The pursuit of something wild and free. To go where you want without regret or restraint. How my life has been in the last 20 months of vanlife. Where I have traveled, what I have learned and what I plan for the future.
A 1995 Chevy G30 Sport Van is home. I didn’t actually know it was a G30 for over a year. I thought it was a G20. That ended up being really important as my transmission slowly died. But that’s for later.
How was my first year? It was beyond exciting and fresh. I went everywhere. It started in Washington St in August of 2015; I had been in the US Navy for 8 years and was in major need of a change. For some reason the road called to me. Not another career, not school and certainly not anything normal. I couldn’t come up with anything better. So I left.
One of the first things I learned on the road was I like to talk a lot more then I thought I did. Everyone always said I was a talker. But I didn’t realize how much I liked to talk so much till there was no one to talk to. That makes sense? I was by myself, I still am. For almost two years now I have traveled in a van solo across the US. I have driven to the East Coast. Up and down the center. North to South; South to further South and so on.
In my first 11 months on the road I traveled to:
- New Mexico
Traveling alone has been really testing yet absolutely beautiful. I set out in my first year to attempt everything I previously believed was impossible. I could surf, but not well. So I spent months on the coast. I had rock climbed as a really young kid, only a handful of times. So I went to Yosemite. Then Utah. Then Nevada. Then Oregon. Then back to California. I went surfing again, then backpacking again and again and again.
I drove from Arizona to Montana in 2016 non-stop after a slightly intoxicated conversation with my good buddy. He and I share a birthday week. That’s a thing right? We are 3 years apart in age but his birthday is the day before mine. Two days before his birthday and three before mine he asked me a simple question: What is my excuse for not being in Montana? That was a damn good question.
Well let’s talk about vanlife at then end of year two. What have I seen that has changed me? Where do I still intend to go? How long do I think I will stay on the road? Dose “vanlife” work for me?
I have a quick topic I would like to clean up before we go too much further. Camping isn’t free, at least not everywhere. Also you CANNOT camp anywhere you want. The impact you have on environment should be on your mind, Leave No Trace. You should be extremely conscious of what you’re doing while you are driving around. There are battles going on in grassroots groups, the Senate and Congress to protect our public lands. People have dedicated their entire lives to protecting the very lands we choose to frequent.
Being apart of the problem by driving your van wherever you want, making a mess and not obeying the laws is a negative impact. That’s not what I believe the road is about.
I was raised in the woods backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. The AT has designated camping spots; it took some years to understand why. It took me years to grasp or even find out why camping is limited to certain spots or areas. But I got it and then I used it to my advantage.
The beauty spots you see on television are typically crowded. So then what? The National Forest is a good start. The NFS has legitimate dispersed campgrounds all throughout the US. The rules are simple and the spots are secluded. It’s a beautiful thing.
You may have to drive a little further to go from that beauty spot or that trailhead to get to a legal place to camp. But why can’t I just camp here? Living in a van to me is all about the freedoms. The ability to go and do whatever I want. Where I want and when I want. However there are a few rules to follow. Meaningful ones. Like cleaning up after yourself.
My window has been knocked on. Police Officers and Park Rangers have told me to leave or face ticketing. But every time I learn a little lesson. I find ways to avoid certain places like National Park Service trailheads.
It is not legal to camp at a NP trailhead in your car. Also it is dangerous for the Rangers. Why? Because backpackers have to leave their information about the car, make, color and model they left at the TH. The reason for that is if a backpacker gets lost and someone calls Search and Rescue asking if they have returned. The Rangers will go to the trailhead first and see if their car is there. So if 10 hippies are living in the parking lot that can make there job a lot more difficult. Be nice to the Rangers they could save your life someday.
In the first year I slept in the woods every single night. I stayed out of town for as long as I could. I would eventually have to venture back into town for food (Normally beer it is a food group). But once you’re in town camping gets hard. That topic is worth its own novel. If you choose to live in a van I highly suggest avoiding urban camping with everything you have.
So I went on. I climbed every day I could. I flew back to the east coast to visit family for the holidays. Ended up back on the southern California coast surfing again and then back up to Washington.
I learned a lot of life lessons as I traveled. I grew and I lived as best I could. Life on a slower and more beautiful path can truly teach you a lot. Like, I have to work to stay on the road. There are lucky people who have found ways to make money from their laptops, property, investments or inherited money so they can stay out 24/7 - 365 days a year. I am neither.
