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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

Making It Up As We Go Along

Have you ever dreamed about living in a van down by the river? Here is a little inspiration to follow that dream. Meet Holly Gable. Holly, her boyfriend Angus, and their dog Jella are ‘Making It Up As We Go Along‘ while living, loving, and learning in their home-on-wheels. 

Yoga is not an ancient myth buried in oblivion. It is the most valuable inheritance of the present. It is the essential need of today and the culture of tomorrow.” – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Where are you currently? What are you most passionate about today?

Currently we are in a small village outside of Berlin. It is very peaceful, we’re surrounded holly1by forest and beside a lake which every evening at dusk becomes a landing strip and party for hundreds of laughing, migrating geese. The recent news tells of killings all over the world, of horror and despair, accompanied by a myriad of hateful opinions and blame towards religion, race and borders. Today we’re trying to hold on to a passionate belief that there is much more love in this world than hate, to continue to cultivate the kindness and compassion that we know to be inherent within all of us.

How did you and Angus meet?

Angus and I met through a series of what seemed like bizarre, chance, same-place-at-the-same-time, happenings in South London, where we studied.:)

Tell us about your yoga journey and tips on keeping up personal practice while traveling.

My yoga journey begun with a simple determination to beat my family’s inflexibility holly4genes and to be able to touch my toes. This did not come easy, and for the first months I thought of yoga as an irritating discomfort that I tried to convince myself to avoid. But separate from the yoga, I had a lot of anxiety, which to me, seemed to be preventing me from leading the life I wanted to lead. As my yoga practice (very) gradually developed, between styles and teachers around London, my fingers got closer to my toes, but I also felt that my mind and body were more in tune, I was calmer and happier. Recognizing the difference in myself and witnessing how yoga was helping others, each on their individual and very different journeys, I decided to deepen my knowledge and to learn how to share it, completing a 200hr Teacher Training course at Arhanta Yoga Ashram in India.

That was in January, and since then we’ve been back on the road in our home-on-holly5wheels. Keeping up a personal practice while traveling has sometimes seemed hard, surrounded by uneven, muddy ground, only enough space in the van for a few seated postures… And sometimes easy, in homes, yurts, forest huts, fields, at river-sides, fire-sides and sea-sides. But the most important lesson I’ve learnt, is that rather than to feel disheartened at not finding space to do a sun salutation without hitting a wall or slipping face-first into a clay-pit, is to instead remind myself that to practice asana is to practice just a part of yoga; When yoga is recognized as a lifestyle, every moment becomes an opportunity for practicing.

How do you practice sustainable living while on the road?

We spend most of our time on work-exchange projects around Europe, exchanging our help for food and living space, and having wonderfully rich, fulfilling experiences in holly6different cultures, communities, natural building and self-sufficient living. We’re trying to discover ways of living that aren’t dominated by money and capitalism, where value is put upon gift and exchange to deepen inter-personal connection and equality. We create objects from recycled materials and waste plastic from the beach, which we sell online a pay-what-you-can-afford basis, and we forage as much food as we can from the wild, and supermarket bins!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Using the inspiration and skills we’ve gained from our journeys, we hope to build a home and to create a space, from natural and recycled materials: a space for sharing what we have learned, for yoga, for creativity, for living surrounded by nature, and hopefully for many other things we don’t yet know! We would like to put emphasis on providing for those with learning difficulties or disabilities and/or past trauma. After working at art workshops for individuals with learning difficulties and disabilities, we feel very strongly about the empowering benefits of creativity, and want to combine this with the quiet yet tremendous healing potential of yoga as a lifestyle.

What inspires you most?

Helping people! Maybe that sounds twee, but if we’re learning anything, it is that nothing feels more rewarding, fills us with more joy, and gives us a more determined sense of purpose, than helping someone or something. And that kindness is contagious.
hollyyoga
My name is Holly. I am a yoga teacher and an artist, living and travelling in a home-on-wheels with my boyfriend Angus and our dog Jella! After graduating with Art degrees in 2013, we moved out of our flat in London and traded the flat keys for a set of van keys, which we converted into our new home. We try to live simply, to explore, experience and to gain a greater connection with communities and the natural world. Choosing experiential chaos over steady 9-5s, living, learning and loving in a home-on-wheels.