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So this is now my sixth month as a full-timer and rat race escapee out on the roads, and I would like to share a couple of reflections on my experiences and thoughts thus far. The following is in no particular or intentional order, nor is it a complete or exhaustive list.
1. Expect a lot of blank stares. Many people just don’t get what I am doing, because the entire concept of living outside the template set by societal expectations is simply too foreign for them. Why would anyone give up the big career, the big car, the big house, in favour of living in a 30 year old campervan ? What is wrong with me ? Did I fall on hard times ? Consequently, when I am asked about it, and I try to explain my way of life and the reasons for it, I get a lot of blank stares, polite disinterest, and non-commital phrases ( “Ah sure, don’t we all dream of that…” ). In the beginning this level of disinterest puzzled me somewhat, but now I understand that it is actually the norm; and I am fine with that. Everyone needs to find their own contentment, and for me that wasn’t in putting myself in competition with everyone else; most others seem to disagree, and that’s alright too.
2. Things can and will go wrong. There’s definitely no such thing as a “typical” day when you live wild and free. Of course there are plenty of warm and fuzzy sunshine days, but you can be damn sure that they won’t last. The next day you might be driving down the road, and the mirror falls off; or you spend the day on the toilet, after that water source you were sure was safe, wasn’t; or the tap comes off in the your hands; or you just send 30 proposals on Upwork and get not a single response in return; or you get into an argument with the local bumblebee. That’s all part and parcel of it – and learning to laugh the small things off, and addressing the big things with a cool head, is essential, or else you will find no contentment out here on the roads. Expect things to go wrong, and when they do, you’ll find it easier to cope. It’s the price you pay for being free. If you are the knight in shiny new armour, then that means only that you haven’t been fighting any dragons yet. So get busy.
3. Dealing with the authorities is tough. The problem is that, when you live in a campervan, you are legally considered “of no fixed abode” ( which, btw, is not the same as “homeless” ). I can’t speak of other jurisdictions, but here in Ireland, whatever form you fill out, the very first supporting documentation you are going to be asked for is a proof of address. If you don’t have that, things get hairy pretty quickly. I encountered this on several occasions, most notably when I tried to obtain police vetting for the purposes of engaging in volunteer work. They wouldn’t even accept the application form, if I couldn’t produce evidence of a fixed address. I worked around this by using the address of a family member, one household bill for which just happens to be still under my name. If this option isn’t available to you, then I don’t know what one would do. However, what I was able to positively establish is that living circumstances are not legally a valid ground to discriminate against anyone, so even if you don’t have a fixed address, you are still legally entitled to the full range of public services, like any other resident of your country. Actually convincing the case officer handling your application of this, is a completely different matter though. My advice – be polite but persistent, but also expect having to jump a lot of hoops.
4. Making a living isn’t easy. Yeah, this is a big one, and I’m still struggling with it. I earn my living via freelancing on the Internet, and that works pretty well, but there is very little security in it. Some days I get literally inundated with offers, and then you might get an entire week with little or even no business at all, in spite of your best efforts. Again, persistence is key here, as is an appropriate amount of care, because your ability to make a living critically depends on the feedback you get from the contracts you have completed. Just one grumpy and unreasonable client can ruin things for you really badly, and it’s tough to recover from bad comments left on your profiles. Avoiding this starts by being careful which offers you accept in the first place, because clients themselves also get feedback; so do your homework and read through what other freelancers have to say, and don’t be afraid to say no and walk away from an offer. Once you hit that “Accept” button, you are committed – it’s all or nothing then. I have done well in that regard thus far, with an exceptionally high feedback score to show for it; that’s because when I work on a project, I will make damn sure it’s perfect before I hand it in. And the longer you can maintain a good feedback score, the easier it becomes to find work. At present, I make enough to keep me ticking over fairly comfortably ( remember that my needs are quite frugal, though ), but I am not yet at the stage where I can build a buffer for rainy days – which I know will happen sooner or later.
5. Freedom is addictive. Yes, it really is. I could not possibly imagine now going back to a regular 9-5, donning my suit and tie, dragging myself to a job that is slowly killing me inside through its sheer and utter irrelevance in the larger scheme of the universe. What good is a house, a car, a fat bank account, if you have no memories of ever having truly lived ? I am my own boss now – I go where I want, I work for what I need, I follow my own rules and goals. I live. This is addictive, and for me anyway, there is no way back from here; once you have tasted true freedom, it is no longer possible to allow yourself to be caged.
6. It’s about a lot more than just living in a van. Van life is a means, not an end. To me, I live this way because it is conducive to my own spiritual growth – I find meaning in things that have nothing to do with money, wealth, possessions, status or power. Yes, I still have to devote some time to earning a basic income; but all the rest of each day is dedicated to acquiring new knowledge, to spiritual practice, to self-development and growth. I am moving forward, instead of running on the treadmill of the rat race, desperately trying not to fall behind. That’s a huge difference. Van life has given me this opportunity, through reducing circumstances to what I minimally need, instead of what I think I want to have. That isn’t a sacrifice, it’s a liberation.
7. Some people are openly hostile to what I am doing. Most of the time, the reactions I get from other people are best described as various forms of polite disinterest. But there is always the openly hostile ones too – the ones who pass by your van in the evening, and feel they need to beep their horns loudly just to annoy you. The local residents who call the police on you, just because you are parked up not far from their houses. The ones who tell you that at your age you are supposed to have “your life together, instead of playing at being hippie”. The ones who tacitly assume I live the high life on social welfare ( which I don’t do ), while others have to finance me through paying their taxes. And so on. You learn to shrug this off – live and let live.
These were just some random reflections that came to mind 🙂 And until my next post, I will leave you with this :