So in 2016 I worked for 5 months. My job was working for the National Park Service. It was awesome. I went on backcountry patrols for almost 30 days, and I got paid for it. I was still living the dream. I had found a job that I could afford to work with my living situation. Something to me that was a childhood dream, meaningful and fun.
From the start of 2015 till the summer of 2016 I lived off savings. My vanlife was an extended, long distance road trip. I learned a lot about myself. Yet I still have a huge bucket list. Many more places to visit in the US, Canada, Mexico and the rest of the Americas. But then there is also the rest of the world!
The chief lesson I have learned on the road is to not limit myself. I do really want to go surf that wave in Indonesia. So I guess I need to figure out a way to get there and do that.
Life is full of choices. Life living in a car is full of a lot of choices. Living in a house is full of a lot of choices as well. We all have the ability to do what we would like. So if you are living in a van or a house you have choices. Don’t make the choices that limit you from living.
After my season with the Park Service it was time to hit the road again. Back to climbing, surfing and camping 24/7! I was so pumped. After almost a full year on the move then somewhat of a break I was amped to hit the road.
But then I got sick. My van broke down and I needed a new transmission. I realized I didn’t even know what model my van was. Believe it or not my title says it is a G20. Well that was wrong. So I figured that out and got it fixed . I took off from Oregon and headed East towards Wyoming. But again I got sick. I climbed in the Sawtooth’s, hiked into a Moose in Grand Teton and then got sicker. I couldn’t catch a break. Then I broke my ankle.
Health is important. You need to look after yourself, living in a car can make that more of a task then you are ready for. Showers are hard to come by from time to time. Laundry can get expensive if you want to wash everything every single day. We all know people who run a load or two of laundry a day. I am here to tell you that is a total waste.
Warmth. Staying warm and dry is one of the most basic keys to survival. Well when your living room, bedroom and kitchen are the size of a closet that can become difficult. When it rains for a week straight guess what you do? Nothing. You sit in your van or a coffee shop and watch it pour. Yeah you venture out into the elements just like anyone else would and of course you can go out into the rain. But doesn’t everyone get sick? Do you think it is easy to stay comfortable when you’re living in a car and sick?
Lessons learned so far:
- Warm Cloths are beyond key. Like decent ones unless you plan on staying in the van at Walmart
- Mr. Buddy Heater. It gets cold.
- Spare everything that fits. You need backups for your back up if you want to do what I have. There is no help down that dirt road that goes on for 3 hours. If you drive down that road and brake down what are you going to do?
- Enjoy the slowness. If you rush yourself to do something every single moment of every single day you’re going to wear out. Also when working again you’re going to daydream about reading that book in your driver seat next to that creek. Slow down.
- Someway to charge your electronics. I use a solar kit I bought online. I need my phone. If you don’t, then cool. But I do.
- Patience. Again slow down. Take a breath when things get rough and enjoy the moment. Enjoy fixing the problem. Thousands of years of evolution have left us with an inelegant mind. Use it.
- Go. Just freaking go. Ignore everything I or anyone has told you. You only have this one-second, this one breath. It could all end in a second. Don’t hold your fear above yourself. Go.
Things I have not learned:
- How too make everything work. Vanlife for me has been about finding myself. Finding peace in my life and trading a career for a life well traveled. But there are still struggles. Life on the road is just another way of living. We are all going to struggle. Finding a way to live that makes our lives work best is key. But you and I will never master that.
- Fear. I have not conquered fear. Yet I have faced it and taken my life into my hands. Danger is real but fear is made up, it is in our minds. But it is within the power of our minds to overcome fear.
- In almost two years I have seen things I thought only existed in magazines or movies. I have conquered major mental and physical restrictions I previously believed stopped me from living. I have broke down mentally, physically and mechanically. I have loved and lost love. I have lived just like any other normal human. Vanlife works for me. However it is not always easy. It is also not a fairy tail and it is certainly not for everyone.
- The summer of 2017 is going to be another step in the right direction for me. If you are interested in taking off for a life of travel consider what you need. For me I require little to no creature comforts of a house. That may not be the same for you. Consider your health; mine sucked this winter. But I am alive and living the way that suits me best. Above all is positivity. Believe in yourself; trust in yourself.
States visited by 2017:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- West Virginia