By Caitlyn Diakow
We live on wheels.
In today’s society, the struggle for status, freedom and financial stability causes many to live life waiting for the next pay cheque. We constantly find ourselves swimming through our gift of this experience in what feels like we’ll never reach shore; debt has become so common from the expenses of life, often keeping us tied to the hamster wheel we believe will free us. This has caused many to make large investments of their life on the societal constructs of stability for the sake of comfort. What if we were willing to step out of our comfort zone to try an alternative option, helping us transcend past the construct of our society that has been imposed on us? There has been an increasing amount of popularity in alternative lifestyles emerging as a way to explore other options. One very intriguing example of this is living out of a van, whether parked or on the move. The people who choose this way to live can use it as a way of simplifying, saving, or traveling, depending on the way they shape it and what drives them to try it.
This lifestyle seems to have taken off into a far more agreeable interest among many in our world, especially in the generation we live in. Van-Lyfe has become a trend of its own, with a lot of notice on social media especially. There are various people turning towards their own networking platforms to share what they have learned through this lifestyle. Could this be because of the same terms and conditions we all face as a species, or could it be more based about wanting to see the world? Maybe it’s more about the inherent pressure to get a house and a career for the rest of our lives, which many of us are not ready to think about. Whatever the reason someone finds interest in this, it requires a lot of planning for resources and necessities before jumping into the deep end.
For those of us who want to give the van lyfe a shot, where do we even begin?
We set about to find out what someone would need to set off on their own van journey.
Meet Kat & Ali:
Kat and Ali, fellow co-workers at the Youth of Today Society, have been living in a van for the summer along with Kat’s dog, Harry. Kat found herself here after travelling, with a couple who owns a van, until she stumbled upon our workplace. The two of them had limited options for housing this summer, and they saw the benefit of having no rent to pay. For Ali, a lot of it was determined by the fact that he could wake up right beside Northern Cultural Expressions Society, his other workplace. He wanted to be able to start on his work right away in the morning.
You might be wondering, what do their parents think? Fortuitously enough, Kat’s parents were very accepting of her choice to live in a van for her early 20’s. Ali’s mom still finds it adequate, although she asks a lot of questions and thinks it a dirty lifestyle. Some people they’ve talked to are excited by the idea, finding it a very cozy space and appreciating the fact that they’re out of their comfort zone. Others do not understand, finding the bathroom (or lack there of) situation less than agreeable. All in all the opinions vary, and the two explained how they sometimes feel judged by people who don’t understand why they do it.
Being artists, living in a van has many beneficial aspects for Kat and Ali. They are able to be their own bosses, and run or participate in art programs whenever possible. They feel that the lifestyle allows them time to connect to reality more. The two find themselves getting out often, reading lots, cooking food in groups, sharing music, and being removed from technology. Sharing a space tests their patience sometimes, helping them to build tolerance and compromise. They usually go to the river to wash dishes, and they don’t do laundry often. “We did laundry once, and we really needed to.” Ali states. The food they eat has to be something that won’t go bad overnight, as the refrigerator is expensive to run. Because of this they have to think ahead for meals. Kat and Ali also choose not to drive the van around very often because it’s expensive on fuel.
Their lifestyle isn’t based around keeping things organized, and they understand that van living is different and defined on a case-by-case basis. They suggest each person chooses their own standards and gets creative with the small space, but to not be picky. “Keep things simple, keep things steady,” Ali explains. The couple also suggested to be prepared for anything. Tools, a tarp, an extra battery, and fire starters are some things they think of as essential. “Always have water!” Kat added to the list in emphasis. She has had experiences where there was none available, and it really wasn’t fun for her. The two of them also said having a free spirit helps to bear the hard times, remembering the benefits of the lifestyle.
