In my time living as a nomad, I’ve had countless people tell me they’re jealous of my lifestyle. If you don’t know, I’m a digital nomad. I drive around the country in my campervan living the #vanlife and freelance online through a website called Upwork.
This lifestyle inspires a great deal of envy in a lot of people. Almost everyone who learns about my lifestyle speaks to me with a desire in their voice so thick I can hear it.
That, or my lifestyle inspires disgust. More than one of my friends have called my van creepy. They tolerate it the same way you tolerate Aunt Edna’s weird obsession with horses. Either way, my van seems to be a very divisive issue.
A lot of people go on to make the point that “you can follow your dreams,” “it’s doable,” etc. as if to say ‘you don’t need to be envious, you can have this for yourself.’ And that’s true. You can do follow your dreams, and it is doable.
But I think the reason people don’t do this isn’t that fear traps them. I think the reason people don’t do this is that they don’t want to.
They don’t want a van, they want freedom.
The one thing I’ve noticed in everyone who’s envious of my lifestyle is that they’re not envious of what I have, they’re envious of what I don’t have. Or rather, what they think I don’t have — responsibility. They seem to imagine driving around the country in a van as the ultimate expression of freedom.
So it has nothing to do with the van. It’s about escaping ‘real life’ and all the responsibilities that come with it.
Well, I have bad news.
#Vanlife is still real life.
In a lot of ways, being able to go wherever I want, whenever I want is freedom.
But this freedom doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I pay a cost for it. A lot of costs, in fact.
I may be able to hop in a van and drive wherever I want, but my friends can’t. If I want to spend time with them, I’ve got to be where they are. If I’m not where they are, I’m alone.
Freelancing online is unstable work. My cash flow is as unpredictable as your crazy ex. (And come tax season, I don’t get a sweet, sweet tax refund).
Campervans don’t have high-speed internet. I need to spend an hour hunting down a place with decent internet to work out of every day I want to work. That means I always need to be somewhere with decent internet. Last time I checked, beautiful national parks don’t have decent internet.
Sure, I get to set my schedule. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a schedule. I’m not somehow exempt from working, calling my tax accountant, scheduling dentists appointments, and haggling with my cell phone provider.
In fact, my schedule is more challenging when I’m on the road. In addition to all the usual things, I am trying to shoehorn in grueling long drives or missions to the nearest Cabelas.
I’m outdoors all the time. That’s great when it’s sixty-five degrees and sunny out. That’s not great in a thunderstorm. Or when it’s ninety degrees. (I once slept cuddling a block of ice in ninety-degree weather to stay cool). AirBnbs to escape inclement weather get pricey fast. I prefer to drive places where the weather is good. Which is sometimes the middle of nowhere, Tennessee. Sigh.
Everything is an errand. Showering is an errand because I have to drive to planet fitness. Making lunch is an errand because I have to find a place to park to do it. Sleeping is an errand because you can’t leave your camper parked in the same spot through the whole day and night or the cops will tell you to move along.
Remember how the van has no internet? That means no Netflix to unwind at the end of the day. I’m limited to whatever my cell phone’s internet can push me. As a bookworm, that doesn’t bother me, but I think that would be a dealbreaker for many people.
You can get out of these things by paying for an RV campground lot with electricity and all that… for $60 a night. That’s comparable to rent and better than some Airbnb’s.
People who talk to me with envy in their eyes are usually not even aware such costs exist.
So… why do you do it?
Because I’m completely weird. I love that my van is the same temperature as outside. I love the cute, tiny space. I love Cabelas. I love driving my van. I even love the middle of nowhere, Tennessee.
If you’re the kind of weird that would love living in a camper, you’re probably already aware. The kind of people who would love living in a camper aren’t only enamored with the pictures of the bed by the Grand Canyon. They’re also enamored with learning about how RV plumbing works.
If you don’t love RVs for their own sake, do us all a favor and buy a plane ticket & rent an Airbnb when you travel.
Instead of envying living in a van, you should…
Take a look at your life and ask yourself what’s causing you to fantasize about having no responsibilities. What about your life is so dissatisfying that you’re nursing escapist fantasies?
Do you dream of quitting your job because you hate having a job? Or do you just hate your current job?
People who live full-time as nomads and freelancers have contentious relationships with work. It’s not that we hated our old jobs; we hate any job. We don’t have the disposition to be employees. But chances are, you have a fine disposition for employment, as most people do, and you just feel dissatisfied with the job you have now. Perhaps finding a job that you don’t hate is right for you.
Do you hate having legal ties to an apartment? Or do you just want to travel more?
I’ve always nursed a grudge against leases. Rent is more than half of most people’s budgets, yet we spend most of our time out of the apartment, working, trying to afford the rent. We spend our remaining time out of the house spending time with family and friends (or traveling). All that rent ends up paying for nothing more than a place to crash. It always struck me as a waste. But most people I talk to have no problem with paying rent on their place. Most people work for the privilege of paying more rent on nicer places. If you have no problem with the rent-based lifestyle, perhaps traveling on a budget with Airbnb is right for you.
Do you have a deep philosophical loyalty to the outdoors? Or do you merely feel you spend a lot of time inside these days?
People who take the extreme step of living in a camper tend to feel very philosophically allied to the natural world. The thin shell of a camper exposes us to much more of the natural world (read: weather, noises, etc.) than drywall and cinderblock. We consider it a privilege to be ‘in tune with the world.’ But most people don’t feel in tune when they are subject to weather changes. They just feel uncomfortable. If you’re looking to get outside, perhaps start spending any time when you’re not at work outside, reading or taking a walk. Recruit a friend to start going on hikes with you. You might find that that is enough outdoors for you.
To wrap it all up:
Living in a van is fun. But #vanlife isn’t the gateway to a life free of responsibilities. If you find yourself fixated on fantasies of travel and freedom, ask yourself if you want that lifestyle or if you are running away from something unpleasant in your own life.