Van-life: Finding Comfort in Discomfort

Culture, Environment, Food, Health, Self-Love, Travel

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.

  • Cooking

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.

26 Days in Nicaragua So Far

Peace Corps

It was not too long ago I was day dreaming in one of my last college classes about what Nicaragua was going to feel like, what kind of weather I would experience, what kind of people I would meet. Fast forward a couple of months, I’ve graduated college and have also just landed in Managua, Nicaragua. I brought 2 massive suitcases each weighing precisely 50 pounds (the max limit) and my backpacker’s bag that I somehow managed to squeeze into the plane as a carry-on. Other than these 3 items, I brought heaps of curiosity and an open mind to take on this new adventure. Our first 3-day orientation took place in the hotel directly across the street from the airport in Managua, little did we know this was going to be the most luxurious place we’d stay in for the rest of our 2 years in Nicaragua. During this time, we all made an effort to get to know our group of 38 trainees that make up the TEFL (English) and Environment sector of Nica 70 (the 70th group of Peace Corps Volunteers in Nicaragua). I knew I had been placed somewhere special after our group one night at dinner ordered water for the table and not only did they not mind my suggestion to order without plastic straws, but rather loved the idea and encouraged it at every meal. A burden I once felt I was by being the voice of ecological reason had been lifted and for a change I felt supported and heard, it felt so right.

Over the course of the next 3 days at the orientation retreat every volunteer was bombarded with safety measures, medical handbooks and kits, cellphone chips, Spanish grammar books, Spanish dictionaries, environmental classroom guides, cultural workbooks and so much more. It was information for hours and hours every day along with language interviews and placement. We also got to meet current volunteers who have been in Nicaragua for a year now; many of them living in several different departments scattered all over Nicaragua. On the third and final day of our retreat we were all sent off to different “pueblitos” or towns in Carazo to move into the homes of families we will be sharing a home and culture with for the next 3 months of pre-service training.

Diriamba, Carazo is the department I am situated in, a fairly populated city with accessible grocery stores, restaurants and bars, the complete opposite of some other sites some Peace Corps trainees are living in. I am living with Doña Yeseñia and her two daughters, Daniela and Alejandra. This family has been totally supportive of my vegan diet and the girls remind me of my sister and I. It feels home-y. There are 4 other volunteers living here in Diriamba and attending language classes with me, Britton, Anna, Henry and Ozzy, my familia and support group. We have become pretty close, that’s kind of what happens when you bond over diarrhea and the lack of running water in your life. We watch movies, go on runs together, get cat-called together and work together and I wouldn’t have it any other way, except maybe the cat-calling we could all do without.

We are coming up on week 4 of Pre-Service Training, leaving us with 8 more weeks before our swearing in ceremony when we become official volunteers!

8 Reasons to Go Vegan

Lifestyle

The Animals. It goes first because in actuality, these innocent living beings are put last. In a world where we see hate, violence and unnecessary cruelty, going vegan is the most compassionate way to live. The animals that are being bred and raised in factory farms are only a small group of species humans have decided over decades to domesticate and abuse for nothing more than palate pleasure. Meanwhile, we respect and protect other species we find more valuable and even consider them part of the family. The treatment of cows, chickens and pigs in America would simply never be tolerated if the same treatment were applied to dogs and cats.

 The animals that end up on our plates are not the only ones who die.

It is standard industry practice to kill wildlife predators – coyotes, foxes, deer, bears and many more native species to make room to graze livestock as well as protect profits. A lot of the wildlife end up suffering and dying before they are targeted by the meat industry due to habitat destruction. With the meat industry being a huge contributor to deforestation, water pollution, air pollution, climate change and drought, it wrecks the lives of innocent animals and the entire ecosystem.

Health. The #1 killer in the U.S.A is Heart Disease according to the World Health Organization. This is a disease caused by high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, diabetes and especially poor diet. It is understood that heart disease is the narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup. But where exactly does this plaque come from?  Foods high in saturated and trans fats, such as meat, dairy and eggs causes cholesterol to build up in the blood stream and replacing those foods with plant based alternatives actually reverses those effects.(animal products are the only source of dietary cholesterol.) Our bodies naturally produce cholesterol leaving humans no need to consume it. By incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes into your diet and avoiding animal products, you are significantly lowering your chances of getting heart disease.

