Van Life: What is it like to live on wheels?

The van life phenomenon has become even more widespread since the COVID-19 era. Many people – including some Israelis – have taken this idea to a new level.

 YEHUDA  HERMAN  loves life in his  caravan. (photo credit: Courtesy)
YEHUDA HERMAN loves life in his caravan.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

While the Children of Israel wandered through the desert for 40 years on their way to the Holy Land, they lived in huts. Each year on Sukkot, we relive this experience by constructing temporary homes and living, eating and sleeping in them. Many people – including some Israelis – have taken this idea to a new level, and for personal reasons decided to live in mobile homes such as buses or caravans. 

It appears this phenomenon has became even more widespread since the COVID-19 era. So many people’s lives were turned upside down, and a number of families decided to use this upheaval to leave their permanent homes and move into homes on wheels, traveling around the country so they could feel more connected to nature. 

“I own an apartment in Kfar Ganim, but I love the feeling of living out in nature,” explains Rami Gavaso. “I love sailing and feeling the night as I stare up into the starlit sky. And there’s nothing like watching the sunrise as you open your eyes in the morning. Wherever we happen to be, we get up and prepare shakshuka. 

“I just turned 60 and this was the greatest present I could think of giving myself.”

What was the gift?

“Well, I bought a bus and turned it into a camping car. It’s completely outfitted as a real home. I can decide from one minute to the next to go to Tiberias, Eilat or anywhere else I feel like going. My girlfriend and I travel around from place to place. Even though I don’t live in my apartment, I’m still in charge of its va’ad bayit (tenants’ association), and manage to take care of any building issues that arise. In fact, one of the best parts of living in a camping car is that you don’t have any neighbors! 

“I love being out in nature and feeling connected to the land. If it gets hot, we hop inside and take off for Metulla. When it gets cold, we drive down to Eilat. It’s an absolutely glorious life.”

This type of lifestyle lends itself to lots of exciting adventures. Just after Gavaso began traveling around with his camping car, he found himself in a comical situation. 

“During the first lockdown,” he recalls, “a policeman stopped me and began interrogating me, asking what I was doing outside during the lockdown. I told him, ‘This isn’t my car – it’s my home. I haven’t moved even one meter from my home.’ He just smirked and waved me on. This was the best thing that happened to me during the epidemic.”

“I meet so many people who tell me they would love to live in a camping car, but say they’re too scared. I try to explain to them that it’s no big deal and that it’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” says Rotem Haim Even, who lived in Eilat up until COVID-19 broke out. “My ex-wife and I used to have a camping car business. After we got divorced, I felt really lonely living at home by myself. I got a dog to keep me company, but that didn’t help. I wanted to get out and live more, instead of spending all my time trying to make a buck. I felt like I was chasing my own tail. So, when COVID-19 hit, I realized the time was right to make a drastic change in my life. I sold my house and bought a caravan.”

What steps did you need to take to make this happen?

“In the first lockdown, my kids were with me full-time, since my ex was an essential worker,” continues Haim Even. “We were home all day long, and at some point we were all climbing the walls stuck inside together. I built them a zipline and a climbing wall in the living room. I spent all my time trying to find interesting things for them to do. I’d been thinking about buying a van that I could revamp and 

convert into a camper, and I realized that I didn’t actually need to wait until I’d sold my house to begin working on that project. So I bought a van and worked on it day and night until it was ready. That way, I was able to get out and about even before my house was sold.”

What was it like driving around the first few days? 

 A CONVERTED American  school bus is now the Elefant  family home.  (credit: INSTAGRAM) A CONVERTED American school bus is now the Elefant family home. (credit: INSTAGRAM)

“At first, it felt really small and cramped, but I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be able to do this. I loved that I could reach everything I needed. It was so fun having a sink, shower and bed in my car that was outfitted with solar panels. I loved that I could go to a new place every day and have a new view. And I’ve met so many incredible people that I never would have met otherwise, even with how easy it’s become to meet people on social networks. Plus the car cost me only NIS 9,000.”

How did your family and friends react to your moving into a van?

“Not so well. They couldn’t understand why I would sell my house and give up the convenience of living in a normal home. But after they saw how happy I was, that I was blossoming and how much money I was saving, they began to accept it. A few of them even began looking into buying a van themselves.” 

AFTER HAIM EVEN sold his house, he bought a large caravan. 

“There’s enough space for seven people, so there’s plenty of room when I want to take the kids with me on a trip,” he explains. “And they love it. I take them somewhere different every other week, from the northern tip of Israel down to the southern tip. I have a son from my first marriage in the North, and my other kids are in Eilat, so I’m always on the road between the two. And there’s no TV, so we get to spend lots of quality time together. When they’re at home, they each have their own bedroom, and they love to hang out by themselves with the door closed. When we’re all in the camper together, it’s a very different experience.”

Don’t you miss the convenience of living in a real home?

“No, not at all. Why would I need a TV when I can hang out in Eilat near the sea? I have a kayak, and I love swimming with the dolphins. I’ve flourished since I left my house.”

