#VanLife: 6 Life Lessons I Learned Moving into a Van and Traveling out West
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After surviving an emotionally and physically abusive stepfather, multiple arrests, six years in high school, and time in drug rehab, I managed to become a lawyer and business owner. However, after overcoming such odds, I quickly became disillusioned with society’s version of success.
Therefore, I threw out the old rule book to happiness and blazed my own path to true fulfillment by doing what any reasonable man in his late thirties would do; I bought a cargo van, built a bed in the back, and drove out West in search of myself, my tribe, and true adventures. What I found instead were lessons that would last me a lifetime. My quest took me through remote areas of the Pacific Northwest, paddle boarding on Lake Tahoe, exploring the cliffs and canyons near Moab, Utah, and beyond.
Peeling back the layers and reflecting back on my journey, I can point to six valuable life lessons I learned traveling in a van:
1. The grass isn’t always greener
It’s difficult to look at people and situations in an objective way – especially when it seems as though these people are having the time of their lives – judging from the pictures and videos of them laying on the beach and hiking in the mountains that they post on social media, while I’m sitting on my couch wondering if they are truly happy and have life all figured out.
Living in the Midwest most of my life, I was allured by the prospect of going to explore the West. Maybe it was the mountains, the weather, or the people. Maybe it’s because it’s just different. Yes, different, but not better! Once I started meeting people on my journey and creating bonds and connections, I soon realized everyone is dealing with their own issues and life isn’t always so glamorous. Perception is not reality. The van enabled me to pause, reflect, and take stock of my life. That is, I was able to be grateful for everything that made the Midwest and my life so amazing.
2. No matter where I go – there I am
Getting away from it all doesn't do much if I bring my problems with me. The issue is that problems don't necessarily don’t go away just because I do.
Once on the road, worries and doubt started to creep in about what I was doing. I had thoughts like: ‘I’m almost 40 what the hell am I doing? I should be focusing on my company and starting a family. This isn’t what sane people do.’ If I continued to think in a negative way and beat myself up, it would have ruined my trip. Although I wasn’t able to get rid of these thoughts completely, I did my best to leave them at the van door, so to speak, or they would be like an infection that would spread throughout my entire adventure. I needed to look at the best of my situation and see it as an amazing opportunity and go from there.
3. I found out who my real friends were
I was surprised how many of my friends were offended by my choice to live in a van. It upset them so much that I could see veins popping out of their foreheads when they expressed their objections to my lifestyle choice. It was as if my personal option was impacting their lives in a negative way. Some of them went so far as to say I was ruining my life. I told myself they were taking their anger out on me because they secretly wanted to take the trip.
There were, of course, other friends who were supportive – asking me if I needed any help, providing suggestions on where I should go, and what I should do. I knew my real friends would support my decision or, at the very least, state their objectives in a loving positive way.
4. Planning is overrated
There is a saying – ready, fire, aim. That is, just go for it and adjust accordingly after the fact. I could have planned my trip for months or even years before driving a mile and buying the van. But, if I would have waited and planned my trip to the last detail, would it have made it that much better? Doubtful. What if something would have happened while I was planning that made it impossible for me to go, or what if I simply just talked myself out of it?
© Kyle Robinson
There were so many “what ifs” and I knew that the longer I waited, the possibility of me not leaving would grow. There is no time to go except the present moment, and I had the opportunity to leave, so I took it. Less than a week after buying the van, I converted it and drove out West without a plan – which made it that much more exciting!
5. Minimalism is freedom
© Kyle Robinson
My entire life was in my van – everything – and that freaked me out at first. But as time went on and I got used to needing less, I found it to be easier than I thought it would be. Life got less stressful because I had fewer choices to make – it usually boiled down to either driving somewhere else or staying where I was. I saved money – my biggest expenses where food and gas. Also, not having the option to watch TV, I was able to read a lot more, explore the area I was in, go hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, trail running or surfing, and it forced me to meet new people and have new experiences. I felt liberated in a way I never thought possible.
6. There is no grand arrival to fulfillment
I took the trip because I thought I would experience some sort of “Aha” moment where everything in life clicked and just made sense. Once I made it to the mountaintop I thought all the answers would be waiting for me there. Not really, I summited a few mountains out West and I didn’t find any answers up there. I quickly came to the realization that a grand arrival to success, to a kind of final fulfillment, is intangible; instead, what matters most is our continued growth and appreciation for life as it unfolds along the way.
*This article was originally published on Kyle’s blog.
Take advantage of every single day of your life and cherish every moment! True adventure awaits at the end of your comfort zone, so push your limits on a wave surfing camp!