27 September 2005

I Don't Want To Be Off The Grid

I'm a city girl. I delight in the hustle & bustle of a city.

I love the pace. (I'm also allergic to several plants and animals found in nature.)

Cities are magnets that attract people from all over to come and work together.

Artists, athletes, architects, all need to work in communities, to make teams, to exchange ideas.

Cities invite individuals to come and find their tribe.

This is the buzzing environment I want to explore.

Although I've had wonderful experiences in nature, particularly many summers of camping/canoeing in the boundary waters between Canada and Minnesota, I would prefer to camp in cities.

This summer I met Jamie, who prefers to live life with the pace of nature.

He lives 'off the grid' in his Canadian treehouse 60 meters above ground.

He rises with the sun and eats food in the season it's naturally available.

Jamie, a friend of my friend, Iris, is in the business of reconnecting people to nature.

He teaches recreational tree climbing and also treehouse building workshops.

His goal is to craft a new way of life in harmony with natural surroundings, share a sense of connection with wild nature, give respect and find renewal.

I, however, want to be smack dab in the middle of the grid.

I want to be completely connected to the urban jungle.

I think it's only a matter of time before WiFi connections are everywhere in the world and I can be truly mobile with only one device: a small, lightweight laptop with a keyboard big enough to actually type.

This will be my mobile phone, PDA, DVD player, i-Pod, radio, newspaper, mailman, library, alarm clock and egg timer.

As we discussed the differences of our preferred lifestyles, we found a few similarities.

We both encounter people who admire our approach but couldn't see themselves giving it a go.

Most noticeably, neither of us has a TV.

We talked about how if his neighbor threw out his TV, he'd probably feel a bit uncomfortable with the void.

Jamie pictured telling him, "But maybe you'd really rather go for a walk with your wife."

In the weeks after our discussion, Jamie traveled around Germany, but he managed to send me a link to Urban Adventure Rotterdam.

These Urban and Adventure artists explore the urban landscape in a way that I never will.

They've even been lurking around the tunnels of Erasmus University shortly before I started working there.

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21 September 2005

New Urban Camping Motto

My new urban camping motto deals with the practice of mobility, simplicity and perspective.


I want to 'get-up-and-go' in the global village.

That means more than having room for spontaneity.

I want to navigate over to your vantage point and see what the world looks like from there, but I can't move if I'm tied down to my stuff.


My real needs and wants are fewer than they sometimes seem.

I believe 'accumulation' is about as inevitable as death and taxes.

I am constantly pruning back the attention-stealing stuff to give space to the useful and meaningful things in my life.


Is the world getting smaller? Or is MY WORLD getting smaller?

How many viewpoints have I seen so far?

I can only consider options by realizing how multi-faceted life is.

I don't believe in polarization.

I beg to differ with 'the road less traveled' because I think we can choose from a million billion different roads.

It's only when I 'get out of the woods' that I remember to look for multiple angles.

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20 September 2005

The CouchSurfing Project

After Hidde moved into the studio, but before Samantha moved into the house, I told Laurence, a friend of a friend, about my urban camping experiences and plans.

He pointed me to www.couchsurfing.com.

As I explored the site, I had one of those, "I found my people" moments and signed up immediately.

At the time of this post, there are about 30,000 people from over 7,000 cities in the CouchSurfing Project.

Casey Fenton launched the CouchSurfing Project in January 2004 after the concept evolved through some of his unique traveling experiences.

He first started traveling as a means of distraction after a break-up with his girlfriend, but the more he traveled, the more tuned in he became to "discover[ing] the gigantic world around me, and the even bigger world within me."

Early on he went to Egypt, just after American tourists were machine-gunned to death outside of Hatshepsut's Temple, near Luxor.

He says, "In a country devoid of tourists, I was able to discover Egypt in my own way. Powerful experiences on that journey molded me. Experiences like climbing the Great Pyramid Kephran at 4am, or sleeping in the King's Sarcophagus, or even spending the night with a family in a dirt hut."

After Egypt, he spent Christmas with a family in Trinidad, drove across the United States more than 20 times, etc., but it was a weekend trip to Iceland that gave definite shape to the CouchSurfing Project.

After buying a cheap web-special from Boston to Iceland, he contemplated his housing options.

He says, "I thought about the idea of contacting someone on the Internet and seeing if I could hang out with them and maybe sleep at their house."

He continues,
It wasn't easy. I emailed a couple Icelanders who had personal websites asking if I could crash at their place. No dice.

Then, eureka! I stumbled across the University of Iceland's student directory.

After a bit of sherlocking, I harvested 1,500 names and email addresses from the directory.

I then wrote a nice letter explaining that I was coming to Iceland and that I was looking for a place to crash.

Using a database and an email program, I mail merged the letter with the list of names and emails.

