What I Learned From Living In A Van

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As you may know, I spent the better part of 2012 living in this beast here:

Yes – it says “Gone Fishin'” on the back. Yes, this van is awesome.

Armed with my laptop, climbing gear, and a trusty GPS, I set off to explore what the US of A had to offer. I had just started my business, and was hoping for this trip to be a way to dip my toes into the world of location independent work. I was psyched to get to climb + play outside as often as I wanted, work on my business, and be freeeeee!

My boyfriend and I packed up our lives in Toronto, I sold everything I owned, and we took off. We drove from the bustle of DC to the mountains of Colorado, through the deserts of Utah to cowboy country in Wyoming. We hit up Canada for a bit, exploring Vancouver Island. We ate our way through Portland and climbed our faces off in California and Nevada. We drove across endless landscapes – through scorching sun, torrential hail, green meadows and craggy mountains.

It was everything and nothing like what I thought it would be like.

 

What I Learned From Living In A Van

1. Less is more

Less stuff, for starters. Most of the crap you have cluttering your space – would you miss it if it was gone tomorrow? Chances are, the answer is no. Purge. Delete. Feels good to live within your means (especially when your means is a 20 sq ft mobile apartment).

2. Like minded communities are where the magic is

Birds of a feather stick together, and all that jazz. Nothing was more starkly apparent to me as how generous people are when they have something in common with you. That special bond that instantly makes strangers become friends, even when you haven’t showered in 10 days. Whatever your thing is, it will be so much easier for you if you band together with others who really get it. Who were the ones who took us into their homes as if we’ve been friends forever? The ones who had been there themselves. There’s power in surrounding yourself with people who get it.

3. Nothing is as far as  you think it is

Sure, driving across the continent from DC to BC wasn’t exactly quick in the old van, but to know that we could be on the other side of this HUGE continent in just a matter of days was liberating. The world feels smaller when you travel. Things that were previously out of the question become more available to you. And you learn that what you want is way closer than you thought.

4. Dreams can (and should) change

 My dream was always to be able to work + travel, on my own terms. And I made it come true! But funnily enough, nearing the planned end date for the trip, I wasn’t totally feeling it anymore. I was craving some stability, a dedicated space to do my work, and time to focus on the other parts of my life that had been pushed to the side for this trip. Life ebbs and flows, and we shouldn’t expect that our dreams will stay the same. Give yourself the flexibility and permission to change your mind and you’ll be a much happier camper (pardon the pun).

5. It’s never too late 

I met two kinds of people on this trip. There are the ones who said to me “Do it while you’re young/don’t have kids/aren’t settled down” etc. Those people, they are the ones who have set boundaries for themselves about what is possible for their lives. The other kind? They’re the ones who were doing the exact same thing I was doing. In their 60s. With kids. With jobs. For 1 year. For 12 years. Alone. Married. They had no excuses, and they know, as I know, that living the kind of life you want is possible at any stage of your life. It’s never too late.

 

You never know what awaits you when you move into a van (or a job, or a relationship, or a whole new life for that matter). I am grateful each and every day for the ability to explore and to choose.

xx becca

PS. Check out the Facebook page for more pics of the van trip!

 

Have you taken a big trip and learned an important life lesson? Share in the comments below!

Read 16 Comments & Leave Yours

  1. Kayla

    LOVE THIS!! You know that I’m super jealous of your van adventure (not so much the rock climbing part though, mostly the RV and the roadtripping)
    I’ve traveled a whole big bunch, but I think I learned the most about myself when I backpacked through Europe for a month. By myself. Practically broke.
    Hands down, it was one of the best things I ever did. It’s not that I hadn’t learned about myself before then- but you really get reintroduced to yourself when you remove yourself from your physical comfort zone.
    Excellent lessons learned, by the way. :) Travel is one of those things that permanently rewires your way of thinking, and makes you an infinitely more nuanced person than you were before, living in a cubicle. But moving back to ‘civilization’ will definitely be an adventure, too :) Can’t wait to hear about it! xoxo

  2. Rebecca

    Kayla, traveling ANYWHERE by yourself will change you, for sure! Brave lady you are to go at it alone! I love what you said about rewiring your way of thinking. I often come home and I can’t remember what I was doing before I left, I change THAT much on a trip, every single time. Thanks for the lovely comment xo

  3. Jo

    Thanks for sharing this! I’d love to live in a tiny house on wheels and it’s great to see other people doing similar things and knowing that it’s possible!

