I have now spent:
Two months living in a van.
Two months doing a complicated upgrade of a van conversion.
Two months living during a pandemic.
I lived on the road in my camper van for two months last summer, making my way from Seattle through the midwest, across the southwest, and up the Pacific coast. I had just sold everything I owned and left my urban farm to travel the country. I loved the freedom, the open vistas, the silence and solitude. I experienced deeply the beauty of the land. But I missed actually touching the earth, and being connected to a place. And I hated being reliant on my phone to find groceries, gas, the next rest stop, EVERYthing basically.
This is what a day as a van-lifer looked like for me:
- Wake up (usually very refreshed from sleeping in my perfect bed, in a quiet and dark environment due to good insulation, insulated window coverings, and void of humming and lights from electronic devices);
- Find a place to poop*;
- Brush my teeth and wash my face (or take a shower if I was at a place that had one);
- Cook breakfast or drive to where I want to eat;
- And then in some order the rest of my day would consist of up to 4 hours of driving, taking a walk, eating lunch, finding wifi to do some work (restaurant, library, coffee shop, public hot spot), find a place to park and sleep – rest stop, or RV park or campground if I needed to plug in (and had the $30-50+ per night to do so), make dinner, sit and enjoy the scenery, read, go to sleep.
My day in no way resembled the lives depicted in other van-lifers’ websites and blogs. They apparently spend lots of time with their feet up, admiring gorgeous vistas, cooking healthy meals on propane stoves, and playing the guitar around campfires. Their vans, apparently, don’t get dirty. They also apparently don’t need wifi to get work done.
While living my van life, I discovered that I could either stop and see things, OR drive to get somewhere, but not a lot of both. It was incredibly hard to get in a few hours of work a day AND see the sights AND get to the next destination. I didn’t have enough time to exercise or relax. And, apparently, my van did get dirty so I had seek out the semi-truck stops to wait in long lines to get it washed. This wasn’t what I was expecting.
Because I was often heading somewhere on a timeline, I rarely spent more than one night in the same place. That doesn’t allow much space to connect with other people beyond a wave or a ‘hello’. There were a few conversations centered around my van and the usual requests to take a peek. But my desire to meet people from around the country was not being met.
By the time I was heading back to Seattle, Fall was settling in, I’d had a lot of time and enough road experience to do an assessment of my new life. I tried to keep an open mind and hoped I would figure out how to be a better van-lifer. But to be honest, I had a feeling it was going to be pretty bleak.
I got back to Seattle at the worst time of year. It was already getting dark before 7pm. The nighttime temperatures were in the low 30s. And the endless rains had begun by the time I arrived on Halloween.
I had no home, no garden, and no place to make some improvements on my van. My new business was not thriving. I was grateful to not have rent to pay as I saw my income dwindling. But now my day-to-day expenses were being financed by credit cards. A sinking feeling had started to form in my gut and was now coalescing in my mind: I had made a huge mistake.
I have always been a risk-taker, and my wacky ideas and big projects have always been applauded. Now I was being forced to face the possibility that this latest plan was a really bad idea. I had given up everything to start a new life that I didn’t like. And there was no easy way out.
Admitting I made a mistake with something as precious as the entire life I had crafted was hard. Telling my family was second-hardest. Deciding to go ahead with my 6-month road trip, to see if I could salvage anything or find the lesson in it, was my next step. The plan was to leave March 14. And then a pandemic hit.
Well, there’s nothing like a pandemic to make you reassess life. Suffice it to say I won’t be going on a 6-month road trip now. After COVID-19 stopped me in my tracks, I realized I didn’t have to go anyway. I could, but I don’t have to just to avoid regrets. I’ll be living in my van for at least another few months before knowing what path is next. I expect I’ll enjoy those improvements a lot!
Sharing this with the world is actually fairly easy. As a teacher, I’ve always liked to teach from my past mistakes. Please don’t feel sorry for me. Remember that you don’t have to finish what you set out to do if it isn’t working. Please take whatever lessons my story may have for you at this time.