“I didn’t move into my caravan because I didn’t have anywhere else to live or couldn’t afford my apartment anymore,” stresses Yehuda Herman, from Zayit Ra’anan, near Dolev in Samaria, who began living in his truck when COVID-19 broke out. 

“I’ve always loved traveling around. A few years ago I came across a great deal on a truck, so I bought it. I’d studied design at Bezalel and began using the truck as an art studio so I wouldn’t get my house dirty. But then when the pandemic hit, and I realized what life was going to be like for the near future, I took the big step and turned the truck into my home. I began working on this project the first day of the first lockdown, and I completed it just in time for the second lockdown.”

What are the advantages of living in a truck?

“It’s so great being able to go anywhere I want. It’s like having my very own B&B on wheels. The back wall opens up into a balcony, which is great in any season. I have a folding table made from oak, which I open up when I’m cooking, and then I spend lots of time relaxing on my balcony.”

What are the downsides of living like this?

“Israel is a narrow-minded and overly bureaucratic country, and since there are no places for campers to park at night, I often get kicked out by people who live nearby, or by municipal employees. In the US, there are RV parks all over the place, where you can pay to stay overnight. I’d love to be able to pay and then be relaxed that no one is going to bother me. I end up paying the same amount in Israel anyway that I would overseas – just in parking tickets. I know ahead of time how much I’m going to owe in tickets – about NIS 250 a week - so I budget this as one of my expenses. It’s kind of like paying rent. I’d be happier, though, to have an official way to pay the municipality for parking instead of accumulating tickets, but it’s not really that big of a deal.”

 RACHELI HADAD and  family: On a new journey (credit: Courtesy) RACHELI HADAD and family: On a new journey (credit: Courtesy)

What is it about living in a mobile home that attracts you so much?

“I love that I can move around anywhere I want, any time I feel like it. I love that I can go places where other people can’t find a place to sleep, where you’re not allowed to build a house. Like on the beach in Herzliya or near a spring in the Golan Heights. I love spending so much time close to nature.”

IGOR LAPSHON, the owner of a hi-tech company, lived on the top floor of a Ramat Gan tower until the pandemic. 

“My flat was 220 meters high in the sky,” Lapshon boasts. “I like to be far away from everyone and everything. I need my space and quiet – both at home and at work.”

When corona came in the picture, Lapshon began looking for an alternative way to live. 

“I’ve always been the type of person who likes to move around a lot, always looking for quiet spots,” he admits. “COVID was the trigger, I guess, for me to take the next step, since all of a sudden there were so many people in my building all the time. I began going away to bed-and-breakfasts for a few days at a time to get away from all the commotion. Then one day I realized if anyway I’m not enjoying my home, I might as well set myself up with a caravan where I can work and also sleep comfortably, and also move around to different places.

“I loved everywhere I went, but it took me about six months until I rigged up a way to take hot showers in the winter,” continues Lapshon. “I began the process last July. I gave away most of my clothes, keeping only the items I really like. I lead a much more minimalist life now. I don’t buy nearly as much as I used to, and I use stuff much more efficiently now. My cost of living has decreased tremendously.”

Lapshon says the main reason he agreed to be interviewed is that he wanted people to understand this new world. 

“It’s important for me to explain to people how I live now. I wanted others to see how much I’ve gained from my new way of life, how living in a caravan has expanded my horizons. Not everyone has to take a mortgage that will slowly strangle them over a period of 30 years. There’s always an alternative option. I personally can afford to buy an apartment in Tel Aviv, but that way of living no longer appeals to me.”

RACHELI HADAD, together with her husband and their four children, decided eight months ago to leave their home in Kfar Yonah and set out on a new journey. 

“When COVID-19 hit, we realized that we’d be happier going overseas with our children on an adventure,” explains Hadad. “So we sold our house and all of our stuff, took our kids out of school, and set off for a six-month trip to Mexico and Costa Rica. And we decided that when we return home to Israel, we’re not going back to living in a house. We want to continue living in a caravan so that we have much more flexibility. What we were most surprised about is how many people are already living like this, and how easy it is. And it’s only possible because I work online, so I can work from any location.”

 NURIT ELEFANT: Picked up and  moved to Panama.  (credit: Courtesy) NURIT ELEFANT: Picked up and moved to Panama. (credit: Courtesy)

ANOTHER FAMILY that made the pandemic-influenced decision to travel outside of Israel is Nurit and Yuval Elefant from Neveh Tzedek, who picked up their daughters and moved to Panama. 

“We bought an old American yellow school bus, and we turned it into our home. It’s pretty tight, but not actually that much smaller than our shoebox-sized apartment in Tel Aviv. We bought a three-acre plot and are working on creating a farm. We’re inviting other families to join us, and a few have already expressed interest.”

How are you making a living?

“Well, neither of us is working now, but we also don’t have many expenses, since we live in a small village and everything is really cheap. Our plan is to live off of the fruit and vegetables we’ll grow on our farm and be self-sufficient. We also have plans to rent out bed-and-breakfast units here, which should bring in some money. I’ll also cook, so we can offer guests meals, too. 

“Our idea was to escape from the pursuit of money, to live simply and enjoy life.” 

Translated by Hannah Hochner.