  4. Rebecca

    Jo, it’s definitely possible. The incredible range of people we met on the road is proof. Where would you want to go?

  5. Jacki

    It was a pleasure getting to meet you at the beginning of your trip and follow you here. When I set out with the cat and a tent, people either thought I was nuts or felt sorry for me. Meeting someone that was doing similarly let me know that my search to redefine me wasn’t as out there as others thought. Since packing the tent away, your blog has helped me focused on what I found this summer. Thanks so much.

    Jacki

  6. Ian [EagerExistence]

    I especially agree with 2, 4, and 5.

    And on 4, isn’t it funny how once we attain something, we discover it may not be what we had always thought/expected?

    I always thought I was cut out for long-term travel, but after 6 months I couldn’t wait for a bit of routine and stability.

    I always dreamed of becoming a travel writer, then I actually had some freelance writing gigs, and discovered it’s not all its cracked up to be.

    No one said you had to choose one thing and stick with it anyway. Dreams can (and should) change.

  7. Dale

    Ahhhh, to be free… I’ve always wanted to do what you’ve just done and just may some day{hopefully}. The house will be paid for between 3 to 5 yrs.,and then I would like to let loose for around 6 month to a year like you did.. I just want to have my home to come back because I do just love it here up in the mountains of Maine!!!!. Did you make it up here at all ? I could have pointed you to some real nice hiking areas in our mountains up here in Majestic Maine.. Congrates to you and keep up the good work………
    DT

  8. Jo

    I’d actually like to live in it more than travel in it. Though I figured that if I could move my house around, I could live half the year in one country and half the year in another, accoridng to the weather! So maybe Germany and Slovenia or something!

  9. Rebecca

    You too Jacki! So glad you’re making out ok back in CO

  10. Rebecca

    SO funny how that happens isn’t it? That’s why I;ma huge advocate of TRIAL AND ERROR! We have no idea how anything will work out til we do it. Hope you’ve found your happy place, somewhere between long term travel and comfy routine

  11. Rebecca

    Rent out your house and go now! Hehe.

    I have been to Maine (Bangor?) before, but not on this trip :( Not enough rocks to climb there, unfortunately!

    Thanks for stopping by to comment :)

  12. Awesome post! I can relate to SO much of this, having been traveling much of the same time you were.

    Numbers 4 and 5 are my favorites. It’s so important to allow yourself the flexibility to change your dreams, and getting out there and doing it is one of the best ways to figure out whether it’s what you really want or not! I’m firmly in the second camp on number 5. My foray into location independence was really spurred by one of those “do it while you can” conversations, but I don’t want to put those boundaries on my life, and I am determined to keep living life on my terms – whatever those terms are – no matter what stage of life I’m at.

  13. Dale

    Oh, but there is, you just don’t know where to look !!!

  14. Rebecca

    Ha, true! Haven’t really explored that area much! Maybe next year :)

  15. Rebecca

    Amy you’re such an inspiration! I think your blog was one of the first few I was referred to when I started contemplating this location independent lifestyle. It resonated with me immediately, and I feel more at ease knowing there re smart, determined women like you living life the exact same way.

    It’s easy to get fooled into telling yourself this life is only for total hobos and gypsies, and that it’s not sustainable, and you’re proof that it can be whatever you want it to be.

  16. existentialella

    I love this! I too lived in a van, traveling the West Coast with a woman named Tinkerbell. I’m currently working on branding my business, which is a compilation of several entities, answering the question, “How do I create deeper meaning in my life?” My van living experience changed my mental landscape, and I plan on moving back into a van with my business, doing interviews with a diverse group of people, volunteering and documenting it all to show others how to create meaning. Your site is very motivating!