Note: This post was first published over on ARTIST-AT-LARGE
Another Note: This was written pre-Covid, but much of it will still hold true, if not now, then later.
I don’t have an ego about living the vanlife. I’ve been living this way for far too long to feel like vanlife is a competition of some sort. Vanlife is not about who can do it better, who is prettier, who can make the better video, who can create the perfect van build out. It’s not about being an influencer. It’s not about which van is the best van or how you made your bed or whether or not there is a bathroom involved. Vanlife just is. It’s different for everyone. What works for one vanlifer could not possibly work for another.
That’s my perspective in writing this post.
My neighbor’s daughter was up from LA last week and they invited me for a morning coffee and a chat. My neighbor’s daughter is pretty level headed and also a creative, so we can relate on a lot of life issues. She was telling me about a hot springs over in the foothills that she thought I would really like, and also about the friend that turned her on to the place. Then she turned to me and said something along the lines of: “I’ve interviewed a lot of people who live in vans and I have to say that you really have it down. Like, REALLY have it down.” This got me to thinking. Because I don’t do anything special in living the vanlife other than just be myself.
I’ve been living the urban vanlife for a while now. It’s mostly been due to financial reasons that I’ve stuck in one place and found a spot that works for me.
In having it “down” on a daily basis here are some of the things that I do that are just in my nature. Take what you will and leave the rest:
Respect the space that I am in. The world is not all about me. Even when I am in survival mode. I am not entitled to anything, including a parking space. I have to respect the space that I am in and the people who live there. This means, I don’t park in front of people’s doors and I keep fairly quiet. I also keep my area neat and tidy, as in no litter, and I actually pick up other people’s trash that lands around my van.
This also means that when I’m in an urban environment, I don’t play it like a campground. I don’t cook in the van, although I do keep non-cooking snacks inside, like trail mix, nuts, fruit, and chips to hold me over until the next time I go out. I don’t spend time in the van – I go out and do things for the entire day like work at a cafe or the library and eat my meals out and about. When I don’t have any laptop work to do (writing, editing, photoshopping, etc.) I go urban hiking and shoot photographs or visit with friends. I play like a traveler in my own neck of the woods.
Respect also means respecting other vanlifers. In an urban environment I respect the one block rule – one van per block. I don’t want to park around or huddle next to other vans. Some people think there is safety in numbers, but numbers usually attract attention, and not positive attention.
Read the energy. This is something that everyone can do, but not everyone does. If I get a bad vibe from a place, I will either do a little personal ceremony to stabilize it, or I will leave as I don’t want to be in a place that feels wrong for me or in a place where I am not wanted. I want to feel that my presence in a place, a spot, a neighborhood, will make that place better.
Become a part of the community. Be of service. I am not stealthy by nature. I actually hate the word stealth as it applies to vanlife. I’ve got nothing to hide. I became a part of the community that I live in by being friendly to the people I meet, saying hello, smiling at passersby, caring about my neighbors’ well being, AND volunteering in the community. Volunteering is a great thing to do if you have the time for it, are in between jobs, or just want to find things for yourself to do. For a few years I volunteered in a kitchen making lunch for people who actually had less than I did and live in the park.
I am also a house and pet sitter, which I love doing. Some of my clients live in my neighborhood.
No expectations. I have no expectations that people are going to be nice, be friendly, or be accepting. I also have no expectations that I will be here tomorrow. I have no expectations that people will accept or understand my lifestyle. I have no expectations that this lifestyle will be easy or difficult, it will be what it is in a moment by moment basis.
Be honest. If someone asks me if I’m living in the van, I say yes, even though it might mean that I will have to move. It’s important, not just for myself, but for vanlife in general, that I am seen as a person of integrity. Besides, if this is a new person in my life, whether I am only seeing them for this one moment in my life, or this is a beginning of a friendship of some sort, I want to start that relationship off on a high vibe, honest, note.
Also, I try to be honest about what I need or don’t need. People have given me wonderful things that they thought I needed. I have a storage unit half-full of these things. I’ve gotten better about only accepting something if I can actually use it.
Assume everyone loves you until you find out for sure they don’t. This attitude keeps me in a high vibe and happy state of being. It’s a way of staying positive and not feeding the negative/paranoid monster and ensures that I start my day off on a positive note. Meeting everyone while projecting a positive vibe often turns a potential negative experience into a higher direction.
Rise with the sun and stay out until bed time. I don’t use an alarm clock. The sun wakes me up every morning. I get up, I get dressed, I take off. There is a neighborhood cafe that stays open until 10pm or so. I hang out there in the evenings, watch some Netflix or do some work, and when they close, I go back to the van and go to bed. The van is basically my bedroom on wheels and I treat it as such. The world outside is my living room.
When traveling or even just being more mobile, I try not to look for a spot until it’s time to go to bed. It doesn’t mean I spend time driving around until bedtime, it just means I take the van with me during the day, park as I do things, and find a spot around ten or eleven pm.
Use bathrooms in the commons, the public spaces. Cafes, libraries, hospitals, grocery stores, any stores that have them. Some vanlifers get gym memberships. Others have jobs that provide showers – much of the tech induIstry does this for their bike riders. I carry my toothbrush with me at all times. Yes some public bathrooms are gross. But some aren’t. I also clean up after myself and leave the bathroom a little cleaner than I found it. I usually use the showers when I’m housesitting, but even so, the town I am in has a public shower space for folks who aren’t so lucky to have one. I try not to go there because it can be a Crazytown experience. I’d rather take quick Victorian bird baths in the van than go there and I’m set up to do so – all one needs is a big bowl and a thermos of hot water. It’s amazing how clean you can get with just some hot water and a wash cloth.
Live intentionally in the van. People make a lot of assumptions about vanlife and, especially if they are not hooked in to twitter or facebook or instagram, they don’t know that people actually WANT to live the vanlife. Even if vanlife starts out from a dire situation, OWN it. ENJOY it. Be the best nomad you can be.
It’s all about perspective, baby.
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And really, the way to be successful at living the vanlife is all about attitude. Have a great attitude and be the kind of person you would want to have as a friend and half the battle of life is won.