Insider

How to live in a van without air-conditioning or heat, according to a van dweller who played himself in ‘Nomadland’

Summary List PlacementOne of the most common questions prospective van dwellers ask Bob Wells — who appeared as himself in the Oscar-winning film "Nomadland" — is about temperature. The 65-year-old nomad, who moved into a van after a divorce left him unable to afford rent in 1995, told Insider that...

Bob Wells heating diptych tall

Summary List Placement

One of the most common questions prospective van dwellers ask Bob Wells — who appeared as himself in the Oscar-winning film “Nomadland” — is about temperature.

The 65-year-old nomad, who moved into a van after a divorce left him unable to afford rent in 1995, told Insider that people considering his lifestyle often ask how they can stay warm or cool depending on the season and their location.

In the summer “heat is going to pour through your windows, and in the winter, it’s going to pour out,” he said.

Wells has been residing in a van full-time since 2008 after a brief stint living in a home; now, he spends his days teaching others how to live in a van on a budget through his blog, CheapRVLiving, and YouTube channel, while living on the road in a GMC Savanna 4×4.

Bob Wells outside van

To live comfortably in a van, Wells recommends that those new to the lifestyle buy Reflectix, a reflective insulator he describes as “heavy-duty bubble wrap.” Home Depot sells a 16″ by 25′ roll for $13, but Wells says he has found it at most hardware stores.

“If you push it into the window from the inside, it will keep the sun’s rays from beating in,” Wells said of the insulator. “And in the winter, it will give you some insulating value,” he said. 

As an added benefit, “no one can see through it,” Wells said.

“Privacy is one of the most important things because you’re going to be living in your van,” he said. “You’re going to be taking showers in your van. You’re going to be going to the bathroom in the bath in bad weather. You’re going to do everything inside the van.”

Bob Wells at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous

While a van may not be as comfortable as a home with heat and air-conditioning, Wells always tells first-time van dwellers that what they give up in comfort, they gain in freedom.

By reducing the costs associated with homeownership like rent, “you break the power of money over your life” and regain the ability “to make your own decisions on a daily basis about what you will do with your life,” Wells said.

It sounds like a dream, but van life didn’t come easily at first for Wells.

The first night he spent in his van, he cried himself to sleep. But over the next six months, as he learned how to adapt to his new lifestyle, Wells became truly happy.

For the first time, he said, his paycheck went into his pocket — and not his landlord.

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