Living the Van Life Adventure at Home

Mountain biking Syncline WA Scott Rokis photography

Enjoying a perfect day in the Columbia Gorge at Syncline Trail. (Photo: ScottRokis.com)

**This post first appeared here on MindBodyGreen**

It started as a four-month trip to get out of the rainy Portland winter. Just a camper van jaunt down the coast from Portland to San Diego, Chelsea and I declared. We had no idea we’d end up traveling for 2.5 years.

During this adventure-filled time, we mountain biked all over the western U.S., parked the van and bicycle toured unsupported 7,000 miles through 14 countries, lived in New York City for a month, volunteered for a month at a farm animal sanctuary and studied Spanish in Mexico. Yet all those things followed a simple decision to leave on a journey and break out of the usual.

Beyond that, 30 months away created the mental space for other major life adjustments. We morphed my business to allow unlimited travel as digital nomads, shifted to a plant-based diet, met countless amazing people, and completely changed our perspective on life.

Hard to avoid being a dork and doing tree pose in a tree FARM!

When you find a tree farm, you have to find a matching yoga pose.

We’re not the only ones jumping into van travel. If Instagram hashtags are any indicator of the temperature of #vanlife is right now, it’s a flaming rocket. Whether it’s a return to the 60s Vanagon culture or a completely new way to live, people young and old are jumping into the freedom and openness of traveling in a van.

Tens of thousands of people are nomadic in a van or RV in the U.S. It’s not all retirees in giant motor homes either. Some travel on the cheap and live on savings; others take their work mobile like I did, or find jobs along the way to fund their travel. Vans are the ultimate freedom mobiles.

Getting ready to ride a favorite trail (JEM) outside Zion National Park.

Getting ready to ride a favorite trail (JEM) outside Zion National Park.

There’s just one problem: many people can’t or don’t want to live in a van full-time. (“I’d choke my husband in such a small space,” we’ve heard a few times.) Constraints like family and work also preclude traveling long-term. Is there a way to embrace the van life mentality and bring the adventure into an otherwise “normal” existence at home?

It’s all about the mindset. While I think many people can (and do) thrive on a long van trip, we can also rack up brilliant experiences while rooted in one place. It just takes looking at things through a different lens. Van Life Goggles, if you will.

Embracing the Van Life Mentality

Downsize your space and stuff to minimize daily maintenance. Camper vans are small, and so is the time to keep one tidy. Take that mindset into your home! Check out The Minimalists blog for tips. Smart design of small spaces (the tiny home movement) is packed full of inspiration – Pinterest is a great resource.

Say yes to invitations to new experiences. Most days exploring in a camper van featured somewhere, something, or someone new. If someone invites you somewhere, go! Design life on your home turf around daily exploring, whether it’s a new class, day hike, or event you’d usually never attend. It’s easy to get stuck in the grind of the same commute, same restaurants, and routine – break it up.

New experiences make me happy!

New experiences make me happy. (Photo: ScottRokis.com)

Say no to the busy trap. Immerse yourself in things you enjoy as much as possible and deliberately cut out the rest. The freedom of not being heavily scheduled opened my eyes to leaving open space for free time. In return, my creativity blossomed as I started writing, playing music, and studying photography.

Get outside every day. Our van delivered us to nature’s gateway on a daily basis, something that’s possible at home as well. Even if it’s just a short walk through a city park, seek nature every day. Your body will thrive and your energy levels will soar.

Connect with other travelers on social media. During bike tours, we stayed with dozens of strangers through Warmshowers (a cycle touring site). Our blog and Instagram have generated many invites from complete strangers to meet for a bike ride or a meal, not to mention offers of guest bedrooms. Bring the energy home by reaching out to other travelers or offering space.

New friends from our blog and Instagram!

New friends in the past month from our blog and Instagram.

Design your downsized, streamlined life for frequent short trips. Once your systems are in place, it’s easy to be packed and heading for the hills in an hour. It’s like putting your running shoes by your bedroom door: if you remove the little blockades, you’ll find it easier to make it happen. Keep camping gear organized in containers and ready to go so you can seek an adventure in no time.

Never stop dreaming! Three years ago, the idea of building out a DIY camper van, renting out our house and hitting the road for four months was intimidating. Now that we downsized to less stuff and our systems are efficient, it’s easy to consider new trips and ponder fresh adventures.

Even at home, looking at life through Van Life Goggles keeps me open to serendipity and flexible. I’m still seeking fun people and activities – in a month back in Portland, I’ve already done four trips to new locations close to home and met up with multiple travelers coming through town. It keeps things fresh while we scheme the next big adventure…which isn’t far off.

Thinking of the future...

5 replies
  1. Bethany
    Bethany says:

    FANTASTIC post and so resonant. We will miss traveling in our van, but look forward to opening up new and different doors with the larger expedition rig. Our #VANlife goggles will most certainly be on :). Great read!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Van life, awesome adventure rig life… Same same! You two are going to have so much (continued) fun. Keep those Van Life Goggles on and here’s to more good times.

      Reply
  2. Dave
    Dave says:

    Thank you for the constant stream of inspiration; I need to recharge my mental batteries more frequently these days, and your entries have really helped : )

    Reply

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