“I have to ask: Why are you interested in vanlife?”
As an occasional van-dweller, boat-resident and all around tumbleweed that’s often my initial response to the frequent questions of “how can I do what you do?” Because the reality of the matter is that anyone can live out of a vehicle. But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. As I’ve pointed out before, simply by virtue of doing so, regardless of what you may have seen on various social media feeds, you inevitably dance the line between being perceived as a drifting derelict or a venturesome millennial. You often smell a bit off, your clothes are unkempt, and the norms of society (i.e. traditional career paths and nine to five jobs) quickly become stress inducing and bothersome.
In reality, committing to vanlife is a massive tectonic shift away from traditional comforts.
As would-be vanlifers prod me for info on my solar setup and how to score Instagram followers, I ask them more questions, too: Beyond the hashtags, why do you want to be a part of this community? Are you escaping or “in search of?” Curious or envious? Do you think it’s the reset button your life needs or that it will garner you the best sex they’ve ever had?
I ask myself these questions all the time. The answers are in flux, but over the years I’ve found that #vanlife, #boatlife, and #vagabonding are all different iterations of my desire to commit to a life of simplicity. They’re an opportunity to focus on immediate issues rather than existential crises. For me, being focused on gathering firewood or finding a campsite are clear-cut concerns with clear-cut solutions. They are short-term matters and don’t feel nearly as complicated as worrying about my eventual retirement.
Recently, I turned to my van-vagabonding friends with the same questions people always ask me. I wanted to hear the wisdom of the road worn “mad ones.” I asked folks I’ve met traveling, folks I stalk on Instagram, and folks whose adventures, world-views, and vehicles I’m infinitely inspired by: “What do you wish you knew going into this lifestyle? What would you tell someone planning to live in their vehicle?”
The resulting responses are as thought-provoking as they are empowering and, much to my surprise, no two answers are alike. They’re all deeper than any Instagram swipe can encapsulate. So by all means, commit to the life you see on your feed. Find your Pinterest-ready wood-grain adorned van, drive off into the infinitely setting sun, and gather your most loosely flowing vestments and adventure hats. But before you do, heed the wisdom of those who have re-built engines ten times over and weathered an Alaskan winter in a heater-less Vanagon-turned-bone-chilling-icebox.
I think the internet version of vanlife is deceiving. It perpetuates this idea that your problems aren’t going to follow you onto the road. There’s this idea that if you are frustrated with your job, or don’t know what you want to do with your life, or have an issue with your family, #vanlife is going to magically fix it. That once you drop everything for the van, it’s all flowers and rainbows from there on. That’s not at all how it works in reality. The problems you take into vanlife have to be dealt with while you’re on the road, or they will continue to follow you after.
And you’ll probably have less money to deal with them!