Last month, I was invited by the Tararua Tramping Club in Wellington to come to one of their club evenings and talk about my vanlife journey. They asked me to talked about why and how I made the decision to give up ‘normal’ life and move into my campervan as well as what I have learnt from the experience so far. The first part was easy, the second part required a bit of thinking on my part.
The last two years, since I started to think more about my future and started to challenge the status quo a bit more have been very defining for me. My perspective on a lot of things has changed, and I've gained new clarity in many areas. I feel more ‘me' than ever before, and I'm learning new things about myself, my values and priorities and life, in general, every day.
To capture all of that in a few bullet points that I could present in 10-15 minutes was a bit of a challenge. There was so much I wanted to share that I didn’t know where to start. But after mulling it over for a while, I came up with 6 things vanlife has taught me that have had, and continue to have, a significant impact on me.
And since I had already done the work, I figured I might as well write it up for a blog post :)
1. How little I need to be happy!
When I first made the decision to move into my van, I thought downsizing from a big room and a garage for all my sporting gear to a tiny home of wheels would be hard. But I actually really enjoyed it. I sold most of my furniture and everything else that could be sold at value, put what little I wanted to keep into a small storage unit and only took the essentials with me.
There are only two things I miss occasionally, an oven (I love roasted veggies) and a shower I can stand upright in and that has endless hot water. Otherwise, I have everything I need. And not only do I not miss much, I actually love having such little stuff with me. It makes life very simple, and you quickly learn what really is important.
Realising how little I actually need to be happy has been incredibly freeing. I no longer feel the need to earn lots of money so I can buy stuff because I know I don’t need it. I worry less about the future and financial security because I know I can get by with very little and be very happy.
2. I am not the only one who feels ‘different’
Living in my van and travelling around New Zealand, I meet many other ‘nomads’ who are doing life differently in their own way. And after I started writing my blog and sharing my own journey and experiences very openly, people would get in touch to tell me that they feel similar. Some are people I have known for a while but had no idea they struggled with ‘normal life’ the same way I do, and others are complete strangers who somehow found my blog and reached out. It’s been incredibly motivating and inspiring to hear from other people who are doing life differently. It has given me the inspiration and strength to keep going and to keep sharing my journey.
3. Having regrets is a choice!
One of the things I worried about when I decided to walk away from my well-paying job and work as a contractor while living in my van was that I would look back one day and regret it. I was worried that I would regret not progressing my career and not saving more for old age. I still worry about that sometimes, but one thing I learnt through meetings lots of other travellers, especially older people, is that whether people have regrets when they are older or not has more to do with their personalities and attitude than with their choices.
In other words, it doesn't really matter what I decide as long as I commit to making the most of it and choose not to have regrets. I wrote a blog post about this a while back which you can read hereif you’re interested.
4. How distracted I used to be all the time.
I remember a few times in my early vanlife days when I would wake up in the morning and feel completely unmotivated to do anything other than stay in bed and maybe read a book. Usually, this would be on rainy days without surf or wind or anything else to do. Of course, I had days like these when I was still living in a house in the city. But the difference now is that there is nothing to distract me from how I'm feeling.
In my old life, most days I would have to get up, go to work and do all those other things I ‘had to do'. Living in a van, having time, freedom and flexibility, there is nothing to distract me from how I feel. The only option is to feel it, to be OK with feeling sad sometimes, to deal with it and move on. It made me realise how distracted I used to be all the time and how often I would use those distractions to cover up my feelings instead of dealing with them. I wrote about this before here.
5. Being true to yourself can be hard sometimes!
I love my life, and I feel like I'm being more true to myself than ever before. But being true to yourself, following your own path regardless of what everyone else is doing can be hard sometimes. We often throw around expressions and advice like “just follow your heart” or “just stay true to yourself” as if it is the easiest thing in the world. But it’s not. I know I’m on the right path for me, but I still constantly find myself being pulled in different directions by society’s expectations and my own. And even if you are confident enough to go your own path, I find it can be difficult sometimes to really know the difference between what really matters to me and what I think I want or should want because of all the influences and expectations around me.
6. But it’s also amazing!
Being true to yourself might be a lot easier said than done, but one thing I’ve learnt is that it’s worth the effort. When I look back now and think about all the things I did just because I wanted to fit in, all the times I would do or say something just so people wouldn’t think I’m weird, all the times I tried to be someone I’m not, I cringe. It’s kind of sad (but also kind of funny) to think about how much energy I wasted chasing someone else’s ideals.
The past 18 months I've taught me a lot about who I am, what matters to me and how I want to live my life and it has given me the confidence to stand up for that which is an amazing feeling. So hard as it might sometimes be, I learnt that being true to yourself is absolutely worth the effort.
Other lessons learnt…
Don't drive your van on wet grass (you'll get stuck). Make sure your coffee maker is securely stored before driving (especially when there is still coffee in it). Be prepared for major repair bills. Double check you got all your shampoo bottles after showering somewhere (my biggest unexpected expense is replacing shampoo I've forgotten in showers all over the country). And more importantly, come to expect to wake up in beautiful locations and be prepared for not ever wanting to live in a crowded city ever again :)