What #VanLife Taught Me About Myself
If you would have told me a year ago that I would be living in a sprinter van and traveling the United States for three months, I would have called you crazy. Absolutely, unequivocally M-A-D. I would have had more questions than anything regarding the logistics of such a situation but in addition to an overall feeling of bewilderment, I would have been absolutely gobsmacked. Me? Living in a Van?? There’s simply no way. This is the same woman whose best friend got her to go camping for the first time within the last five years. And even that was more an exercise in glamping than all out tent on the ground camping. There’s a reason for that. Hopefully you’re identifying the pattern by now...
Growing up I was not the outdoorsy girl. Sure, I played three sports and was incredibly active but asking me to get dirty off the field or court was like asking a cat to take a bath. It was simply an environment I wasn’t comfortable putting myself in. Rightfully so it led to that same aforementioned best friend and her family joking about me and my aversion to “outside” and thus “outside activities” such as camping.
As I’ve gotten older and migrated away from the world of organized sport, I’ve grown to have this genuine love and appreciation for nature. I wish I could tell you a specific point in my life in which that switch went off but I truly can’t. All I know is I went from the girl who was rather outdoor averse with a strong distaste for getting dirty and/or unnecessarily sweaty, to the girl who prefers a weekend hike, drive, or overall adventure over going out for drinks.
Which brings me to present day. As some of you may recall, back in March/April my better half and I spent a month in a long term rental in Austin, one of our favorite cities in the US. On our drive back to Sacramento, we noticed an inordinate amount of RVs or other such travel vans, many of which had ”decals” plastered on the side recommending passerby to visit “TravelAmerica.com” or whatever the web address was, where you too could rent an RV and…Well, Travel America.
The marketing on these RVs is pretty captivating. Images of the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Yellowstone, to name a few, can be seen flying down the highway, grabbing the attention of anyone who happens to be glancing out the window at the appropriate time. I was one such person. Given the image of the Grand Canyon on the particular RV we saw, I immediately determined it would SO be to rent one of those for ourselves and do a National Parks tour during the summer. “Yeah, that would be fun,” we bemused in unison as we continued down the highway toward our final destination at the end of this particular road trip.
Fast forward to our arrival back home in Sacramento and we were already itching for that next adventure. That earlier idea of a National Parks tour was gently nagging at the back of both of our minds so we dove into research. Adam quickly discovered how expensive it was to rent one of those vehicles for the length of time we were hoping to travel (at least two months) and changed the search results from renting to buying. He ended up finding a handful of promising options and reached out to the sellers to inquire more. The one we ended up buying was within the dollar amount we were feeling comfortable spending, had been used by a single guy traveling the US for the last year, was solar powered (huge bonus!) and had a toilet and shower onboard (even HUGER bonus!). We were sold. Thankfully so was the seller and just like that, we had ourselves a van.
Obviously by now you know the in-between bits, where we started, where we ended up, the things we saw throughout our spectacular drive (and if you don’t, I recommend picking any of my Van Life daily blog posts to dive into the journey), but as I sit at home in the comfort of a house once again, I wanted to take the time to reflect. To reflect on this once in a lifetime experience. One that I’m not sure I’ll ever have again, I mean, I hope that I do but for now, here is what #VanLife taught me about myself.
1) I can (surprisingly) get by with very little (i.e. whatever fits in a sprinter van).
When we first got the van I was quite anxious with the lack of storage. My mind immediately rattled off all the things I would absolutely need to have with me for months of travel and where on earth would I fit it all in that tiny space (?!?!?!) Well, we did purchase a few storage bins/baskets for our trip but, I’m pleased to report that I managed just fine. While I wore the same clothes on repeat week after week, I managed. We packed extremely well and rare was the occasion when we thought about something we ”missed” or ”forgot” back home.
2) I don’t do well when there’s no plan involved.
I am not the traveler who books the flight and hotel and says ”we’ll figure it out when we get there.” No, sir. That is not me. While I’m up for a spontaneous adventure when we travel, I like going into any trip with an idea of where we’re staying, what we’re doing, where we’re going, etc. I think part of it stems from the fact that I’m anxious I won’t see/do all the things I want to see/do in this once in a lifetime experience due to my lack of planning. Well, turns out a cross-country road trip is no different for me. Granted this experience was probably the most spontaneous one we’ve ever been on but days where we didn’t have a place to sleep explicitly laid out were quite uncomfortable for me. Turns out I still need just that little ounce of planning when it comes to travel.
