One very little known fact is that the National Forest, being public land, is open for you to camp on, i.e. live, as long as you want to do so. There are, of course, regulations surrounding this, such as not damaging forest land, moving camp site every couple of weeks, you can check the forest regulations online and if you have any concerns all you have to do is talk to the local Park Ranger branch to find out what they will expect (just be sure to get the name/badge /etc of whomever you get this information from as proof if you get harassed by another ranger). There are technically laws about how long you can stay in the forest (these have been getting more strict of late with the increase in vagrancy laws, totally unconstitutional, but no one with the money to fight it cares), and in certain places that have a lot of different national forests you can move from forest to forest. If you travel it is definitely easier, but you can always just keep a clean site and make friends with the Rangers too, depending on the area. Mostly the Rangers are just concerned about keeping the forest pristine and healthy as well as free of drugs and other illegal activities, help and they will be very understanding, make a mess and you will be laid with some serious fines. Vehicle camping has it’s own set of regulations, mostly regarding damage to the land (stay within 100 ft of established roads) and staying out of the sight of houses, campgrounds and trailheads (they want the area to look picturesque for daytrippers). But, in general, you can live for free on a vast stretch of the most beautiful land in the US if you have a easy-upkeep and weather-tight camp set-up.
I recommend a car or van personally, they offer more protection from the elements and allow you to drive into town, but you would be amazed at how cheap it is to live that way, and how comfortably if you do some planning and research and allow for some time to learn and adapt while you are actually doing it. I have also found that vans are far more inconspicuous than RV’s if you are living in them, city or forest. If you are sitting in the middle of the city, I dare you to look at some maps and figure out how actually far away it would be to make such a change, you might be surprised. It may be cheaper and easier, depending on your situation, to do some commuting and cut out the cost of rent and all accompanying utilities by heading out to the woods. Camp stoves allow for cooking, if you have a vehicle you can just turn on the heat or with a tent in most places (not in drought ) you can build a small contained fire; Water containers can be filled up at grocery store water dispenser stations, showers can be found for a day pass(occasionally a month to month, though a year pass is worth it if you want to continue living in the area) at fitness or community centers, and cafe’s and libraries offer computers, wifi, bathrooms and electric plug ins. And if you wander around REI you’d be amazed at all the small space comforts technology offers now. You can install a surprising amount of solar equipment in a vehicle if you are good at tetris as well.
Refridgeration has been the biggest issue, and a vital one, in the summer time at least. If you have solar capacity in a van for instance, a single panel will suffice for an energy effecient tiny fridge, and worth the expense for the amount it will save you in trips to the store and being able to store some food. If you are in a tent or can’t do solar off the bat, an solidly insulated box with ice will do for a fridge, and you can purify the water melt to drink, cook or wash with, and if you want freezer capacity, a dry ice slab will do the trick. This method does require upkeep though, so you have to consider your situation and what it’s worth to you. But believe me, food storage and the ability to cook is what will make the difference with off the grid living being a hellhole or paradise, a massive money saver or a deep pit of debt despair. Think you can’t handle it? I’m a freaking princess who wears glitter, lipgloss and skirts everyday, and I did it while chopping wood, hauling water, and washing out of a basin- to date: all of my nails are still intact(longer and stronger than they ever have been in fact), I’ve gotten phenomenal amounts of beauty rest, and I smell like lavender and food. Granted, Aaron can do all those things FASTER, but my point is, if I can, you can- and all the extra activity means I get to enjoy all the delicious food I cook up everyday. So if you are looking for alternative lifestyle ideas, don’t toss this out as too extreme. Go on a handful a camping trips, dip your toes in and get the feel for it, you may be a wood sprite spirit locked in a city life after all.