Monthly Archives: January 2015
If you’re used to living in a traditional house, living in a van will turn your life inside out. It takes time to harness the new powers granted to you by van life. The extra time and money you now have on your hands are valuable resources. They can be used for personal enrichment and getting ahead financially, or carelessly squandered. I’ve done both.
Most parts of my life are pretty typical. I work, pay taxes, own property and fill my free time with outdoor activities. Instead of traditional housing, I choose to live in a van or on a sailboat. I like the simplicity and flexibility of living in small, mobile spaces. I’m one of the lifers. Even when I‘m taking a break from living in a van I’m thinking about how to start doing it again. After five years of facing the challenges of van life and living the dream, I still want to live this way.
I’ve learned many important lessons along the way which make it easier to embrace this lifestyle long-term.
1. Have a job or some other source of income. My remote computer programming job has been such a good thing (as soon as I took it on the road and got out of the office, anyway). Money in the bank eases many concerns on the road. Living in a van is risky, and money helps to mitigate the risks. Something like a vehicle breakdown can cost you your vehicle and your lifestyle in an instant if you don’t have extra cash. Also, don’t you want to enjoy your lifestyle, drive to exciting places, and do incredible things? It’s hard to do that while living in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
There are many employment options for people living in vans. Seasonal work is easy to get in Alaska. Driving your van to Alaska to work for the summer will be an amazing adventure, I guarantee it!
2. Go to the gym or find other ways to exercise. Every day. This is the best use of the extra time you’ll have on your hands now that you’re not cleaning, organizing, and maintaining a home. Going to the gym gets you into an indoor environment so you can enjoy a comfortable temperature and spend time around other people. You can take a hot shower. Getting indoors to escape the heat of summer, and especially the cold of winter, can be very soothing. It feels good to see other people at the gym, whether you talk to them or not. This can reduce feelings of isolation common to van life. Sometimes I would sit in the hot tub at the gym after working out and enjoy a nice conversation.
Plus, exercise is good for your physical and mental health. Taking good care of your health is absolutely paramount while living in a van. Conditions affecting your health will be more difficult to manage when you’re living in a van. You may not have ready access to your family doctor.
3. Find your tribe. Find people who support and encourage your dream to live in a van. Maybe this will be your friends and family, and if so, that’s fantastic. My family wasn’t supportive of my choice to live in a van, but my adventurous canyoneering friends certainly were. They gave me their encouragement, invited me to events, and loved my van as much as I did. Their approval and inclusion meant the world to me. I needed that validation in my early days of vehicle living while I was still figuring it out.
4. Do something meaningful with your money. Once you’re living in a van, you will probably have extra money on your hands. Pay off debts. Save money for a down payment on some investment property like a duplex. Only buy property you can rent out and make a profit on. If it puts money in your pocket when rented, great.
5. Find a house you can go to occasionally while you live in a van. Between trips to Utah and Colorado, I enjoyed parking my van behind a house of roommates while I was in Boise, Idaho. I found them on Craigslist. I felt safe there, had a legal place to park, was able to prepare meals in the kitchen and use the bathroom. Parking behind the “feral house” in Boise was a wonderful time in my life and my roommates were incredible. I contributed $100 per month to the household and helped with utilities. They liked having me around and thought my lifestyle was cool. After I moved on and stopped parking there, one of the roommates started living in an old school bus in my old parking spot.
6. Have a plan for winter. Living in a van in winter can be tough. It’s cold. Days are short. Go south and find a place you enjoy, or plan to spend more time indoors during winter.
7. Don’t be afraid to do it by yourself. Many people are interested in living in a van but hesitant to do it alone. It’s really, really hard to find someone to live in a van with. If you have the chance to pursue this dream, go for it! Don’t worry about finding someone to ride shotgun. Maybe later on you’ll fall in love with someone who absolutely would never want to live in a van. Then you may settle down without ever having the chance to experience this way of life. Don’t put your dreams on hold!
I hope these tips can help more people live in vans successfully. Living in a van can be a beautiful, enriching experience. Let’s defy that old stereotype of “eating government cheese, living in a van down by the river” that we all saw on SNL. There are as many ways to enjoy this lifestyle as there are people doing it!