Where the Rubber Hits the Road:
On our first night out in the bush with the van it was just myself, Paige and her dog. We had a wonderful time sitting out in the sun and eating a lot of fresh fruit and berries. We found ourselves smelling sage and observing the goldenrod and yarrow where we parked. The connection we felt with our surroundings really brought us into harmony with nature. Coincidentally, Harmony is the name of Paige’s dog! Since it was our first night, we really just wanted to get a general feel for the lifestyle by easing into it rather than jumping in with little preparation. This approach helped us to focus on the beneficial side of van life before stepping out of the box too far.
On our second excursion, we brought our newly hired photographer/videographer Nishka. The three of us decided to park near Fish Lake. We went on a short walk, where we explored the medicinal plants that were ready to be foraged. Paige pointed out some Labrador Tea, and the smell was so beautiful I had to store some in my pocket. Later on we sat around and enjoyed ourselves for a while, until the sun started to set and the cold wind became too much to handle. The van had enough room for us to all sit comfortably, so we got ourselves cozy and talked before heading to bed. Once the sun set, the wind calmed down and a glow saturated the sky. “I looked out the window in the middle of the night and saw the light from the moon reflecting off of the water. Little things like that make any bad experiences worth it,” Paige recalled about that night.
Our experiences with camping overnight in the van were only a tiny toe-dip into a pool that is this lifestyle. “I found it surprisingly easy,” Paige shared. “Though, I think that may have been by virtue of being in the Yukon. Anywhere else, it’s probably a lot more difficult to pull off.” What we learned is that keeping food simple is the best option, and we realized how easy it is to over-pack. We agreed that problem solving and being prepared are very important, because anything could happen on the road. Since Paige hadn’t installed curtains yet, we needed to close blankets in the doors to block the sun out. I discovered that the shape of the bumper was a good place to hang my wet clothing, although I hung it up too late for it to be dry in the morning. I’m sure there’s a lot more to be discovered through hands on experience, as our lessons seemed to come naturally.
Nishka traveled up to the Yukon in her SUV from McKenzie, BC. She decided to share some of her experiences from the journey. “My favorite part was the sense of freedom I felt while starting up my SUV knowing that I can rest at any time, anywhere, and still feel at home.” She has learned there is no such thing as too many blankets, but there is a such thing as too large of bags. “I would have packed myself into smaller suitcases if I could have. Sounds obvious, but I thought I was doing the right thing by throwing my suitcases into the SUV. Turns out they crowded my space, leaving me little room to sleep.”
Home Can Be Anywhere, Not Necessarily With All Of Your Stuff
Whether deciding on a nomadic lifestyle or simply choosing a van to avoid costs that come with having a house or apartment, living in a smaller space requires some adjusting. As anyone who has ever backpacked or hiked will know, focusing on needs and letting go of unessential will make life easier.
Now you may be asking yourself, what are the essentials?
Here are a few ideas of what to consider when living life on four wheels:
Having the right clothes and tools for expected environments and weather conditions.
Find somewhere safe (Read road signs, talk to locals, check back roads, etc.)
Water, fuel, food, places to go to the bathroom or wash up.
If you are traveling, what kind of jobs can you do remotely or intermittently?
Is there fishing, hunting or foraging nearby?
Shelf-stable foods are ideal when living without refrigeration.
When it comes down to keeping things organized, it can be a little difficult to know exactly what to do and how to organize things to lower the stress of it all. For that reason, minimizing can help to focus on what we really need. Making things simple yet enjoyable as we need them to be can really prevent our belongings from taking over—every aspect of our lives can be as simple or as complicated as we make it. This video really emphasizes just how crazy having so much “stuff” can be:
(Insert barcode to comedy video here)
Van living has had a very large impact on our world, especially in the generation we live in. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, sub-reddits, independent blogs, and even a magazine called Vanlife can be found on this topic with just a simple Google search. Some people who have decided to really take up this lifestyle have even produced guidebooks that are available for purchase online. The main attraction on social media seems to be focused on exploration, with a few common hashtags being “#homeiswhereyouparkit”, “#vanlifediaries”, and “#homeonwheels”. Most of these social media sites portray their experiences as if they’re always on the move, and many of the photos shared make their scenery look very glamorous. Although it may be a wonderful way to experience the world, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll always be sunshine and rainbows. There are pros and cons to everything, after all. After taking a look at a few online lists of pros and cons, I compiled some of the points they made.
