What to think about before buying a van

August 09, 2019

What to think about before buying a van

I probably should not be the one writing a post with this title, given that I hardly thought about anything before buying a van.

All I’d ever wanted from the world was to see it, so one night when my boyfriend of six months came up with this crazy idea: “What if we just move into a VAN?!” That was it.

We signed a contract with each other saying we’d sell our things, travel full time and work from the road (we both already worked from home, so the 'from the road part' didn't seem entirely daunting.) We scoured craigslist, carmax, and carfax for the PERFECT van. We studied YouTube videos and Instagram accounts of other #vanlifers. I gave up the lease on my house. I sold my things. We bought a van. I was twenty-nine. I did not over think it.     

Miles researched solar panels and DC power and roof racks, and I threw myself into tiny sinks, cabinet pulls, and throw pillows. I pinned pictures of ABC Home and Pottery Barn on my #vanlife Pinterest board, and spoke sentences like: “I want the van to feel like the outside came in!” We split the cost of everything and spared on nothing because: This was going to be our home!

It took us months of building and planning and paying to build our dream van home, and in the evening, I’d gaze out the window at the shiny white sprinter van in the driveway, and could not believe that was going to be our house. I could not believe that I’d met the love of my life, and we were actually moving into a van to travel the WORLD. I felt like Cinderella. Except, like, my pumpkin carriage had four-wheel drive and my glass slipper was a super durable pair of hiking boots.

I planned the day Miles and I would leave like it was our wedding. I thought about the music we’d listen to as we left LA (Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan), where we’d spend our first night (North Rim of the Grand Canyon), the snacks we would eat (too many to list here), and the outfits I would wear (Overalls! Flannels! Bandanas!) I made lists of the mountains we’d climb, the trails we’d hike, and the secret magical swimming holes we’d find. I could see the adventure in front of me perfectly. Me, Miles, Bette and our cat named Moon, hand and hand, driving all over the world! But that’s the thing about adventures. Steinbeck says that an adventure is like a marriage, the certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it. 

I don’t totally feel like talking about that evening in late December, a little over a month away from our departure date, when I walked into Miles apartment to pick him up for yoga and he broke the news that he could no longer move into the van because of his work. I don’t totally feel like going into how disappointed and angry I was, how heartbroken and terrible he felt, or how much I cried and yelled and blamed and fought. 

What I do feel like talking about is impulsiveness. For months, I was so mad at Miles because buying the van was impulsive. We rushed into it. We should have waited.  We should have thought more about it and made SURE it was going to work with our lifestyle. Often, I wished the older, wiser 30-year-old Lauren would have been around to tell the younger Lauren to slow down and THINK more about buying a van before actually buying a van. To maybe try one out before committing... 

But then, I get a little sad. Because I know if I WOULD have had the foresight to think more about buying the van, I might not have ever done it. I might have realized that #vanlife was a little too uncomfortable and unpredictable for me. And I might have let that dream slip away forever.  

And even though my adventure hasn’t totally turned out like I planned (#currentlydrivingtoAlaskabymyself), why did I assume a true adventure was something I could plan? For once, I feel thankful for my impulsive, younger self. Because no, #vanlife is not NEARLY as glamorous as Instagram makes it seem. Sometimes I reach the end of the day in the van and I do not want the van to feel like “the outside came in.” I want the outside --- the spiders, the bears, the darkness, and the mosquitos– to stay outside. And I want to be inside, where I’m still a little scared, a little uncertain, and FILLED with doubt, but traveling the world anyway. 

So, my advice for anyone thinking of purchasing a van (or to anyone considering an epic, unconventional adventure)? Perhaps don’t think too much about it, because you will easily find thousands of excuses not to do it, and it will never be the right time. Perhaps dig a little deeper and ask your younger, more impulsive self what she wants to do. And then just do that. Because if we’re lucky we’re only on earth for a hundred years anyway, we might as well see it while we are here.  




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