Read This Before You #Vanlife | Harsh Truths, Conversation Starters + more
With 5 van trips under my souls belt over the last few years (across 4 countries), you could say I have an intense love affair with life on the road. Also, a definite thing for a man in a van. It’s the freedom piece for me — what feels more free than an open highway? To me, not much.
As an empath (and I reckon we all are if we are attuned enough), I can get overwhelmed by society, cities, suburbs, schedules and the current masculine structure of our lives pretty damn easy. Do you relate, spirited seeker?
I need constant time offline, out of reach from others, in solitude and in nature to harmonise the ways I tilt out of balance in this fast paced, notification-riddled world. I’ve found that it’s near impossible for me to live in an apartment and feel grounded (one floor up feels too high off the earth) and I avoid public transport as much as possible — my body is sensitive to being caged in this human-robot blend of denying our intrinsic connection to pachamama and her cyclic nature.
When you say yes to an alternative way of being, you automatically open up new channels of perception, awareness around our daily habits, how comfortable we are in Western culture and how highly strung we can be in attachment to our devices, work, busy-ness and time itself.
All the good stuff aside — freedom, spaciousness, deep remembrance of our primal nature, unplugging from the matrix — like all things, #VanLife has a shit sandwich to eat.
In the list below, I’ll share some of the top harsh truths to consider before you leap in to the drivers seat of a restored VW bus to take your dream road trip.
Staying Grounded While On The Move
Many folks travel for 1-4 weeks of the year and a common response to landing back to their city is “Ah, it’s so nice to be home”. THAT feeling is safety, security, comfort and stability which all contribute to our most real needs as humans, according to Maslow's hierarchy: the physiological needs for shelter, food and water.
How do we manage this when travel brings so much uncertainty!?
The same way we do in the ‘real world’ where security is actually just a concept (aka you could get fired from your stable job, your house can burn down etc etc) which is taking responsibility for creating a sense of safety for your nervous system.
I am absolutely not exempt from feeling ungrounded on the road — it takes a lot of tender care, discipline and self awareness to monitor your needs for creating calm. Here’s a few ways I stay grounded that you can totes steal:
having a daily ritual (to create consistency) — this might be brewing your favourite cup of tea each morning, implementing a meditation practice or a pre-dinner gratitude prayer
bare feet — this is scientifically proven to ground us! Take those shoes off and sink your soles in the earth. What better time than VanLife to get your feet a little filthy?
using essential oils to calm my nervous system — my favourites are lavender, cedar-wood, fir and vetiver (for sleeping). I rub my feet before bed or sniff during the day when I need to come back to my body.
having devoted time daily to silence. This obvs needs to be communicated with your van life amigo, otherwise you might be just being an asshole, but I find this SO imperative to taking in the magic of it all. On one trip, we had dedicated ‘silent days’ where as a group we’d have to get creative on how to communicate with each other, but otherwise created a sense of ‘space’ from each other even though we were traveling together.
limit your device use, or better yet, keep that shit on airplane mode! Pre-download your playlists on wifi then switch the data off. You’d be surprised at how many experiences open up because of the lack of technology — remember using maps? Or asking for directions? It’s all a part of the thrill of it.
Conversations To Have With Your Van Mate/s BEFORE Your Trip
In all honesty: the container and experience of van life within your relationship (whether friends or romantic) will make it or break it.
Boundaries, expectations, emotional intelligence and clear communication are all extremely important pillars of your trip.
From the get go, I would spent some time in contemplation about who you’re embarking on your journey with. Who are they as a person, not just when things are good? Van life will test you. Who are YOU when you’re stripped of a schedule, or in an emergency? Trust is a foundational quality I would be looking for in a van life partner. You’ll be invited to your edge more than once and just like choosing to enter in to a business partnership or romantic relationship, it’s important to consider not just the shiny side of your fellow road tripping folk.
A few conversations that will be highly beneficial to have before you turn the ignition:
What’s our game plan for navigating conflict? Do you need space or prefer to resolve quite quickly?
What are your expectations around our itinerary? Do you need to know hour-by-hour, or are you more flexible to go with the flow and make spontaneous stops along the way?
How should we go about the costs of the trip? Can we outline how this will work before we go so we both feel comfortable with the agreements?
Are you an early riser? Do you expect me to be awake or asleep by certain times?
What are your thoughts on alcohol or drugs on this trip?
Is there any worries you have about the lack of luxury we have access to on the road?
How should we handle cooking? Do we swap the role of chef and dish-doer, or flow?
I also highly recommend you take some time to ask yourself these questions. Get radically intimate with your own needs and boundaries around your energy, and practice clear communication with those closest to you to get a bit more comfy with the vulnerability that comes with it.
Remember, revealing expectations at the beginning is WAY better than getting to ‘I thought that this trip would be about…’ half way through an argument or after the sting of unknown silence is broken by an outburst. Not fun.
Music Taste Is More Important Than You Think…
This might not seem like a big deal, but holy moly — the background music of long days on the road MATTERS. If you and your van mate/s have pretty varying tastes, it’s not a dealbreaker, of course — but how good does it feel when you and someone else just ‘get’ each other through shared music!? It’s pretty special, and oh so personal.
How I navigate this now (because I’ve certainly suffered internally a few times with endless Drake * not my scene * and hours on end to sad folk that I swear instigated arguments because of it’s low vibe) is start a new playlist in Spotify and make it collaborative. I drag all my favourite roadie tunes in there, and so does my travel human. That way, you kinda know what you’re in for so you can add music to balance out the vibe, get excited about the upcoming trip by playing the playlist and then have a soundtrack to hit shuffle on when you turn the ignition, avoiding the question bound to spark some dissatisfaction at some point: ‘what do we feel like listening to?’.
The Realities Of Hygiene
Van life smacks you in the face with how easy is it to deny our animal in Western life.
A flushing toilet becomes luxury, and forget heated floors and towel racks. During a stint in Utah during Winter (not recommended for beach bums that love the heat…) I sat under a hand dryer in a campsite bathroom for at least 10 minutes to defrost after a hike in Zion National Park. I will never not be grateful for roadside amenities and public bathrooms after some of the places I’ve had to do very private things…
Before you commit to van life, check in with how open you are to lowering your standards when it comes to hygiene. Not joking. Baby wipe showers are a thing. You’re gonna have to be OK with peeing in the bush, overusing dry shampoo and calming the eff down about having a daily shower. Life on the road is all about reconnecting to your true nature — getting dirty is a part of it.
If there is an opportunity to bathe, you take it.
Showers can be hard to come by in the middle-of-nowhere + amenities, when you do find them, can cost up to 10 bucks, so I always opt for fresh water from mama nature herself (even if it’s glacial temps).
Truth bomb for the time-stressed: Cleaning days take the whole damn day.
My inner OCD LOVES ensuring that my home on wheels feels like sacred space. To balance the grubbiness of my being, it’s a priority to keep the van tidy, fridge/esky organised and to stay on top of laundry (two day old hiking socks = turn off).
Did I forget anything? If you have any questions about #VanLife, fire away below!👇🏽
Run to Paradise,