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Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - Printable Version

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Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - CityWoman - 08-14-2019

We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.
What happened when one writer looked beyond the open road, the staged snapshots, and the hashtag

Excerpt:
"A few hours after I bought a 1995 Ford E-350 Econoline van for $2,000 in the fall of 2017, the ABS light lit up on the dashboard. That night, I had a dream: My fiancée, Rachel, and I were driving downhill on a steep, winding road when the brakes went out. As we were plunging to our deaths over a cliff, I stared into her eyes and thought, I failed you.

That was my first vanlife-stress dream. They kept up through the winter and spring as we prepped the vehicle for a summerlong road trip that would see us touring the country in a counterclockwise loop, starting and ending at Rachel’s parents’ house outside Philadelphia.

The ultimate road trip had been our goal since we’d met during our senior year of college, in 2012. We wanted to explore the country in an authentic way, meet its diverse people, see both its ugly places and its beautiful ones. Our idea was inspired by #vanlife, the faux-bohemian, four-wheeled lifestyle movement. Why tour the country in a regular old car, camping in national parks and rooming in hotels off highway exits, when we could buy a cheap van and make it our mobile home?

There was an important caveat. We decided to reject the cushiness of #vanlife and skip the saccharine Instagram posts. This was partly out of necessity—we didn’t have the budget for a $10,000 vintage van and a $10,000 overhaul. But we also feared the Instagramization of our lives, seeing the mountains through the lens of our camera phones. I rolled my eyes (though secretly a little jealous) at the shirtless #vanlife guys whose long captions detailed the importance of learning how to fix a timing belt with a shoelace. Rachel damn sure wasn’t going to sit naked on the roof of the van for a photo shoot every few sunrises. Social media of any kind was officially banned.

We decided, instead, to take the path of the van bums: the transients, the weirdos, the indie bands with no money.

Even entering the vanlife world at this basic level was a challenge. We scraped together enough money to buy a van we named Little Honey, a rusty hulk that dribbled gasoline the first time I filled her up, exhibiting all the grace of an old lady peeing her pants. I paid a mechanic in Gowanus, Brooklyn, to make sure she wasn’t quite a death trap. He wiped his grease-covered hands with a dirty rag and said, “You driving across the country in this?”"

The rest is pretty good.  It's basically about how unprepared they were and yet kept going toward their romanticized idea of "vanlife" when things went wrong -- even though they deliberately tried not to romanticize it -- and how reality will eventually bite you in the butt.  He does admit to learning a powerful lesson from the experience, in the end. I liked it.


RE: Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - Qxxx - 08-15-2019

That article is a seminar on all the major mistakes of vanlife. Major points:

First, buying an old piece of junk $2000 van that is constantly breaking down is no way to go. You spend your whole time obsessing over when the next breakdown will occur. 

Secondly, thinking you can live on the road on no money is unrealistic in this day and age. Cost of living is approx 10 times what it was in the hippy 60s. And cost of vehicle repairs are probably more than 10 times as much as it was back then.

If you can correctly handle these two issues, the rest is not so difficult. If you cannot handle these two issues properly, then you'll likely end up living, immobile, under an overpass in LA or whatever.


RE: Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - CityWoman - 08-15-2019

Yup.  Or running back home to Mommy and Daddy for rescue.  Many of us don't have that option.

I liked the article because, if the reader is smart enough to get it, it shows not only that a person needs to make better choices but also that it's generally going to be dissatisfying when one tries to manufacture an experience - instead of simply experiencing life and the fruits of one's choices and actions.  Even the title says that.  "Do vanlife right."  It wasn't vanlife that broke them; it was trying to manufacture and reach an idealized status. Whenever one's underlying motivation is self-aggrandizement, it's not going to end well.


RE: Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - Qxxx - 08-15-2019

Maybe the first question they should have asked was: "What happened to all the hippies from the 60s?". The answer is: once their mostly upper middle class parents got tired of supporting their free sex and drugs lifestyle, they got jobs and became tax paying members of society. Other than the one/off here and there, of course.

Hmmm, come to think of it, that's strange. Hello, the hippies of the 60s are now the retiring baby boomers of the 2000s. What goes around ...

(aside: I might add that, once I got the draft behind me, I bought my first van back in the 70s, and traveled around a quite lot over the next 10 years).


RE: Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - Elbear1 - 08-15-2019

Same thing is happening now. Its a trend faintly disguised or pretending to be a philosophical/political movement as were the 60's. Anybody doing this in a decade from now will be considered sad and not with it.


RE: Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - CityWoman - 08-15-2019

Yeah, it's 50 years since Woodstock happened.  I like reminding younger people that those hippies at Woodstock who are still alive would be in their late 60s or 70s today.  Yet they don't even notice them when they pass them on the street, or grumble when they're in a hurry and trying to get past someone with a walker.  Makes me want to say, "Hey, this person could be one of those hippies you want to emulate so much!"


RE: Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - MrNoodly - 08-15-2019

Thanks for sharing this article.

I met a woman the other day who was envious of my nomadic life. It's what she wants to do someday. I wanted to tell her that yes, it's a great way to live, BUT...


RE: Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - Qxxx - 08-15-2019

MrNoodly, we know that you and Lenny are a couple of one/offs, as indicated above, Tongue

"Hey, this person could be one of those hippies you want to emulate so much!".

Too bad the new hippie wannabees don't appreciate that the cost of living was 10 times lower back then. Historians like to study phenomena like this. There was a book a few years back called "The Fourth Turning", where they studied cycles like this recurring way back into the early 1800s. And a guy named Kondratiev studied this earlier.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strauss%E2%80%93Howe_generational_theory
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kondratiev_wave

 Short summary is: what goes around, comes around ... roughly 40 years later. 1965 + 40 years is 2005. We have to retard things a bit because of the Crash of 2008.


RE: Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - CityWoman - 08-15-2019

(08-15-2019, 12:46 PM)MrNoodly Wrote:  . . . I wanted to tell her that yes, it's a great way to live, BUT...

It's not for everyone, that's for sure.  My sister regularly freaks out about my plans to live out of a vehicle while still staying in the city. She knew I would be sleeping in whatever car I buy, and kept telling me I should get a small car for gas mileage and fitting into parking spaces. I couldn't believe her reaction when I told her I need something big enough to have a portable toilet in the vehicle (among other things I mentioned).  She shrieked and literally told me I'd be better off holding it until I can get to a restroom, and then whined that there should be someone, anyone I could stay with rather than in a vehicle.  I said, "What did you think I was going to do when I have to pee in the middle of the night, wear Depends? Squat over the curb? Drive to an all-night diner?" Of course I'd want to use a real bathroom whenever possible, but the details and realities of dwelling in a vehicle are just not anything she's ever considered. She still keeps saying that "everyone needs somewhere to come home to," and then gets exasperated when I ask why home can't be a car or van.


RE: Recent article: 'We Tried to Do Vanlife Right. It Broke Us Down.' - Qxxx - 08-15-2019

"It's not for everyone, that's for sure".

If you can possibly help it, my recommendation for anyone going into a new lifestyle would be to not immediately cut all ties to the old life, rather transition into it over time, maybe being just a few months. Eg, have a home base in S&B while trying out the new life. If it's too much to deal with after trying it out for a while, then time to reconsider, and then going back won't be so hard.

There are probably a lot more part timers like me than full timers. It helps to have an inexpensive S&B place, which certainly precludes living in a city in California. But the US is full of small towns anymore where the young people have migrated to the city for jobs.