A Winnebago Travato

Serenity at the garden house

Technically, of course, the van’s birthday must be a couple months ago. She would have been built in Iowa, shipped to Florida, and she sat on the dealer’s lot for at least a couple of weeks before I signed the papers. But one year ago today was the day she came home with me.

Of course, pretty much the very next day, I brought her straight back to the dealer and said, “Um, I don’t think water is supposed to pour in through the roof when it rains,” but that’s neither here nor there.

It would still be close to another month before I closed on my house and started traveling, but here’s what I’ve learned in my first year of #vanlife.

1) Temperature control is a perpetual challenge. It easily gets about ten degrees hotter inside the van than it is outside, which is lovely when it’s 60 degrees outside and not fun at all when it’s 80 degrees outside. I’ve learned some tricks — always put the window covers up and the shades down, close the bathroom doors when the AC is on — but long-term, I also need to invest in some curtains to close off the cab and some USB fans to improve air flow. And I need to plan my travels better so I can avoid places/times where the heat is dangerous for the dogs.

2) Campgrounds are dirty. The dogs don’t care. I do. I’m getting better at acceptance, but clean sheets have become a luxurious treat.

3) I don’t need much stuff, but the stuff I do own grows to fill the available room. It feels like a continual process of pruning. I did expect by this time that all the vintage china I was traveling with would have broken and I’d be needing new dishes, but not so much. I think I broke one plate and a bowl, and I definitely gave away a few dishes to empty out the cupboards, but the china has worked out otherwise. I like it very much.

4) I also expected that my eating habits would change, but I didn’t know how. It turns out that I eat a lot of cold, fairly simple food — roast beef rolled up with arugula, turkey topped with artichoke spread, that kind of thing. Also, a lot more eggs. But the longer I live in the van, the less limited I feel about what I can cook. I’m not sure I could do a Thanksgiving dinner — it would have to be a pretty small turkey, and the scheduling involved in serving all the food hot would be tough to pull off — but short of that, I could probably cook some serious meals. If I wasn’t worried about heating up the van, that is.

5) Time flies by when you’re living in a van. I really can’t believe it’s been a year. I thought back then that by now I might have figured out where I want to live and be ready to settle down somewhere — a year sounds like plenty of time to be living on the road, doesn’t it? — but I’m nowhere close. I’ve enjoyed my month of mostly sitting still, but I’m looking forward to many more of my cautious adventures.

I guess I don’t have any particularly profound insights. A few more: birds are cool and worth watching; I like sunrises better than sunsets; grocery stores are pretty much the same across the country; and I should stop waiting to do things (like put up curtains) with the idea that I’ll do them when I get “home” because I am home.

Okay, one insight (still not terribly profound, I expect): a year ago, I plunged into the unknown. I was excited and I was scared. I scurried around with lists and to-do items and schedules and structure to try to cope with the vast looming uncertainties. I avoided thinking too far ahead even as I contemplated destinations like the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore. I was sure that there would be good parts and bad parts, and I tried not to focus too much on the possibility of the bad parts. In fact, when I made the decision, I wrote, “But ten years from now, I want to look back and think, “Wow, you might have been crazy, but you sure were brave.”

I wasn’t crazy. This journey, this life, this year has been amazing. It’s not always comfortable and it’s not always easy and yes, stuff has gone wrong and there have been some bad days along the way, but the good has so outweighed the bad.

My aunt sent me a quote this week with a note that said, “This is you.” The quote was from Howard Thurman, who wrote: Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go out and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.


I didn’t know a year ago that that’s what I was doing, and that this journey would be as much about celebrating my breakfast every morning and walking three miles a day as it would be about visiting national parks — well, actually more about the former, since I have yet to set foot in a single national park, ha — but yes. Letting go of my house and my stuff and my routine has been like waking up to a life of wonder and appreciation.

It wasn’t the best decision of my life (which is an honor forever and always reserved to my response when faced with an unplanned, terribly-timed pregnancy), but it comes really, really close.

So, yeah, Happy Birthday, Serenity! May we celebrate many more together.