I spent last week in Florida visiting my mom, where van life all began. Almost one year ago I bought a '97 Toyota Previa, ripped out the carpet and seats and installed some wood paneling (because #vanlife) and a bed, and hit the road indefinitely.
Over the past year you've asked some great questions on everything from where to park, to working while traveling, to what it's like being a solo woman on the road, so I've put some of my answers in one handy place for you.
Feel free to ask any additional Qs in the comments below!
How did you make your van livable?
It really doesn't take much to live. A decent bed (although mine is way too small and I'd recommend building a wider bed instead of a long skinny one). Some storage room. A portable stove. A water jug. And even some minor elements like a plant (yes, a plant.. in a van), candles, and essential oil air freshener. All of these bits made the van feel more like a home.
Where are the best places to meet people and camp?
Climbing crags, for sure. If you're not a climber, any campsite in a small community will at least put you around people. I find it hard sometimes to be super outgoing, but it's up to you to make the sometimes painful small talk to meet new friends! People are nice. Just say hi, and I guarantee you'll be roasting s'mores and laughing over a beer together almost instantly.
Did you keep track of expenses/materials when building? If so, can you please share?
I did.. at first. Toward the end I got too worn down to keep it up, but I did create one post here about the basics — stripping the van down and installing insulation. If I had to guestimate, I'd say I spent around $500-700 on the build-out alone.
Do you have power in your van? If so, what do you use?
I do not have power in the van. If I did, I would probably use a solar setup. I've heard good things about GoalZero.
What's the best option for someone seeking van life, who wants fresh veggie storage? Do I need a solar panel and battery setup?
Yes, you will need a power supply if you want fresh veggies readily available, and an electric cooler or fridge. Or go to the grocery store every 1-2 days. Not having fresh food was one of the biggest challenges for me on the road. But I eventually got into the habit of shopping every couple days, and it wasn't the end of the world.
What's one thing you wish you had in your van that you currently don't?
Headroom! I wish I could stand up in the van. I think it would change the entire experience of living on the road. Maybe one day I'll upgrade to a larger van or install a pop-top...
Do you have any advice for getting freelance work?
Create something every day, even if you aren't sharing. The more you produce, the closer you will get to finding your niche, voice, aesthetic. Nothing substitutes for showing up every day and doing the work.
How do you stay caught up on your work load?
On the road I love to set aside full days for one particular activity. Maybe Monday and Tuesday will be work days, where I'll buy a few coffees and work at Starbucks for 8+ hours each day. Then Wednesday will be a travel/driving day. Thursday and Friday will be outdoor days, where I'll explore a new place or go for a hike or climb.
The schedule will change every week, but I've found this is the best way for me to stay focused and really soak up all van life has to offer.
Is it hard to do artwork in the van?
Yes. While I was on the road I hardly made any artwork, especially paintings. Most of the creative stuff I did was digital, because it was easy to contain and didn't take up much space.
THE INTERNAL JOURNEY
Have you faced any difficulties along the way?
Absolutely. More than I could even describe succinctly. Loneliness; depression; anxiety.. I am a highly introverted person, but by living in my van alone I discovered that, for me, life is meant to be shared (and not just virtually or over the phone) and the desire to feel loved and a part of a community does not make you weak.
How did you deal with the hard times?
I did a lot of internal work around self-compassion and empathy. Toward the beginning of my 6-month trip I viewed loneliness as a sign of weakness. It took almost the entire trip for me to realize that it is okay for me to feel.. any way I feel. Instead of judging my emotions, I learned to let them be. Consequently, their grip on me gradually began to soften.
What's the best part about solo travel?
For me, it's the deep lessons and realizations I have about myself and the world that I wouldn't experienced otherwise. There's no running from yourself when it's just you on the road
How did you feel most of the time?
To be honest, it was a rollercoaster. One moment I was driving down the coast, windows down, feeling good and free, and then next I'd be alone parked in a strange neighborhood, looking through photos of my old cat and crying. Van life was not all rainbows for me, but I know it was exactly the experience I needed to have at that point in my life.
When I get back on the road, I am confident that it will be different because I am different.
Would you consider yourself a solitary person?
Yes! I am definitely an introvert, although since being in Denver for the past four months I've realized how important real-life community is to me. I am happy to now call Denver my home-base.
What was the main reason behind deciding to do van life?
My long-term boyfriend and I had just broken up and I was moving back to the United States from New Zealand. I didn't have a real place I felt was 'home' or where I belonged, so being on the road seemed like the perfect way for me to explore new places and get my feet back on the ground again.
Do you have any general thoughts or advice for someone considering van life?
Have no expectations. Photographs alone make van life look lovely, and it is — sometimes. But try not to be a romantic about it. You could take to the lifestyle and absolutely love it, or it might not be for you. Let the experience shape you and take you where it wants. Just go with it!
Also, on a more logistical level, remember that van life is not actually about living in a van. It's about the experiences that living on the road can afford you — nothing tying you down; being able to see new parts of the world whenever you want; waking up in the outdoors; meeting new and interesting people and learning from them; spending more time around campfires and out in nature than most people get to in their entire lives.