“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The desert: mysterious, vast, harsh and romantic.
This grand landscape has claimed humanity’s imagination and wonder since we first set foot in it.
If you’re considering making a life in the desert, here’s an article to help guide your path.
1) Why the desert?
Surviving and thriving off grid is hard in any environment, but that’s especially true in the desert.
Nonetheless, choosing a desert as your home has many unique advantages as well.
If you do it right…
The first tip for living off grid in the desert is to decide why you want to live in a desert.
You’re going to need a strong motivation and reason that you’re living off grid if you want it to work.
Specifically, you’re also going to want to be sure about what’s drawing you to the desert and what’s keeping you there.
Getting clear on why you’re doing something is often the first crucial building block of succeeding at it.
What do you love about living in the desert and what draws you to the idea in the first place?
Being clear about why you want to live in the desert is important before you go off grid.
In addition, be sure about what desert you’re choosing and why.
What are the laws of the country you’re in regarding your homestead? How will you get in construction materials? Where are the nearest emergency services?
2) Find high-quality but affordable desert land
Next up, once you’re sure you want to go off grid and live in the desert, you want to find high quality but affordable land.
This can be easier said than done, of course.
You may find yourself a reasonably priced and sexy desert lot, but there’s a lot more to it than that.
If you’re in the United States, you’ll find especially attractive desert land in the state of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and western Utah.
You can also look in the east of Oregon, dry areas of California, many parts of Oklahoma and western Texas.
These are the places I most recommend, although you can also check out areas of Colorado, Idaho and Washington state, for example, that are very desert-like.
If you’re in Europe or Asia there are also other areas which will be well-suited to your desert dreams.
Find a real estate agent who understands what you’re looking for and shares your vision about going off grid.
3) Plan and build your shelter well
If you’re planning to live a self-sufficient lifestyle out in the desert, it’s crucial that you have a shelter of some kind!
One simple option is to live in an RV.
Other options are to construct a small cabin, build an eco-friendly mud hut, construct a straw bale home or look into many other options.
Sustainable housing is a field that’s growing by the day, but there are many ways to do it that cost less than people imagine and can be very comfortable and feasible.
“Could you buy an off grid cabin?
Or will you have to build one?
What kind of building materials would be best?
And how big will your home need to be?”
There are many options in terms of what structure you choose to buy or build, so take your time to shop around and consider your choices.
Remember that you can always start small and work your way up.
Look around at what other off grid folks are doing and what works best for them, and remember not to extend your budget too much until you’re absolutely sure that this is where you’re going to live.
4) Buy a sat phone or Starlink
Before living in the desert you want some way to communicate.
Even if you’re planning to keep a pretty low profile, you’re going to want some connection to the outside world in the event of an urgent situation, unexpected need or other situation that comes up.
In the case of an emergency or unforeseen situation, you’ll need a way to get in touch with the outside world.
The best bet for this is to buy a satellite phone or get Starlink, a system that provides high-speed satellite internet to remote areas.
Starlink uses thousands of tiny satellites to make sure you can get internet and a signal wherever you are to communicate if need be.
This is also very crucial if you need internet for your work in a home office or you are considering going off grid but continuing to work as a digital nomad, for example.
Starlink, as just one example, costs $600 to hook up and is $110 per month for the subscription fee.
5) Work out your water woes
There are various options for accessing and having a supply of water in your desert dwelling.
One option is to make a rainwater collection system where you put a trough around a tin roof with a hole for the rain to go in and then funnel it down into a container.
Putting the container on a raised surface or pallets then allows it to be gravity-fed, giving you the water you need.
To treat the water you can boil it as well as adding iodine or the recommended ratio of chlorine.
As you can see in the video below, this system can be quite effective.
Other options include digging a well, which is a difficult but rewarding process.
Whatever method you choose for gathering or sourcing water, make sure you have enough of it.
If you have a remote homestead and off grid situation, the worst thing you can do is end up in a scenario where you’re parched and it’s hard to get to the nearest community and buy water.
6) Get solar up and running
If you’re in a desert, chances are you will get to experience a lot of strong sun.
This is ideal for solar panels, which can be an ideal source of energy for your off grid homestead.
