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The millions of Instagram photos to the contrary, vanlife is not, in fact, the pristine mode of travel you’ve been to led to believe. All those hot, nubile couples sharing cocoa in front of a blazing campfire with their dog amid a backdrop of starlit skies over their Vanagon? Sure, that’s sometimes part of it. But, it’s not the whole picture.

The whole picture is actually much, much better. I spent the last 80 days on the road, living out of a Toyota 4Runner, and touring the U.S. East Coast. It wasn’t the first time. Still, living the #vanlife (which doesn’t necessarily require a van, mind you) teaches you things about yourself, the world, and what really matters more than most other life experiences as an adult.

You’ll Appreciate the Bare Necessities

Aside from food and occasional resupply trips to the store, you’re carrying all of your essential possessions with you at all times. Vanlife boils your world and the way you live in it down to the absolute necessities. We packed one of everything we would need — one spatula, one pair of jeans, one toothbrush, one pair of hiking boots — and nothing we didn’t. After more than two months, we realized we didn’t want for anything. We didn’t miss the trivial, novelty items that we all take for granted at home.

You’ll Find Humility Beaten Into You Daily

At most campgrounds, Walmart parking lots, and even on BLM land, your life is on display for the world to see. Whether mundane or deeply intimate, it’s impossible to hide any aspect of your daily routine when living the vanlife. Passersby (or fellow campers) know when you shower, what you’re eating for dinner, your curious taste in music, and when you’re having sex. If you’re an extrovert by nature, you probably don’t care. If you’re the sort who prefers to play things close to the vest, this public transparency is something you’ll grow to accept and maybe even embrace. But who cares? In the end, we’re all doing pretty much the same things day-in, day-out anyway.

Vanlife Campers

Vanlife Campers

You’ll Connect With What Matters

By escaping the artifice of mainstream media and an always-on internet connection (requisite Instagram photos notwithstanding), it’s easy to disconnect from the constant noise of our digital culture. Without all that background static, you’ll find deeper connection and meaning with your traveling partner (or yourself), hearing your own thoughts, the enjoyment of making a cup of coffee in the wild, or letting your dog roam free in a stunning U.S. national park.

You’ll Find Patience

Travel long enough, and you’ll find struggle. Murphy’s Law dictates that, over a long enough time horizon, something will go wrong. Vanlife is no different: your van (or truck, Segway, tricycle, what have you …) will break down. Or you’ll get hopelessly lost, or someone will steal half your stuff, or you’ll find yourself running on fumes at midnight without a gas station in sight. But, you’ll learn very quickly that you can cope with it. Because you have to — what’s the alternative?

About the Author

Photographer. Lover of bourbon and the great outdoors. Traveling the world since 2008. He's camped with Bedouins in the Jordanian desert, tracked African wild dogs in South Africa, and survived a near-miss shark attack while diving in Mexico.

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