When I was working full-time in Boston, I didn’t put a name to the nights I spent in with a healthy meal and gigabytes of “just for fun” photos to edit. I didn’t think twice about running home from work or taking long, slow walks under lamplight. When I felt stressed, I took alone time to recalibrate and stretch my limbs. Sure, I put off doctor’s appointments and hair cuts, but I had little ways of taking care of myself without even thinking about it.
Until recently, I wasn’t acquainted with self-care as a deliberate act. But life in a 21-foot van has a way of laying bare the cracks. Moving quickly from place to place over the past 10 months, my rituals dissolved and I lost track of my healthier coping mechanisms.
Here’s an honest look of where I’ve struggled, lessons learned, and the little things that can make a difference.
Where I’ve fallen short:
- Staying organized. I found out that the van is really big and really small. There are dozens of places for necessities to hide, and I’ve never been good at keeping my room clean. I thought the van would force me to learn tidiness, but the discipline of being neat doesn’t happen overnight. Ultimately it’s good for the brain, and something I need to consciously practice.
- Grooming. Showers and shaving can be sporadic on the road, but there are little ways to feel good about your appearance. It’s easy to get lazy and I have calloused feet and a reoccurring face rash to prove it.
- Maintaining a healthy diet. While I do my best to make my own food, I’ve eaten out more over the past year than ever in my life. Part of it is a desire to experience the cities we pass through, but part of it is lack of preparation while moving from place to place.
- Keeping active. I’ve had the pleasure of countless hikes over the past year coupled with countless hours in a passenger’s seat. It’s odd to think that I may have walked more steps when I lived in a city, but I’ve never owned a car before and it was a simple form of exercise that I never thought about. Living in the van, movement has felt more deliberate.
- Staying still. I got used to a constant state of flux through driving, hiking, meeting new people and spending 24 hours a day with my significant other. I often found myself wound up and tense at day’s end. Calming my mind and sitting still felt like more work than continuing to “go.”
- Finding alone time. A better word than “finding” would be “prioritizing” alone time. It was a big part of my life in a city and it helps me not feel overstimulated.
Lessons learned thus far & pointers:
- Before you make any big life change, contemplate the daily rituals that are important to you. Perhaps write a list of them. Acknowledge that some will be harder to keep up while life is in flux. A month or so in, take stock of which rituals you are doing/not doing and think about how it’s affecting you and your health. Change can be distracting, for better and worse.
- Pace of travel is important and different for everyone. Stay in touch with yourself and figure out what works for you. My boyfriend and I found that we over scheduled ourselves. Sometimes we wanted to stay in one place for a longer period of time, but we weren’t able to. Self care slipped.
- Grocery shop as much as possible. It’ll save you money and will help keep your body happy.
- Carve out alone time, even if you think you don’t need it. (Especially if you lean on the introverted side.)
- It’s OK to want to “feel like a lady.” Last year, I stumbled upon Katie Boué’s last van entry on her blog, The Morning Fresh. In it, she wrote that towards the end of her time on the road she “dreamt of wearing dresses, putting on make-up, and feeling like a lady again.” This resonated with me, because even though I’ve never known how to properly blow dry my hair or apply a proper base coat (of anything!), life in the van can make me feel unfeminine. Figure out some small things you can do to feel your kind of feminine, whatever that may be.
- Embrace your creative outlet. Whether it’s rock climbing, painting, reading, writing, cooking … there are enough hours in the day to express yourself.
Items that I’ve found make self care a little easier on the road:
- Baby wipes & face wipes
- ARB Fridge. A cooler with ice can do the trick, but a high efficiency fridge makes a big difference in keeping food fresh.
- Coleman two burner stove
- Mirror. A small mirror on the wall feels like a small luxury.
- Comfortable dress. To feel a little fancy.
- Meditation App, like Headspace
- Portable shower. NEMO Helio pressure shower is great.
- Comfortable sneakers/hiking boots/climbing shoes
Photo by Ali Kaukas
Gale Straub loves landscape and believes you don’t need to travel the country to see something new every single day. While traveling in a camper van, she started She-Explores, a site for inquisitive women in the outdoors, on the road, and besides.