Hey there cats’n’kittens. Cats are on my mind a lot. Because we just got one last fall. He’s still a bit of a kitten. He’s cute.
And I have a point.
After a year and a half wandering the roads, Jeff and I settled down, got a quirky little studio (semi-furnished!) and have been in one place since mid-July. With the holidays in the rearview mirror, I’m finally feeling enough perspective to think through what the whole vanlife experience was like. And might be like again. Who knows?
What Drove Me Nuts About Vanlife
Oh, there were some things. On the whole, living in the van was a super-positive thing. Any yet, again…
Part of it might have been where we liked to hang out. Colorado is awesome and we spent most of a summer there. But it was also super dry and dusty. Also a good portion of it was on fire and it was not uncommon to relax in our chairs at night and watch a forest fire sweep across a mountain peak in the distance. I would get so anxious that the flames were coming to get us. But Jeff, in an earlier life, did a lot of work with the forestry department here in Virginia fighting the big fires (he even rolled down a mountainside once, breaking his back!) so he was able to calm me down. But the dust. It got on everything. When we initially designed our van, I wanted our kitchen to feel accessible, so we had lots of open storage. I didn’t want to set up everything stored in totes because I thought it would be a giant pain to make dinner. And while I might have had the right idea, since our kitchen was a galley-style at the back of the van, there was always dust on everything. I did get used to it, but… o.k. maybe I wasn’t that used to it. I’m happy to be back inside with less dust. Although significantly more hound hair.
So the water thing, or, more specifically, showering. Is something people ask about a lot. Where did we shower, how often did we shower. The answer is wherever and whenever we could, and way less often than we do now. That’s not the part that bugged me. It was the hot water for dishes that started to become a slog. Depending on where we were — elevation, temperature, wind — we could go through a lot of propane just to heat up enough water for, well, anything. It made us oddly stingy. Morning coffee was always a priority but as the months went by we cooked less often and opted for things that didn’t need to be cooked (looking at you, Lara Bars) or we’d just go out to eat. Which costed a lot. The upshot was that we started out eating super healthy since I think most vanlifers end up semi-vegan because animal protein is a pain to keep cool enough and a pain to clean up after. But then we reverted to a lot of semi-healthy convenience food and not-healthy-at-all restaurant food. And it was all about the water.
This is kind of the nature of vanlife. There are gatherings which we didn’t go to because hello, introvert here. And it’s easier to make friends in snowbird destinations like Florida and Arizona because there’s a lot of wanderers. But we tended to move every two to four weeks and… it’s hard to build up friendships and see people that way. And for us, this was exacerbated because we were vanlifing with a hound in tow. Had we not had her, we might have hung out more at coffeeshops and met more locals, but we pretty much needed to be with her all the time, so that meant it was just the three of us. Interestingly, while I’m the introvert and Jeff’s the extrovert, this bothered me more than it bothered him!
I won’t dive into what we loved… if you follow either of us or our page on social, you saw a lot of it. The sense of adventure, the views, living outside, being together, a forced minimalistic approach to life. While there were a few things that drove me nuts… it was a great experience.
When we decided to settle back down and come off the road it was mostly a financial decision. We’d been talking about taking a pause so Jeff could get a gig (he’s not the online gig type) and we could double our earnings and save up for a new rig and take care of our debt that much faster. We got a little sidetracked when we had to head up to Minnesota in the spring after my mom had a heart attack, but then in June my largest client contract ended and we started to think more about a little stability. Jeff got a gig working with a company he helped found 20 years ago back in one of my favorite towns in the country, Staunton, Virginia.
Finding a place to live was super anxiety-producing for me. I knew what I wanted. A tiny house in the country so I could have chickens. I also knew that was not likely to happen and that we shouldn’t really get chickens if we’re planning on heading back out on the road in a few years.
After scouring the listings (thank god for Facebook Marketplace), I got even more morose. One of the reasons we thought settling in Staunton was a great idea is because the cost of living here tends to be pretty low. When we left a few years ago we were paying $800 a month for a three bed, two bath farmhouse with a wraparound porch #dreamhouse. This time around, I decided that if I couldn’t find my tiny house, I wanted something downtown with tons of character. Jeff was on board, although we can be a little different about dwellings. I’m drawn to dives with giant windows and high ceilings. He’s happier with a few more amenities than I require. But everything seemed too pricey or too far from where we wanted to live. I wanted to be in walking distance from shops and restaurants, especially since we knew he’d be traveling a lot with his new job and I’d be at home alone for weeks at a time.
Finally, our search had a bright spot. We found an appropriately quirky studio with giant windows, tall ceilings, an odd extra ‘room’ that serves as a living room, an in-unit washer and dryer, wi-fi, and a giant bathroom. With purple walls. AND it was partially furnished including boxes of housewares. That helped sooth another of my anxieties, furnishing an apartment when we have a ton of good stuff in Minnesota and don’t plan to stay here long-term seemed an unnecessary waste. We wander through thrift shops looking for fun stuff to amuse us and won’t kill us to leave behind — we both love the idea of full-on gallery wall with thrifted stuff. Maybe in the bathroom. It’s quirky and shabby. The giant windows are cracked a bit, but it suits us.
Once we moved into the apartment, I don’t know if there was really that much of a transition. It took me a few months to start grocery shopping for a week’s worth of groceries. In the van, we only had space for a few days at most. And it’s hard for me to branch out and make meals that need a lot of cookware. Due to the perceived shortage of hot water for dishes and actual shortage of burners and an oven when we were on the road, there are things I just didn’t think of making at first. Like a frozen pizza.
And we got a cat. I missed having a cat while we were on the road. Our kitty that lived with us in Minnesota went to live on an organic farm with a herd of turkeys and goats to chase. We held out a few months, but right before Jeff left on an extended job for work we decided to take the plunge. Oscar is a sweet kitty, still a kitten, really, and I’m crossing my fingers that he’ll take to a harness and leash so he can head out on the road with us if we decide to do that in a few years.
And finally, it’s nice to be back with friends. Staunton is a small town and I know a lot of people. It’s unusual to go anywhere and not run into someone, get a hug. I really did miss that while on the road.
So What’s Next?
We don’t know! When we settled, we really thought it would be a year or two and we’d head back out on the road. Since then, we’ve done some planning and figuring and have some financial goals that may keep us here a bit longer. It is a nice place to live.
That said. I miss the sun and being outside for most of the day. I miss the cholla in Arizona and the cliffs on the Oregon coast. The crazy mountains and canyons in Colorado. I even miss Florida a bit, which is not something I ever thought I’d say. Jeff does too. We talk about heading back out, but I think about the hot water and the dust and a potential kitty unsuited for roadlife and I’m not so sure. But we’re in no hurry to make a decision. For now. We talk about maybe heading west to live eventually — it’s a tossup between Colorado and Oregon — instead of more vanlife. We’ve talked about a permanent home-base with part-time travel, which would be more pricey but help us feel more settled. Or maybe we’ll just stick around Staunton. One thing I know for sure is we’ll get up to something! Since Jeff and I got together five years ago, it’s been quite the adventure and I doubt we’re settled down yet!