Is anyone really living off-grid?

Is anyone really living off-grid

Living off-grid: sailing, fishing, anchoring in remote places, building fires on the beach, living the simple life and disconnecting from the world. It’s a dream, this off-grid life, isn’t it?

The phrase “living off-grid” is in the air at the moment, maybe that’s an inevitable consequence of the pandemic and lock-downs. More people are looking to opt out and try a new lifestyle, from travelling nomads to RV-ers, homesteaders, cruisers and sustainable living communities.

Obviously the fact that it’s a buzz phrase is enough to irritate anyone

But does it count as living off-grid if you live on a sailboat?

The notion of living ‘off-the-grid’ has been around for a long time. Recently it’s had a makeover with the ‘the’ being dropped to make it a slicker, more social media-friendly ‘off-grid’.

But it’s more than that.

Fuelled with irritation at the term and mindful of the films Jeremiah Johnson and Into the Wild, I delved into Google to find out what living “off-grid” really is. Definitions are elastic, and it’s more difficult to pin down than you might imagine. Even dictionaries have different meanings.

There is something of a sliding scale of definitions.

Starting at the soft end with just not plugging into your nation’s electricity grid. And ending with removing yourself completely from society, to no longer existing on any list. Films like Into the Wild or Jeremiah Johnson are examples of the heart of off-grid living.

Liz’s 5 Stages of Living Off-Grid

Stage 1 UN-PLUGGED – No connection to any public utilities – water, electricity, gas.

Stage 2 COMMUNICATIONS FREE – No connection to any comms – phone, sat phone, internet (social media, email etc).

Stage 3 HUNTER-GATHERERS – Growing, rearing, farming hunting, foraging all your food.

is anyone really living off-grid?

Stage 4 NO MORE CASH MONEY – Except for savings, you have no money. You barter with goods or skills instead.

Stage 5 SEPARATION – A full-on declaration of independence, separating from the system and becoming undocumented:

  • no land ownership,
  • no job,
  • no insurance number,
  • no bank,
  • no tax returns,
  • no bills,
  • no voter registration,
  • no passport
Which stage do cruisers fit into?

Maybe for short periods of time at anchor (when we make our own water and use solar power) we could put ourselves in Stage 1. But that’s not very different to someone going on a long RV or camping holiday.

We don’t want to go comms-free because we like to keep up to date with weather predictions and emergencies. We also have a sailing channel and need to upload videos. We could stop videoing and photographing, but we love it, this is our hobby and job!

Sure, we fish when we can, and we barter with fishermen on occasion. The rest of our food is bought locally.

Until the apocalypse, we’ll remain attached to society with bank accounts, passports, taxes and everything else.

Is anyone truly an off-gridder?

Possibly, but if they fit all the criteria we wouldn’t know about them, would we?

The only true off-gridders we have met are the Bajau Laut, Sabah’s undocumented sea gypsies (check out this blog post) and other homeless people around the world.

living off-grid

Living off-grid in the South China Sea

We know of families here in Sabah who, having lost their income during lockdown, have reverted to living off the land in the state’s wild interior. They are living an off-grid life.

Final word

“Off-grid” and “self-sufficient” are two ideas which people conflate. Although there is some crossover, they are not the same.

People live off-grid for one of two reasons:

  1. to remove themselves from society, to turn their back on civilisation and stick it to the man (Alexander Supertramp, Jeremiah Johnson).
  2. as a result of society turning its back on them (Bajau Laut, vagrants, the homeless).

It’s not a romantic existence. Off-gridding, with its tough-guy connotations of homesteading, building stuff, chopping stuff, hunting stuff and living in the forest sounds a lot more sexy than it reality is.

Most of us are not living off-grid, we’re just aiming for self-sufficiency and sustainability. Cruising is less about off-gridding and more like camping. It’s the simple life.

Thanks for reading, don’t forget to watch the video and do leave your comments below.

Peace and fair winds!

Liz (and Jamie)

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One Comment on “Is anyone really living off-grid?”

  1. Hi Friends,
    in my opinion the term “living of (the) grid” is nothing more than a synonym for “alternative life-style”. We have to be honest with our self, living 100% of the grid is absolutely impossible. Our current world is not designed any longer for it. Just think about where will you live? All “terra firmer” is already owned by someone. Even the mountains, jungles or grass lands do have owners. So you have to go and ask for permission to make use of the land. to build a hut or set up your tent think of your zarpe. Hunting is regulated world wide and if you start killing wild life, even when it is for food only, you are a poacher and can be prosecuted.
    I think I would need two pages to write all my ideas down why you can not live 100% of grid.
    As I said at the beginning the term of grid is nothing more than a synonym for alternative life-style.

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