10 Life Lessons Learned From 3 Years of Living In A Van
Updated: Aug 10, 2018
Who would have thought you could actually learn life lessons, life skills, and grow as a human being through living in a van?!
They do say that the environment you live in, work in and play in can help promote or hinder growth. I certainly didn't move into a van 3 years ago to learn any life lessons or anything like that. I was just tired of giving away all my money to rent and wanted to live a less expensive lifestyle. Well it turns out I've learned some pretty valuable lessons along the way. Here are my top 10!
Living without comforts doesn't sound as strange as embracing discomfort. Who embraces discomfort? Well moving into a van I gave up all comforts to live a more primitive way. Through this I am now pretty good at living without all those comforts. You figure things out. I'm still constantly learning and the more I step outside my comfort zone the more I learn and grow. That is why I now embrace discomfort. Not just embrace it but seek it. Recently I took up rock climbing. It's terrifying at first learning to trust yourself and the rope. Its very physical but also very mental. The more I do it the less scary it is and the more I am able to succeed. Thats growth! Stepping outside your comfort zone and getting comfortable and expanding your comfort zone.
Thats why I want you all to remember that you yourself and your own willingness to seek or even just accept discomfort that will determine your growth as a human being.
Moving into a van no doubt is simplifying your life. Once you simplify your life you have less to worry about. I often laugh now when I hear people complaining about problems that they actually created for themselves. What if it didn't matter how nice your stuff was but only how functional? People buy all this nice stuff and it causes them so much stress to keep it nice. "Damn, my Porsche got a door ding!" This would be something I would laugh about because this person created this problem for themselves. If they bought a less expensive car and weren't worried about their self image they wouldn't have to worry about the door ding. Life goes on!
Even things like going out to eat instead of making food at your home makes things more complicated. When you really look at what we need in life its food, water and shelter. Honestly I have met people who live in tents and out of their backpacks and even living in a van seemed complicated compared to their lives. Simplicity is a beautiful thing. Sometimes we need some complexity but don't make your life more complicated then it has to be. Furthermore if you are willing to go spend $30 on a t shirt or $70 on a pair of pants then you are making your life way too complicated.
Would you take your dream job for half the pay? You want to say yes but your lifestyle is already to expensive to be able to do this. Your life is too complicated.
Life's a gamble. Take a risk. When all you have to worry about is paying your insurance and being able to eat you can take a lot more risks because if things don't work out I'll just do something else. I could now go work places and just quit when I was bored or wanted to do something else. If I wanted to go live somewhere but didn't end up liking it I would just move. I will be driving through South America after I finish building my van and have travelled more around the U.S. and Canada.
What do I have to lose?! Just the act of leaving behind the comforts of a house or apartment to live in a van was a big risk in itself.
4. Time Is More Important Than Money
Time and money are such interesting concepts but when you look at the two, one is real and one is fake. Money is made up. If we didn't put a value on it all it is is a piece of paper. Furthermore money comes and goes. People make money and lose money every day. The one thing that you can never get back is your time. Living in a van really allowed me to spend my time doing things I enjoyed more and allowed me to work less. Less bills, simpler life.
The average American spends about half their take home money each month just on a place to live. That means half the time they are at work is simply to have a roof over their heads and a few comforts. Thats more like jail to me.
I have always been conscious of my eco footprint but it is much harder when you live in a home or apartment to make it smaller. When you live in a van your consumption goes down. No more sinks and showers spitting out water at a crazy flow rate. No more owning pointless items. I haven't paid a utility bill in 3 years!!! That's awesome. Also I think when you live in a small space trash is much more apparent. When you buy clothes from goodwill and live without a sink and only have a certain amount of power and water you have to think about your consumption. Even with a sink you only have so much water in a van so you are always thinking about your consumption. Also just living in a small space in general makes you think carefully about what you own and purchase. Furthermore I spend a lot more time in the wilderness and am often cleaning up after others.
6. How To Be Self Sufficient
The skills I have had to acquire through living in a van include minor vehicle repairs. I learned how to do wood working and how to build out a van and make functional space saving furniture. I have learned how to wire things and electrical skills. I have learned how to have enough supplies to be off grid for weeks at a time. Learned how to get vehicles unstuck in the middle of nowhere. How to make money from nothing, how to talk to just about anyone. I have learned how to camp out for free, how to spend as little as possible to get by. This list could go on for awhile!!!
7. The Future is the Future
Where are you going next? What are you doing next week? People always want to know whats next or if you'll still be around to do this thing next week. I've learned to just start telling people that the future is the future. I can't tell you whats going to happen tomorrow but I can tell you whats happening now and what has happened.
The best adventures happen with no plan. The first day I went rock climbing I woke up that morning with no plan. I decided to go to Mammoth Skate Park. I ended up going rock climbing for my first time ever.
If you learn to go with the flow you might enjoy some rad experience or make a new friendship. Especially if you get invited to do something that sounds really awesome. Just do it!!!
8. How to Stop and Smell the Roses
Everything is so fast paced in the United States. Everyone is always in such a rush. When you are not in a rush to do this or that you are able to stop and enjoy the little things. Living a largely unplanned life has allowed for this but also just traveling with no plan or no destination. Not even knowing yet where I was going to go to sleep that night has led to some wonderful experiences. I remember going to Tucson, Arizona. I was less then a days drive but it took me almost a week to get there! Theres so much to do and see along the way.
Simple things you take for granted being a house dweller like a shower every day, running water, a sink, a bathroom, a stove and so much more. All of a sudden these things aren't as simple anymore when you live in a van. You stop taking things for granted. You start to realize the energy and effort that goes into everything. From refilling 5 gallon jugs of water and carrying them and refilling your shower and digging a hole to poop in.
Basically when you live in a house it is easy to take things for granted and lose sight of how it all works. It is easy to become unconscious to where the water is coming from and where it's going every time you flush the toilet or turn the water faucet on. By the way, thats another awesome part of van life. The more you pee outside the less water you waste flushing toilets!!!!!!! Lets be honest here. Homes, apartments they are designed to be wasteful. All the energy they consume. All the water. Where does it come from? Where does it go? Every time I am in a real house these are things I think about now. Living in a van really taught me to appreciate the little things.
When you are living in a van you know exactly how everything works. You are the one that filled the water and put it in there and once you're out you have to find a spot to refill. You realize you don't need a shower every day. You can't help but not take things for granted.
I hope everyone who reads this thinks a little more consciously about where things came from and the energy and resources that goes into things.
10. Say Yes To Adventure
I already said yes to van life which helped begin the biggest adventure of my life. You want to try this? You want to do that? I always try to say yes and gain more experiences. Even something as small as talking to someone in Big Sur about their electric pedal assisted bike and they offer you a go. I rode a small section of PCH on a electric pedal assisted bike and it was so much fun! I went rock climbing swam with leopard sharks. So much more. When people invite you to do something awesome, do it!