You wake up to the whispering of the wind and the chirping of birds. You look out your window to see Arizona’s infamous Grand Canyon (or the grand views of Texas’s Big Bend National Park, you crawl out of your bed and jump right in to the driver seat of your van, you pull out onto the oh-so-familiar highway and once those tires hit the pavement—for the thousandth time—you are on to your next destination. The day ahead of you is full of adventure and the unexpected, but that is exactly what makes it so blissful. It’s the beginning to just another normal day—that is, if you are a part of this new phenomenon that is sweeping the nation (and in fact the world): the phenomenon of #vanlife.
The American Dream
We’re all familiar with the traditional version of the American Dream, those old rags-to-riches stories that our grandfathers would tell us—“Hey sport, just remember that when you put in the effort anyone is able to achieve success and prosperity.” Well scoot over, Grandpa, because there’s a a new American dream in town and it calls for quitting that stuffy, old corporate job of yours, buying a van, and hitting the road.
Quitting your job and traveling the country in a van with possibly one other friend or significant other sounds pretty good to us. Your traveling home brings new opportunities and experiences to your fingertips. Your backyard is always transforming, from breezy oceans to sunny valleys, you are never bored with the constantly changing landscapes. And—let’s be honest—your Instagram game has never been better. You can’t deny that the views are indescribable and the experiences are irreplaceable. But this notion of van life is definitely romanticized: Yes, it has some amazing perks, but the lifestyle also has its pitfalls.
As with anything, vanlife has its ups and downs. “Van life is real life, “ says Gale Straub, a 28-year old Massachusettsan who quit her job and began a year-long journey across the country, traveling in her 2004 Mercedes Sprinter Van with her boyfriend. From afar, van life can look very alluring, with all of the amazing places traveled and all of the new people met. But let’s not forget that van life is still real life. It’s a lifestyle change; for some it’s just a couple of months to a few years, but for others it’s for life. It’s a choice to completely uproot yourself from everything you have known and fully thrust yourself into this simplistic, sometimes dirty way of life.
Straub’s blog, She Explores, follows the lives of women on the road and sometimes even at sea. This blog unveils the truths about van life and how it isn’t just all fun and games. Straub explains that showering is not always an option and you need to find the right outfit to help you disguise such issues from being on the road, she says that her go-to outfit is a “T-shirt dress with my favorite hat and boots. Especially when I want to hide the fact that I haven’t showered in four days.” Straub also interviews women from around the world who have leapt into this lifestyle; she uncovers the best and the worst parts about van life as well as the necessities to get you through the day. This new, nomadic way of living is revolutionizing the lives of many. You wouldn’t believe how large the van life family actually is. Even one of Straub’s interviewees was surprised: “We had no idea just how huge the nomadic community was.” She goes on to mention that Instagram has helped them document their travels and also, “through that platform [they] have met an incredible amount of people making a life by living on the road.”
Making a Living
Living on the road doesn’t mean that you no longer can make a living. People enveloped within this van life need to be creative, search for odd jobs or find other sources of income to keep them going. Another one of Straub’s interviewees, Melissa Connell, says that she is able to sustain this lifestyle from the fact that she has “saved up for many years” and that she is able to find job opportunities that allow her to continue this mobile lifestyle like “marketing for various companies, blogging, writing for magazines, etc.” Connell also shares what she has gained and lost from this mobile lifestyle:
“I gave up a structured work life, a home that I owned, and a group of friends. I gave away or sold most of the things I owned (though, I’ve never really owned many material possessions), and I only kept the things that would fit in my van. I have gained substantially more than I had to give up. I have gained self confidence; job opportunities that I would never have had if I’d continued in my old lifestyle; new friends that I have connected with along my journey; and possibly most importantly – confidence. Confidence and confirmation that when you indulge your passion and pursue your dreams, you attract the right things into your life to live a happier existence.”
Most people that have chosen this lifestyle learn to make a living on the road, just like Melissa. From photography to writing, these artistic individuals are still trying to support themselves while searching for new places to rest their head each night. Foster Huntington has been traveling the country in his van since 2011. After quitting his job at Ralph Lauren in New York City he packed up his VW Synchro and began the rest of his life. He snaps photos of everything he sees, documenting his travels for himself and also for us (the van life wannabes). His book, “Home is Where You Park It”, a collection of photos that he has taken throughout the years, helps him support himself on the road. His photos are breathtaking as well as visually inspiring. Quite frankly, it tempts us to follow in his footsteps.
From what we can see, the van life looks pretty spectacular, if perhaps not sustainable. So what do you say—would you quit your job to join the #vanlife?