How the 'van life' wasn't as romantic as Instagram made it seem

If you want to see images of something ultra-romantic, free-spirited, & absolutely idyllic, search the hashtags #vanlife on Instagram.  The page instantly fills with pictures of beautifully tanned young couples living their lives on the road.  Picturesque scenes of beautiful ocean sunsets, empty beaches, serene mountainscapes, etc. etc.  Living the life of total freedom.

Living the #VanLife

Without really knowing what we were doing, my boyfriend & I decided we would create our own #vanlife, start our own bohemian adventure, revolt against the soul-sucking 9-5 jobs & endless nights of bartending gigs by hitting the road in his Nissan Rogue, armed with our tent, camp stove, & endless supply of handwarmers.  Our goal was to see all the National Parks in the continental United States, & we thought we could do this in four months.  We were a little off.  Not totally wrong, as I feel that word is a bit harsh, but a little off. 

It was a beautiful experience, but much much harder than either of us imagined.  We learned so much about ourselves, each other, & surprisingly, geology.  Never before had I been so interested in rocks, how mountains were formed, & how important the difference between limestone & sandstone is for sculpting the surrounding environment.

An Emotional & Unpredictable Adventure

There were a number of unforeseen factors that threw a metaphorical monkey wrench in the plan.

 It was emotionally too stressful for us to travel knowing we didn't have a home to return to.  As renters, we've never truly owned a home, but we still had a place to call home.  On the road living out of a tent, this was not the case. I would get so attached to a national forest or a beautiful park in a matter of days, & would find it heartbreaking to leave.  

The travel days were rough.  I would be cranky, unable to explain why I was upset.  This took a toll on our relationship. I had difficulty conveying this to my partner, & he took it to heart, thinking I was directly upset with him for planning this whole journey in the first place.

I also faced some health problems I had difficulty managing on the road.  It was hard knowing when I could schedule my next doctor’s appointment, if I would be anywhere near southern California at that time.  In addition, I had a close family member’s health decline dramatically back in my home state of California.  We once made a huge change of direction, driving a full day west to visit said relative.  The uncertainty of our future, of health, at times was maddening.

#VanLife Lessons Learned

It wasn’t all bad, this troubadour lifestyle of ours.  Though relatively short lived, our journey was full of life-changing & memorable experiences.  We learned to value the little things, like having a porch or a patio… & even the bigger things like running water.  We became frugal, learned to live minimally, & overall become less wasteful. 

We saw the real value in our relationship, in each other, & placed less emphasis on things in our life.  The trip started with my boyfriend desiring to travel, & the trip will soon conclude with my now fiancé & I planning for the next chapter in our life.

Our little van life adventure may not have lived up to all of its expectations, but I am at peace with that.  My fiancé & I became much closer than we had ever imagined possible & for that, I cannot complain.

I sit here on my future sister-in-law’s couch, typing this article, on the other side of the country.  At the start of this journey, I definitely did not picture myself in this scene & maybe that’s where we went astray.  Maybe if we had not constricted our journey with time limits.  Or had only followed our whims rather than a map.  Maybe if we had waited before departing on our journey so we could find temporary tenants to sublet our home.  Maybe we simply just weren’t ready for #vanlife.

Featured on The Essential Life