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7 Mindful Reasons to Live #VanLife

#VanLife. This catchy phrase has become a worldwide sensation, and for good reason. Perfectly placed Instagram photos of cozy quarters overlooking landscapes seemingly made by the gods. The thought of whisking away on a whim at any given day to whatever location is calling, alluring, and sexy. Who wouldn’t want to live that nomadic lifestyle? It certainly drew me in, which is why I quit my 9-5 cubicle job in the city and moved to New Zealand for a year in 2017.

Why van life? There are so many reasons to quit the monotonous everyday life to live and work remotely in steel on wheels, but I’m here to tell you living in a van isn’t easy. And it usually isn’t a perfectly tricked out space with power and a water heater and storage and a kitchen (unless you have a lot of time and money). Converted vans are high cost, so sometimes it’s a half hazard attempt. My story included converting a 1997 Honda CRV that cost $2,000 with a $200 additional budget into a ‘camper van’ and made it work for myself and my somewhat spacious partner.

Van dwelling is not about taking impeccable photos and showing everyone how enlightened you’ve become. It’s about letting go and allowing yourself to fall back in love with everything inside of you. It’s about knowing the discomfort of wet shoes, wet socks, wet blankets, one foot of headroom, little storage space and never knowing when it’s going to stop raining. Yet, still finding love at that moment. It’s about forgetting to change the oil and breaking down in the middle of a mountain pass, 20 kilometers from the next village only to find out the village has no mechanic.

There are pros and cons. Sometimes it’s impressive cliffs jutting from the ocean and night skies so clear you feel like part of the stardust. And other times it’s stealth camping in a gas station parking lot with your lawn chair and bunsen burner, while people getting gas stare at you. Because the area mechanic won’t be in until the next morning to give you a tow. Do not decide to leave your life to live this so called “dream” because of the hashtag and to follow a modern-day trend.

Live in a van because…

You’re sick of wasting so much…

Wasting water, wasting food, wasting electricity, and wasting time. All of these things are so precious, but we waste them every day. How many times have you gone to the grocery store hungry and bought so much food that some of it goes bad? Do you shower every day or leave the water running down the sink when you brush your teeth? How many hours a month do you spend sitting in front of the television, use a blow dryer, a microwave, or forget to turn off a light? We’re all guilty on occasion, but the best way to learn is just to do. You know you’ve done away with wastefulness when you look in your food box or mini cooler and see a pack of Spicy Thai Noodles, a carrot, some oatmeal, and raisins and feel you’re living a gourmet lifestyle. Or when you and your friend casually wash each other’s hair with your water bottles at campsites. When you have less you waste less and this is a principle I’ll take with me through the rest my travels.

You want to foster personal growth beyond the span you ever thought possible…

When you give up luxurious things for a minimalist lifestyle, knowing they’re just one job application away but choose to stay in your current state of discomfort, that is growth. When a wet, smelly, cramped car becomes cozy and safe compared to a kingsize bed and apartment, that is change. You begin to look at the world, your self, and your relationship with the things that surround you differently. Van life essentials are food, water, sleep, a good book, and a warm beverage. You don’t need a shower every day, wearing a pair of leggings for two weeks is okay, and it’s uncanny the number of meals you can cook with one pan and one pot.

You want to feel so uncomfortable that you can’t remember what it’s like to put on a pair of dry socks…

Eventually, you’ll grow to find so much love in so many varieties of discomfort. Experience the pains of loneliness, the craving for more than one sharp knife, the inability to sit up straight in bed. Unfortunately, the discomfort heightens in inclement weather. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a week straight of New Zealand rain in the Southland…but it doesn’t stop. Everything is wet, hiking becomes dangerous and many times you can’t even see the road in front of you. You can only do so many activities from the comforts of your passenger seat, which fosters immense amounts of creativity. Finding gyms with a pool and sauna, going to see a movie, or checking out a book at a library. When’s the last time you even went to a library? You learn many ways to keep all the essential parts of your body clean and how to do laundry in bathrooms. Sometimes you pull up to a McDonald’s and buy a coffee and use their bathroom. Sometimes you use gym locker rooms, and sometimes you get lucky and find cheap campgrounds with coin showers. And occasionally you break down and stay in a hostel.

Because you’re tired of wanting MORE…

We live in a world of constant mores. More money, more clothes, more amenities. More space in cars, apartments, shopping centers. You get the point. Are you tired of always feeling the need for more? Well, let me tell you. Living in a small space with limited amenities gives you the ability to understand what you actually need to survive and be completely content. Clothing? I survived out of a 50-liter backpack and actually gave a lot of things away as I was traveling. A fancy kitchen? A fold-out table with a propane burner, one pot, one pan, a few cheap knives and utensils, and cutlery will do. And to be honest, cooking out of my SUV was a challenge. It took major trial and error to figure out how long I could actually keep fresh food and the most viable way to cook a full meal with one burner. People living and loving van life may not have fancy things, but what they do have is freedom, stories, extra money, and time for travel.

