Conventional housing, the kind with four plain walls and a mortgage, doesn’t appeal to everyone, especially the inveterate global nomad. If we wanted safe and normal, we’d stay at home in the first place. But once we hit the road, we need an escape plan. Whether it’s for a month or for the rest of our lives, we need somewhere to sleep, hide from the weather and generally nest.
These days, downsizing is more than a trend; it’s a necessary part of survival whereby smaller is better. The era of 2000 square foot McMansions is over and many will not lament its passing. Smaller, specialized housing leads to big savings on energy and building materials. With efficient housing, size does matter – it costs much less to maintain 200 square feet than 2000 square feet.
Relocating to a private island in Boca del Toros or to the foothills of the Andes can demand creative housing solutions to problems of location or zoning. A home on wheels, on the water, or even in the trees, enables you to live simply and often inexpensively, while leaving a smaller carbon footprint.
Free Spirit Spheres
Perfectly sane grown-ups want to live in treehouses for any number of reasons. First and foremost is the view, joining the canopy rather than just gazing up at it. Living above the ground offers all sorts of advantages from avoiding pesky scavengers to communing with the trees instead of clearing cutting to pour a cement foundation and build on terra firma. A treehouse lets us access a magical space without disturbing the environment.
Tom Chudleigh’s Free Spirit Spheres are a marriage of treehouse and sailboat technology. His tree spheres evolved when a plan to build a boat didn’t work out. He suspended what was meant to be the cabin of the boat up into a tree in British Columbia. Like boats, Chudleigh constructs his spheres out of wood or fiberglass, fitting them with plumbing, wiring, and windows. The spheres are easily heated with a small electric heater. There is a small flat floor area in the middle of the sphere, much like a camper or a boat. A galley area includes a counter, cupboards, sink, a microwave and refrigerator. Above the galley area is a loft bed with full sitting headroom at the center.
His spheres are hung in the treetops by suspension ropes. The spherical shape is well adapted to life in the forest, standing up to wind by moving with the treetops. Like a ping pone ball or a nut, the spheres are light with a tough skin – a form of bio-mimicry. Chudleigh says, “I grew up dreaming of treehouses and it’s a space that feels like magic to me.” The uses for a treehouse are only limited by one’s imagination. Gamewatching, meditation, photography and full time living are all perfectly possible in your treetop hideaway.
Price: approximately $600 per square foot.
The Airstream trailer is a true icon of American design, easily recognized by its distinctive round aluminum body, harkening back to simpler times before convoys of fifth wheels hit the road en masse, transporting snowbirds to the desert to hole up for winter. Wally Byam created the Airstream in the 1930s “to place the great wide world at your doorstep for you who yearn to travel with all the comforts of home.” For road warriors today, nothing beats hitching a silver time capsule to the back of the car. At the end of the day, no matter where you are in an Airstream, you’ve arrived.
This land yacht of sorts can be used for holidays, business (think mobile storefront), or as a permanently parked residence. Airstream manufactures approximately 2000 trailers per year, with several models like the compact Basecamp at 16 feet to the Classic Limited model at 34 feet. Paris Hilton hitched up an Airstream to tour the country in the Simple Life. Style icon Ralph Lauren tried his hand at designing themed Airstreams. Airstreams are more popular than ever, and restoration of older models is a passion shared by many. Whether your taste is traditional or high-end, the silver bullet of travel is a home away from home with a lively history.
Price: approximately $300 per square foot, new.
Anywhere you find water, you will find people living on boats. For most of us, the journey from land lubber to liveaboard is a total lifestyle change. Living on a boat has become a feasible alternative in today’s volatile real estate market – why limit yourself to land when over seventy percent of the world is covered by water? Liveaboards are an interesting mix of people worldwide who share a passion for boats and the water. Living on a houseboat is a lifestyle, whether you have a 100 foot super yacht moored on St. Bart’s or a 20 foot do-it-yourself-er floating in a canal. You have the freedom to choose where and how you live. And if you don’t like where you live, untie your lines and move. You won’t find that kind of flexibility with a detached bungalow.
