I’m here to share the unfiltered truth about my personal and unique journey on the road. It’s been well over a year since I turned my van life dream into a reality, and I want to make it crystal clear that this is solely my experience. It’s not my husband’s perspective, nor is it an expectation for anyone else. It’s a raw and honest narrative of the challenges and struggles I’ve faced along the way. Whether you’re a van lifer yourself or simply someone seeking a deeper understanding of life’s complexities, this post is for you. Let’s peel back the curtain and explore the darker, more nuanced side of van life that is often overlooked. Together, we’ll delve into the lessons I learned, the growth experienced, and the power of self-care.
The Beginning: From Dream to Reality
When we finally hit the road, we tossed the rulebook out the window. No rigid plans, and no fixed itineraries. We craved the thrill of spontaneity and the chance to throw caution to the wind. And boy, did we get it. Those first few months were pure magic—exploring breathtaking places, uncovering hidden gems, and living life on our own terms. It was everything we had imagined and more.
But here’s the thing—they don’t tell you about the other side of van life, the side that doesn’t make it onto the glossy Instagram feeds. The truth is, the shine wears off. The allure of constant novelty starts to fade, and you find yourself on an endless pursuit of the next big thing. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. I hit a breaking point I never saw coming. Amidst the never-ending search for happiness, I was in a dark place, questioning everything.
I found myself depressed. And I’m using this word very carefully as I don’t think I have ever had depression before. But my sadness was very gradual at first, and slowly grew into not wanting to leave the bed, explore, or climb. I just wanted to sleep all day. I didn’t see the point in anything anymore. I didn’t want to create new goals or dreams only to feel empty once they were achieved. It made no sense to me why I would need the next thing to feel anything. I was drowning in all kinds of dark thoughts, but mostly feeling guilt for not being happy during what was supposed to be my best life chapter. I felt alone, not because I was physically alone, but because I had hidden everything inside of me. I was too ashamed to admit it. I mean, throughout my life, there were times when we hardly had any food on the table, times when I was absolutely broke and couldn’t max out any of my credit cards, and times when I was alone in a country where I didn’t speak the language, times when I hated my job, and times when I was bullied. But one memory stands out the most—a haunting reminder of life’s fragility and the depths of despair. It was when my sister lay in a hospital bed, just having suffered from a brain aneurysm, with her newborn baby girl just a couple of days old by her side. The weight of that moment, the fear, the helplessness—it etched itself into my soul. It was a stark reminder that even in our darkest hours, life continues to unfold around us. Yet, despite all I had endured, I had never experienced depression. So how dare I feel this way now when I’m finally living my dream life? It made no sense to me. The guilt compounded, and I felt trapped within my own mind, a prisoner of my own emotions.
Was I afraid for all of this to come to an end? Was I afraid of losing it all? What was I so afraid of that I would close my eyes and shut out joy completely? I still don’t know the answer to any of these questions.
After a couple of months of silently battling this, I started talking about it—with my husband, my sister, and my friends. Talking about it didn’t make it easier, but it felt like the right thing to do.
Finding Light in the Shadows
I felt really fed up feeling this way, and one day I mustered the courage to make a change. I decided to change my morning routine. In the first week, I started waking up at 6 am, listening to a meditation, making myself a cup of coffee, and reading my book for an hour or two. I liked that a lot. After a week, I started introducing yin yoga to my routine, and that helped tremendously. Giving myself a couple of hours before my husband woke up felt amazing.
My routine looks like this now: 6 am wake up, followed by 40-60 minutes of yin yoga, a 15 minute meditation, a cup of coffee, a walk with the dogs, and reading a book. But the most important aspect was limiting my use of social media. I made a conscious decision not to check it after 7 pm and not before 9 or 10 am. If I ever caught myself mindlessly scrolling on YouTube, I would grab my book instead.
Having discipline helped me so much, and I could feel my mind healing. My thoughts became lighter, and my smile started to appear back on my face.
I was fortunate enough to also limit my workload during this difficult time and took a week off completely. I checked into a campsite by the beach and created my own yoga retreat. I practised yoga every day and spent time reading books for eight days. This experience was a wake-up call—a realisation that I had been looking for happiness in all the wrong places. I had been relying on external factors to bring me joy when, all along, it had been right here inside me.