3) Movement keeps me sane.
As many of you know, Planet Fitness entered our lives a few weeks, if not a month into our trip. At the beginning of our adventure we would sneak in short Nike Training Club workouts, walks, etc. but not to the extent that we traditionally work out. It was pretty difficult given our limited space and equipment not to mention having to watch Coco while conducting our workouts. The first time I set foot in a Planet Fitness, I felt like myself again. Not only because I could shower while leaving the water running (LOL) but because I was back in a gym, getting more intense movement into my day. Working out and movement is such a crucial part of my life. Yes, it keeps me healthy but it keeps me functioning at an optimal level mentally and for that I’m grateful.
4) While I love adventure, I thrive with a good old fashioned routine.
This point is a bit similar to #2 but more specific to my routines. As you may know, I love a good morning and/or nighttime routine. However, I do also love adventure, doing things because I felt like doing them in that moment, you know, the spontaneous side of me. Your girl’s a Gemini, remember? I had a hard time settling into a routine during our trip. I got a bit better as time went on and we settled into the different time zones but it was a challenge for me and I felt the emotional side effects of that challenge. I thrive with a good routine locked in.
5) Mornings are the best part of my day.
Speaking of routines, mornings are my favorite routines. Especially when I have time to properly conduct a good morning routine. I‘ve always been a morning person but I truly leaned into their power during our trip. Once we made our way into Central Time and Eastern Time even, I had these long, glorious morning routines before my coworkers even woke up and sat down to their computers. It set me up for success the rest of the day and it made me feel so incredibly full first thing in the morning.
6) I have a genuine, overflowing enthusiasm for life.
I think that’s why I like adventure and traveling so much. I’ve always approached life with fervent enthusiasm. It can be to a fault actually, leaving me feeling overwhelmed on a daily basis with all the things I want to do and learn, the places I want to visit. This trip ignited my passionate enthusiasm for life once again. There is truly so much to see in our backyard in the US and because of our little home on wheels we were able to see a whole lot of it. At the same time, seeing things only heightens my desire to see even more…Who knows, maybe we’ll be back on the road sooner than I think…
7) I am an adaptable human.
Yes, I love a routine and yes, I love a plan however I think this trip helped me see that I am capable of adapting. There were numerous days during our trip where things didn’t go according to plan and we had to pivot (time after time) and you know what? I did it. I pivoted and went on our merry (new) way. No one was harmed in the pivoting of said plan. I’m proud of myself for not being so caught up in things not happening exactly as we laid out on paper and being more open to ”going with the flow.”
8) I have a strong intuition and I can listen to it.
On the last day of our trip, when we were parked on the side of a road in St. Augustine, Florida, I knew we needed a serious adjustment. I could feel myself going in a very negative direction mentally but I also knew that I was in control of whether or not I would actually land in that head space. While my heart was breaking at the thought of putting a pause on Van Life and not seeing the things we planned to see in Florida, my gut knew what the right decision was. I have a strong intuition (this I’ve always known) but in that moment I was able to trust that intuition and make a difficult decision accordingly.
8) I can do hard things.
I mean I LIVED IN A VAN FOR TWO MONTHS. As much as I would love to tell you it’s the rainbows and butterflies it looks like on YouTube, it’s not. Not always at least. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely loved our experience. We’re both so incredibly happy we took this plunge and lived our own #VanLife adventure but from the beginning I’ve always wanted to share a transparent and more vulnerable look at the true trials and tribulations of #VanLife. It was hard. You know, sometimes the hard felt like it outweighed the good and often times the hard felt like it was going to defeat us. But in the end, we proved to ourselves that we can indeed do hard things.
I’m sure I’ll have a brand new set of learnings after our next adventure, whenever and wherever that may be, but for now, I’m grateful. I’m grateful to our little home on wheels for showing us so much (both physically and mentally) in such a short amount of time. Who knew that living in a Van could teach me so much about myself…