I always knew I wanted to see the world one day. I kept putting it off until I was a little older, a little more successful, a little more established.
The thing is, as life went on, time passed me by, and the itching desire to be authentically me, to experience the world in a different way (not just going to the usual tourist stops, getting a selfie, and posting it on the gram kind of way), but a meaningful way, kept getting stronger and stronger.
The more I read about the #Vanlife movement and going off-grid, the hungrier I became for the beautiful, simple things in life. A rainbow of wildflowers off the side of the road. Ice-cold stream water splashed on my face. A million stars and galaxies above reminding me how tiny and insignificant my “stresses” down on Earth actually were. Living in a big city rat race, I realized I hadn’t even looked up to appreciate the stars in months.
It was time for a major change.
Take the leap
I saw what was possible and was inspired by others taking the leap – especially solo female travelers as I followed blogs and researched into the wee hours of the night. For years I had waited until one of my best friends could join me on the journey, but between schedule conflicts, growing careers + families, and upcoming marriages – it wasn’t a priority for most people I knew then. I wanted nature. I wanted community.
I wanted to come back home to myself while committing to doing what I loved on the road.
This is where #Vanlife came in. It taught me how to really sit with myself, to embrace change, to embrace nature and the fact that I am also part of nature….and to live life fully without all the material stuff that city life requires of you. And it turns out, you can be just as successful as a creator and business owner on the road.
Eventually, I listened to the pings. I took the leap. And I’m so grateful I finally trusted myself to do so.
Let go of control
In the beginning, a huge lesson in fully embracing the Vanlife and going off-grid was being open to the journey without expectations. The first time I tried Vanlife, I rented a van for a month with little planned other than I knew I wanted to head to the West coast and back by the time the rental was up. It’s a good idea to have a rough plan, yes…. But I found with too much planning, the opportunity for spontaneity was lessened.
The less I planned, the more magic happened. Something amazing occurs when you let go of the spreadsheet planning and let your intuition be your guide. I started meeting the most interesting people along the way, many pointing me to the next great destination off the beaten path. Friendships are made at warped speed when you’re traveling. There’s a familiarity between travelers, we just get each other. And that’s a beautiful thing.
One of my favorite things about Vanlife is the people you meet along the way.
Back to nature
Before Vanlife, I was a serial snoozer. Constantly pushing it until the last possible nine-minute snooze window before my dreaded hour-long commute to work. Once I started Vanlife, the urge to snooze never crossed my mind again. Waking up with the sunrise was a delight, sinking my feet into the muddy Earth often became a necessity. I learned about different plants and flower species, and local birdlife.
I loved watching the ecosystems change from one side of the mountains to the other – even the people living on each side had a different energy. I learned how to cook with a cast iron skillet on fire like my mom did when we camped as a kid. In a way, I felt like a little kid again. My inner child was ecstatic. The smell of delicious pine trees in my nostrils was intoxicating and (almost) as good as my AM French press coffee to awaken my senses. Wildflowers decorated my van.
I felt wild. I felt at peace. I was free.
I always knew meditation was beneficial, but I was always “too busy” to commit even 10 minutes for myself. With city life comes more responsibilities, birthday parties, going away celebrations, holidays, others’ expectations. Most of those gatherings revolved around meeting at a bar or ending up at one later in the night.
This “work hard, play hard” lifestyle was a quick road to burnout for myself and many others, we were just so caught up in what seemed “normal” that we never questioned it.
Once I started a journaling practice and incorporated meditation into my life, I started to question everything. Something was not right. Society was broken. This “work hard, play hard, drink more” norm wasn’t doing anyone any favors. I needed to get out… and later I would be told that sharing my story inspired many others to do the same.
Time off-grid in the van meant more time to go inward. My meditation practice was tied to waking up with the sunrise. It became my ritual and brought me peace every morning. This sense of calm carried into my day and made my journey that much more enjoyable, even when the bumps in the road showed up (they were inevitable!).
The long stretches of road allowed me to dive into audiobooks, podcasts, and soul-nourishing chats with close friends and family. Often though, the silence was enough. I didn’t feel the need to drown out my thoughts with loud music, news, or gossip any longer.
The journey taught me to embrace silence and solitude.
What you seek is seeking you too
Vanlifers are a special breed of human. In my former big city life, I often felt disconnected from the usual conversations of small talk and “work”. In fact, it irked me when the first thing people would ask upon meeting was “What do YOU do?” It often felt like a quick way to put one in a box, to assume that you know who they are in an instant.
I appreciated that I would meet Vanlifers who didn’t ask me that at all. Instead, conversations were rich in story and emotion. Lessons learned. Laughter shared. Roads less traveled. I realized that this is what I had been seeking all along. People who understood me, people who valued freedom and adventure. People who questioned the status quo and fearlessly leapt into the unknown. I found my tribe, and they found me.
These days, I am no longer a full-time Vanlifer. I’m back in a densely populated, loud, and smoggy city. But I am no longer the stressed-out, anxious girl I was before I first set out on that Maiden Voyage. I have my rituals to fall back on, and those precious Vanlife memories to celebrate just how far I’ve come.
That journey, and the ones that followed, taught me to trust myself and to listen to the inner pings of my soul. I will forever thank Vanlife for being one of my most important teachers.
Somewhere along the road, I found myself.
And I know that whenever I’m ready again, the open road and the silent, cool wind in my hair will be ready too.
So with that, I’ll leave you, dear reader, with my favorite travel quote of all time:
“No one knows how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang
Written by: Maya Scheuch