Some Thoughts After Two Years of #Vanlife


I’ve been a bad storyteller. I haven’t been sharing with the class. I’ve been focused on trying to stay present. Trying to be where I am when I’m there, in the moment. But I fail at that frequently, and while failing I’m usually doing less productive, less gratifying things than updating this blog. In other words. It’s been a long time and I shouldn’t have left you, without a strong rhyme to step to. (Thanks, Rakim.)

On July 15th I hit the two-year mark of full-time #vanlife (you have the use the hashtag now, it’s mandated by Internet Law, which is a real thing that exists). I still can’t quit wrap my head around that. I find myself reflecting on how I thought this was going to be a one year thing, and now there’s no end in sight. I don’t think. Part of me wonders if I even know how to stop. If I’ve forgotten how to do it. Domesticity, I mean. If I could live in an apartment again. Travel less. Watch more TV. Learn to yodel. Is that a thing that home people do? I can’t remember anymore.

Today I started feeling like I was a housecat that wandered out one day and has continued wandering for 25 months. Somehow I survived and now I find myself near where I was, before this whole adventure started. And I wonder, if I found my way all the way back, could I ever feel at home again? Or, in those two years, have I discovered something in my nature: My inner wildcat? Could I ever be an indoor cat again?


These are the things I’m thinking about lately, and it seems that they’re what I should talk about here. Especially because I don’t even know how I’d begin to catch up on all the wheres and whens. Every time I feel like I should write an update here I start thinking about all the people/places/things that happened since the last update, I get overwhelmed, I put it off, and then the next time I think about it there’s even more. The result is that I’ve only updated this journal four times in the last year. I’m embarrassed by that. Which is another reason I’ve avoided it. Rather than continue hiding in shame, I think I’ll just say I’m sorry, and I’ll mean it, and then I’ll move on.

So what’s on my mind.

I lost four friends in the last year. Two in their mid-30s, one in her early 40s, and one at 70. All of them were too young. All of them had a spark that set them apart in this life, and it was still burning brightly in them. So, I think the moral here is this: Don’t have a spark. No, just kidding, DO! Do have a spark. Because although so many people (myself included) feel the pain of these losses, at least they lived. At least they followed their hearts, led interesting lives, and touched those around them. A life well-lived is never a tragedy, even when it ends sooner than we would like. We might wish we had more with them, much more, and we might have personal regrets about this or that, but at least their lives were worth celebrating. Parts of them, at any rate. We’re all human, after all.

I say this because it makes one take stock. It makes you ask, “How am I living my own life?” Am I where I want to be? Am I doing what I want to be doing?

The Instagram Account Manager voice in my head says that this is where I’m supposed to glorify #Vanlife. To make sure you know how awesome my life is and how You Can Do It Too! But the truth is that some of the shine is gone. In some ways I mean that literally. I lost several rather important parts off the van while bouncing along dirt roads during my monuments project, which I’ve slowly been replacing or repairing. I also mean it in the larger sense. I’m heading back to LA for a while, and the idea of looking for a new parking place every night, wondering if it’s legal, if it’s safe, if some bored neighbor with nothing better to do is going to complain, if some cop is going to knock on my door… and it makes me feel tired. When I’m on a work trip and somebody asks, “Where do you live?” sometimes I wish I had a simple answer. “City, State.” That would be nice and simple.

This is probably why I don’t have more followers. That and the lack of bikini shots. Should I take some bikini shots? Is that what you people want? Don’t tempt me…

I digress. Often.

So that’s the part that’s covered in dust and soot. But the truth is that I’m mostly still enjoying it, this weird life. There’s still a thrill in not knowing where next, or when, or what, or how. When I have to fly somewhere for work, there’s a sigh of relief when I get back to the van. I miss the feel of my mattress and the cool softness of my sheets. I love hosting my friends and making cocktails for what has become the de-facto after-after-party. I love waking up in wild places. I love always having everything I need with me (usually). I love meeting strangers and hearing their stories.

I feel so lucky. To have had the adventures that I’ve had these last couple years, to catch up with old friends and meet their kids, to have seen more of this country than I ever dreamed possible. And it is a beautiful country, even if we are having to deal with a literal Nazi invasion right now. Which… come on, I’m in a coma, right? And this is just some weird part of a morphine dream? We can’t really be dealing with Nazis, in 2017, inside our own country, right? That’s like when a TV show runs out of ideas for new bad guys and goes digging through the archives to reanimate some old corpse of a bad guy. Nazis?? Unbelievable.

When I look back at the video I made for the one-year mark of this trip, I wince a bit now when I get to the part about how we Americans have our differences but we all still ultimately want the same fundamental things. And mostly, I still believe that. But that failed to account for Nazis, who actually don’t want to live in harmony. Who actually would rather exterminate those who are different. That blindsided me, and it’s not hard to see why: I’m a straight, white, man traveling in America. Do you think my experience of #vanlife in this country would be any different if I were a brown, Muslim lesbian? I’m guessing it would.

Those of us who elect to live in vans, on the road, who do it because our jobs allow it and it’s an adventure and an “experience,” and not because poverty has forced us to live in our vehicles, we have to acknowledge our privilege. We have to be grateful for it, and we have to carry ourselves with humility, because we are the lucky ones. And those of us who have been given the gift of “influence,” I contend, have an obligation to use it for doing some good in this world. To not just show the pretty pictures and the good times so we can collect a paycheck, thus ensuring more pretty pictures, free Pringles, and good times. That kind of life is a privilege, and I contend that privilege comes with responsibility. Responsibility can be a burden, but it’s a small price to pay for the lives we enjoy, isn’t it?

That was rhetorical. It is. Anyway…

[Surreptitiously steps off soapbox.]

As I write this I’m slowly making my way back to Los Angeles, which is the city I considered home before this whole rollercoaster began. I still don’t plan much, but I have an idea that I might like to stick around for the fall, and probably the winter, and maybe the spring, still traveling some, but using it as my base of operations. Maybe. We’ll have to see what it’s like to be there now, in a van. It seems that every time I come back new street signs have gone up specifically disallowing vans and RVs. It’s that kinda thing that makes a fella feel downright unwelcome in the place he kinda sorta still thinks of as home.

Maybe I can find a parking place to rent on the west side. Anybody have some room in their driveway? I’ll be as quiet as a church mouse.

I don’t know what part I’m at within this journey. Life is like that, too. You might consider yourself middle-aged when you turn 40, but nope, sorry, you just got hit by a truck and died one week later. Turns out you were old-aged. Who knew? In a far less macabre way, it’s the same with this trip. I don’t know how much time I have left in it: Whether I’m half way, nearing the end, or who knows, maybe just getting started. All I can say is this: It feels like I’m heading into a change. I don’t know what this change will be, I just know that I can feel things starting to shift.

I will try to keep you abreast of the situation as it develops. Of the journey as it changes. I will try to share more. I will try to be more open. To be a better storyteller.

But I guarantee nothing.


Paso Robles, CA