Things that Go Through My Head on Any Given Day

Van life brings a wide variety of emotions and thoughts on any given day. Here is a bit of flavor into some of the things that run through my head:

  • I love waking up to the sunshine.
  • That is the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.
  • I love mornings. I love coffee. I love my dog. I love my life.
  • Why are libraries so hard to find?
  • Why is everyone at this park staring at me?
  • Oh Simone, you are the best travel buddy. So chill. Go with the flow.
  • It’s so awesome that my office can be outside.
  • I’m so glad that I can have my dog with me when I work.
  • No Simone! Don’t attack that dog!
  • I can’t take you anywhere.
  • I should never work outside, I can’t see my computer through the sweat running down my face.
  • Dang it. My MiFi is almost out of data. I need to find WiFi.
  • Simone, don’t bark at that nice old lady. What did she ever do to you.
  • I’m so hungry. Crackers and turkey it is. (again…)
  • I have to pee so bad. I hope no one sees me.
  • Client call. Dear God/universe/higher-power/Allah/whoever, pleaaaaase let the WiFi hold out.
  • I need a quad espresso. STAT.
  • It’s so fun to run somewhere different every day.
  • I wonder if people think I’m homeless.
  • If someone did think I was homeless and offered me food, I’d probably take it.
  • I’m so hungry. Where the hell are the crackers??
  • I miss motorcycles. It would be way more fun to drive into the mountains on motorcycle.
  • Why am I so exhausted, it’s only 8pm.
  • I should write a blog.
  • I am so hungry but too lazy to make anything. Canned baked beans will do.
  • I need to stay awake until it’s dark before I find somewhere to park for the night.
  • Did you hear that?
  • Is that someone trying to break in?
  • Is that someone walking past the van? Why are they walking past the van?
  • Did that car just stop near me?
  • Did that light just flicker?
  • Did someone just come out of that house?
  • Am I going to get kicked out of here?
  • Is it too late to move and park somewhere else?
  • Is it better to stay here because I’m so tired or leave because now I’m paranoid and won’t be able to sleep?
  • Simone would bark if someone was trying to break in.
  • No one cares that I am here, calm down.
  • I just look like someone’s weird cousin parked outside their house.
  • Wait, wasn’t there a weird cousin in Full House who lived in a van?
  • Maybe I should watch Netflix. But the light of the phone might attract attention.
  • I’m always the loneliest at night.
  • I wish it were darker here.
  • No one on the east coast is awake for me to call.
  • Did I remember to plug in my computer?
  • Dang it, my light isn’t charged.
  • I forgot to put ice in the cooler.
  • Shhhh…. go to sleep… you can deal with it in the morning.

So You Wanna Live in a Van?

When I tell people that I sold all of my possessions and am going to be traveling the west for a while the most common response I get is, “Wow, I am so jealous.” I know that those people have good intentions. It’s encouraging to know that people support what I am doing. And many of you reading this probably said that very thing to me.

First of all, you don’t need to be jealous. There is a path for your life that will make your heart sing. And it will be unique. It will include all of the awful, painful heart breaks as well as the beauty. I was recently asked the question if I would choose one person’s life to live, would I choose my own? I thought about it long and hard. I thought about it for days. And I finally concluded that, yes. I would choose my life over anyone else’s. I created my life into what I what I want it to be. I didn’t get to choose all of the circumstances that affected me, and hell, there are a lot of them that I would gladly do without, but in the end, I do get to choose what I want my life to look like. So no, don’t be jealous. Create the life that you are in love with.

Second of all, living on the road is sure as hell not easy. I get frustrated at times when I hear over and over that people are jealous, because there are moments where I just want to shake them and say, do you even know what it’s like?? There’s a reason that not a lot of people do this. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to be whiny. I love this trip and I wouldn’t take it back. But in efforts to ease your mind just a little bit, let me tell you some of what it’s been like to live out of a van for the past several months:

  1. You wake up every morning grateful that everyone is alive

The first few months in the van I was living in Minnesota in my brother’s backyard. Yes, it was April. Yes, it was 20 degrees some nights. Amelie learned pretty quickly to crawl into my sleeping bag to stay warm, which of course I welcomed, since it was like adding a little tiny heater to my sleeping bag. Simone, on the other hand, is slightly too big. There were nights where I would wake up and feel her shivering and not know what to do. She doesn’t really like blankets, so I didn’t know how to help her stay warm. I am not kidding you when I say that every morning I wake up and look around at my pets and feel an incredible amount of gratefulness that, yes, we made it another day. 

