Why not now?
We are stoked to feature issue five of the Rolling Home Journal as the September issue of Adventurous Ink, our monthly subscription for the best in modern outdoor literature.
Editor Calum Creasey has an uncanny ability to create publications that compel you in the direction of the open road. In issue five he has done it again, via an in depth exploration of the oxymoron that is the 'digital nomad': simultaneously seeking to disconnect whilst running purely on instagram likes.
This exclusive extract bears witness to the highs and lows of living the vanlife, from dedicated 'lifer Viktoria Schmidt, aka @vanilla.icedream
I was in a car with two friends, one in the back working, while I had an intense discussion with the driver.
“You have a job you don’t like, you have to leave your apartment anyway, you are single. You will never be that free again. If you wish to travel – when, if not now?” I said, trying to fire his confidence to follow his dreams.
We had just finished the conversation, when my other friend stopped work and took out his earphones.
“Hey Viki, what about your Norway plans?”, he asked me.
“I think I will work for one or two more years and then leave.” I replied, and then he asked exactly the same questions...
“Why in two years? Why not now?
You just finished your project, you want to leave your apartment, you are single, you have the desire to travel.
When, if not now?”
I was trapped. I couldn’t say no when my other friend was listening, after I had just convinced him to live his dreams now and stop making excuses, right? So I said yes, and my adventure began.
Within the next half year I quit my job, bought a transporter and converted it into a cosy camper van. Later than expected I started to Scandinavia, travelled through Denmark, Sweden and Norway and absolutely fell in love with all these countries. After several freezing nights over the polar circle in autumn I decided to change my plan, cancel Finland and the Baltics and travel south. I found a winter at the Mediterranean which was warmer than the summer in the north and stayed in Spain and Portugal.
It is one year now that I have lived in a Volkswagen T5, my van called Illa. One year of wild camping, one year of poo with a view (and you can believe I had some of the best views) one year of the need for showers, one year of arguing with my navigation system where to drive and one year of living tiny.
In the beginning of my architecture studies I dreamed of a big house, extra high living room, giant windows facing mountains or a city view – I couldn’t decide – and a massive garden so no one can bother. But in the end I found myself in living tiny. I fell in love with living minimalistic and found out who I am because this lifestyle gives me so much (mental) space and time to discover me – and my surroundings. What stayed of my old dream home was the garden which is not mine but endless. A garden called ‘the world’ I want to tell you the honest story of how I fell in love with vanlife – and when it sucks.
Behind the amazing Instagram posts and the epic drone shots, we see on social media, there is the real life which is not always sunny and tidy. No, reality is that living tiny means that there is always a big mess. Yes, you have less, but you will put this ‘less’ everywhere. Not just, that every shelf, cupboard and box is filled with essentials like tools, kitchen stuff, shoes, underwear, Disney DVDs and water - also all the counter space is full with stuff you used today, the bed is messy with clothes, the camera is lying around and some fruit always finds a way to jump out of the bowl. But the good thing? It’s cleaned in less than 10 minutes, because everything is in an arms reach and everything has its space.
Another thing you have to get used to is the bathroom situation which is maybe not the right word because I don’t have a bathroom at all - like most of the vans. I call a shovel ‘my toilet’ and have a little pot for emergencies, when I live in a city. That is not romantic at all but it’s reality behind every nice vanlife quote. You also have to get used to shower around twice a week and yes- it is possible.
To be independent I bought myself a solar pump shower which is a total game changer. Another downside of living with less is that you can’t carry all your clothes with you which means to downsize to favourites, look like a homeless most of the time and wear the same stuff over and over again. To be honest, fashion can be fun, but I could never find true, long lasting happiness in clothes but I do with nice views and neither the mountain nor the sea will judge if your outfit doesn’t match with your shoes.
Probably the greatest struggle of all is the weather. Sunny vanlife is picturesque and beautiful but it can be too sunny what means sweat and heat and no place to hide. Good insulation helps but can’t create miracles. But this is complaining on a high level. What sucks is rain. I don’t mean a one hour pouring in the evening – you can wait till this is over and enjoy your cosy and dry van while listening to the sound of water drops on the roof. I mean rain that doesn’t stop. Rainy days, rainy weeks or even rainy months. I experienced all of them this winter in Portugal which was unusually wet. Times, where I had no more dry shoes, the towels wouldn’t dry any more and the windows were always wet.
But in my opinion the worst of all is cold. As I don’t have a heating, cold means freezing or walking around like a Michelin figure. Frosty days mean long mornings in the warm bedsheets and early nights, stiff fingers and definitely no outdoor showers. Cold demotivates me. Though I know that I get warm on a hike, I can not encourage myself to leave the warm bed. This might be just my problem or that might be the reason why no one travels Scandinavia in a camper van in winter. And anyway I do not want to miss any of those experiences. I will never forget how I was dancing over the polar circle, where it was around 6° maximum during the autumn days, to keep myself warm. Nor do I want to miss the rainy days with my friends where we opened our closed parked van doors and closed them again in 10 mins rhythm. After those times a sunny day feels so precious and I really learned on how to appreciate the simple things.
Another reality of vanlife is the lack of privacy. I noticed that just a few months ago that – I have none. Whenever I can, all doors are wide open, I live outside, I cook outside, everyone can and does observe me curiously. Some people come over for a chat, some just stare and I got used to it. Honestly, this taught me to don’t give a damn about others and what they might think and it helped me to let go of my inner weirdo, because – who should care? The bigger the van, the more privacy but the more time you spend inside with closed curtains. I like the open life and it’s part of who I am now.
There are a lot of negative facts about the beautiful, romantic vanlife we get shown. But out of every downside I can find something positive that taught me for life. And then there are all the positive sides, that reward me well enough. I love vanlife and can not imagine living in a normal apartment again. I am travelling Northern Spain now and don’t have an actual plan for what comes next. What I know is that there is a lot of Europe to discover, before I go to see the rest of the world.
Subscribe to Adventurous Ink during September and enjoy the rest of this Rolling Home Journal, plus a free mystery publication from our back issues.