Each personalized email was then sent to each student saying, "Hey Bjorn, I'm coming to Iceland..."

In 24 hours I had between 50 and 100 people saying, "Yeah, come stay with me!" At that point I had the opposite problem. Who should I stay with?

To make yet another long story short, I went to visit Yoa and her friends.

They showed me 'their' Iceland. I had a ball too!

Great stories, great fun, and amazing friends were discovered that weekend in May.

When I was on the plane back to Boston, I thought to myself, "That's how I want to travel... every time."

And thus, the CouchSurfing Project was born.
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18 September 2005

Share Everything

When I decided to change directions, options surfaced.

My friend Colleen told me of Samantha who was moving from Boston to start her PhD in Rotterdam.

Sharing my house with Samantha meant that I could get back to my urban camping lifestyle while she could more easily move to a foreign country.

She could dive right into her studies knowing she had an affordable, ready-made place to live.

Then, my friend Hidde called looking for a new studio.

We knew we could work together since we had shared a studio for two years of art school.

Over the summer, they both moved in (after I took a business trip to London and spent my birthday in Wales).

While I'm urban camping this year, Samantha takes care of my things and pays most but not all of the house bills.

Hidde pays half the studio rent and works there during the day from Monday through Friday.

The rest of the time it's mine. If I work there late in the evenings or on the weekends, I will often camp there and use my healthclub as a community bath house.

Sharing everything frees up money, but also another resource: time.

This urban camping venture would force me to spend more time in my studio and healthclub, just two of the many places I want to be.

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17 September 2005

All The Places I Want To Be

Unfortunately I have no personal assistant to help me pack my life full of interesting people and activities.

Even a small number of staff could help me efficiently run my life around all the places I want to be.

In addition to commuting here and there to maintain an active social life, I want to host dinner parties at my house, make art in my studio, swim in my healthclub, work at my office, and this year, study at my school.

But, there's only me, and I don't believe in giving up anything.

I want simplification, not deprivation, so my new plan is to 'share everything'.

It sounds communist, or at least 'commune-ist', but it's simply symbiotic.

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15 September 2005

Fast Forward

A month after the cool summer house of July 2004, I took two more trips and then I stopped traveling.

I went to Kosovo to participate in an arts festival and I went to visit my friend, Angelita, in London.

Then, I put my nose to the grindstone and worked mad hours until January 2005 when I knew it was time to change directions.

I believe that 'considering options' should be a life skill taught to small children.

After thinking through several scenarios, I decided to quit my job and start a masters degree in discourse and argumentation studies at the University of Amsterdam.

If I were independently wealthy, I would have an entirely different set of options to consider.

Instead, I am creative and resourceful.

Therefore, it was about time to start urban camping again.

This would be my second urban camping trip! My first trip started in Rotterdam at the end of my marriage and my very first experiences with urban camping were in Chicago when I lived in a 'walk-in' closet.

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13 September 2005

My Cool Summer House

By the end of the show, Lizzy, another of the artists, said, "I think I have the house for you."

Some friends of hers emailed me while I was in Chicago and asked me if I wanted to stay in their house for 3 weeks while they were in London.

I did.

So, I celebrated my birthday last summer (2004) in the lovely garden of my cool summer house, which had 3 stories, 7 bedrooms, a bathroom with heated floor tiles, 2 balconies and a ceiling painted by the artist who painted one of the ceilings of the Queen's palace.

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12 September 2005

Camping Rotterdam Festival

I was leaving immediately after the show for a 3-week trip to NYC and Chicago.

Iris agreed to urban camp in my house while I was away.

She also brought me a flyer about 'Camping Rotterdam'.

For one of the Rotterdam summer festivals, the city was turning part of the downtown into a camping site.

People could reserve a space / tent and for 5 days, the city would organize daily activities for the residents.

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11 September 2005

Three Day Trip

Shortly after my office sent me to Munich (as well as London, India, and back to South America), my friend Iris asked me to be the sixth artist in a show called Three Day Trip where all of the artwork revolved around travel.

My exhibit included pictures with short explanations of all the Rotterdam houses where I had urban camped and advertised that I was now looking for a cool summer house in Rotterdam.

I also encouraged others to exchange houses. I hung two clipboards on the wall with sign-up sheets.

The pad on one clipboard said, "I need an urban camper to watch my cool house while I'm on vacation this summer."

The other said, "I'm too broke to leave Rotterdam this summer and want to stay in a cool vacation house."

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08 September 2005


For the first four months in my new apartment, I came home every day and consciously thought, "This place will be mine until the day I die."

I felt so lucky, so safe, so peaceful to have a home base. Then my office sent me to Munich where I saw a young American woman reading a book by Rita Golden Gelman titled, Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World.