There are various helpful guides for how to set up solar panels.
They are the ideal option if you’re looking to go off grid and have plentiful sources of energy for your heating, cooling and other electric needs.
As you can see in this video below from the popular YouTube channel A Dreamin’ Life, solar panels are a very good way to go when it comes to finding a cost-effective and functional power system for your off grid desert hideout.
These folks run about 3,700 watts of solar power, but it all depends on your own unique power needs.
7) Stay fresh (without AC!)
Now if you’re going to be living in the desert, it’s obviously going to get very hot at times.
While you can power AC units and cooling systems off a generator or solar power, there is another great way to do this which is outlined here on the Element Life channel.
For starters, orient the house so that the wind generally blows in the direction of most of your windows.
Desert wind can be a really good natural air conditioner!
In addition, you want to have no windows on the side where the sun comes up in the east so that it stays cooler inside the structure.
In addition, you can use the practice of active temperature management.
What this means is to keep the curtains closed to keep out the sun during the heat of the day and allow a cross-breeze to blow through during windy times.
8) Secure a reliable food supply
If you’re living off grid in the desert, you’re going to want a reliable food supply.
If you’re going to be having a desert garden, follow some basic rules of growing in super hot regions.
For starters, give your garden some natural shade and use natural sun and shade as a mix where it’s getting about six hours of rays per day.
In addition, make a small tent to create some shade where necessary in order to stop your crops and plants from wilting and drying out as much.
Soil quality is a must because the desert isn’t generally going to provide the kind of rich, fertile soil you need.
In addition, water your crops a lot and make sure they’re getting enough to withstand the high temperatures and conditions.
If you want to raise livestock in the desert, then choose carefully.
Not all animals are well suited to dry and arid conditions as well as the high temperatures, and you will need a lot of water.
Your best bet is generally to go with sheep or goats.
“Besides goats, sheep are the ultimate desert livestock, but you really need to get a desert breed.
“The Karakul, Navajochurro, dorper, Damara, Tunis and Awassi can take the heat, the cold, the wind and the dust in stride.”
9) Make a living!
Your reasons for going off grid may vary.
I know that friends of mine generally did so because they wanted to live in a more holistic way and get out of the rat race.
I absolutely sympathize with that and feel some desire for the same.
However, facts are facts:
Our economy and personal ability to build a life for ourselves still rely in many cases on money.
Even if you have some decent savings built up, you’re going to want to have some way to make a living from your desert hideaway.
Earlier I mentioned remote work and a home office setup if you have satellite internet running.
Other options are various and include crafting, butchering, selling goat milk, making soap and natural products, running an online business and more.
Make sure you have some idea of what you’re going to do with your time, because assuming you succeed in your desert venture, you’re still going to want to do something with your days.
Whether as a couple, friend group or alone, have some way to keep making money and make sure you never end up pinching off your own source of income for the sake of the dream and then regretting it later.
Another idea: start an off grid desert Airbnb! Please invite me if you do, I volunteer to be your first guest. And if I’m busy or too far away from your desert compound, I know others who would be interested.
10) Learn carpentry, plumbing and First Aid
Living off grid has plenty of challenges, and that’s especially true in a harsh desert environment.
Two key skills which can make this process a little easier for you are to learn First Aid and basic carpentry and plumbing.
Even if you’re just going to build an outhouse or if you are going to work out a simple sewer system, you’ll be glad to have some basic plumbing skills and be able top lay pipe.
Carpentry is also invaluable as you make repairs to your structure, fix furniture that breaks or install things like shelving and beds into your home.
You want to also definitely have some First Aid knowledge and know how to do things like treat snakebites because this knowledge could become the difference between life and death.
It may sound dramatic, but a small First Aid kit and some basic supplies and knowledge really do save lives.
Making it in the desert
Making it in the desert is about having your physical and mental side fully switched on.
Following the above practical tips is important.
You want food, water, shelter, and basic energy.
But you also want a mentality of a desert nomad, able to adjust with the changing winds and live in symbiosis with your new terrain.
Making it in the desert is ultimately a pure and determined state of mind.
I believe in you! Best of success out there.