Living out of a van seems odd to many people, especially in the south. 🙂 People thought I had lost my job and could no longer afford a home. One woman in my home city of Atlanta actually ran from me once when I was trying to tell her that she had left her lights on. Once, a family member of a dude I was dating picked up my tab when I was trying to take them out, and then directly implied that I couldn’t afford to buy them dinner.
We all make assumptions… drawing conclusions about our environment is part of how we survive as a species. But lack of rent money wasn’t the reason I lived in a van (and many of the folks I have met on the road are very “successful” in the popular sense of the word.) In fact, I made more money when I was living out of a van than I was making when I lived in a huge home with a fence and drove a Lexus. I am grateful that vanlife was a choice for me. I simply prioritized my spending differently in the van; I had begun basing my decisions on what truly brought me joy versus what society told me I needed in order to be happy. This confused many people I love, and led people to think I was “lost” (to which I would reply that I had never felt more “found”.) 😉
So… why did I choose move into a van?
I became obsessed with the whole tiny house movement back in 2016. This passion wasn’t a popular one in the south (Georgia) at the time and I often had to explain it to my friends and family, but the movement was gaining popularity for sure. My intense curiosity about tiny living resulted from a variety of influences over time… Perhaps the most impactful was the peace I felt after moving out of a 3200 sq ft suburban home (which I shared with my ex-husband) into a small one bedroom apartment just after my divorce. The feeling of living so simply after feeling owned by a huge house (stuffed with a bunch of shit I didn’t need) was a liberating one.
Side note: I always like to compare living more simply to taking a vacation. You know that feeling of peace and calm that results from having nothing but what you need? No stack of papers on the kitchen table… no “junk drawer” that you dread opening… no closet full of clothes you don’t wear and have to pick through to find something you feel good in… When we pack a suitcase, we take what we need, we free ourselves of many unnecessary choices.
I began looking into tiny living; I toured dozens of tiny homes and began looking for a place to park one. I even decided to get involved with Tiny House Atlanta for a brief time before leaving the state, where I learned a bit more about the tiny living culture and challenges / benefits of the lifestyle. The limitations enforced by many local and state governments do not make it easy to build or park a tiny home just anywhere. I quickly realized that zoning laws in most areas would prevent me from owning a tiny home where I wanted, and I decided to pursue other options.
living tiny… but on the go?
Shortly after, I saw a young woman on Facebook who had decided to leave home and live out of her Subaru for a few months. I followed this interesting stranger closely on her journey and became intrigued by the freedom this seemed to allow her. Not long after, my friend John shared an Instagram profile with me. A girl named Hannah was living out of a camper van and seemed to have everything she needed. She shared a YouTube video giving a tour of her van, and I found myself watching it on repeat. I decided that #vanlife was precisely what I had been looking for – a way to live simply and travel… without ever leaving home (because my home would always be with me!) I followed dozens of vanlifers on Instagram, joined Facebook groups, and began considering exactly what I would need out of a van. I asked my boss if I could take this lifestyle leap, and he, being the amazing man that he is, allowed me to give it a shot while working for him full time.
making the leap
In the spring of 2018, after shopping for camper vans and coming up empty for my price range, I researched my ass off and purchased a Ram Promaster 2500 cargo van. I had found a young man on Craigslist to build exactly what I wanted, so I drove to North Carolina and left the van with him for a couple of months. I feel like I should note here that I hadn’t been camping in almost 20 years when I decided to do this, but somehow it felt completely right. In June 2018, I picked up my new home, and by July I (along with my partner at the time) had hit the road!
My job, which was already remote, was doable from the road, but it took a while to learn how to do this effectively. My partner and I split a few months in, but I was on the road full time for 14 months total. When work got hectic, I moved to Atlanta for a few months (fall 2019), and then hit the road again in January 2020. I finally sold the camper van to an amazing woman in Seattle in July 2020 during the covid pandemic when work was crazier than ever (grateful for my work, of course, but did not have time to travel and was still making payments on the van.)
van nomads and our reasoning
During my time on the road I met many full-time nomads and “weekend warriors” who wanted to jump in full time and were waiting for the right time. Many full-timers and aspiring full-timers were entrepreneurs who had started a company or begun renting properties for semi-passive income. Some had full-time jobs and were working from the road or taking a break from the obligations of a more conventional life. Some were bloggers who make money from affiliate marketing and sponsorships on social media. Some have created courses and resources and coaching programs to help others live a better life. Some had invested in cryptocurrency and left their corporate life behind. Many had left their 9 to 5’s behind in order to pursue a creative passion. And the retired folks I met commented on how they wish they had followed their dreams sooner. I will aim for a separate post for those who are interested in how I made money on the road – and how others do.
In my experience, reasons that others chose vanlife included anything from saving on rent to pay off student loan debt to following a passion for travel nature photography. Many want a means of traveling on the cheap and others just want freedom to go where they choose when they choose it. Some love to be close to nature or just want to minimize their ecological footprint. Some are sensitive to environmental conditions and like the freedom to relocate whenever they aren’t feeling their best. Some vanlifers have expressed frustration with our capitalist society – or the establishment as a whole. Many vanlifers have told me they didn’t quite “fit” with normal society or the community (and sometimes even family) in which they were raised, and this resonated with me to be honest. Many have commented on the advantages of being a part of the vanlife community – a network of kind, compassionate, and open-minded individuals with good hearts and curious minds. These are just a handful of a thousand reasons….
One thing I found interesting is that several people I met had grieved some sort of major loss, and it woke them up, so to speak. The loss of an immediate family member or close friend led to a reevaluation of one’s priorities and choices. Again, this resonated with me, as I know loss is a huge part of the reason I chose vanlife. For me, the desire to travel on the cheap, pay off debt, not be tied to one place, connect with nature in a new way, embrace solitude, meet new people, experience new places…. These are all reasons I did it.
Finally, I chose vanlife because I was sick of thinking and talking about something and not doing anything about it. Has that ever happened to you? You get so fed up with inaction that you just jump in head first? Rip off the bandaid? Well, that has been my style on several occasions when my intuition seems to be calling me toward something. I’ve been asked if I was running from something, but I would always describe it as more of a pull. To this day, my intuition hasn’t steered me wrong, so I’ll keep going with it, even if it makes me seem “crazy” at times. 😉 Vanlife was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I adored the community and the freedom… and I fell deeply in love with nature and solitude like I never had before.
What is calling you?
What is that idea or passion that you keep pushing to the back of your mind until the “time is right”?
Will it still just be an idea in a year? In five years? In twenty?