Because you’re missing connection…

I’m talking about real connection. With nature, with people, and with yourself. We are so enveloped within our day to day hectic lifestyle that often times we don’t take a minute to stare at the blooming hydrangea outside of our office. Or admire the perseverance of a baby goose learning from her mother. Hell, a lot of times we don’t even have time to give our grandmother a call. But between the push notifications, emails, alarms, and constant immersion into the land of modern humans, we need a release. Seriously, or you’ll burn out. Connecting with nature is good for us, science says so. There are these things called positive and negative ions that are in everything we see. Positive ions come from things like cell phones and microwaves, negative ions are in nature, especially moving water and forests. We need the energy from negative ions to keep our circadian rhythms intact, to release stressors, and to have a healthy relationship with ourselves and those around us.

To find love and gratitude for the little things…

If you’re looking to be so moved and so challenged and so uncomfortable that you can’t possibly muster up any other emotion than raw love, #VanLife is for you. There was this time I was traveling alone around Wanaka and Queenstown and was having the best time of my life. The sun was shining, I made a kick-ass dinner and reconnected with friends from earlier travels. Then, something felt a little off, a little funky in my tummy, and as you can imagine I was nowhere near a pharmacy. By midnight I’d already taken several trips to the one campsite bathroom, which was a good 30 meters away. Things were coming out of both ends, not nice things and this persisted all night long. Then this sweet woman was washing her hands around five in the morning, she must have either heard me or noticed I looked like the walking dead and offered me peppermint tablets for my stomach, electrolyte packets, and crackers. She was a godsend. After I was able to muster up enough energy to drive another 10 kilometers from the campground to Wanaka and check myself into a hostel for a night. I don’t think I have ever appreciated a private bathroom with a flushing toilet so much in my entire life.

But mostly, do it for yourself…

You are ultimately the one affected most by this paradoxical shift. Not your parents, not your friends, not your Instagram followers…you. This decision will undoubtedly shift your way of looking at yourself and society as a whole. I wrote my first published article while living in a van. I decided I wanted to become a yoga instructor, I realized living in a big city no longer suited me and neither did a cubicle. I reflected on attachment issues, selfish tendencies, and stubborn habits. I fought introverted loneliness and sand flies and a stomach virus. But I emerged myself. My real self. The self I’d been searching for 25 years to find.

The concept behind a van life of doing whatever you want when you want while traveling is a myth. Factors like weather, vehicle break downs, and money are real things. Van life is about growth and connection and learning to live with simple things, like tiny sleeping quarters. Adventure is being open to the road and the Earth and the people you meet along the way. It’s a lot of free campsites and rolling with the punches and learning to allow control to be a thing of the past. Tapping into the ebb and flow of the world around you changes you, it molds you. Van life brings about what you need over what you want.

In all honesty, I prefer it that way.

 

 

Nicole Sheree grew up surrounded by forest and Michigan’s Great Lakes, so it’s no wonder she ran away from her marketing career in the city for New Zealand with just a backpack and yoga mat in 2017. She rediscovered herself, her love of writing, and passion for yoga while living in a 1997 Honda CRV on the South Island. She is now a 200-hour RYT, photographer and content writer for Book Retreats as well as a contributor to publications such as The Thought Catalog. Her art features the human experience through a yogic lens. When she’s not striking a pose in a country far far away you can find her munching on mangos or sipping a strong cup of coffee while lost in a forest or swimming in the nearest body of water. 

IG: @nnicolesheree

5 Myths About Soul-Searching Travel

After living abroad and traveling the world for almost four years now, I came to realize that the most important thing I discovered was myself. I learned more about the world, life and my true self than ever before. All because I decided to leave my comfort zone and finally follow my dreams.

By now, you’re probably thinking you know where this is going: “Oh gosh, here’s another girl who decided to quit her job, sell all her stuff, and leave everything behind, to travel the world and find herself!” Did I just read your mind?
Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but my story is a bit different. I had neither a well paid corporative job back home nor a two year savings. I didn’t have much stuff to sell either. And I certainly didn’t leave everything and everyone behind to travel solo.

Does this mean I didn’t embark on a true soul-searching journey? On the contrary. I don’t have to follow a script written by someone else to go on a journey of self-discovery. And you don’t have to do it either. What kind of lessons will you be learning if you’re just following other people’s path anyway?

I think there are too many misconceptions about traveling and self-discovery. And that’s why I put together this list of what I consider to be the 5 biggest myths about soul-searching travel, and what it really means to explore your true self while wandering the globe.

