‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ That’s something that we were all asked when we were little. When I was growing up in northern England most of the boys wanted to be policemen, firemen or footballers. My younger brother, at the age of five, decided he wanted to be a ‘drain man’ like our dad (my dad worked for the highways department of the local council) and consequently, during a writing lesson in school, wrote about and then drew a picture of himself with his head sticking out of a manhole in the middle of a road. However, this was not the norm! I wanted to be a teacher or a vet. Most of the girls wanted to be princesses or hairdressers, as I recall.
Until recently, I worked in a school and heard one of my colleagues ask a small group of children the very same question. It’s interesting to see what a difference a few decades makes. One boy stated that he wanted to be an electrician but every other child said the same thing. ‘I want to be a YouTuber’. ‘OOOoooo’ my colleague vocalised in a kind of moderately confused state. You see, she is fifty and has no real understanding of being a YouTuber. I know this because, when the children left she made a point of saying that she didn’t really realise that it was ‘a thing’.
Most of us, whatever our age, if we are still moderately active in the modern world know of YouTube and use it to a greater or lesser extent. However, it does seem to have more appeal to the younger generation. In the school I worked in, it was definitely looked down on the the teaching staff as a ‘non-activity’ that children wasted their time on. Why did they want to watch a group of people seeing how many hours they could stay in a bathroom or someone filling their swimming pool with slime? What was the appeal of watching someone pranking their neighbour, parent or an innocent passer by? Whilst I think I’m too old to be able to really answer that, I can say that I am absolutely with the kids in loving YouTube. I watch it most days and find it the most incredible source of joy, inspiration and unfiltered information.
This is how I got the idea of van life into my head. It was a regular day like any other and I sat down to eat my usual lunch of a chicken salad. I propped up my ipad and Freja (the dog) promptly sat in front of it as is her tendency. Having pushed her out of the way several times, eventually having to lure her away with the promise of a piece of chicken, I clicked on to the recommended videos to see what was there. I found a video from ‘Eamon and Bec’, a Canadian van life couple and – since they were in Mexico – I decided to watch it. When I clicked on it, I didn’t even realise it was about living in a van or on the road. I think it was the thumbnail and the place they were in in Mexico that appealed. I watched it and enjoyed it. Consequently, I watched a few more of their videos.
Even though I now feel I am completely committed to travelling and writing about it, it is a relatively new endeavour of mine. Until a few years ago, I was terrified of flying and so, I never really travelled any more than I had to and I didn’t have any inclination to change it. Having had a significant life altering experience, I found that my fear of flying disappeared and a whole new world of possibility opened up to me. I went on my first US tour and was bitten by the travel bug. Ever since then I had been trying to find a way to travel full time or as much as I could. I also wanted to find where I belonged. Where could I base myself and how could I make it all work? As much as I love England and am more grateful than I could ever express that I was born British, I do not really feel to fit in in England. When I visited America, I instantly felt like they were my people.
So, the last year or so has seen these various questions of where to be and where to settle running in the back of my head. I also have my dog Freja to think about. I don’t like leaving her behind and the cost is not insignificant at all. I’ve considered living abroad and maybe settling somewhere but every place, at this stage of my life, makes me feel feel uneasy. I’ve been to do many places I’ve loved and, like I said, I feel at home in America, but the thought of picking a place and sticking to it at this point, feels off. Until I watched the van life vlogs, this feeling of everywhre making me feel trapped made me concerned. I mean, I had to live somewhere! It bothered me how I seemed to always want to be moving. I feel inclined to also point out here that whilst I love to be on the move, rather inconveniently, I am not a brave or courageous person per se. I am pretty bookish and low key. I like my own little routines. Let’s be honest, it’s clear to see why I’ve spent a lot of the year metaphorically scratching my head and wondering how I would find a solution… Enter, van life.
It took me a good few days of van life vlogs before it dawned on me that perhaps I could do it too. The couple of times I’d gone camping, I’d hated it and so the idea of this nature of travel never really appealed to me but the more van vlogs popped up in my feed, the more I watched and the more it started to occur to me that this could really be a solution. I could have the best of both worlds… my own little nest or haven that I moved around as and when I saw fit.
Van life also lined up with the desires that I’d recently written on my notice board. I wanted to get rid of more stuff, live a simpler life and concentrate on only doing things that actually felt nourishing or worthwhile. I was starting to wonder what the point of vacuuming every week really was. Obviously, everyone wants to be moderately clean and tidy but I’d felt increasingly over the last few years that I was up-keeping this massive space and presenting it so beautifully, but for what reason? What did having a lovely, perfect and sizeable house really mean? It certainly meant I needed to earn a lot and spend every Saturday cleaning it. All I can say is that my interest in this was waning.
So I started to watch more vlogs and accumulate ideas about how to become a van lifer. I knew I needed to buy myself another place and had always assumed it was going to be an apartment somewhere or other. I can’t deny that the idea of finding the money to buy a van rather than a twenty five percent deposit appealed. Not only did van life look incredible, it was the cheaper alternative too. But, I can’t deny it, it did and still does scare me. I have been single for a while and, even when I wasn’t technically single, lived a partially single life. So I am no stranger to being alone or doing things solo. But, this is very different to being in a van somewhere with only a little chihuahua for protection and company.
But it feels right in my soul. I love the idea of constantly moving, of doing my own thing and not having to answer to anyone or anything within reason. More than this, I like the fact that I won’t get chance to inadvertently get dragged into the rat race as it’s so easy to do. When I spend time with people, I can do it in an authentic way person to person rather than through the filter of a town or place’s social structure and system. I also don’t have to listen to or subject myself to the barrage of nonsense media and time wasting drama.
How am I going to do it? I don’t know yet. I have considered travelling in my car to start with in order to try it. I’ve also contemplated every type of van – big or small? Do I start from scratch and build it myself or buy one ready made? Do I start in England or set off into Europe and go all in? There are lots of questions and I’m not sure of the answers. I do know that the idea has been with me for a few weeks now and I feel good about it. That sense of concern about how to be both settled and on the move at the same time apparently does have an answer.
So apparently, what I want to be when I grow up is a ‘traveller’ or ‘wanderer’. I’m not surprised I’m becoming increasingly nomadic and I’m thrilled to finally have an answer. To be quite honest, the older I get the more my list of requirements diminishes. My only real requirement now is to be joyful. It will be interesting to see if it really does appeal in real life. Who knows what will happen? Stay tuned!