Van Life Lessons I’ve Learned in my First Month on the Road
Sierra Vandervort // January 19, 2021
It’s 20 degrees and it’s been 15 hours.
We’ve passed our camping spot in Kansas – deciding it was too cold to stay after we saw the snow on the ground – and we’re halfway through New Mexico. It’s dark as night, and the winds are starting to push our newly converted camper van off the road. We’re just hoping we can make it to the Valley of Fires campground, and that we’ll have a place to sleep when we get there.
My partner Steven and I had been planning this out for months, well – not this specific instance obviously – but moving in to a van together. It’s not always this dramatic, but there are plenty of challenges and lessons to be learned when it comes to van life.
It’s always been a “what-if” dream of ours. We thought it would be cool, but never had a solid plan for how the hell it would happen. But when the COVID-catalyst hit our home city of New Orleans last year – and everything started falling apart around us – we had a decision to make.
We could stay in New Orleans, broke, quarantined, unsure and unhappy – or we could take this newfound space and finally give our dreams a shot.
Six months later, we had good old Karma (our ’97 Dogde Ram 3500) completely built, our puppies in tow and we headed out West.
Obviously, we both have so much to learn about this way of life, but the more time we spend on the road, the more we learn about ourselves, the planet and each other.
Though I expect this list to continue to grow and evolve, I though I would share some of the lessons I’ve learned during our first month of van life.
The Internet isn’t Real
Ok, sorry for the dramatic title – obviously the internet exists. (Otherwise, I’d have to send you this blog post by carrier pigeons, and they’re notably hard to come by these days.) But since living “off-grid,” I’ve noticed how little it actually matters. Don’t get me wrong – I’m in awe of and eternally grateful for modern technology. It gives me the ability to work from anywhere and travel in the way that I do. But if some freak accident happened and everything once online was lost – I’d still be ok. I’d rather focus on the life that’s in front of me that obsessing over numbers on a screen.
Just say Hello
We all really need each other y’all, now more than ever. And after spending weeks alone with our dogs in the forest, we were able to truly appreciate how good it feels to connect with other people. Not only that, but from a traveler’s stance, it makes your trip so much better! Since connecting with locals on our travels, we’ve been able to find secret parking spots, local gems, and make friends from all around the world! So don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with people, it makes the world a better place.
Hot Showers are a marvel
Especially when you’ve been camping in 20 degree weather for days – there’s really nothing better.
What’s really important
I’ll refrain from getting too “zen” on ya, but this is the biggest transformation I’ve noticed within myself since we hit the road. Living in a van is a daily challenge. There’s never enough space; nothing ever feels clean; and sometimes you have to choose between running your heater & staying warm at night, or being able to make coffee the next morning. But alongside all of that, I get to wake up with my whole family snuggled together in my bed. I get to fall asleep gazing up at the stars every night. My dogs are happier now that they get to go on a new adventure every day, and I get to live under Mother Earth’s arms through every moment.
Living in a van has undoubtably been a struggle, but it’s also the most alive I’ve felt in years. There’s no option to mindlessly coast through life, because you’re in an intimate connection to it in every moment.
I know I’ll always be learning, but I’m excited to see what the journey brings.
Hey there 👋 I’m Sierra – welcome to my website!
I’m a writer, mindfulness coach, and community builder located in the here and now.
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