Hard to believe, but it’s now officially been a year since I moved out of my house and embarked on this weird and unpredictable journey of Hashtag Vanlife. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this year has meant to me, how it’s changed me, what kinds of things I miss about house-living, what I don’t miss, what I’ve learned, and what I foresee the future looking like.
First off, at the one-year mark I certainly did NOT expect to be without a van. As I mentioned in my last blog, this summer I was involved in an accident which dealt my poor van some unrepairable damage, and in mid-February I finally tore everything out of it (with some help from Rich), put all the stuff in a storage unit, then released the van to my insurance company. It’s final day in my possession was just after I left for Europe, and I was a bit sad I didn’t get to see it off in person. Luckily my buddy Joe saw it on the back of a tow truck, sadly puttering down State Street and sent me a photo. Kinda weird to watch your house get towed away. It certainly was a trip to remove everything from the inside over the course of 10 or so hours when it took months to put it together. I got to relive all the agonies and ecstasies of the build with each layer I removed.
When I got my van last year I’d been driving a Honda Element, which I’d partially outfitted for sleeping/traveling for occasional road trips and other adventures. After moving into the van full-time, I opted to keep the Element for a year just to see how often I felt the need/desire to use it before committing to selling it. I sure am glad I kept it. It’s a downgrade as far as space/organization goes, but I can keep my essentials in it and sleep in it whenever necessary. I have to be a little more choosy about where I park when I sleep in the car, since I have to do things like tooth brushing and face washing outside the vehicle. But I can cook in it, change clothes in it, and hang out in it enough to be suitable. Plus I can drive it, obviously.
So… what has this past year of mobile living meant to me? First off, it’s meant letting go of a lot of attachment to stuff, primarily. But also letting go of expectations, letting go of residing in the world of the status quo, letting go of some comfort. Also letting go of complete independence, which has been an ironic challenge. I still rely on friends for sporadic kitchen and shower use, and when the van had to go to the shop I had to rely on friends for a place to sleep. My friends are awesome, generous, and super supportive and always have their doors open to me. But still, in my head, it’s difficult to regularly show up to someone else’s space and insert myself, however innocuously or briefly. I’ve had to let go of some aspects of personal and intimate relationships, which has probably been one of the toughest parts of this lifestyle shift. I’m not gonna go into any details about that because it’s pretty personal, but let’s just say that having a space where others can come visit and spend time has a value that I couldn’t have known until I no longer had it.
As I’d hoped, I’ve been able to travel and see more places, spend a considerably larger amount of time outdoors, and spend time with more people. Time spent with old friends and new is probably one of my favorite parts of this lifestyle. I spent so much time voluntarily cooped up in my house for the previous few years, I’m pleased the van living has helped me shift that.
I get asked all the time (as one does when one travels) where I live, and depending on the person, I’ll still say “Mendocino County”. If folks dig further, I’ll explain that I live in my van and travel, and for the most part people respond positively. Some tell me they envy my life and my freedom, and a few have spent time picking my brain because they’re seriously considering making the move themselves. There have been a few people who kinda look at me quizzically in a way that clearly conveys they don’t get it or don’t like the fact that I live in a van, but whatever.
There are still times - many times a month, actually – where I’m sitting in my van and have a moment of thinking, “I’m 46 years old and I live in a van. I have no house”. I dunno… it’s weird. Some part of me thinks I’m playing some young person’s game, like… why is a middle-aged dude living some hippie-vagabond lifestyle? Shouldn’t I be more… conventional? Then I shake that shit off and get back to doing whatever I was doing.
Do I miss having a house? Rarely. The only things I really miss is that I could set up different parts of my house as a photo “studio” and do portrait work, in addition to hosting people (as mentioned above). But that’s about it.
What are some downsides to van living? It can be cumbersome to pilot such a large vehicle into places that are easily accessible by car. Driving through the city requires pre-planning on the best routes to take, and parking can be a pain in the ass. I have to drive slow wherever I’m going (which is good in many ways), and my ability to explore more off-roadish areas is much more limited than it ever was with my car. I like finding out-of-the-way and isolated spots in nature to spend time and the van just isn’t built to off-road.
I find myself slightly annoyed by having to find places to refill my water jugs, find places to dump my grey water, find places to dump my trash and recycling, and find places that aren’t in public where I can open the van up and clean/rearrange things. I still long for a spot to park that’s completely private, isolated, and beautiful where I can just be by myself and not worry about being in someone else’s space. I also long for complete independence, which I think is attainable once I finish building out my kitchen space, maybe get a portable outdoor shower thing or maybe get a gym membership for showers. And really, all of these things are pretty small potatoes in the big picture. I have SO much more to be grateful for.
Now that it’s been a month of living in my car, I’m definitely missing my van. I’ve been scouring the internet for a new one but haven’t come up with anything yet, unfortunately. Luckily I’ve been traveling a lot this past month, so I’ve been able to stay in lots of comfortable places and haven’t had to rely on the car too much. I’m leaving next week to go on tour with Amenra for a month on the East Coast, so the adventure continues with or without a van.