As I read the back cover of the book, I longed for my old lifestyle:

"Tales of a Female Nomad is the story of Rita Golden Gelman, an ordinary woman who is living an extraordinary existence.

At the age of forty-eight, on the verge of a divorce, Rita left an elegant life in L.A. to follow her dream of connecting with people in cultures all over the world.

In 1986 she sold her possessions and became a nomad, living in Zapotec village in Mexico, sleeping with sea lions on the Galapagos islands, and residing everywhere from thatched huts to regal palaces.

She has observed orangutans in the rain forest of Borneo, visited trance healers and dens of black magic, and cooked with women on fires all over the world.

Rita's example encourages us all to dust off our dreams and rediscover the joy, the exuberance, and the hidden spirit that so many of us bury when we become adults."
Rita Golden Gelman's Website

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07 September 2005

Sliding into Home

I loved being nomadic because I wasn't distracted by life clutter. My identity didn't expand to fit my house. I was my house.

My shell extended to a very close distance around my body and I always took it with me.

I felt "at home" everywhere I went.

House-sitting gave me a unique perspective.

I came to love waking up among other people's books, pictures and life choices.

Every time I moved, I traveled a different route through the city on my way to work.

I constantly had a curious little voice in my head saying, "Did you see that? And that? Did you notice that?"

It made me take nothing for granted.

I wasn't blinded by my routine. I was never stuck in a rut.

I was open and viewing the world from many different points.

Simplifying and streamlining made me feel light and free to go wherever I chose.

With this lifestyle I could see the world.

My European day job provided a hefty number of vacation days and I literally had no "overhead."

House-sitting provided a service to homeowners in return for a place to sleep, which freed up resources that could be spent on "overhead" in other parts of the world.

As I seriously considered this option, a couple of nagging realizations surfaced.

I knew I was spending too much time trying to find new places to sleep.

I was also starting to feel my dignity shrink as sometimes what I thought was a symbiotic relationship turned out to feel, on a couple of occasions, a bit more like freeloading.

Not willing to stray too far from the lifestyle I was craving, I acquired a VERY cheap apartment that was destined to be demolished in about a year's time.

And yet, still, while I was painting it, I suddenly envisioned how unpleasant it would be to have visitors and dinner parties there.

I wanted more. I wanted a great home base, preferably one with a cafe style atmosphere.

With that, I found and bought an affordable, spacious apartment close to my studio.

I had rounded home base.

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06 September 2005

The End of the ''24 Places in 11 Months''

During my 6 months at Kate's house, I stayed 1 night at the Rotterdam house of my friends Joron and Adi.

I spent 3 nights at the Maastricht rental apartment while doing an art gig with friends at the Cement Festival.

(I spent 1 night at Else's house because I missed the last train back to Rotterdam after the Cement Festival.)

I spent 3 nights at the Buenos Aires Hilton Hotel and 3 nights at the Sao Paulo Renaissance Hotel while attending a business school convention as cross-training in the marketing communications office for which I worked.

Then, I spent 2 weeks at a sports complex in Porto while doing an art gig at the Trans_Hábitos Art Festival (and 1 night at a house party in Porto because we didn't leave before the sun came up).

As my "24 places in 11 months" venture was coming to a close, I was feeling ready to aquire a more permanent "base."

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05 September 2005

Anarchist Urban Camping

While at Kate's house, I googled 'urban camping' for the first time and discovered that this term I HAD THOUGHT UP, was not only NOT ORIGINAL, but it meant something completely different to other people.

Someone called 'AMBI' described a whole other brand of urban camping.

S/he covertly stays in houses without the owners knowing about it.

S/he just leaves the house as s/he found it and gets out early in the morning.

AMBI's post says that s/he currently has the front gate key to a mission and lives on the roof.

S/he goes in late and wakes with the sun to leave early.

S/he uses potted plants as toilets and sleeps on a sun chair.

AMBI ends the post with two tips.

S/he says to make a copy of the key when you move out of an apartment.

Then you can sleep there at night until it is sold.

Just to be clear, I PAID to swim at the hotel pool.

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01 September 2005

Holiday Link

My friend Kate told me about Holiday Link where you could stay in houses in Holland while the owners were on vacation.

Unfortunately, they didn't have a Rotterdam house available for me when I needed it.

This Dutch-language site facilitates a symbiotic relationship between two types of vacationers.

One group goes on vacation and wants someone to stay in their house to care for plants and pets as well as prevent their house becoming an empty target for thieves while they are away.

The other group, the house sitters, are mostly active senior citizens from Holland and Belgium who have the 'retired life' schedule that doesn't require them to plan too far in advance.

In some cases, they have emigrated and Holiday Link provides a low-cost opportunity for a vacation in their native country.

Some of the housesitters simply use Holiday Link to find a temporary dwelling while in between the buying and selling of their own homes or while their house is under construction.

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