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??

4 Replies to “So You Wanna Live in a Van?”

  1. Kurt Schleicher says: Reply

    Wow, the adventures of Lara. You do nice work and easier to understand than the oral blog.

    Your very unique and respect you living your dream. We do have good friends in Denver and Aunt Nancys son Frank in Boulder.

    We love you!

  2. Carla Sullivan says: Reply

    That was interesting ! I think you are an adventurous gal . You planned well and worked hard to be ready for this trip. But nothing is what it seems ….so we go with the flow…. and we find our way as we smile and enjoy our adventures . I do wish I could have done what you are doing. But I do know how much work it is set up camp, find a site and cook over a camp stove etc . But being out in nature where the sky is so big …. the air so fresh …. the smell of the camp fire so warm. I think of you often and wish I could share a camp fire with you ! Take care … Love you Grandaughter of mine.

  3. I’m a cat owner, and reading about your adventure made me curious about several things. Where does your cat go to the bathroom? Does she do well on a leash, or roams free without worry of running away? Does Amelie hang out in the van most days? I really enjoy reading your blog. Good luck to you and keep us all updated!

    1. Ha. I asked the same questions when I was starting to think about this trip, Laura! I almost didn’t bring Amelie because I wasn’t sure how it would work. So 1) I have a litter box in the van. And 2) I have a leash for him, but have not tried it yet. I will say that he is way more adaptable than I thought to the tent, new houses, the van, etc. 3) He does hang out in the van most days unless it’s really hot outside. He seems to like a spot to call “home.”

      Thank you for the comments! It’s fun to have the interaction. 🙂

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