Live Outside: The Ultimate in Cheap Living

Posted by – February 4, 2011

Strapped for cash? Sick of the rat race? Have you ever wondered if you can live outside, thereby competely avoiding the cost of rent or a house?

The answer is, yes you can, and I did it — for a year and three months. Of course, you don’t have to live outside to live cheaply; if you’re from an affluent country like the USA or UK (to name but two!), you might consider, for instance, moving to a foreign country where your savings will go a long way. Hungary is a good place to live cheaply; and indeed I, Squiffy, will be trying that experiment very soon and writing about it for your pleasure.

But if you want the ultimate in cheap living — and I’m talking here about ten dollars a week cheap, food and all expenses included — then your best bet may be to live outside, in a tent.

Firstly you’ll need somewhere to pitch your tent. One of the major problems you’ll encounter if you live outside will be that people tend to steal your stuff. You have no security; the minute you leave your tent, anyone can and will get into it.

My solution was to pitch my tent in the middle of a large clump of prickly gorse bushes atop a seaside cliff, a little outside a small town. Gorse needles are a good thief deterrent (especially if it’s hard to see your tent) but rarely penetrate the skin. This location had the added advantage that I could sneak into the showers of a local caravan site at night and get clean.

You might also want to consider pitching your tent in woodland, or in the middle of evergreen bushes that won’t lose their leaves in winter. If you find a really good clump of bushes a little off the beaten track, you can make a space in the middle of them big enough for your tent.

Once you have decided upon a good location, preferably near a source of water, the most difficult bit is over. Now you need a cheap tent, like this one:

You might wonder if you need a special tent to live outside. If you’re staying in one location, the answer is no you don’t. Just get a dome tent rather than a ridge tent, so you have enough space to sit up!

Buy lots of thick blankets or duvets to keep you warm. You can keep warm effectively without any kind of heating even in sub-zero temperatures throughout the winter, provided you have enough blankets. It’s actually a lot of fun; you feel snug like a woodland creature in its burrow. After all, foxes, squirrels and pigeons live outside; why not you?

Be sure to insulate the space underneath you, beneath your blankets, with lots of stuff like thick cardboard and more blankets. Put the insulating material in bin liners. The reason for this is, the floor of your tent will attract huge amounts of condensation, in addition to being extremely cold. By putting lots of thick cardboard and other material underneath yourself, you can keep yourself off the ground and minimize condensation problems. Wrapping the material in bin liners ensures you don’t end up with useless soggy cardboard.

You can easily make hot drinks and even cook delicious meals using a camping stove like this one:

Be careful not to set your tent on fire! Most tents these days are flame-retardant, but even so you can easily melt big holes in your tent if you’re not careful.

Hopefully you’ve chosen your location near a source of water. If your local free water source isn’t drinkable, you can fetch water in two-liter plastic bottles from whatever free source you can find in the nearest town or village. Wash your pots in the nearest stream or the sea, then wash off the stream or sea water using clean water from your bottles.

With practice you can actually clean your teeth, wash your face and even your whole body using minimal water from a bottle, with as little as two liters per day, but it isn’t easy. It’s better to find somewhere you can take a shower in town; for example at a local swimming pool (needless to say, shower before you enter the pool!).

Economy night-lights can be used as a cheap light source, and five or so will even heat your tent up very significantly, but beware of the fire risk! If you use candles to heat your tent, you must be very careful indeed. Don’t, for example, use spray-on deodorant in your tent with a candle burning …. I did, and fortunately I lived to tell the tale, but only just! Whether you live outside or inside, finding yourself in the middle of a fireball is an unsettling and potentially fatal experience.

There’s a lot more I could say on this subject; I have many happy memories of my time spent outside … watching the stars, waking myself up before dawn with a delicious pot of coffee, spending the days working on an (unreadable and rightly unpublished) novel …. But that’s enough to get you started.

Feel free to ask questions via the comments; I’ll do my best to answer them.


2 Comments on Live Outside: The Ultimate in Cheap Living

  1. Tiffany says:

    My fiance and I and a friend want to move to the beach area and live in a tent. We would love the experience. Now the thing is we both have jobs and everything,my fiance and I.The thing is our jobs are about an hour away from where we would be staying at. Its a nice little area about 15 min away from cocoa beach,fl. Right off of the river.Trees for shade, plenty of places to go and “shower before entering the pool” and plenty of places to get water,food ect.
    In your opinion, do you think it would be worth the money we’d be spending on gas getting to and from our work places? no rent, electricity,water bills. Food and gas being the only thing we would be paying for.
    Mind you we are only 19 years old so this is something we have thought long and hard about doing to experience life in a new way.
    Any tips, opinions and answers you would have would be very much appreciated.

    • Squiffy says:

      Hi there,

      I would say I spent almost nothing back in my tent-dwelling days. So if the gas costs less than your rent would do, you’ll probably save money. You’ll have to drive it and work out the cost. Two hours a day of driving will get old really quickly, but it’ll be fine for a while.

      Be careful not to pitch your tent too near water though! I cooked food on little gas stoves, which cost almost nothing to use. There aren’t really any other expenses.

      Just go for it. It’s around 17 years now since I did this and it’s always been a great memory to look back on. I wish I had done more things like this. For a while I even put it on my CV (resume, I think you Americans say) and it actually got me some job interviews. People wanted to meet the guy who’d lived in a tent.

      At first it can be psychologically and physically hard, but you get used to it quickly. Try to do it for three weeks; fix any problems that come up (some unexpected difficulties will certainly arise), and if you get through the three weeks you’ll probably feel able to stay in a tent just as long as you like. You can always tell yourselves that you’ll discuss whether to continue or not at the end of the three weeks. That way you avoid the psychological pressure of making a sudden huge change in lifestyle. After a while it becomes really easy.

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