  1. Nothing goes as planned

NOTHING. Ok, that is a little dramatic, but it often feels like that. Even on the days where you wake up with the best laid out plan that you thought you could have ever created, it will most likely all go to shit. You have to be prepared for the unexpected at every moment. Including losing solar power and having your entire fridge full of food rot. Or the weather changes and all of a sudden your plan of keeping the pets in the van goes out the window because you are paranoid they might die in the heat. Expect the unexpected.

  1. Sometimes you pee in a bucket

There’s not really a lot more that I need to say to explain this. When you are in a parking lot and can’t find an open bathroom nearby (or maybe you are just really lazy), you pee in a bucket.

  1. You “shower” in a Starbucks bathroom

Wake up in the morning, find the nearest Starbucks, grab my cosmetics kit and spending a solid 10 minutes in the bathroom freshening up. Brushing my teeth, washing my face, putting on makeup (if I am feeling extra snazzy), etc. Maybe I get weird looks or maybe I am just imagining it because I feel like people should be giving me weird looks.

  1. If you forget to lock your car, your whole life is gone

As someone who has lost their house keys more times than I would like to admit, or locked herself out of her car too many times to count, I am constantly paranoid that I will forget to lock the van and someone will steal my entire life out of it. It’s a reality. It could happen. My whole existence is in one tiny 100 sq. feet space.

  1. It’s more expensive than you think

I spent less on the van initially than I thought I would. But the amount that I’ve sunk into converting the van has easily doubled what I was planning on and I am not done yet. On top of that, there are expenses that you just don’t think about as much, like park fees, buying a lot of bottled water, eating out because you are too exhausted to spend 1.5 hours cooking, paying for a place to crash when you need it, etc. So far, it’s not much cheaper than how I was living before, but maybe it will even out. knock on wood

  1. People are thrilled for you or they judge you

I get two kinds of reactions when I tell people about van life. Either they are ecstatic for me (which is about 20% of the time) or they look at me very confused, which prompts a long explanation of how I got here. It gets tiring to feel like you have to explain your choices to everyone.

  1. Everything takes longer

This weekend I was camping in Rocky Mountain National Park and I got up early (5:45am) to make breakfast and get out on the trails early. I wasn’t allowed to take Simone with me on the trails, so I wanted to hike early in the day before it got hot in the van. I got out my propane stove, ground and brewed my coffee, cooked breakfast, ate and cleaned up. Those tasks took me 1.5 hours. What would have normally taken me about 20 minutes in “normal” life took me almost five times as long. That’s part of the sacrifice.

  1. You always feel like you’re mooching

Whether you are staying with friends, at an Air BnB or camping, there is something about being around people all the time that makes you hyper aware of how your life is affecting everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE being with people and wouldn’t want it any other way, but the feeling of always taking other people’s generosity weighs on me at times. I like to feel like I am giving back as much as I am receiving, so it’s tough to strike that balance.

  1. Sleeping is hard: lights, traffic, cows, etc.

The other night I slept in Oakley, Kansas and barely got a minute of shut eye because of the cows. The COWS. Who knew that being in the middle of nowhere would be the spot that I lost the most sleep because the cows were mooing all night. You just never know…

  1. Say goodbye to Amazon Prime

Yes, I had to cancel Amazon Prime. I have nowhere to ship to. As someone who does not like shopping in the first place, giving up my online alternative has not been easy.

  1. You can’t decorate

This may sound superficial, but it’s really hard not feeling like I can have a tidy, well-groomed space where all of my things feel like “me.” No matter how much stuff I get rid of, the van still feels messy and I am constantly shuffling things around to find what I am looking for. No longer are the days where you pull a pan off the shelf to cook with. Now you have to open the back door, open the cabinet door, move a few containers, shuffle some other cooking items, and maybe you can find the pan… but is your stove set up? Where’s the propane? I can’t find the cooking utensils. I don’t even have cooking oil. Put it all back, let’s go to the store…

  1. Having a routine is next to impossible

As much as I love adventure and new experiences, there are aspects of my life that thrive in routine. I wake up, make my coffee the same way every morning, eat my breakfast the same way every morning, work for several hours, eat the same lunch, continue working, drink my afternoon coffee and snack, finish working, run, and then have my evening to cook, run errands or visit friends. It is really hard to keep this up when every day is unpredictable. If I get out of my routine, it definitely takes a toll on mental sanity.

  1. Every day is an unknown

Even if I have a place lined up for the next day, you never really know what lies ahead. That unknown brings with it a certain level of stress. What if I get to my campground and they don’t have any camp sites left? What if they don’t allow dogs? What if I get kicked out of the parking lot I’m parked at? What if I get a flat tire on the way there? I am generally not a worrier, but I have a whole new understanding of stress with van life.

This is not meant to be a pity-party, but  I definitely have been learning the realities of this life style the past few months. But hey. Life is just one big learning lesson, ammiright??

