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  • Writer's pictureKatja

#Vanlife? Maybe not for me...

As the hit-the-road date draws near, many are asking if I intend to start living the #vanlife. The short answer is no; I may visit a time or two, but have no plans to reside there long.


I have seen several converted vans over the last year. From the personalized old family mini-van to the fancy custom builds that cost as much as some houses, there are a lot of options out there. I feel like I am at just the right cusp of generations to have very mixed feelings about the #vanlife.

 

I grew up with climbing parents who talked about the "dirtbags" of the southwest; rock climbers who lived out of their vans in view of their beloved mountain projects. What used to be a term for these rock climbing nomads now encompasses a much broader lifestyle. I appreciate the many creative adaptations and remodels that go into creating these adventure vans, but I still shake my head at how something that was once looked down upon by mainstream society has become a trending alternative lifestyle.


To further confuse things, I have spent many years working closely with less privileged populations. I have met with clients in their vehicles converted to homes, often in poor repair and full to the brim with their everyday belongings rather than climbing gear and backcountry kits. I shake my head in wonder when I look into a fancy new adventure van with a nicely made full bed, hanging lights, solar panels, and a fully stocked miniature kitchen. I always remember other scenes; ones that are hard to hear about but are a very real reality of the house-less populations that hide in plain sight:


Two adults trying to sleep in the front seats of a tiny car with towels hung over the windows for privacy...


A child huddling under a nest of clothes and recent foodbank finds in the backseat to stay warm and hidden from predators while their parents look for work...


A teenager dressing for school and racing to the corner as fast as she can so the other kids on the bus do not see that she lives out of a broken-down RV on the side of the road...


A widower who went bankrupt trying to pay his wife's medical bills and now rests in his car between his two jobs, barely catching an hour of sleep before a "concerned citizen" calls it in and he is forced to move along...


The juxtaposition of these two lifestyles is never far from my mind whenever I see #vanlife trending. Think about how different it is to people from both sides of the experience to say "I live in my van." One of them is privileged to be able to live in a vehicle instead of on the sidewalk or in a shelter. The other is privileged to be able to leave their primary residence and travel around in their van for the summer. Neither is a saint nor a villain for living in a van, but the experiences are so different that they may very well seem to be as opposite as heaven and hell.


I cannot climb into a modern, luxury #vanlife vehicle without feeling a gut-punch reminder of how much I am blessed with in this life. How many of us are constantly balancing on the tight rope walk between grace and ruin that could change the entire #vanlife experience in the blink of an eye? How many of us take for granted the privilege that allows us to live in a van because we choose to and not because we have to? The prospect of living out of a van, even for a short time, has a lot of heavy associations and moral dilemmas for me. Before I even tried it, I knew I had a lot of struggles around the idea of #vanlife for myself.

 

As I plan to take to the road and I am part of the outdoor community, it is an understandable assumption for others to make: she will be living in a van! I want to travel, adventure, and be able to work remotely while I do. Why not pursue the dirtbag legacy and move into my own van? It does make sense in a lot of ways.


I wrestled with the idea for a few weeks. My heart and mind went round and round as I shopped around online, wrestled with my moral dilemmas, and tried to envision the future. Rather than making assumptions and baseless assertions, I finally decided to try out the #vanlife for a weekend and see what it was like first-hand.


Using Outdoorsy, I found a fun-looking van with the three things I required: a comfortable bed (I am miserable when I do not get enough sleep), room to move around inside, and some level of privacy. Outdoorsy delivered, and I found the perfect match and got to spend several days driving, adventuring, and sleeping in my mobile basecamp.


That weekend van trip turned into quite the misadventure of competing for campsites, experimenting with new cuisine and beverage options, and navigating a breakdown (something I hear is quite common in the camper-van community). Those are stories for another time, however, as the point of the experiment was to try out #vanlife and see if it could be an option for me.


My conclusion: no-go. Perhaps not for the reasons you assume, though.


While there are many attractive benefits to having a camper that fits into parking spaces and is relatively easy to maneuver, I could not see myself comfortably working there for long periods of time. The idea of keeping the background and environment professional and conducive to virtual meetings and training sessions (the heart and soul of my current job) did not seem feasible. Plus, I plan to take on this next phase with my two dogs, and the prospect of cramming all three of us into such a confined space for weeks at a time felt suffocating. Literally suffocating: my dogs are huge shedders and several days would make even the strongest immune system beg for mercy.


I can imagine scenarios where I am based out of a guest house, AirB&B, or dog-friendly hotel for the workweek and then rent a van for a weekend adventure. Sure, it could get pricy, but from my limited research, there will be good opportunities for this outside of peak season when demand drops and owners are eager to rent out their vans in the off-season rather than let them sit and age for several months. Such cramped quarters with the dogs sounds fine in small doses, or if I have a side excursion to make while someone watches my fur-kids and I want to play hard for a few days in the mountains. I guess we will see how this theory plays out in the coming months.

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