Calling all anxious van lifers: how to mentally prep for van life full-time:
Whether you’re a solo female, a couple, a solo male – it doesn’t matter. Switching from a traditional home to live in a built-out camper van full-time is a BIG life change. So big, in fact, that it’s what kept my own van life dream written off as just a pipe dream for a long time. Figuring out how to be financially stable, not too lonely, and stay safe, overwhelmed me to the point of inaction. But I hope this article can help prevent that for anyone who also feels extremely overwhelmed by those factors.
“How do I start solo van life?”
Maybe you’re considering buying a van, already bought a van, or are in the process of building out a van. In any case, there are some steps you can take to help make the transition a little less shocking to the system. As a naturally fairly anxious person, I took these steps and found they helped prep me as much as possible.
Established a communication routine with friends or family before I was on the road
For me, hitting the road felt like I was “abandoning” my previous lifestyle and friends, which I didn’t like, because I loved my previous lifestyle and friends. They were all very supportive but I couldn’t shake the fear of losing this community just because I wanted to try this new experience. I knew establishing routine communication before I was on the road was key to minimizing the feel of that “abandonment”. So I made sure to stay on a pretty consistent texting (or Snap chatting) routine with my closest friends and family. Yeah, that’s right–I Snapchat my mom more than anyone because it’s honestly easier than typing out long update texts.
Now that I’m on the road, I have peace of mind knowing I can reach out to my closest friends and family and they’ll already have a good idea of what I’m up to and vice versa–it’s not some text out of the blue leaving them feeling confused and me lonely! It’s my virtual road community.
Spent a LOT of time alone – albeit unintentionally
Before hitting the road, I spent almost six months back at my parents house, basically in the woods, building out the van. (Normally I would’ve been living in Utah). While I had NOT been planning on building out the van and spending that much time back at my parents, it actually served as great practice for functioning without any of my friends around. Then, COVID-19 hit which only amplified that isolation!
Since going out with friends or playing volleyball wasn’t an option, it was a challenge to figure out what to do with my time. I dove into learning about how to make podcasts, how to start this website, how to improve my photography skills–it was about finding ways to feel productive every day. While I’m not sure how you could replicate this step to mentally prep (if you aren’t moving back to your parents house in the woods anytime soon…) it could be worth adding some solo activities to your schedule right now. Go on some park walks alone, go to out to eat alone, go to a movie…whatever makes you feel a little uncomfortable doing solo.
Joined Instagram and Facebook van life groups
One of my favorite and most helpful resources throughout the whole van build was the Solo Female Vanlife group on Facebook. Anytime I posted questions about my van build or recommendations for hitting the road, I was flooded with helpful and positive responses. There are women from all walks of life in that group–young, old, new on the road, born on the road, cheap van builds, luxurious van builds–it’s all there. And while asking questions was great, I mostly enjoyed just scrolling through their posts everyday to get a feel for what sort of stuff solo female vanlifers are typically thinking or talking about! It would help me realize what sort of stuff I should be considering once on the road too. There are other groups like #VanLife and Solo Women Van Dwellers Uncensored that are worth checking out as well.
I’ve also found a huge #vanlife community on Instagram–I’m sure that’s not surprising to hear. Connecting with other van dwellers on this app helped me build personal relationships with some of them before meeting them. Instagram for #vanlife doesn’t have to be one big competition for the most followers; it can be a pretty supportive and diverse community. I will say it’s easier to have real conversations with other van people now that I’m actually on the road. We can see what the other is up to and plan potential meet-ups. But overall, these resources helped me deal with the stress of my new lifestyle since other friends or family might not be able to relate with what I was feeling.
Practiced sleeping and working in my van from my driveway
Okay I’ll admit I only slept in my van twice from my driveway before hitting the road–but one night was in seventeen degree weather and the other was when the van build was complete! I also spent quite a few days working on my laptop from the van.
It was all very beneficial; every time I’d come away with a slightly panicked feeling–can I really do this? Can I really be happy and not feel claustrophobic and lonely in this little metal box on wheels?! It was the one mental prepper that almost made me feel less confident in the moment about making this life change. But–that’s exactly WHY I felt THAT much stronger once on the road.
Especially once your van is completely built out, it’s worth practicing a few “test runs” on what your daily routine would look like. Sleep in your van, wake up and make coffee in it, figure out how to use the bathroom, get changed, work from your laptop, etc.. I remember the second time I slept in my van (when it was fully built out) I went to make coffee in the morning and realized I wasn’t able to open my stove lid while my bed was converted in “bed” mode. I nearly had a fit I was so annoyed–then I go inside my house, tell my dad about it, he comes back out and shows me how it’s supposed to work (and it was not designed improperly). Ha! Just those random kind of things that are really great to work out at home rather than by yourself on the road.
I hope this is helpful! There are loads of technical resources and product recommendations out there on how to prep for van life, but not a whole lot on the mental health aspect of van life prep. As usual, never hesitate to email me with questions! hilarygbird (at) gmail dot com.
Some really good suggestions that I think will help me before I take the plunge.
I like the idea of practicing living in the van before branching out. I’m certainly nervous about my first night in the road.
With housing & opioid crises in every city, it creates a safety fear in me that I know I have to overcome. I am working on that.
Good tips. Thanks for posting.