Flying the “trainer kite” was more frightening than I thought. It sounds gentle and easy, right? It’s just a trainer kite. No. I didn’t know how to fly it, and it jerked me violently when I flew it wrong. I also crashed it a lot. A few crashes were right near people on the beach, and each time I was mortified that I had almost hurt someone with this ten foot long kite. No one seemed to care that they had almost been hit with it. I was the only one grimacing when it crashed near them. I received only friendly waves and smiles from the almost injured passersby as I called out, “Sorry! I’m learning.”
My instructor kept telling me to relax. He kept touching my tensed up shoulders. Relax, relax, relax. But this kite was powerful and unpredictable. And it was only the trainer kite.
Then, something bad happened to a lady near us. She was with a friend who was teaching her to kiteboard. My instructor said the kite was much too large for her and the wind was strong that day. She was about 50 feet away and my instructor left my side to race toward her. He tried to release her safety leash but he was too late. The kite picked her up off the ground a couple feet. Then, it slammed her down hard in the sand, face-first, and drug her 15 feet. She was wearing a helmet and a PFD and seemed ok after the incident. I felt shaken, though. My palms were sweating and I had to take a moment to breathe and relax before going back to the trainer kite. I later read that the official kiting term for this is getting “yanked and spanked” by the kite.
“Maybe this sport isn’t for me,” I thought but kept going anyway. With my instructor holding onto the back of my harness I wasn’t going anywhere. It was hard to relax because I was afraid of the kite and didn’t understand what it was doing. I told my instructor this and he told me to sit down and fly it. Only then, when I was sitting on the sand, did I start to get comfortable. I wouldn’t get picked up or jerked around in that position. Then, it became fun to fly the kite. After a couple hours I was still flying it poorly, but at least I felt comfortable with it. Near the end of the lesson, I actually began to enjoy flying the kite.
The whole experience felt pretty overwhelming and I was exhausted afterward. I slept 12 hours that night.
The next day I chose to do a shorter lesson. My time with the kite was too much yesterday. I need to approach this sport in smaller increments if I’m going to be successful. Flying the kite is intense, and the next step is to get in the water and let a bigger kite drag me through the ocean waves. It’s time for the real kite now, and time for the “body drag”. The body drag involves using the kite’s power to move through the water without a board. I did not feel ready for that at all. I am barely starting to understand the trainer kite.
So we practiced more with the trainer kite for about ninety minutes. Today I wasn’t afraid of it, and felt comfortable launching, flying, (with my instructor hanging onto me) and landing the kite. It was also a bit less windy and I think that helped. I learned to fly it one handed, even. At the end of the lesson I felt like I could control the trainer kite pretty well.
It was time to fly the big kite in the water. My instructor brought it into the water and hooked it to my harness. I began to fly it as I stood in chest deep water. My instructor was tethered to my harness the entire time. It handled just like the trainer kite, but was obviously much more powerful. At least while in the water the consequences of my mistakes were less. The wind was very light, almost too light to launch the kite. It was a mellow introduction and I was glad. After feeling the intense pull of the trainer kite I was sort of dreading the power of the full sized kite.
The wind was too light to do much body dragging, but we tried anyway. It was a mellow introduction to body dragging and waves were small. We practiced flying the kite high with one hand while pretending to put a board on my feet with the other. This was perfect for me and I ended the lesson feeling good.
It was the day for body dragging with the big kite in big waves. It was a windy day and I would feel the full power of the big kite. I was nervous but my instructor helped with everything and prevented any “kite-mares” that could happen in these intense conditions.
I was flying the kite again in chest deep water with my instructor tethered to me. I practiced my “power strokes”, which means dipping the kite down briefly to get a little extra power. Each power stroke pulled me up and out of the water a foot or two. It was fun, except the waves hitting me in the face every now and then.
I made a mistake with the kite and flew it right into the “power zone”. My instructor was hanging onto me, and we were both launched out of the water. From the knees up I was completely out of the water in an instant. Wow! The kite can so easily toss me into the air. It’s incredible. Note to self: do not fly the kite across the power zone like that!