By avoiding animal products you are also decreasing your risk of developing various cancers. Since animal protein has a higher proportion of essential amino acids, it causes our bodies to produce higher levels of insulin-like growth factor-1. This hormone is responsible for cell-division and growth in both cancerous and non-cancerous cells which is why people with higher levels of IGF-1 are more prone to have cancer and other diseases. A study published in 2014 confirms that high protein intake is linked to increased cancer, diabetes, and overall mortality.

Besides a plant based diet helping to prevent diseases, it is also the way to eat if you are facing health problems present day. An incredible story about a man who beat cancer with raw foods instead of chemo-therapy is a success story many would never think possible yet the power of raw foods proves otherwise.

Climate Change. One of the biggest contributors to climate change is animal agriculture. A study conducted by environmental specialists at the World Bank concluded that livestock production is responsible for 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Meaning the production of meat and animal products is heating the planet more than the entire transportation sector combined. Choosing to abstain from eating animal products is the biggest most impactful choice we can make in the fight to reverse climate change before it is too late. The study accounted for the overlooked emissions that come with raising animals for food such as respiration, land use, and under counted methane.

Leaving animal products off of your plate is arguably the only way to save the planet.

Water. One single hamburger requires 660 gallons of water to produce. This is because meat production requires gallons and gallons of water to operate the facilities and feed the animals. When we walk down the isles of our grocery store and see the final product, it is easy to forget the water it took to grow the food, the fuel it took to ship the food to the farm, the water the animal actually drinks and the waste that comes from raising that animal which ends up contaminating water and causing dead zones(large bodies of water that do not have oxygen to support marine life). Producing meat is a complete waste of resources for what yields only a small amount of food. Imagine the number of other ways  we could allocate the 80%-90% of US water consumption used to operate factory farms.

Deforestation. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon Destruction. How could so much destruction occur at the hands of man and more importantly why? Well in order to supply people with the ever growing demand for animal products, the space needed for the industry must grow too. I know it may seem like our earth is ginormous but the human population is growing at such a rate that our poor little planet cannot support our meat eating habits. Since the industry prefers to keep making money by chopping down our precious amazon, we are losing an immense amount of trees(our biggest natural carbon sink) as well as all of the wildlife that inhabits those trees are now on the endangered species list or have gone extinct.

The good news? You can save the trees by eating plants and leaving animal products off of your plate!

Social Justice. All oppression is connected. When we allow the belief that living beings should be abused, killed and commodified, we are sending the message that there is a line to be drawn between different lives who all feel pain and desire to live. That some can live and others should die and of course it’s easiest to do with the non-human animals who cannot speak our language. It makes it a lot easier to kill something when it can’t tell you “Hey! Please don’t slit my throat and boil me until my hair burns off! I actually would like to live and be a mother to my babies that I only have because humans impregnated me for their own purposes.” Meat eating stems from the core belief that humans are superior and non-human animals are inferior and it is this exact mentality that has fueled the genocides of our history. It’s the belief people had about one race or country that caused the deadliest wars and most human suffering.

There is a beautiful intersection that happens when one goes vegan. It’s the connection of all things living and an appreciation and respect for all life. We wouldn’t be here without the bees who pollinate our food, or the trees that supply our oxygen, so how could anyone ever create a superior species when we all depend on each other to survive?

World Hunger. We have the food required to feed every person on this planet sufficiently. We are simply choosing to feed it to farm animals. In countries with the most starvation, people are growing plant based crops and sending them to affluent nations like the U.S. to feed to livestock. We lose an exponential amount of caloric potential and smaller yield through meat production. In other words, by growing the plants and feeding them to a cow for almost a year, we are left with a very small amount of food. If we took the cow out of the equation and fed people the grains instead of the cow, we would be able to feed a lottttt more people. In a study conducted in 2013, scientists reached the conclusion that if all food crops were fed directly to humans instead of animals, around 70% more food would be added to the world’s supply, which would be enough to feed 4 billion additional people.

Another reason to go vegan!

Save Money. Plants are the cheapest food source in every grocery store as long as you are buying whole foods like rice, beans, tomatoes, etc. While it is true that some vegan products such as mock meat and vegan cheese do cost a bit more being that they are a luxury food, you don’t have to buy them! Most vegans will spend a bit on substitute products in the beginning and then eventually stop buying them altogether, ultimately saving them money. Not to mention all of the money you will be saving from potential future medical expenses that come with a poor diet!

Well, there you have it. 8 reasons to go vegan!