Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Review for Vanabode®: Travel and Live Forever on $20 a Day by Jason Odom

I give Jason Odom's book Vanabode®: Travel and Live Forever on $20 a Day, 2nd edition (Charleston, SC: 2011) a sorely disappointing 3 stars.

A few weeks ago I was browsing around Amazon for valuable information on the things which interest me, such as living free, vagabonding, minimalism, philosophy, and the entire range of topics I enjoy. During my browsing experience Amazon's “Other Customers Who View Buy” box showed me an image of the book Vanabode®: Travel and Live Forever on $20 a Day by Jason Odom (ISBN 978-1466423084), so with such a great title I naturally and eagerly clicked away to have a look at it. The reviews seemed good, the book sounded like it had the sort of information I was looking for, and the price (at the time) seemed reasonable, so I clicked the purchase button and left the rest to the United States Postal Service.

When the book arrived it looked clean, made well, printed on decent paper, and such, but once I opened it and flipped through the pages my suspicions immediately began to grow that I had wasted my hard earned cash. First, I realized that the layout was absolutely horrible. What made me think that, you ask? The Table of Contents was a sloppy run-together mess that looked like it was lifted straight off a web page, and on the next page (pg 3) I could already see two web addresses thrown into the text (they are everywhere)! Indeed, it seemed quite clear that very little effort had gone into formatting this text for the printed edition and that the author had written the original text with an electronic edition in mind. I began to feel that this book was definitely not worth the nearly twenty-five dollars I paid for it (I paid $23.08 plus $1.38 sales tax).

Now, I can relate to some of the philosophical statements the author Jason Odom makes, particularly his beliefs concerning the total cost of ownership and the “duped customer”, so I have to simply and honestly state that I, personally, do not believe his book is worth the 3 hours and 17 minutes an individual making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 would have to work to pay for his book; that is, at least the printed version which I purchased from My personal measuring rod for the value of a thing is how long one would have to work at federal minimum wage in the most crappy job I can possibly think of in order to acquire that thing. My apologies to the author, but I was personally disappointed in the bang I got for the buck. Have you ever spent 3 hours wiping crap off the bathroom stall walls at your local Walmart? Neither have I, but you can bet somebody has, and if they would have purchased this text I can be reasonably certain (having known people who did such for a living) that they would not have found the information in this book worth more than 1 hour (if that) of their personal retail purgatory. Harsh, you say? Maybe.

The entire text is one hundred eleven pages in length with short chapters ranging from the Vanabode® philosophy, through living essentials, to inventory, and even spirituality. The copy I received (ISBN 978-1466423084) was printed in the USA in Charleston, South Carolina, which to me is a huge plus! I just wish the layout would have been done more professionally.

The author, Jason Odom, has real potential. Had he put just a little more work into the text I would have given it 5 stars, but it is lacking critical NEED TO KNOW information such as auto repair and maintenance, solid information on the legal ramifications of gun ownership and possession in vehicles (the author says he carries his firearm with him, loaded, but neglects to mention how he does this legally or even if it is legal in the states and federally owned areas he visits – I happen to know a little about gun rights and firearm ownership so I find his chapter on Safety, Weapons, and Security extremely lacking and potentially misleading), and other fine or critical points.

How on earth could anyone expect to be prepared for van dwelling if they are lacking critical NEED TO KNOW information on basic auto repair and maintenance or at least a few good pointers and where to go and what to do for the rest? The book doesn't even mention saving for such things! He could have at least had one chapter on routine auto maintenance and recommended potential vanaboders purchase a Hanes or Chilton auto manual along with the inclusion of some basic tools in his inventory section. The lack of such material really makes me question the knowledge of the author. I know the idea is to keep it simple, but if you are depending on the vehicle as your home shouldn't basic auto repair and routine auto maintenance at least be mentioned somewhere?

Otherwise, what the book does have to offer is worth paying for (just not $25) and some of the author's thoughts and advice are most certainly food-for-thought. I especially appreciated his reasoning on “why” van dwelling is superior to other alternatives and even stationary housing, and I found some of the information he shared on actually living the Vanabode® life truly useful. His chapter on, and seeming obsession with Sex was a little creepy, but hey, I'm a guy, so I get it – we all want to know we can still “get some” if we choose the Vanabode® life.

I also think the author, Jason Odom, could have included a bibliography, references (especially for his financial advice), or at least a list of suggested publications for the potential vanaboder to read. As someone who is interested in the nomadic life, van dwelling, and vagabonding, I know that good lists of authors and individuals who provide information on this sort of material are really hard to come by. It would have been nice if the book would have left the reader with some “leads” for more information (one of the measurements of a good book, I say). On the positive side, the author did mention two figures everyone interested in vagabonding or simple living should familiarize themselves with: Ed Buryn and Suelo.

Also, the author repeats the same thing which was previously stated in the book (almost verbatum) in several places, so much so that it is obvious and makes one think the author was being lazy and trying to “fill space” (something I know, as an author, that authors sometimes do, particularly when they are being lazy). It really is a shame because I really do think Jason Odom has the potential to be a decent author and his book has some real potential to be something much more than just a way for him to make a few extra bucks and spread a little information.

Finally, the premise that one can travel and live FOREVER (as the title of the book says) on $20 a day is a bit of a stretch. First, $20 a day is an awful lot of money - $7300 a year, or slightly more than half of a full-time minimum wage earner's gross annual salary (to put it in perspective). If that cost could be cut in half the premise of FOREVER would seem a little more realistic to the less fortunate, and if it could be reduced to $5 a day it would be a life I would think anyone could conceivably attain. That said, I would think such a cost reduction could be met, but not while doing as much traveling and recreational hobnobbing as the author suggests.

All in all I find the book Vanabode®: Travel and Live Forever on $20 a Day by Jason Odom to be a book useful in some respects and useless or incomplete in other respects. I give the book 3 stars and recommend it be purchased for one reason and one reason only – because there is simply a lack of information in book form which covers this topic, and this is one of the few books which attempts to do so. Hopefully Mr. Odom will do a much better job on an updated edition or with his next book. In the meantime I recommend purchasing the electronic edition so you get your money's worth for what you pay for.

Also consider simply doing some online research if van dwelling is your cup-of-tea. Yahoo! has an excellent group on van dwelling that may be of use.