What Vanlife Has Taught me About Regrets

It's been 12 months now since I started living and travelling full-time in my campervan. Probably not surprisingly, my life today is entirely different to how it used to be 12 months ago, in many different ways. There are two specific differences that I've been thinking about lately.   

Firstly, I meet a lot more older people. I don't know what it's like in other countries, but in New Zealand, most of the people living or travelling in campervans, motorhomes or caravans tend to fit into one of two groups: young tourists or retired Kiwis. Of course, there are others as well, but let's just say, there are usually a lot of older people at campsites and other motorhome-related events and places. Because of my age and the fact that I'm a woman travelling alone, I often stand out, and I've met many awesome older people who were curious to find out how I fit into this community dominated by the 60+ age group. As a result, I've had more conversations with older people in the past 12 months than probably in my entire life up until then. 

Another big difference is that I have more time and options. Vanlife for me is all about freedom and flexibility. It's about more than simply moving from a house into my van. I've also significantly cut back work hours, work mostly remotely, and have removed others things from my life that didn't seem important but that would get in the way of having freedom.

It's been awesome! I've absolutely loved being able to do what I want and to really focus on what's important to me.

However, it also means that I have a lot more options and decisions to make every day. Before I started living this way, most of my time was taken up by routine, chores and tasks I thought I had to do. Most days I would get up, go to work, do whatever was most urgent at work, go home, eat whatever was in the house for dinner and then go to sleep. Of course, this is oversimplified, but the point I'm making is that a lot of the time I didn't really have to decide what to do with my time. Time was just filled with ‘stuff'. 

Now I have a lot of time to do whatever I want – which means I need to decide what I want.

 Simple things like where do I want to go? Where do I want to spend the night? Do I want to go for a surf or a walk? Do I want to write or read? Something that's changed for me since I started living this way is that I have to make a lot more decisions every day.

You might wonder what these two things have in common. What’s the link between meeting more older people and having to make more decision? 

It’s that both of these changes in my life have taught me something about regret!  

Older people tell me about the things they regret and having to make lots of decisions every day means there are lost more opportunities to regret the choices I make. 

There are two things I've heard a lot from older people I've met along the way, and they are somewhat contradictory.

On the one hand, many of them tell me they regret that they didn’t do what I’m doing now when they were young. They tell me they wish they had discovered this life on the road earlier, and how they wish they had taken more risks when they were younger, had lived more in the moment and been less afraid to break free from the traditional lifestyle. 

On the other hand, other older people tell me they regret that they didn’t plan better for old age, especially financially. They say they wish they had been smarter about money, worked and saved more while they were young, been less focused on living in the moment and more on setting themselves up well for the long-run.

When I first started to notice this contradiction in what I'm hearing from older people about their regrets, I thought the solution is probably finding healthy middle ground. To enjoy life in the here and now but to also plan ahead. To not get caught up in just wanting to earn more and more money but to also be able to earn enough to live a good life and to save for the future. Makes sense, right? And the truth is, it probably is the solution – at least I’m pretty sure it is for me.

However, I’m starting to think there might be another perspective to consider as well.

Having as much freedom and options as I do right now is amazing. Having the chance to choose what I want to do with my time and where I want to go is a real luxury. But I’ve also noticed that sometimes I really struggle with it. Sometimes I simply can’t make up my mind on what to do or where to go. I spend time thinking about the pros and cons of my options, wait around for more information to become available, change my mind twenty times and then still feel uncertain even after I’ve made a decision. All because I’m worried I might regret the choices I’m making. I really don’t like being in this state of limbo, it feels like wasted time and definitely isn't my idea of happiness and making the most of life.

And here is something I’ve noticed more and more recently; most of the time, it doesn’t actually matter what I choose. What matters is what I do with the choices I make. I’ve noticed the best way to feel happy, positive and free of regrets is to simply commit to a decision and then make the most of it, without dwelling on what could have been if I had done the other thing. Of course, that's not always easy.  

The other day I was trying to choose between going for a surf or going for a hike. I had already been surfing that day, and the conditions weren't that great (but they weren't horrible either). After 30 minutes of back and forth (wasted time), I eventually decided to go hiking. But while I was walking, I constantly kept an eye on the surf and kept wondering if I had made the right choice. As a result, I wasn't really having a great time on my hike. Until, 15 minutes into my walk, I stopped myself and realised how stupid, unproductive and unnecessary this line of thinking is. I had made a choice so I should just make the most of it. So I stopped thinking about what could have been and decided to enjoy my walk, take in the beautiful views, appreciate being out in nature, and take comfort in the fact that walking up hills burns more calories than surfing ;) I instantly felt much more positive and had a much better time. 

Of course, there is a big difference between deciding whether you should live in the moment now or work hard and save for old age or deciding between going surfing or hiking. One is very much short-term while the other has massive long-term impacts on our lives.

However, I think even with big, life-altering choices there is something to be said about the argument that it’s not about the decision we make, but what we do with whatever we choose. 

Whatever decisions we make in life, chances are that there will be times when we wonder if we’ve made the right choices, times where we might feel our life would be better now if we had made different decisions many years ago. No matter which path in life we chose, chances are it will be hard and difficult at some stage, and we might question our decisions. I don't think anyone makes it through life without occasionally looking back and wondering if they did the right thing.  

However, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if whether or not those doubts turn into real, major regrets is essentially up to us to decide. 

 I think, the best thing we can do is make the best decisions based on who we are, what we value and how we want to live our life, and then commit and make the most out of whatever comes our way, not allowing ourselves to dwell in what might have been if we had gone the other way. In the end, we'll never know what would have happened if we had made different choices - for all we know, life might have been even harder.

 Personally, I've decided that I won't regret the choices I make! I will make decisions, and if things go wrong, I will try to fix it and get back on track. I might even change my mind occasionally and undo choices I've made. But I won't regret them! I will focus on making the most of what I have instead of dwelling on what might have been.

 With that in mind, I've extended one of my favourite mantras:


Be fearless. But don’t be stupid. Choose wisely. And don’t regret!