A Reflection on a Season of Van Life

As I began writing this reflection about living in small spaces, I thought, “When did it all start?”

I have memory after memory of making little nooks and forts to play and sleep in as a kid. I would sleep in the dog bed, a pile of clean, warm laundry and hide in the smallest spaces I could cram my body into for hide and seek. In kindergarten a wooden, life size doll house (ok, it was a tiny house for a kid) was delivered without notice. I can remember looking at my parents with sheer joy and disbelief as its arrival in the yard. Literally, my fist tiny house and I have photographic evidence.

In grade school, I made forts complete with detailed rooms, with sheets out of our living room couch and also made a special fort in the yard out of downed trees where I imagined sleeping out there in the dead of winter. There was a secret pass code you had to enter and swing on a vine across a pool of hot lava, so don’t get any ideas about visiting.

I remember asking my Dad if I could sleep in our 18ft speed boat that wintered in our garage. He’d reply, “What? No sweetie.” I was bummed, but listened. But I was allowed (told, really) on cross country road trips to enjoy the ride from the floor space of the Astro van, behind the front seats. Again, another spot for a cozy nook all the way from Chicago to Orlando.

Camping in the redwoods along the Northern California coast

Ok, obviously there’s a trend here. I went on to experience extensive expeditions in a tent, had a short stint living out of my car, embraced lake life in an old 1970’s sailboat for three seasons, built and designed a tiny house with my partner, Lucas, and now live out of a converted sprinter van.

A full summer season in Toad (the van) is now rolling over into the beginning of fall. And like most experiences living small, there have been moments of complete bliss, shear stress and discomfort, and moments of thinking “why the hell would I live any other way?”

What am I doing?

After a wonderful summer season of visiting family and friends in Montana and the Midwest, we’ve continued our journey back to the west coast along the Pacific ocean. Now mostly on our own, we move less often and instead enjoy a place longer to stay grounded. My daily routine mostly happens outside and I’m usually on the lookout for bathrooms, garbage/recycle bins, organic food, free or reasonably priced camping, fresh water, and cell service to work. Waking up in the cool, dark mornings is usually motivated by my morning poop. Putting on hot water is the first exhale and the second comes with a short meditation.

Keeping the van tidy is priority and keeps anxiety down. When my external world has order, so does my internal world. Lucas and I do our best to stay in communication around our needs and wants. If I need to work, we’ll drive somewhere with service and he’ll grab his bike to play a nearby round of frisbee golf. Surfing is a shared passion and often our movement revolves around the weather and surf report. After watching the sunset, we cook warm satisfying meals from scratch and go for a walk to reflect on the day and end by crawling into bed around 8pm to read.

What does this give me?

I have always loved freedom of movement. In my body, mind, opportunities in life, relationships, travel and how I live. Because the van moves, I feel like I can evolve. Van life gives me a generous amount of time outside. I’m actually typing right now (with cold hands) in the redwoods, listening to song birds, other people in their campsites, and the nearby hum of traffic. Not having a roof over my head expands my concept of what’s possible and expands my creativity.

Why does it matter?

I’d rather do, then own. I’d rather experience, then understand through intellect. I’d rather be, then live a fast paced life. My quality of life is what matters most so that I can be in a stellar relationship with myself, partner, family, friends and the planet. Having less stuff equates to freed up time living. I can hear my thoughts and dreams with clarity to then devise a plan and start taking action today (or yesterday). I don’t often say life is short but it’s true. It really is, and nothing lasts, so you might as well go for it. Living minimally and mostly outside in the modern world is all an experiment but as soon as it stops being fun and incredibly satisfying, I’m out.

What's on the horizon?

The sunset. More water time. Adventuring. I’m excited and grateful to continue living out of Toad and be open to any pivots that would make sense for our lifestyle. Going against the grain of popular culture isn’t a new concept for me. I like being different and hopefully have been inspiring you to be the fullest version of yourself, too.