Why Choose Vanlife?
It Starts with Prioritizing Life
I know that sounds a little cheesy, but that is literally my first and foremost reason. Thoreau said it best: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” That’s from Walden, a book Henry David Thoreau wrote from a tiny, one room cabin in the woods near Walden pond in Massachusetts, back in 1854.
Those words at the end — “and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — is perhaps the most philosophically haunting statement I’ve ever read. It’s so simple, and yet so dire. If nothing else, I want to feel as though I have lived — whatever that means. That sentiment has become a serious motivator for me to “live deliberately and front only the essential facts of life.” And living out of my adventure van definitely allows me to practice that; to focus on life’s essentials.
Like Thoreau’s tiny cabin, a camper van is a small dwelling with limited space. In the simplest way, when you have less things, there is more space for living.
Minimalism & Intentionality
Minimalism is a bit of a buzzword these days. There certainly seems to be a growing trend of ‘downsizing’ which, in part, fuels the tiny house and vanlife movements, and that’s not at all surprising given the rampant consumerism of the western world, and the rising costs of living. But minimalism is more than just getting rid of stuff, it’s about being intentional with your actions and your items.
Minimalism asks you to be strategic, and choose those items or actions which will be most useful to you. Sometimes that means versatility; to prioritize multi-use items, and get the most ‘bang for your buck’ like convertible furniture or a 10-in-1 pressure cooker. But making those choices is also a subjective act and you should consider what items bring joy and what items or activities empower you.
The benefit of minimalism for me is two-fold. On one side, I physically and emotionally have less. This means less money to earn and spend; less time earning, shopping, and maintaining; and overall less things to worry about. You’ll hear lots of tiny living folks talking about how much lighter they feel. On the other side, I have more s p a c e . More space for growing and changing. By having less, and keeping only whats essential, I’ve become more resilient to unforeseen change and open to new opportunities. In a word, I have more freedom.
Personally, I have been downsizing and shifting my life toward minimalism over the last ten years; this was not all at once. Every time I was able to let go of things that didn’t benefit me, I felt better and better. You can bring minimalism and intentionality into your life in many different ways, and do it as quickly or as slowly as feels right for you. I chose vanlife for the next chapter in my life because it encouraged a life of minimalism, while also allowing for movement.
Exploration & New Perspectives
Minimalism and intentionality provides a great framework to live by, but living in a van adds the element of motion. In some ways, our world is very, very small; a verdant and delicate rock floating in the abyss of space; a community of interconnected species breathing the same air and drinking the same water. In another way, our world is very, very large and geologically, biologically, and culturally diverse.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some awe-inspiring people and places around the globe in my relatively short time on Earth, but I’ve always felt most intrigued by the quadrant of rock that I grew up in: North America; a massive section of the planet’s land that is surprisingly accessible and omnifarious.
I chose vanlife because I could take my house with me, like a turtle, and fill my life with the beauty and variety of the people, culture, and scenery of my homeland. I’ve found immense fulfillment in taking on new perspectives as I’ve traveled. I see two significant benefits to taking on new perspectives. The more perspectives I’m aware of, the more resilient I am. Knowing about multiple perspectives prepares me for changes and scenarios I may encounter in the future. The other benefit is empathy. As the adage goes: walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, before you judge them.
In a van I suppose it would be drive a mile on someone else’s road.
Is this going to be …. FOREVER?
In a van? No. There are certainly downsides to living in a van as your one and only dwelling. Vanlife for me is a tool to live how I want and get where I want to go. I didn’t choose vanlife because it was the new trend—quite the contrary, my van is actually larger and nicer that what I had before— but I feel like the benefits that come from vanlife, are what I most want in life right now. I don’t currently have a plan to stop.
Will I always live tiny or be a minimalist? Yes, I think to some degree I will; that is my intention. I see so much benefit to preserving s p a c e and intentionality in my life, that I have a hard time believing that a busier life filled with more things could make me happier or more resilient. But I can see myself building a stationary home in the future.
I see value in many types of spaces; I see value in spacious workshops and gardens and multi-bedroom homes for family and friends to visit. We can still be intentional and artful homemakers who value diverse perspectives and NOT live in a van or tiny house. Vanlife is one tool you can use to bring deeper meaning and focus to your life. It’s a tool I’m enthusiastic to use and experiment with, and I do think many, many more people could benefit from its fruits.
I hope this article helped you understand my motivations to live in a van, and encourages you to think about how it might be a tool for you and what you want in your own life. Let me know if you have any questions below, or reach out if I can help you think through your options or concerns.