There were a lot of people in the water that day. My instructor would regularly tell me to bring my kite up because someone nearby was launching or landing on the beach. It was hectic. People were enjoying the strong wind and waves. The next step in my training is a solo body drag, but with the intensity of the conditions and all the people around I don’t want to do it today. At the end of the lesson, I asked my instructor what he thought of solo body dragging near the boat with no people around. He said yes, as long as wind is light. This would be my next step, to get out in the big ocean by myself and fly the kite.
Our boat was anchored in a big, open area. The wind started building around 10:00 am and there were no people around. It felt like the perfect time to get in the water for my solo body drag. We have all our gear on the boat for kiting and Brian even devised a system for launching the kite right from the boat. So I put on my gear and leapt into the water. I was nervous about this but eager to make the breakthrough of controlling the kite solo without my instructor hooked to me. There was no one out here to collide with. If the kite launched me it wouldn’t be a big deal.
The waves were much bigger out in the bay and my PFD was fitting poorly. It didn’t fit over my kiting harness, which I only noticed once I was floating in the water. The back was riding up. And did I mention these waves were big? And I was hooked to a giant kite. The kite was appropriate for the conditions. It wasn’t overpowered or dangerous. As I tugged on a line to launch it I felt its power pulling me face-first into the waves. Rather than send the kite into the sky immediately like I should have, I just kept floating around and trying to get comfortable with the waves before launching the kite.
I tried to keep my back to the waves so they wouldn’t hit me in the face. This didn’t work because the kite was off to my left, hovering on the water surface, pulling me in that direction. The waves were definitely distracting as they washed right over my head. I flew the kite a little bit, but after about 15 minutes I was done with the waves and ready to stop.
Brian was hanging around nearby, upwind, in the dinghy. He would pick me up as soon as I gave him the signal. The fact that he was so close made me feel secure and willing to keep trying even though the waves were big. He was so close we didn’t even need the hand signal. I crawled into the dinghy and we hauled in the kite lines. They were a tangled mess. We went back to the boat and Brian untangled the kite.
It had been intense, and I felt victorious! I had done my first solo body drag, and in big waves!
Now, I’m waiting for my next lesson so I can do more focused body dragging in different directions. After mastering that, I’ll learn to get up on the board while flying the big kite. That is going to be interesting.
I had never been on a sailboat before. When we arrived at the dark marina that evening, I had no idea that all around me people were sleeping and living on the boats there. When I saw Brian’s 28′ boat for the first time, Leanne was in the boat next to us, quietly listening. I don’t remember what I said, but it must have been obvious I knew nothing about sailboats, marinas, or boating in general.
Leanne peeked out at me and began texting her friend Allyson, who also lives on a sailboat at the marina. They texted about whether I was wearing high heels (I wasn’t), my lack of sailing experience and the potentially rough winter weather in the Sea of Cortez. They placed bets on how long it would take for me to book the next flight back to the US.
These ladies are now some of my dearest friends. Also, I can now proudly call myself a sailor. In just one year I’ve been through the process of surveying and buying a sailboat, have weathered a serious storm, taken a three day sailing course, and learned how to happily live aboard a boat. I’ve also helped with the decommissioning and re-commissioning of our boat and braved a record setting hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific Basin while living aboard.
Through it all, my faithful, skilled and caring partner has helped me fall in love with sailing. I fell in love with him, too, and we got married. Now we live on our 39’ Catamaran a few months per year in Mexico and plan to cross the Pacific ocean next year.
My life has been changed so much by this new activity. I faced my fears of the ocean and learned to trust my boat and my partner. I got back into scuba diving when we installed a compressor on the boat. I even did my first night dive! I discovered a new way to live home-free, and made many new sailing friends.
As I look out the door at the deep blue Sea of Cortez, it’s amazing to reflect on all that has happened during the last year. Sailing was always a vague interest of mine. It was an intriguing thought, a “someday I will” dream, and now it’s in every breath and every plan I make. I love the sailing life.
This morning I re-lived my early sailing days by reading my earlier blog posts about sailing in Mexico. I got a chuckle out of how easily frightened I would get on the little boat. I was such a boating virgin and those waves were big!