 

#1 You have to quit your job

You probably stumbled upon some version of this quit-my-job-sold-my-stuff-traveled-the-world story so many times already in the Internet that it seems everyone is doing it these days. You probably dream about doing the same thing yourself, don’t you? But the truth is most people who travel or move abroad don’t quit their jobs to see the world. Most people can’t afford, or just don’t want, to do that. Most importantly, you don’t need to in order to travel or find yourself.
When I moved from Portugal to Switzerland, with my boyfriend, two suitcases and a little more than 500 Euros on my bank account, the first thing I had to do was actually to find a job, so I could apply for a residence permit, and survive in one of the most expensive countries in the world. I also had to learn German and work my ass off to be allowed to stay here, pay my bills and be able to travel. So it’s perfectly possible to have a job – and a home and a family – and travel. For many of us it’s the only way to do it! You can travel and do some important soul-searching without even having to permanently move abroad or disrupt your entire life. At least until you are absolutely sure that’s what you want to do.

 

#2 You have to go alone

I’m sure you’ve also read the thousand headlines that go something like this: “How traveling solo changed my life” or “Why solo traveling is the best way to find yourself”. Again, it seems like that’s the only way to do it. But it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, solo travel is great. I’ve done it myself and I would definitely recommend you try it at least once in your lifetime, if that’s something that appeals to you. If it’s not, go with your friends, your sister, your soul-mate, your kids, or your dog. As long as you go! Nowadays I mostly travel with my boyfriend. And that doesn’t mean I don’t learn valuable lessons about myself during these trips, because I do. In a way, traveling with another person and spending most of your time together is even more challenging than traveling alone. You certainly learn more about tolerance and respect, compromising and setting boundaries than going solo.

 

#3 You have to travel long term

Another myth about soul-searching travel is that you have to be on the road for a year or two, or at least a couple of months, to really learn about yourself. I mean, that truly sounds amazing, but what happens if you, like me and many people, can’t take a gap year or a sabbatical leave? What happens if all you can manage is a two week vacation from work, and, if you’re lucky, a couple of weekends per year to get away? Well, you use that time to travel and find out new things about the world and yourself. On our first year in Switzerland, my boyfriend and I had zero vacation time. But we used almost every weekend and day off to go somewhere new. We made day trips to all major cities in Switzerland, we spent time in the mountains, and visited Germany and Italy. So much that we ended up knowing the country better than many locals. Some Swiss friends were amazed with how much we managed to see in such a short period of time. So it’s not about how long or how far you travel. It’s about what you learn on the way.

 

#4 You have to visit a spiritual destination

You hear about soul-searching travel and you immediately think about Tibet, India or Japan. You imagine yourself chanting with Buddhist monks, practicing yoga in an ashram or meditating in a Zen temple. You can’t possibly soul-search lying by the pool of a Mexico resort or wandering through the crowded streets of New York, right? Well, that’s one way to see it. The other way is that every experience teaches you something valuable about the world, yourself and others. Every place, every culture and every person has its own lessons to deliver, as long as you’re aware of that. One of my aha moments happened when I decided to take a solo trip to Athens for three days. See, I didn’t go to Bali, or Kenya, or Siberia. I went to the busy and chaotic capital of Greece, and it turned out to be a really empowering trip, that taught me that all I need to go somewhere or do something is myself. Sometimes the most valuable insights happen when and where you least expect them.

 

#5 You have to find your true calling

There was a time when I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I had been a journalist. I had been a yoga teacher. But at that point none of that seemed to be enough. I wanted more. I wanted to learn new things, I wanted to travel and see the world, I wanted to find myself, but I had no idea how. I kept reading articles about how to find my true calling, how to uncover my purpose in life, how to discover that one thing I was meant to do. And I kept getting anxious. Until one day it suddenly hit me: I don’t have to choose only one thing, I don’t have to find one calling, I can have as many callings and do as many things as I want to. I can be a writer, and a yoga teacher, and a traveler, and whatever more the future holds for me. That’s the beauty of existence. So that’s why I don’t travel to find my true calling anymore, and why you shouldn’t either. You should travel to live all sorts of experiences, try all kinds of things that appeal to you, and find everything that gives meaning to your life.

There are no rules for your own soul-searching journey. There’s no correct way to do it. Because all journeys are journeys of the self. Like every new experience in life, every trip is an opportunity to explore the world and who you are, to get out of your comfort zone and into yourself. You don’t have to go far, to go alone or to leave everything behind. You just have to go, and all the lessons will arise.

 

 

 

 

Vanda is a journalist turned yoga teacher turned travel blogger. Combining her passion for writing, traveling and self-discovery, she writes about living abroad, exploring the globe, and the soul-searching that arise from both. Connect at theyogiwanderer.com