My friend’s smile lit up as she pulled up the photo on her phone and held it across the table for me to see, like someone showing off a photo of her child. Except her photo was of a van. She and her boyfriend were retrofitting a van to live out of, and she was so psyched, she pulled out photos over lunch to show me the new pop-top they’d installed. I smiled, happy for her, but not feeling happy enough.
I’d been living out of a van for the past 14 months, with no house or apartment as a home base. I had been “living the dream,” driving around the American West, doing my freelance work in coffee shops and visiting the places we all love to see on postcards. And it had been nothing short of amazing. So why didn’t I feel more excited as we sat chatting about road trips and van life?
Later that night, lying in my friends’ Seattle guest bedroom, I wondered how my lifestyle—the supposed ultimate in freedom and adventure potential—had begun to feel not-so-exciting.
When I’d given away and packed all my stuff, downsizing to a van-sized life, I fantasized about all the perfect #campvibes and #vanlife moments that surely were just around the corner. All the campfire sitting and Pinterest-porn cups of steaming sunrise coffee or pristine wilderness yoga sessions. We all have this romantic fantasy about life on the road and how adventurous it will be. What we don’t think about, when we’re liking those #vanlife photos on Instagram, is that most people who actually live on the road have to work from the road, too. Unless they’re somehow independently wealthy, most people who live on the road still have to support themselves somehow, which probably means finding somewhere to open a laptop, make phone calls and mooch Wi-Fi just like everybody else.
But as I lay in bed later that night, moonlight streaming in through my friend’s skylight, I tried to count up the number of bike rides I’d been on since the beginning of the year. And the number of climbing routes. It was pitiful how few. The summer before I’d moved into the van, I’d gone on a record rampage, mountain biking every chance I got. I thought back to the lunchtime conversation, and how my friend sounded like she’d been on several mountain bike rides and ski days recently. She was doing it. She was getting out, having adventures.
In fact, it seemed like a lot of my friends who lived in houses and apartments were getting out and exploring more than I had been lately. I see Facebook photos of my friend Chris’s bikepacking trips and fantastic two-wheeled adventures every week. He lives in a house and has a big-kid job. And while I was driving around trying to find a safe place to park the van for the night, he was probably shredding his local singletrack and then riding to the bar to meet friends. So maybe our potential for adventure has less to do with where we live, and more to do with our attitude and priorities.
The grass seems to always be greener in someone else’s life. And as Justus was showing off her van photos—maybe she was inspired by people like my boyfriend and I who lived in vans full time?—she probably had no idea how much she was inspiring me. We all love the idea of living in a van because it’s an escape from the banalities of our lives. It symbolizes the freedom of new horizons, fresh experiences. Getting away and going deeper. But in reality, we’ll never go anywhere if we don’t have the fire for adventure in our hearts. It was obvious Justus had that fire.
Life is full of things we can do instead of following our hearts to the places we dream of. But how we handle those things is up to us. Whether we live in a house or a van, we have to wake up in the morning and decide what’s important to us. Will we let a routine control us? Or step up toward those wild, amazing things we dream of?