The idea of packing up your bags, loading up the car with your best friend and heading Southwest sounds like a dream, until you realize you need to make cooking, bathing, sleeping and all other human necessities happen out of a Kia Sedona.
Before leaving on our 3 month adventure, we did a lot of research on how other people were living out of their cars successfully, visiting natural wonders around the Southwest and planned our route; seeing picturesque landscapes, pimped out vans and happy travelers, we were ready to get out there. Don’t get me wrong, van-life is one of the coolest learning experiences one can enjoy in life and I wish for every person the opportunity, but I do want to highlight some of the challenges or unglamorous realities one faces while living out of a car/living outdoors that put you in positions of discomfort, ultimately helping you grow to become a more resilient, resourceful, life-hacking individual.
You will face:
- The unforgiving extremities of nature (blazing hot sun, frosty cold altitudes)
From the Sonoran and Mojave desert to the canyon peaks in Colorado, its hard to find homeostasis when your body is adjusting to varying temps and altitudes.
While in the desert we made sure to pack the car with at least 5 gallons of water everywhere we went. You never know if your car will will break down and you’ll be waiting in the sun for hours; this didn’t happen to us but it likely could have!
If it wasn’t the dry desert heat beating down on us one day then it was the bitter cold reminding our fingers and toes how insignificant they are. These discomforts heightened my senses and awareness, the kinda feelings you lose when you live in a thermostat controlled home. By putting yourself in situations of discomfort, you awaken your senses to be receptive to the feelings of being warm, cooling down, resting sore muscles, all of the things that have become a given in your own home.
- Keeping up with Personal Hygiene
Unless you’re living out of a vehicle with a water system, keeping up with personal hygiene gets tricky. California beaches have outdoor showers for beach goers which made it easier, albeit at times down right creepy to get a solid shower in public. Picture Venice beach, suns down, 12am and we’re showering with flashlights in hand.
Life-hack: If you find yourself a 5 gallon water container and enough privacy you can shower out in nature! We used a window curtain, ran a metal wire through it and attached carabiners on the ends to make a removable curtain; if you find a tree you can tie the water container to a tree and you have yourself a makeshift shower.
After leaving warm weather and outdoor public showers, we just started showering less altogether. What once was showering whenever desired in the comfort of one’s own home became a periodical luxury even if it was a shower in the back of a laundromat that lasted 5 minutes.
- “Me time” with limited Space
Personal space and me time is hard to come by on the road if you are traveling with a partner, but I would much rather be on the road experiencing natures beauty with another person by my side… at least that’s my mentality until human annoyances get in the way which is expected when you’re sharing small spaces. Be prepared for bettering your communication skills and learning to compromise.
- Driving long distances
If you want to see the beauty of national parks, other states, diverse landscapes, chances are you’re going to have to drive there.
Make the most out of spending hours in the car by taking photos, discovering new music, making pit stops, listening to podcasts, reading, having meaningful discussion, keeping an eye out for wildlife. Make the time you spend in the car as productive as possible.
- Working around daylight
Daylight is your #1 friend on the road when you depend on it to scope out campsites, spot wildlife and stay warm, which means you’ll be planning your days around the sun.
Tip: Prep your food for the day and keep it in an easily accessible cooler, that way you can munch while driving. Easy to make foods that don’t require cooking like – sandwiches, fruit, nuts, etc. are great options. Another good reason to pack your food for the day is that once you get to your destination late at night, you won’t have to cook in the dark.
- No Service, you’re off the grid
A blessing and curse. A chance to disconnect, breathe, be present. But where are we again?
Download maps! Mark your coordinates in your GPS so you’re able to use them offline.
- Time of the Month for Women
Dealing with personal hygiene is hard enough as it is, add dealing with your monthly cycle on top of it all and things can get difficult.
Lucky for me and many other women who travel often, we have found some of the best goodies on the market for periods like menstrual cups, re-usable cotton pads and period underwear!
The menstrual cup I use is the Diva Cup and it can be left for up to 12 hours before emptying. Um hello full day of hiking a National Park without carrying tampons or having to stop and find a place to put them!(if that is even an option.) Worried about leaking? There’s a solution for that too! My favorite pair of underwear were gifted to me by a friend and made by Thinx, a rad company that uses a highly absorbent fabric to make their life-saving undies to wear on your flow days. (Thank you Sammy for being the first to bring Thinx into my life!)
I never have to worry about my period when I travel thanks to the women who found a problem with how products are designed for them and did something about it. They started their own companies and I am proud to be a supporter of reusable, comfortable, healthy, cost-effective, planet saving products.
Ahhh besides the fuel you need to get around in a car, it’s easy to forget the fuel your body needs to enjoy your trip to it’s full potential.
I can’t count how many times we’ve forgotten to eat a meal while on the road, and it’s something that affects your trip more than you think.
Too tired to drive? Getting irritable? Try to recall the last time you ate. 4 hours ago? Get on munching the healthy foods and drinking water as soon as you can. Seeing the difference in my mood and outlook after munching on healthy food really puts me in check.
Don’t let being on the road and the challenges that come with it get in the way of your self care and health. Put your basic needs first so you can have the energy, positivity and patience to enjoy every experience.
Van life is worth giving up the comforts of home, routine, security; In exchange for stability you get the discomforts of the road that force you to remember the simple comforts every person needs – water, warmth, healthy foods, clean air, hugs – and come home with a new found appreciation for pretty much everything.