It is cost effective
Van living can be expensive to invest in at first, although if someone is able to budget it can actually be less expensive long term than it would be in comparison to a stationary home. Finding free parking, budgeting on gas, and looking for available sources of income can make it all the cheaper.
The ability to pack up all of our belongings and drive anywhere is a freedom not many of us get the opportunity to live. If we don’t want to stay somewhere very long, a van makes it so we don’t have to figure out how to get from point A to point B, as backpackers are used to doing.
Getting out into the world through this nomadic lifestyle allows the opportunity to meet a lot of new people who can relate on certain levels. It also requires getting extremely comfortable with your traveling partner(s).
Having such a small living space makes it so that there is almost no choice other than to simplify everyday life. This can bring that authenticity back with everything we put our effort into during a day, by finding focus on what we truly need in our daily lives.
At times, getting out of a regular lifestyle can cause someone to feel as though they are not accompanied by people they can relate to. Living on the road can also make for getting homesick from not having a readily available community, such as close friends or family. Some solitude is healthy, whereas too much can be, well, too much.
The judgemental beliefs held around people who live in their van can sometimes be very offensive if taken personally. On top of that, there are some places where it’s considered breaking the law to choose this lifestyle. If healthy guidelines are kept for parking standards by staying in places where someone knows the population will be accepting, there is nothing to be concerned about.
A tedious to do list
Daily/weekly tasks such as dishes, laundry, shower, and scoping out parking can be complex, unless you are in a campground.
Finding resources that work- If someone is looking to receive mail or land a job easily, they may find this to be a considerable task in a van. It seems as though finding a mailing address with no permanent residency is a large struggle for many van-lyfers.
The pros and cons found in van living depend on individual preferences and circumstance. Each of us has a unique way of situating ourselves in the world, and the needs for each person will vary depending on how we decide to shape our ways. Google and social media are full of advice, tips and tricks for how to get the most of your van-life.
The Van-Lyfe has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager; my reluctance to conform in a society that is built off of persuasions I lack understanding of is what lead me to finding interest in it. To me, what decisions we make should be measured by our passion and drive to do them instead of using them as validating our place in society. This is what I have built my life around, and the option to live in a van is a large part of my ideology. One of the things that makes me so passionate about wanting a van for myself is the desire to be independent and to do what I want, when I want. Like a turtle, I like exploring and moving around at my own pace while never really leaving home. Another way to put it is that I would thoroughly enjoy to live a modern version of a hunting and gathering lifestyle. My ideas for this lifestyle have evolved over the years, bringing up some really structured thoughts and ideas about how to live this lifestyle in a suitable form to my needs. This has inspired me to think about it more over time as a way to simplify my life.
Van-Lyfe can be summed up as a beautiful opportunity to throw away the necessaries in life to truly connect the parts of us that matter—whether there be hard times, rough edges or anything else, all that truly matters is the love you put into it. Living a lifestyle that is rough around the edges is one thing that can truly shape the possibility of letting go of the old and allowing in the new. It helps us to see that carrying so much “stuff”, in the sense of physically, emotionally, spiritually or mentally, is not serving us. The dawning of the sun can be like an inhale of soft silence and stillness, met with the release of wind, airing out what is no longer necessary at dusk. This brings us to a time of understanding the crazy life that unites us—that time being the now. Van living can also show us that there is potential in stepping out of the box to discover new paths. There is a way to find adventure in everyday life without being tied down to something that does not feel right to us, no matter what that may be. There is an entire world of adventure out there, and the curiosity is calling some of us to explore it. Regardless of whether or not we’re considering our own escapades, we all deserve to enjoy the ride while it lasts.