Six things van life has taught me in six months.
In just a few days it’s been six months since I handed over the keys to my apartment, got into my van, and drove to a friends property for a farewell sendoff before I ventured out on my own into the unknown. That feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago. And because of both of those facts, I don’t see myself going back to a “normal” lifestyle any time soon. I feel like I’ve just barely started this adventure, and yet it feels so natural it’s like I’ve always been here.
My first month was a bit of a whirlwind. I didn’t have much of a plan, but the one thing I knew was that I wanted to “go south” and be somewhere warm for the winter. My blog post “The First 30 Days” will share about the traverse from Seattle, WA to Utah. I was there in Utah for a week and then when the forecast was snow, I decided to head to Sedona, AZ at the recommendation of…. everyone. Sedona did not disappoint. Due to the pandemic I was very cautious about being around crowds, and Sedona is quite popular, so I stuck to the not-so-traveled trails and still felt completely fulfilled. I loved it so much, in fact, that I stayed for over three weeks!
And this leads me to share a little of what I’ve learned over the past six months of living in my van full time. Now this isn’t going to be one of those “here’s the gear” or “here’s what I love/hate about by build” write-ups. That will come soon in another post… this is about the important stuff. The things that have made my heart happy, and made me feel like a stronger, more confident woman. These are the things that have helped me learn who I am and what makes me feel full of life.
And now without further ado:
- Take your time. Soak it all in. Explore what’s around you. There’s nothing wrong with staying somewhere for an extended period of time. I think a lot of people (including myself when I first started) think that when you live in a van, the main focus is travel and seeing as much as you can. If you don’t work full time that might be more feasible, but trying to balance a full workweek, exercise, sleep, personal time, research on where to go, and drive time to destinations is exhausting. I discovered this very quickly. I also started questioning myself when I was thinking about leaving a spot that had everything I needed. Safe location, views, strong cell service, trails to run on… why was I in a hurry to leave? Because I thought I had to? Says who? Since November, I typically stay at each location for 1-2 weeks, sometimes even longer.
- Often times the best destinations are the ones no one knows about. The popular destinations aren’t the only outstanding places to see. In fact, I’ve found the most incredible places just by exploring right around wherever I end up parking. I find trails that aren’t on maps, roads leading to unmarked destinations, and have driven past trailheads that were overflowing with visitors to discover the trailhead a mile down the road no one bothered to check out. I have many of these adventures on my YouTube channel, so head on over to check them out if you’re interested in seeing some incredible trails!
- You’ll have a van family. It turns out that in van life a lot of us end up in the same areas (go figure) and often a simple “hello” can turn into a lasting friendship. Social media is also a great way to meet people, since many of us “follow” each-other. Once Snow and I were on a run on some Arizona State Trust Land and we passed by someone who recognized us from Instagram. Now I’m not an influencer by any means, so when they shouted out “Hey, aren’t you Sierra?” I’ll admit I was a little spooked. Turns out we’ve “followed” each other for a while, and ended up meeting officially finally! That in turn led me to meet someone else they were traveling with at the time, and I’m sure I’ll meet even more friends because of that introduction. It’s kinda crazy how quickly your van family can grow. Turns out everyone is your neighbor out here. The six degrees of separation is a real thing, especially in vanlife it seems.
- Solitude is healthy. You’ll have a lot of alone time. Sometimes just a week, sometimes longer. I can’t say this is something I’ve “learned” as I was expecting it from the start. But it’s definitely something to consider and embrace, enjoy, and treasure. As much as I love the weeks that I’m with friends laughing and sharing about life’s adventures, I also need the time to reset, recenter, and reflect. I think the “learning” aspect of this one for me is that I need it and enjoy it more than I thought I would. I’ve always been a loner, but van life is a very different kind of “alone”. It’s empowering and inspiring. Independence is a gift everyone should be able to experience.
- Things are just things. You’ll need less “things” than you ever thought you would. I considered myself a minimalist before van life. Now I laugh at the thought. Moving from a 680 sq ft apartment into a 72 sq ft van was a feat in itself, but even after cramming every single nook and cranny with “things” that I thought I would need/want, I find myself getting rid of more “things” at least on a monthly basis. Its been so interesting and, shall I say, fun, learning what I actually need and enjoy/want in the van.
- There’s no “right way” to do van life. I’ve meet people in luxury vans and people living in their car. I’ve met part-timers and people who have been doing this before it was a thing. You can build one yourself, have someone else help you, or have someone else build it all together. You can have a huge 5th wheel or a small travel trailer. Some people like to stay in cities. Some only stay on public lands. Some go to paid campgrounds. At the end of the day, we’re all human. We’re all here for a reason, and we all came from a path that ended up leading us to the same destination.
Sometimes I wish I had embarked on this adventure sooner, but the reality is that I don’t think I was ready. I needed to go through some life lessons before I could truly be confident in my own skin. The past few years I learned a lot about who I am, but knowing who you are and actually allowing yourself to be that person is two very different things. I can truly say this is the first time that I feel comfortable in my own skin. I feel like I fit in. I feel like I can be my, unaltered, unapologetic, authentic self.
There is no “perfect time” to start a nomadic lifestyle. If your heart is yearning for it, things will work out. Just get out there, have an open mind, be safe, and enjoy the experience!
I’m looking forward to sharing more tangible tips that have helped me along my journey to date. Be sure to subscribe to my blog to follow along on my traverse! If you have specific questions about vanlife, being a solo female traveler, or anything else, feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.