So, I made a decision. I decided to prioritise my well-being, just as I would prioritise van maintenance or scouting the perfect campsite. Each day became an opportunity to nourish my soul. Whether it was taking a stroll in nature, sweating it out with a workout routine, or getting lost in the pages of a damn good book—I discovered that the key to joy lies within self-care, self-acceptance, and gratitude for the present moment.
I’m not saying I’m back to being my old self, but I am healing every day.
Embracing the lessons learned
I think life is about finding joy in the simple things—the quiet moments by the campfire, the sound of rain pattering on the roof, and the feeling of freedom as you hit the open road. It’s about embracing the paradoxes and accepting that life’s true magic lies not in the grand adventures or future plans, but in the beauty of the here and now.
This brings me to the next point: in my experience, van life has its phases, or maybe it’s me who has them. But it goes something like this:
- The Awakening. In this stage, van life bursts with pure excitement and uncontainable joy. It’s like stepping onto a roller coaster, where every twist and turn brings a sense of wonder and exhilaration. Each day holds the promise of a new adventure, and the possibilities feel limitless. It’s a time of exploration, self-discovery, and fully embracing the freedom of life on the open road.
- Embracing the Nomadic Spirit. As time goes on, the excitement settles into a constant state of enthusiasm. It’s like catching the rhythm of a favourite song and dancing to it with all your heart. This phase is all about embracing the wanderlust spirit that comes with van life. You find comfort and stability within the ever-changing landscapes, forming connections with fellow travellers, and immersing yourself in the vibrant van life culture.
- Seeking Stability and Stillness. After months of non-stop travel, a longing for stability and a desire to plant roots start to emerge. The weariness of constant movement takes its toll, and you yearn for a slower pace. It’s during this stage that you begin to question everything. Future plans, life purpose, and even the van life lifestyle itself come under scrutiny. It’s a period of introspection, soul-searching, and contemplating the bigger picture. You seek answers to these profound questions that have taken root within your heart.
- The Adventurous Rebirth. Just when the desire for stability seems strongest, a renewed sense of adventure awakens within you. It’s like feeling the wind whispering in your ear, beckoning you to unknown territories. This phase signifies a thrilling rebirth of your adventurous spirit. Restlessness takes hold, and you yearn for fresh experiences. Fueled by a newfound zest, you embark on a quest for undiscovered paths, exhilarating escapades, and the sheer joy of stepping into the great unknown. It’s during this stage that you find the answers you’ve been seeking. You realise that the adventurer within you holds the key to your future plans, your purpose, and your fulfilment. You embrace the van life journey with a newfound understanding, aligning your inner explorations with your outward explorations.
Throughout these stages, it’s important to remember that van life is not a remedy for all of life’s challenges. While it offers freedom and new experiences, it doesn’t exempt you from facing your internal struggles. Your journey is unique to you, and it may have a different timeline and end goal compared to others. I, for example, embarked on this adventure without a set end date or specific objective in mind.
Amidst the breathtaking landscapes and exhilarating moments, it’s essential to recognize that your problems will catch up with you, no matter how far you roam. The van life lifestyle can provide temporary distractions, but it cannot permanently shield you from the challenges that exist within. Take the time to address them, seek support from your loved ones, and cultivate practices that nourish your well-being. Remember, self-care and emotional healing are vital aspects of any journey, including van life. By tending to your inner world, you can create a more sustainable and fulfilling experience on the road.
This is my van life—the wild, unpredictable, beautiful mess that it is. And you know what? I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
In sharing my journey and the lessons I’ve learned along the way, my purpose is to let you know that if you’re going through a similar experience, you are not alone. The storms we face in life can be overwhelming, and it’s important to remember that they will pass. By shedding light on the darker aspects of van life and the challenges I’ve encountered, I hope that my words have resonated with you and offered some solace, guidance, or perspective. Remember, healing takes time, growth is a continuous process, and self-care is essential. As you navigate your own journey, know that there is strength within you to overcome the obstacles and find your path to joy and fulfilment.
May your van life adventure be a constant source of growth, self-awareness, and joy. Embrace the wild ride, and may it enrich your life in ways you never thought possible.
Safe travels, my friends.