The Call of the Van – Real-World Perspective on Vanlife
Our resident Vanlife expert – Will Coleman – gives you all a glimpse into nomadic life.
We’ve all seen it, picture-perfect social media posts of nomads traveling the country. What’s the dirt behind these lifestyles. What’s the reasoning in going against society’s standards? Some would say it lies in following the trends, others claim its a spiritual journey. Here’s my short summary of my experience with #vanlife.
I started climbing in the spring of 2015, thus I was introduced into the way of the dirtbag. I walked to the climbing gym, I climbed outside almost every other day, it’s safe to say I was hooked. I had a nice studio apartment in Colorado Springs, I had a solid career, climbing was just my new ticket to the outdoors.
Climbing was becoming a lifelong passion, as time went on I found myself obsessed with the lifestyle. I just wanted to climb more and more, but not only climb but travel. I wanted to head to Utah and see the desert. I began taking trips leaving Friday’s after work and driving through the night just to get somewhere at 1 am and set up camp. This became frustrating so I bought a 4runner and built a sleeping platform in the back. BOOM! Park and sleep, it can’t get much easier than that.
As climbing and snowboarding progressed I needed more space for longer trips, Van life is becoming more and more appealing. I bought an all-wheel-drive Astro van. Now I had some serious room. I built a futon that folded into a bed, installed an oven from a camper, a cooler, and a buddy heater. I began to realize this is all I need. I took longer, and longer trips. It was really becoming comfortable but I still had a home.
Events began to unfold, I found a 91 Ford E250 high roof van, it was originally a camper. It was old but had all the bells and whistles, I could stand up in it, I added solar, hell it even had a shower. After owning the van for a few months I decided to quit my career. The call of dirt bagging became ever stronger. I started guiding short hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. I would work a few days then take a week or two off to climb and snowboard.
I became hooked, I worked just enough to get by and lived, I mean truly lived! I was doing it, I was terrified to quit my career and chase this dream but here I was doing it. Being a hopeless romantic I had a huge concern, that no decent woman would date the man in the van. I was wrong, my love life continued as normal, I met some amazing women and shared some amazing experiences throughout my van life. I really learned to value every little aspect of life, I watched countless sunrises and sunsets, through my back doors.
While living in a van, I learned how to get by on nothing, I brushed my teeth with one swig of water, I showered in rivers and the occasional friend’s house. I used social media to meet people for showers, laundry facilities, and even just to use a proper kitchen. Van life taught me a lot, as an American society we take so much for granted. Access to running water, clean restrooms, heat, all things that we have at our disposal.
I also went on quite the spiritual journey while living in a van, I hit some low lows and some great highs, I read more, I exercised more, I even interacted with people more. I began a path to mindfulness through meditation. Reading became a priority, I read countless books setting aside a minimum of one hour a day to read. I began to operate on a solar clock to some extent, rising and setting with the sun.
There were some downsides to the lifestyle. Illness in a confined space is no joke, not having the luxuries we are so used to but being locked in a van with no running water, nowhere to vomit away from your sleeping space can really make you question your sanity. I also noticed my diet went downhill, I often found myself eating and preparing whatever was easy and required less clean up. Sometimes I would eat out 3 meals a day. Most importantly though having a place that feels like home is what I missed.
I wouldn’t trade my years in a van for anything. I grew tremendously as a human. I have so much more gratitude for the luxuries we have in life. I appreciate the home I reside in. I’m adjusting slowly, I’ve been in a house for a month now. My diet is much cleaner, my hygiene is better, yet I find myself yearning to be outside. I’m still figuring it all out but I am thankful for where I am today. All of this being said I highly recommend everyone try the mobile lifestyle with minimal luxuries for at least a month.
Hi, I’m Will, I’m currently living the van life in Colorado. I enjoy mountaineering, splitboarding, climbing, trail running and type 2 fun! I’m 28 years old and spend as much time outside as possible. I moved to Colorado in 2014 from Mississippi and grew up in the mid-south. I have been snowboarding since 2000 and the mountains have had my heart ever since. You can find me anywhere from riding Colorado’s high peaks to climbing desert towers, to climbing in the PNW!