Step 3: Sound Proofing + Insulation

Nothing was as bad as scraping insulation glue, however… if there is anything I learned through this process, it is that manual labor is hard. During no training season have I eaten so much, slept so much or been as exhausted as when I was working on this van.



Sound proofing material is expensive, but having installed this during the rainy season, there was an immediate noticeable difference once it was in. Definitely worth it.


Next was insulation. I taped this in with Gorilla tape and it went up fairly easily.


Step 2: Cleaning the Van

You know someone really loves you when they scrape insulation glue for three days with you.


You also know someone really loves you when they grid the hell out of rusted seat belt locks.


And… you know that you love your dream when you spend countless hours in strange positions to get to the next step.


Might not look like a lot to you, but this is a solid 40 hours, 3 person cleaning job.



Step 1: Gutting the Van

So I woke up one Saturday morning and decided to rip all of this out of my new van…


It was in really good condition when I got it, so there was something sad about pulling it all apart.


Fortunately, I had the Gandalf to help me.


Also fortunately, I have a brother who enjoys destroying stuff.


So we did.


This is what I was left with. Yuck.



What the Hell are You Doing Anyway?

You know those projects that you get yourself into where you have no idea the intensity or level of effort that you are committing to?

So there was this one time I bought a van… her name is Gertrude.

Van 1 Van 2

When I first starting talking about the idea of turning a van into a tiny house and traveling around the country, my friends patiently nodded their heads and smiled. “Just another one of Lara’s crazy ideas that surely will fade away” …. “Just let her talk about it for a while and it will pass.” But once I made up my mind to take the plunge, everything happened really fast. My lease was up, I knew I could stay with family in Minnesota and I could use my brother’s shop to build it out. Before I could blink, I was saying good bye to some of the most important people in my life, my community, my home.

I cried only about half the way to Minnesota. Indy has a special place in my heart. And even though I don’t know if I’ll move back there or not, I do know that this is the end of one chapter of Indianapolis. I was also stressed because I wasn’t used to driving a conversion van and Amelie meowed incessantly for the first hour and then spent the rest of the 10 hours to Minneapolis desperately trying to climb down by my feet while I was driving. I had just spent the last few weeks in a whirl wind of selling everything I owned and trying to pawn the rest of my stuff off on friends. I spent my days working and every other moment trying to pack and visit friends (and by visit I mean convince them to bring me food and talk to me while I pack). I said good bye to some very important people in my life. I was given some very thoughtful gifts and notes. It was a hard trip leaving Indy.

I had only pulled the trigger on buying a van the day before my trip to Minnesota. In an ideal world, I would have gotten it checked out by a mechanic before hitting the road, but in typical Lara fashion, I went with my gut and just left. It was crazy to look at my stuff crammed into that tiny van and realize that was my life. Almost everything I owned was in this vehicle. Even the sentimental things like my artwork that I was going to leave with my family was with me. My pets. My clothes. Kitchen stuff. Books. Everything that I needed to live was there.

And the funny this is, I still felt like it was too much. Packing up that van made me want to get rid of another half of it. Ha.

Van 5a

I didn’t have a plan for what was going to happen once I got to Minnesota. I was texting my family on the way up trying to figure out who I was going to stay with. My sister volunteered to take Simone, I could crash on any one of my sibling’s couches, but since everyone either had a cat of their own or allergies, I wasn’t able to find a spot to leave Amelie. So about half way there, I decided that we would all just stay in the van while I built it out. I could move the stuff in and out when I needed to work on it. I didn’t want us to all be split up anyway. We were a family and all three of us would be happier if we were together.

So we came up with the plan of parking the van in my brother’s fenced in back yard and I would have access to their house. I don’t think he realized what he was committing to when I pulled in that night. But it’s family, right? You don’t get a choice in these things, right?? It actually worked out perfectly because Simone (and Amelie) could run around the yard and we were relatively safe parked in a fenced in yard.

Van 4

It quickly became second nature for my brother and sister-in-law to explain to their friends that Nate’s sister lives in a van in their backyard. Totally normal, right? My nephews very quickly started calling me “crazy aunt Lara.” And it’s become the running family joke when something bad happens someone will say, “Well hey, it could be worse. At least you’re not living in a van, right??”

All jokes aside, it’s been absolutely wonderful to be here with my family. Everyone has been supportive, helpful, gotten their hands dirty, kept me company, fed me and most importantly, I’ve just been able to spend really quality time with some of my favorite people. I wouldn’t trade the time I have with them right now for anything.

And let’s also not forget that Amelie is able to run free as a wild baby panther. So he’s pretty stoked to be here also.

Van 5

I will be continuing to write about the build out of Gertrude and eventually blogging about my travels once I am finally on the road. I definitely enjoy the comments so feel free to chime in or ask questions!