My mom cried when I told her I was leaving my cute urban apartment for a life on the road. She was worried I’d be homeless! But van life isn’t scary, nor inherently extremely dangerous, nor even that crazy. Okay, maybe it’s a little bit crazy. I needed a change, but what I got after committing to van life was more than I could’ve ever imagined.
It wasn’t easy to make such a drastic decision to radically change my entire life like this. In many ways, I had to leave behind much more than just my stuff — I was leaving a way of life that just wasn’t working out for me anymore. Like many, I found myself in a deeply unsatisfying and unrewarding job. I would wake up hours early just to do enough of the things I truly enjoy so I could stand to leave for my corporate drudgery. It was entirely unsustainable.
I spent weekends trying to fill the void and bank up enough joy to keep going. The constant pressure to earn more money for more conspicuous consumption left me exhausted when what I wanted was to do more of what filled me up. One of the biggest advantages to van life was that it opened my eyes fully to what’s important to me. Instead of living for the weekend, I could take charge of all of my time and live freely.
Freedom on the Road
The freedom offered by van life is so much more than just getting to go where you want when you want. But what a joy to be able to do just that! Don’t let the Instagram photos fool you because it’s not always waking up to scenic vistas — sometimes, it's waking up to parking lots on the way. But wherever you are, you choose. And that freedom is unmatched.
Beyond the unparalleled access to travel and exploration, van life has given me financial freedom as well. In the city, my rent kept rising every single year. In the van, my life is so much simpler, and I’m able to live well within my means. Having fun doesn’t always mean having to spend money. With all of the U.S. as my backyard, I’m staying close to the rhythms of nature and picking up new ways to enjoy interacting with all the outdoors has to offer.
I worried initially that the minimalist lifestyle required of living in a small van would be difficult. I had to cut back on my collections of books, games, and music. But even without all of those physical things, it doesn’t mean that there’s any shortage of these things in my life. With less, my mind feels less cluttered, and there’s less stress. Every item in my van is either necessary or a favorite I couldn’t live without. I feel light and unburdened, knowing I have everything I need and only what I need. My smaller footprint makes my world feel far more expansive.
Finding Friends, Finding Me
A life on the road doesn’t have to be a lonely one! All of my friends and family are no further away than if I moved to a different city or a different state. Technology keeps us close. And I can always drive back or drive to meet friends all over the country. Another incredible benefit of van life is all of the new people I get to meet on the road. It’s not only locals that I meet.
The van life community is vast, helpful, and brimming with incredible and interesting like-minded people. In online communities, there are all kinds of opportunities for meet-ups, gatherings, and community events that take place around the country. More than just the stories, meeting other nomadic people gives me the chance to learn from them and share what I’ve started learning myself.
Van life has also introduced me to a side of myself I never knew before. Through navigating some of the challenges and experiences of van life, I’ve continuously proven to myself just how capable and adaptable I truly am. As I build on my ability to rely on myself for everything, my self-trust and confidence have skyrocketed. This life isn’t one of external validation. I get to make my own choices that are best for me on my own time and schedule.
I get to provide what I need for myself, but I also get to learn how to ask for help when I need it, and I find that the van life community is extremely helpful. My inner strength helps balance out the instability of this lifestyle, and I couldn’t be happier!
Each day I am learning something new and making an adventure out of the everyday. Whether I’m figuring out practical skills such as building, vehicle maintenance, or off-road driving, or I’m taking on new outdoor hobbies such as climbing or mountain biking, the lessons I’m learning now will only enrich my life. I made the switch to van life so that I can experience everything that life has to offer, and with it, I’m thriving.
Driving into the Sunset
Taking the leap into van life isn’t easy. Even if you purchase a van that has already been set up for living and is ready to roll, there’s a lot involved in changing your lifestyle. It requires a brave leap, but the best part of van life is that you don’t have to do it alone. There are countless resources, videos, and books to help plan out the practical steps. But the first step starts with realizing that there is more out there than the traditional lifestyle might lead you to believe.
Like a turtle, I take my home and belongings with me everywhere I go. So far, it’s been the most challenging and also rewarding thing that I’ve ever done. And it’s not a permanent commitment. I can always take the lessons I’m learning and return back to a stationary home. But that’s not in the plan for at least a few more years. There is a life outside of 50-hour work weeks, long commutes, and pressure to grind. Van life has been my ultimate adventure. If you feel like me, it may be your road to freedom as well.