Vanlife looks great from the outside. And it can be great… but it can also be miserable. Like so many other things in life, it’s all in the preparation. A few years ago, I did something that I’ve written pretty extensively about–so much, in fact, that I can’t bring myself to write much more about it. But here it is in a nutshell.
My girlfriend Stevie and I drove an ’81 Dodge camper van from Vancouver Island, Canada to Venice, California. I quit my job as a utility arborist, she dropped her clients at her hair salon, we packed up our things, pointed ourselves south, and hit the road. The drive down was incredible. Stopping where we wanted and when we wanted, drinking coffee with the doors wide open, the sun streaming through the windows. Books everywhere, laughter and sea spray in the air, we meandered through our days with no real plan of action other than to have no plan of action. There was a destination in mind, but no hard date to be there by. We were reasonably new to each other, experiencing something we’d both dreamed of doing. It was life-changing.
Then we got to Venice, where The Inertia office is. The first month was still shiny and wonderful–palm trees swaying, new friends, new things. Then it began a downwards slide. Living in a van, as it turns out, isn’t all that great if you’re actuallyliving in a van. Desperate searches for toilets at three am after a plate of bad tacos, meth-starved junkies rattling the door handles, and pissing in a jug isn’t the most glamorous way to live. Traveling in a van is great, but living in one isn’t. Now Stevie and I have a real home and use the van for fun instead of shelter. It’s much better that way. But for all of it, Stevie and I have learned more about each other than I could have possibly dreamed–despite the fact that she’s pretty as a china doll and soft as a feather, she’s hard as nails when it comes down to it. That girl can put up with some shit. I feel awful about convincing her to come with me and have yet to do the trip we thought we were setting out on. Hopefully, it’ll be this January, deep in Baja.
Jen Wolf grew up in Ventura, California, just up the road a piece from Venice. She, along with her single mum and two brothers, would lose their apartment from time to time. With no other option, they’d move into their Volkswagen van, years before it was cool to live in a van.
“While living at the beach sounds like every kid’s dream, it became clear to her that she was different from the rest of the kids,” her website ThatVanAgain.com reads. “The stigma of not having a home is a heavy weight to bear as a child. And while her childhood was a relatively happy and normal one, the experience stuck with her well into adulthood.”
Jen, along with her husband and their dog, set out to do what I plan on doing: recreate the experience, only make that experience into something as great as it can be. It’s best described on the website:
“Jen knew she was still carrying these childhood struggles with her, even as she established herself as a respected artist based in Venice, California. It was there, at a yard sale, that she discovered the VW Bubble-top van that, together with her husband Neil, they restored into their ideal surf exploration vehicle. On weekends, they would pack up the van, load their dog, and find themselves heading up north from Los Angeles to urban camp in Ventura, exploring the downtown scene and surf spots around the area. And without any real intention, she realized she was revisiting her childhood experiences.
This time something was different. This time she wasn’t a powerless little girl struggling to come to terms with life without a home. This time she was doing things on her own terms, in her own van, with her husband. And she realized the refuge she found in the natural beauty of the area offered more than solace. They provided her a chance to heal. They allowed her to re-experience those difficult situations from her youth and bring a new healthy perspective to those stories she told herself. She found the freedom to move on to her next story, one that’s full of joy.”