If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be a Bedouin, just ask 28-year-old Trent Arrant.
About four years ago, after a breakup, the director left his home in Atlanta, Georgia, to board his dog Millie. Since 2018, they’ve lived in more than 20 cities and visited more than 20 US states, all while living and working as a full-time independent contractor out of his truck.
“Van Life has put life in perspective for me,” Arrant told CNBC Make It. “Being able to travel around the country and experience all these unique people and unique places…I’m forced to step out of my element and experience things I don’t normally experience.”
He says the freedom that comes with being on the road is equal parts excitement and loneliness.
“Living in a car isn’t as magical as it seems on social media,” Arrant says. “It’s fun and adventurous, and I feel like I’m living life now, but I feel homeless sometimes. I don’t necessarily feel like I belong anywhere.”
It’s not exactly a free and no-commitment lifestyle either. Arant only pays about $700 a month for his trick 2020 RAM ProMaster Van, but he’s spent nearly $10,000 on renovations to make the RV a home.
Here’s how Arant has transitioned into his life on the road, and how he maintains his lifestyle of living off a cargo truck:
When his relationship ended in 2018, Arrant was working as a visual effects artist in the Atlanta film industry — and living alone in a previously shared house. Worried, that’s when he decided to try life on the road with Millie, whom he saved in 2017.
For two years, he traveled in a truck that he bought from Craigslist for $6000. He put $4,000 into his first truck renovations.
Then, after months of “haggling with dealers,” Arrant bought his first new car – the 2020 RAM ProMaster Van – from a lot in Charlotte, North Carolina, in November 2020. It had a “bigger width and was easier to build” than the other models, As Arrant says.
The truck’s original cost was $47,000, but he negotiated a price cut to $38,000. He took out a loan, which he is currently repaying in increments of $700 per month. He says he expects the truck to be fully paid off in 2026, eventually paying nearly $50,000, including interest on the loan.
Around this time, he also started a side business creating content on TikTok and YouTube, in part to document his new lifestyle.
Getting from one truck to the next was more difficult than one might expect. Arrant set up camp in South Carolina for five months while renovating a new living, formally completing the project and moving to his new truck in April 2021.
“When converting this truck into a livable space, I basically had to build a house from scratch,” he says. “The shell of the house was there, but I still had to add insulation, gas, and even electricity.” He also installed solar panels on the roof of his truck to sustainably power his appliances, which include a full-size gaming computer, a full kitchen, and an outdoor toilet and shower.
Most of his work is as a freelance remote visual effects artist, so Arant works full time from his computer paying roughly $280 a month for car insurance and Wi-Fi combined.
Arrant, who is fond of cooking, says the kitchen was especially important when “building” his truck. It includes a relatively large refrigerator, three-burner stove, oven, and work sink that draws water from a 40-gallon tank under Arrant’s bed. Excess water is drained into a 6-gallon tank, which empties it outside or at dump stations.
The house on wheels includes a shower and a shower, but Arrant still stops often at public restrooms. He pays $20 a month for a Planet Fitness membership, in part so he can take a warm shower.
The cargo truck also has an A/C unit, roof vents and a diesel heater to regulate the temperature. Perhaps the biggest advantage of all, Arrant says, is the full-size foam mattress he uses: At 5’10 inches, he can lie completely flat on the bed.
Millie, Arant’s quadruple travel companion, also has a space of her own. It sleeps in a space of 2.5 feet by 2.5 feet, and is equipped with a fan and light.
Arrant moved to the van for the flexibility of traveling around the country, of course. Atlanta is still technically at home, but only when occasionally called upon to work in person. When he spoke with CNBC Make It in February 2022, he was living in the mountains in Asheville, North Carolina.
While he says it is often difficult to meet people and maintain relationships on the road, some of his favorite truck adventures have been solo trips to remote locations.
“I think one of my favorite places I’ve ever been is this spot in the middle of the desert in Nevada,” Arrant says. “I had this hot spring all to myself, and I was surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It was a literal dream, and it was very therapeutic for me.”
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”