Curious Questions: Can You Really Live Off-Grid in 2022?

The pandemic has forced millions of us to reassess where and how we live – and what matters to us. The answer for many was to live off the grid. But can it really be compatible with modern life? Adam Hay-Nicholls has tried it – and talked to some who have made it work.

I managed to find my dream asshole thanks to the magic of Google Maps. It wasn’t an ethereal getaway inspired by the pages of travel magazines or grand designs, but rather an actual place engraved in my memory more than 30 years ago. But I had no idea where it was until I came across it.

Northumberland, that’s all I knew. A two room log cabin on the most glorious grouse moor you have ever seen, miles from civilization and inaccessible by car. I stayed there, aged eight, with my mother in the summer of 1989. It belonged to a close friend of my great-aunt Margaret. His father, an army doctor during the First World War, had built it in the 1920s as a refuge, I would discover later, to escape the terrors of his post-traumatic stress. I guess, along the same lines, that’s why my great aunt suggested it for a break. My father had died a few months earlier and ablution in a cold stream helps clear my mind. It was the most wonderful vacation and I had never forgotten it.

Several decades later, after some satellite research and a long trek across the heath to an uncertain destination, I struck again. It was exactly as I remembered; a time capsule in the trees, with a small fireplace, sepia portraits, century-old cookie jars, a crystal radio and a library of National geography dating from before the moon landing. I left a note and the owner got in touch, inviting me to come back last August.

“He is able to ‘live like a king on £11,000 a year’.”

Besides taking advantage of the wild location, it seemed like the perfect place to write. I had a book deadline approaching and decided to tackle here. No electricity was a problem. Typewriter? This biography was not going to get nailed down with ink ribbons, Tip-Ex and no internet. Also, there is no running water or toilets, but I knew I could easily survive this for a week, treating the water in the stream with purification tablets, cooking on my stove at gas and doing what bears do. I would live on instant noodles and warm myself with the wood fire and a flask full of King’s Ginger.

The field mice left me alone most of the time, although a rat or an ermine helped itself to the cocktail sausages by gnawing through a large hole in a freezer bag. Fortunately, despite being in the most remote location in England, I had excellent 4G and could access the internet on my laptop. I used a portable power station the size of two car batteries to run my computer and iPhone, charging it via a fold-out solar panel. These were my essentials for making a living while living off the grid. Everything else I could do without.

Secluded cottages have long served reclusive artistic types well, especially painters, poets and pop stars. For baby boomers, the guy who really put the idea on the OS map of ditching bright lights for the croft was Paul McCartney. Macca and her family moved to the Scottish peninsula of Kintyre in 1970 to escape the Beatles. Curiously, Sir Paul’s occasional partner Kanye West (who doesn’t produce his best work) has followed suit. He bought a ranch in Wyoming, USA to record the you album and fight his bipolar disorder. David Bowie spent his autumn years in the wilderness of the Catskill Mountains, New York State, USA, where he produced Pagan.

Famous musicians have always been able to call the geographical shots, but the pandemic has arrived and, 2 and a half years later, many of us are still able to work from home. Bosses and clients have become flexible. Most meetings are now virtual. Digital technology is booming. The culture has changed. We can be Bowie if we want. In 2020, a friend of mine who is a senior adviser in Downing Street – let’s call her Mary – ditched her flat in Clapham for a dark bungalow in the Borders that was snowbound for months. From there, she dictated covid strategies on Zoom. She still hasn’t returned to the capital, yet I’m pretty sure the snow has melted. She and her boyfriend adopted a Brazilian street pup, who no doubt had an even more extreme transition to make, swapping Ipanema for Innerleithen.

“A hut in the Pennines, an ax and a sleeping bag is a good place to start”

Another friend, with whom I used to hold a Formula One magazine, Adam Carbajal, quit flying around the Grand Prix circuit to buy land on the Hawaiian island of Maui and live in a yurt. He used a small gas-powered generator for electricity, built a 500-gallon capacity water collection system (it rains enough in his place), heated his water with propane, and ran the water pump. solar energy. In this environment, he was still able to produce quality magazines for publishers in Europe. He spent seven years in this yurt, before completing the construction of a real house next door, in which he now lives. The land and build came to £385,000 and is now valued at £1.14million. It only took seven years to do his business in a bucket.

Others have maintained their jet-setting habits while embracing a minimalist lifestyle. Take investor Nicolas Berggruen, who owns 100 properties in Berlin but, until relatively recently, had no place of his own. Nicknamed “the homeless billionaire”, he didn’t even own a watch or a car. He kept his meager possessions in a paper bag and slept on his Gulfstream – the one luxury he couldn’t live without.

In the age of the influencer, some have successfully turned off-network lifestyles into business ventures. Foster Huntington was a designer for Ralph Lauren in New York, but he made it to travel across America, living in a van. He is credited with starting the #vanlife movement on Instagram, taking stunning photos of his travels for brands such as Patagonia and creating stylish books showing off-the-grid life, landscapes and hipster design, the type of ones that you find on sale at Urban Outfitters. Meanwhile, 30-something architects Dan Deckert and Kika Mevs left Atlanta to travel the world in a small electric sailboat named Uma. They launched a successful YouTube channel and are currently anchored off Spain. Their lifestyle is funded by “donations from social media patrons” and advertising revenue from the platform.

Far from being exhausted from hard work, I left Northumberland energized and eager to return. I wondered if, if the energy crisis was gripping the nation even more, I should think about living off the earth and the sun.

The pandemic shutdowns have shed light on what is important to us, what we really need. For many, space, independence, family and clean air have taken precedence over wages, shopping and rat race. Laurence Manchee has worked in finance in London, Hong Kong and Singapore. Now he lives in the Portuguese countryside. Passionate about sustainability, he built a yoga retreat and teaches permaculture and agroforestry on his 52 acres. Mr Manchee is now self-sufficient, able to ‘live like a king on £11,000 a year’.

Others seek to escape more difficult situations. Julius Strauss was one such guy, an accomplished war reporter for the The telegraph of the day. As he did the creator of my Northumberland cabin, PTSD caught up with him. Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone; the straw that broke the camel’s back was a massacre at a school in southern Russia, where 186 children were killed. “I then thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I needed a change and the idea of ​​Canada came to me. He and his girlfriend bought a ranch in the middle of nowhere and Julius became a grizzly bear guide. The desert, he thinks, saved his life.

Lawyer and naturalist Charles Foster took his fascination with wildlife to extremes. He decided to live like a badger, an urban fox, a red deer, an otter and a swift, in order to see the world through their eyes. It involved spending weeks underground in a sett in the Black Mountains and rummaging through bins in east London at night – on all fours.

Mr. Foster’s idea of ​​living off-grid probably sounds strange to you. He could be described as one of Britain’s greatest living eccentrics. But you don’t have to eat worms or sleep in a bird’s nest to change your lifestyle to the wilder one. A hut in the Pennines, an ax and a sleeping bag is a good place to start, or a yurt, boat or the Mull of Kintyre. Sometimes you just need to detach.

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