While for some the van life is an open-ended adventure, for me it always had a time limit.
From the moment I moved into my van I knew that journey would end and I would return to working full-time, having a stationary home, and taking semi-regular showers … aka, real life.
As that time rushes towards me (with shocking speed) I have begun to consider,
What truly makes the van life so idyllic?
Is there a way to capture some of that and bring it with me back to my new reality?
Some things are glaringly obvious such as not working, having no constraints on my time, and climbing in new, exciting places. While these are the main ingredients people first think of to explain why the van life is so appealing, I have become convinced that much of what makes van life wonderful is more nuanced and capable of being pursued in everyday life.
4 lessons to apply in the transition from van life to real life
1. Build a community
For many people over the age of 25, it seems that social circles start to shrink.
Sure you have your old college friends that you see once a month for drinks and that colleague that is less annoying than the rest with whom you commiserate. But other than a romantic partner, it seems that our everyday routine becomes isolated.
In stark contrast, many legs of my journey have been ripe with community living, most notably in the Red River Gorge and El Potrero Chico. In both of these places, I found myself sharing the space, way of life, and daily routine as an entire community.
As with any community, you are close to some, casual with others, and there might be a few people you’d be happy to never see again. Yet still, there is something comforting about knowing everyone around you, cooking dinner together, and sharing the same highs and lows. This sense of shared living and shared understanding is a powerful force that seems to be missing for most people. Often we don’t even know the names of the people that live right next door!
2. Enjoy the small stuff
It is easy, no matter where in life you are, to get caught up in the day to day shuffle.
After living in the van for a while, I began to find myself taking the time to enjoy the little things that I had somehow lost track of. Since living the van life, I have watched more sunsets and shooting stars, laughed more at my dog’s antics, taken the road less traveled, and just genuinely enjoyed daily life in a way that I had been missing … Also, when your food budget and cooking utensils are limited, you learn to really appreciate a nice cookie.
While it is certainly easier to take the time and effort to find joy when you have fewer constraints on your time, I think that appreciating the small things is an attitude that can be cultivated by anyone in any circumstances.
3. Climb everything
Before living the van life I had a pretty regimented approach to climbing. I was a sport climber and when I got to go outside I was going to climb single pitch sport and I was going to climb at my limit. I was that annoying person in the group that was up at the crack of dawn glaring at everyone as they drank their coffee because we needed to go now.
I wanted to capitalize on my time, but upon reflection, I am not sure I was always capitalizing on my fun.
Now I have found myself doing long easy multi-pitch routes, trad climbing, enjoying and exploring new areas without even knowing or caring about the grades, and even (gasp!) bouldering.
I still sometimes get excited and invested in a route that I want to project, but I have learned to appreciate a wider variety. Not only that, but I have relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy climbing even when I am not going full throttle. I want to keep this mentality. I want to climb for the rest of my life and I want to enjoy all parts of climbing, not just the physicality but the adventure, friendships, and beauty.
4. People are generally kind, wonderful, and interesting; you should talk to them
Leaving Seneca Rocks my van broke down in the Alleghany Mountain Range, an area with no towns or cell service for miles around. A wonderful woman picked me up on the side of the road and drove me into the nearest town to find a landline and call for a tow. She was a nurse and traveled to rural areas to help set up their community health centers.
The nearest town had only one business open. The woman who owned it helped me call for a tow from the next town over and sat with me for two hours after the store closed so that I wouldn’t have to wait alone. She used to live in Pennsylvania but sold everything to fulfill her dream of living in a small town and being a business owner.
Another time, in Arizona, my husband and I stayed with two women living on a small homestead. They had grown up in extremely conservative households and been through many struggles to find a way to be true to themselves. They welcomed us into their home and fed us lasagna, whiskey, chocolate chip cookies, and stories around a campfire.
I wouldn’t say that I am naturally extroverted; in fact, sometimes I struggle to connect with people I don’t know. However,
when you are living on the road it forces you to open up and connect with other people.
In everyday life, it is easy to only give your time to the established relationships around you and forget that there are another six billion people out there with their own unique stories and kind hearts. Make an effort to meet them.
So what to do with all these musings?
I would like to say that I will return to “real life” with a zen-like attitude that will allow me to live these principles daily, but the reality is that I will probably get busy, stressed, and turtle into my social circles at least sometimes. But, now I am aware and I have experienced a different way of life.
I want to try to build a community, I want to continue to appreciate a sunset or a really delicious cookie, I am going to buy a crash pad, and I want to show kindness to strangers like others have shown to me on the road.
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