A houseboat is a great way to escape the rat race and simplify your life, while being close to nature. Houseboats come in all shapes, sizes and price. Houseboats with motors are meant to travel. Houseboats that aren’t open water worthy can be built on the spot and moored permanently. Most boats offer limited space so you will need to downsize your possessions otherwise your boat won’t stay afloat for long. If you want to live on the cheap, the classifieds are full of reasonably priced boats and moorings. If money is no object, have a look at some of the exquisite houseboats in Europe, particularly in the waters of Amsterdam – home to a large houseboat population whose floating hotels are a tourist favorite.
Choosing a boat will depend on where and how you want to use it. Once you’ve figured out your needs and budget, consider other expenses such as a survey, insurance, mooring, licences, and running costs. Just like land based properties, you must have your boat surveyed by a qualified surveyor. A boat must be insured, but costs vary depending on whether or not you’ll be cruising in open water. With as many different types of boats out there as people who want to live on them, do lots of homework to find your ideal floating home.
Price: ranging from $10 to $10,000 per square foot.
Nothing says nomad like a well-appointed Yurt. Mongolian nomads created these movable circular dwellings some 2000 years ago, to accommodate life on the Steppes in the sun, wind and rain. Today’s yurts are adapted from the original Central Asian design, but more likely to be made of hi-tech materials like polyester and vinyl rather than sheep’s wool. A modern yurt is also more likely to transported via truck or boat instead of on a Yak’s back.
The yurt is easy to build, usually arriving in kit form, assembled with a couple of friends in as little as one day. These structures often sit above the ground with minimal environmental impact, but with the ability to stand up to extreme elements. Yurts are a natural choice for off-grid living with options like composting toilets and rainwater catchment systems. You can heat your yurt with a wood stove and power it with solar panels or a generator. Yurts can reach up to about 700 square feet, divided into rooms or left as an open space.
A Yurt dweller in the high Rockies is less likely to move with the same frequency as traditional dwellers, but a yurt provides both a good year-round or seasonal home. For remote locations like islands or mountain tops, a yurt can be floated in or dropped via helicopter. For seasonal users, some yurts can be taken apart and kept safe in the off season. If you’re looking for a temporary place to hang your hat while building your dream villa, a yurt easily converts into a guest bunkie or an art studio when your permanent construction is complete. A Yurt is a natural and inexpensive structure, leaving you close to nature but comfy and sheltered – an ideal shelter for the modern nomad.
Price: approximately $20 per square foot.
Tiny Tumbleweed Houses
Jay Shafer has been living in a house smaller than some people’s closet for over 10 years. Ask him why and he might joke about not wanting to vacuum any more or look after space he doesn’t use. But his real reasons for inhabiting about 96 square feet arose from concerns about the impact a larger house would have on the environment. Shafer’s tiny home meets all his domestic needs without demanding much in return, but provides a simpler, slower lifestyle which he considers a luxury.
Shafer’s Tiny Tumbleweed House company builds houses ranging from 40-500 square feet. You can buy a tiny house ready made in about 3 weeks or buy the plans and build it yourself. The tiniest designs are road-ready (trailer hitch included), the ultimate in nomadic portability. Because the houses are on wheels, they are considered travel trailers, and do not require a building permit. You can put a tiny house anywhere you can put an RV. The houses are wired for electricity with a plug on the outside. You can power a house with a standard AC plug-in or via solar panels with an inverter that converts energy from the sun into alternating current (AC).
Tumbleweed homes on wheels are all plumbed to be connected to public water and sewer. If permanent sewer or water access isn’t available, a portable water tank and a compost toilet can be substituted. Built-in amenities include a two-burner stove, an under-counter refrigerator, a bar sink, an RV on-demand hot water heater, and a propane boat heater. The interior design pays maximum attention to light, warmth, energy efficiency and proportion. Tumbleweed Tiny Houses are very well insulated, easy to heat and cool. A Tumbleweed home owner in Olympia, Washington, spends an average of $5 per month on propane for heating her tiny home. That’s a novel concept indeed.
Price: approximately $500 per square foot.