper to more than $100,000 for a new vehicle.

Pahrump native Tom Brown saw the benefit of consolidating his goods and slowing down after several strokes in 2017 took him out of the workforce and put him on disability.

Brown knew he had to make a lifestyle change. Having driven a big rig for the previous decade, Brown felt comfortable on the road — so the next natural step was to stay on the road.

In a GMC Safari minivan.

“I’d prefer a larger one, but I get great gas mileage,” Brown said.

The van is powered by a 375-watt solar panel on the roof, three batteries, and 120-volt ac inverter to power the television and appliances.

When not on the road, the day can be as simple as possible.

“My typical day includes meal prep, usually cold cuts. Some housekeeping, sometimes trash runs, maybe a propane fire pit at night,” Brown said, adding that his motto is to leave your spot cleaner than you found it.

Keeping the van clean is one thing, but keeping yourself clean is another issue.

“Pahrump is not a shower-friendly spot. The Horizon Market on the corner of Highway 372 and Linda Street has timed showers, but they never clean the showers,” Brown said.

Instead, Brown uses the RV park facilities.

Having been a trucker for 11 years, Brown doesn’t mind being alone. But on occasion he has traveled with other van-lifers.

“I use freecampsites.net and iOverlander apps to find spots to sleep, and there are nomad groups on Facebook on other sites,” he said.

Parking lots are always a safe bet, too. Home Depot and Walmart have security cameras in their lots, and usually allow for overnight parking at the general manager’s discretion.

There are other options, too.

“BLM is always a good option, and one I use frequently,” Brown said.

The Bureau of Land Management is free to use for “dispersed camping”, or camping away from developed facilities. But it isn’t always easy knowing where BLM is. Its websites, blm.gov/maps, is a source to find those free spots to camp.

Since converting to van living in 2019, Brown’s health has been the best it’s ever been.

It was while in the hospital recovering from his strokes that he discovered van life. He watched a documentary, “Without Bound — Perspectives on Mobile Living,” and was hooked. Less than two years later he was living the van life.

But is it safe?

“I’ve been solo out here since October,” Brown said. “It’s quite safe. I’m not built like others. I don’t buy into the constant fear that TV or radio news forces down our throats for ratings. It’s way safer out here than on your street.”

According to Brown, his expenses are about $800 a month for groceries and gas. But that can vary, and could be as high as $3,000 or $4,000 a month depending on the size of the camper, how far you’re traveling, how many people are with you and what maintenance or repairs need to be done.

Brown’s license is in Nevada, and so are his medical doctors. So he isn’t on the road too much. In the fall and winter Brown will spend most of his time in or around Pahrump, while in the spring and summer he will spend his time in the Flagstaff, Arizona area where it is typically cooler.

But van life isn’t for everybody, according to Brown.

“Most people are forced into it because of financial reasons and there aren’t many choices,” he said.

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