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How to Build a Free Shelter

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It is my impression that quality of life is not measured by how much money you make, but by how little money you spend.

Some of the highest standards of living that I have observed are often in the most remote places of the planet, where the water is clean, the air is breathable, and the life is basic. Some of the people with highest standards of living on this planet are those without very much money, who take their fruit from trees, eat the chickens that run under their feet, and cultivate just enough food to eat.

This is not paltry romance, this is real.

I often find myself scrunching up my nose when I hear foreigners from far away lands – who work 8 hours a day, 270 days a year just to pay rent, cell phone, insurance, and a plethora of other bills – say that other people are “so poor” because they live in mud huts and don’t wear shoes.

A person only really needs shelter, food, and water to survive. As far as I am concerned, standard of living is based solely on how easily one can obtain these needs. I also know that these basic requirement can take on many simple forms that require very little money.

Unless you make a lot of money, in order to save money for travel, it is often necessary to cut down on all expenses. One way to do this is by constructing your own simple shelter in a friend or family member’s back yard or woods rather than paying rent.

How to build a free shelter —

Suggestions for a design.

How to build a free shelter

How to build a free shelter

This is an example of a shelter that can be made for very little money and lived in for free if set up in a suitable location. I made this shelter with a fellow worker on the farm for the pigs, but it could also be utilized by humans  without much adaption.

The design of this shelter was the work of El Salvadoreno, and we just constructed it on the fly with whatever junk we could find around the farm. This is just one suggestion for a free shelter design, so I recommend that anyone audacious enough to take these instructions to make use of whatever materials they have available, rather than sticking hard to this particular design.

The object of this is to save money, so buying materials falls contrary to these intentions. I say with assurance that if you look in enough garbage piles, back yards, and ask enough people, that you could easily come up with enough materials to build a free shelter.

Materials to build a hut

Materials to build a hut

Two men constructed the following shelter in only a few hours, using whatever materials they could find on an organic farm in Maine in the summer of 2009.

Measure out holes, dig them, and set in posts

Measure out holes, dig them, and set in posts

Step 1- After finding enough materials to build a shelter, take the roof (in this case the old pickup truck cab) and place it on the ground where you want the shelter to stand. Then mark the spots at its corners where you want the posts to go.

Step 2- Dig down post holes at the places where you marked the corners of the roof (the truck cab), and then stick in the posts.

Step 3- Place boards over and between the posts and try to make it as level as possible.

Nail or screw together frame, attach truck cab with screws

Nail or screw together frame, attach truck cab with screws

Step 4- Nail down the boards, and then lay the roof (truck cab) onto the frame. If it all looks OK, then screw down the cab with an electric screwdriver.

Nail planks to the frame

Nail planks to the frame

Step 5- Nail planks, spare boards – anything! – over the outside of the frame, so that the shelter is now completely enclosed.

Make a floor that is a little off the ground with nice planks of wood

Make a floor that is a little off the ground with nice planks of wood

Step 6- Construct a floor by running post down on the ground and nailing smooth, flush fitting boards over top of it. This step is important if you want to sleep in the shelter in the rain, as you must keep your sleeping surface off of the ground.

Nail a tarp tightly to the outside to make it rain resistant

Nail a tarp tightly to the outside to make it rain resistant

Step 7- Nail a good tarp over the entire shelter – walls included!!!! Make sure that the tarp is pulled tight and will prevent rain from seeping in. Another option would be to get a really large tarp and using it as a fly by tying it down to stakes so that it completely “roofs” in the structure.

Enjoy your free shelter

Enjoy your free shelter

Enjoy your free shelter.

If you are going to live outside in a small structure for a reasonable amount of time (over a month), I highly recommend constructing a shelter rather than continuously living in a tent. Conventional, modern tents are good because they are portable – you can break them down, transport them, and then set them back up at will. But if you are going to stay somewhere for a reasonable amount of time – if you are working somewhere to make money – then a tent is not the best option.

I have found from experience that if you keep a tent set up for a long time, that it will quickly begin succumbing to the elements. The full blast of continuous sunlight starts to break down the fibers, dirt, water, muck begins to built up on the inside of it, and it basically begin to crumble.

I have also found living in a tent night after night to not be the most comfortable option. Tents are stuffy, tend to act as furnaces in hot weather, and smell like plastic. It is also difficult to keep your gear and possessions organized in a tent long term.

If you are going to cut out rent to save money, I highly reccommend a simple shelter over a tent. A shelter like the one outlined above can be made in a day, and it will probably last for as long as you need it to.

It is my impression that living on someone elses land in a simple structure, with few possessions bequeaths a much higher standard of living than working 40 hours a week just to pay rent.

Though opinions be as they may, this is only my impression. This is only a suggestion: take a little something from it and use it, or just shrug your shoulders, turn your back, and walk on. As an astute reader once commented on a previous how-to-save-money-for-travel tip:

“I would rather make a lot of money.”

Though I know, and repeat everyday, the old addage:

“It is far easier to save $20 than it is to make $20.”

Build a Free Shelter

How to save money for travel project

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Filed under: Accommodation, Budget Travel, Save Money for Travel

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3053 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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