We’ve been living on the road and in our Chevy since July 2017. It has been an interesting journey, equally adventurous and tedious. The trail miles have been invigorating and rejuvenating. The road miles have been tedious at times, and rough on the body and mind. We’ve broken down twice, purged three mice, camped at Walmart, bathed in ice-cold rivers (but more often in the van with wetnaps). We’ve eaten well and poorly, run too far and not far enough, worked in no less than 50 coffee shops, and distracted ourselves in grocery stores, trinket boutiques and used bookshops across seven states. We’ve met insta’celebrities and people insignificantly significant. We’ve woken up to frost on the inside of the van, temps in the teens, and puffy faces. We’ve thrown our bikes, cursed our injuries, and sulked at the other for not knowing what we meant when we said nothing. I’ve grown my hair out (just the sides) while Susan has installed permanent pigtails. We’ve laughed at the absurdity and marveled at the practicality of this way of life.
The journey certainly hasn’t been routine. This morning I reflect on the events of the last many months and contemplate what exactly I’ve learned on this humble adventure.
10 Lessons I’ve Learned Living in a Van
- I don’t need much. I can live with very few possessions. My necessities include warm (enough) clothing, a basic roof over my head under which to sleep, simple food options, access to trails and books, a coffee or bottle shop in which to work, and a vehicle to get from point A to B.
- I can do what I set my mind to do — but I need assistance. I don’t believe I could have adjusted to this way of life with much success if Susan hadn’t agreed to embark on the journey with me. Alone I suspect I might easily drop off the edge of the earth getting too caught up in my own rumination. I know I wouldn’t have completed the 50K in Bandera if Susan hadn’t given me focus and accountability. I know exploring this alternative way of living wouldn’t be possible without flexible clients offering me freelance opportunities that I can do on the road. I once proudly carried the self-ascribed moniker of lone-wolf. Today I wonder how much that thinking has held back personal growth.
- A cheap hotel room with a bath is a luxury, but not a failure. I moved into the van out of both necessity and desire. It is necessary for me to live cheaply so I can pursue a way of life that offers more meaning. I chose this life so I can pursue my writing, and projects like Dirty Good Co. I also wanted to separate myself from the comparisons and expectations that came with living in an affluent environment like Bend. Comparisons and expectations that were my own doing. Turns out, I didn’t escape them, they only morphed. Today I compare my van life to others and often get caught up in judgements that I’m not doing it rough enough. I can get down on myself for sleeping at Walmart or getting a hotel now and then. I considered those failures to the lifestyle. I must remind myself while this journey is one of essentialism it isn’t about living a life of deprivation. Walmart was a necessity in some larger cities, and a hotel was a desired break from the cold. They aren’t vanlife failures, but rather elements of our dirty good life.
- Action and doing trumps thinking and talking. I spend too much time thinking. Overthinking puts me in a state of action paralysis. I create too many options and choices and then find it difficult to act upon any one thing, or anything. I’ve learned, through necessity, that I just need to act and begin. Often this will lead me down the correct path. When it doesn’t I can act upon something else. I had been thinking and planning this way of life for a while before engaging in it. Once taking the action to pursue it, the momentum of the choice has kept me moving in what feels like the right direction.
- Our story doesn’t need to be epic or tragic to affect another, it just needs to be told. I’ve struggled over the years with the telling of my story of depression and wellness. When I talked with others, read another’s story, I felt I had no right to have experienced depression. I’m not bipolar, I don’t suffer from PTSD due to a childhood trauma, I’m not a recovering addict. I’m a guy who lived in such a way that depression found me. I put myself through mental and physical suffering and eventually I broke. Depression was a self-inflicted wound. In telling my story, however, I realize there are many whose mental illness came by lifestyle choices. Telling my story has an impact. Susan telling her story has an impact. You telling your story has an impact. We don’t need to measure the breadth of our impact, just the depth in which it can help one other.
- Vanlife isn’t all instagram filtered loveliness. Living with a moody person, like myself, is difficult. Squeeze into a tiny container on wheels, add 20 degree nights, take away plumbing, a kitchen, and soap, and you have the potential for relationship disaster. A wise woman I know attributed the longevity of her 50 years of marriage to one word: tolerance. While not romantic, there is truth in that statement.
- I must run from comfort regularly to better understand what is essential. We can more easily hear our inner voices when we forego the distractions of convenience. Life becomes more vibrant and appreciated when you’ve suffered.
- Mostly, people in the real world are good. Those with less tend to have more to give. Sometimes that is just patience and kindness. Those with more seem wrapped up in a continued exercise of acquiring. They expect more and tolerate less.
- Habits are difficult to change even if you change your surroundings. Period.
- Trust my gut. I must have faith the path I’m on is the correct one. Eventually my place in the puzzle will reveal itself. If it doesn’t, that is my journey. I make too much of resistance.
Follow the path you feel pulled toward, dear reader. Embark on your humble adventure and compare it to no other.