We had a van and a date.
“June 1st, we’re moving out.”
We’d heard of other couples living in their van and had been following @she_explores and #vanlife for quite some time. We had trouble staying in one spot for too long and knew how to pack light. We were travelers that work remotely; it just made sense.
In the beginning our thirst for expansion and freedom defined our journey’s purpose. Now, however, after nearly two months on the road, our decision as to why we left our Brooklyn apartment to live in a van has become much more clear. There are many perks to being a Nomad.
Change of Environment
This morning we awoke on the edge of Arizona, after arriving late in the night from Utah. The heat was so thick that the sweat between us slid us out of bed and into the morning light. It was beautiful and unlike anything we had yet experienced. The sand was a golden red and there were lizards and cacti around the fire pit in front of our van.
Most mornings we wake up somewhere completely new and most evenings we find a different place to fall asleep. Some days, after long hours, we crash at the nearest rest stop so that we have access to a bathroom. Other days we pick a destination and search “satellite view” on Google maps to find a hidden pullout where we can park and go unnoticed (and undisturbed). More often than not we arrive in the dark and awake discovering where we are.
At home, we usually wake up reaching for our cell phones to turn off alarms and check how many “likes” our latest Instagram posts received. On the road, we reach for the blinds and pull them back to take in where we are. That singular, simple moment has made all of the difference. Waking to a new environment with an urge to explore has inspired us to fully step into where—and who—we are.
When we need to work, we seek out the place with the best coffee and Internet. When we need to eat, we find the place with the most interesting food or freshest produce.
We were in Boulder, Utah, winding down Highway 12 (voted the second most beautiful highway in the world) between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon, when we came across Kiva Koffeehouse, home to some of the most beautiful pottery, handwoven blankets, jewelry, and stones, and tastiest espresso. We were astonished to find such a place in such a remote area and spent most of the day clacking away with their incredible Internet speed.
The road is our oyster and there are plenty of pearls along the way.
But as with everything, it’s not all shiny and precious all the time; there are plenty of empty shells along the way as well. Fresh food is a commodity in many areas of the U.S.—as is Internet and cell phone service. Hot showers are harder to come by in a van than we ever could have imagined.
Regardless, our (sometimes stinky) selves are fully engaged, all the time. Never knowing what’s going to be around the next literal corner means, of course, that our environment is constantly changing. It also means we’re breathing, eating, sleeping, touching, and feeling everything all the time. And that’s pretty powerful.
Depth of Experience
We have used the grimiest of bathrooms, laughed with the funniest of old ladies, talked with the loneliest of store clerks. We have found treasures in ghost towns and been humbled by the majestic magnitude of national parks. We have learned that the most incredible places exist where you least expect—and they’re always tricky to find.
Life magazine dubbed Highway 50, through the middle of Nevada, “The Loneliest Road In America” in 1986. Not much has changed since. The road is long and flat, stretching across desert with mountains hanging in the background like a far away mirage. The day we crossed through it was so hot. We pounded some cold brew, put our game faces on with a “just rip off the Band-Aid” mentality, and had every intention of driving straight through without stopping. BUT, as luck would have it, we found ourselves a few hours in, desperately needing to pee in the middle of Goldsfield, Nevada.
Nothing Gold Can Stay.
I couldn’t help but recall the poem by Robert Frost as we pulled up to a dust blown shop.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
An old man on the porch with missing teeth smiled big and told us, “This is a small and quiet town, ain’t nobody coming through here.” A little girl ran out onto the porch to try and sell us some cut out wooden donkeys. “Here, buy this one, it’s $20 and the proceeds go towards rebuilding our school.” I asked her where her school was and she pointed to a large, long forgotten brick building across the street. My heart sank. No amount of wooden donkeys would save her school. When she realized the donkeys weren’t pulling us in she grabbed my hand to show me what was for sale inside. Papers strewn about, knick-knacks toppled over, a mannequin she dressed that morning. I felt her eagerness to converse. I saw in her eyes an incurable desire for more, a vast curiosity for life.
She was so bright, so vivacious. A small girl in a small town with big ideas and big dreams—just being with her fueled me for life. Sharing her vision of her town, her world, if only for a brief moment in time, was enough to pull me out of my ignorance of places I don’t know.
The people we’ve met have taught us things about ourselves in ways that we before would have perhaps missed—or not paid attention to. Being on the open road without a game plan means you play the game differently. And sometimes that means learning things in the unlikeliest of places. And that gives us insight to better understand that world in which we live.
Losing Track of Time
Time takes on a new form when you gauge your days by the miles ahead. Hours have a different way of passing while staring out across an open road and minutes don’t exist, only moments. Time fades when existence takes over and days escape before they end, always chasing the next horizon.
Sasha and I have developed a new relationship with time and often find ourselves asking, “What day is it? Where are we? Do you have any clue what time it is?” Driving north under the summer sun, the days grow longer and longer. Life on the road naturally wakes you at first light and lulls you to sleep after dusk.
This new understanding of time has greatly influenced the ways in which we live our day-to-day life. We are light, unencumbered. We stay until we are finished and determine where to go next once we are truly ready to move on, showing up fully for each of life’s little moments.
I never realized how heavy time is. Losing it will set you free.
Of course, it is always there and always comes a-knocking. When we step back into our time pressured society we find that we are still able to step lighter than ever before, taking time less seriously as our clock-punching counterparts.
Try it. For a day, walk through your life without a time telling device and see how fast or slow it feels. You may find that it just happens to slip your mind.
Finding Where the Road Takes You
We know where we are going and we have time to get there. So what do we do with the space between? Our days on the road are fluid and spontaneous. We are pulled this way and that, shifting routes as we please and seeking whatever calls us in the moment.
Yesterday we were headed for Salt Lake City to check out the salt flats but had a change of heart when we scrolled by a picture of Zion. Sometimes we take the longer route, scanning Google maps for landmarks that look compelling. Other times we take the shorter route if we find a hot spot for chicken wings. And there are the times that we just get plain lost and find where the road takes us.
When we were on the West Coast we drove from Bend, Oregon, to Hood River. We wanted to find a decent parking spot for the night, but when we arrived, it was still early and we were itching to explore. We started weaving along the frontage road, following the twists and turns by waterfall after waterfall. One was too good to pass, so we jumped out of the van and started climbing. The waterfall off the road was nothing compared to what we found a mile higher, and just past that we sat in awe for one of the most picture perfect sunsets we had ever seen, passing train, rainbow and all.
We didn’t make the climb back down until after dark and by the time we were back in our van, Hood River was far in the distance. We decided to drive on and find a spot just off the road. Everywhere we tried had a “no camping” sign. (Apparently Oregon is used to this sort of #vanlife.) An hour later we ended up pulling into a Walmart parking lot just outside of Portland so we could sleep without getting a ticket.
You never know where you might end up.
For more of our journeys—and specifics on how to do it yourself—stay tuned for the next installment of this series, to be published on August 25, 2015. And follow them @gldmne and @sashajuliard on Instagram.
All photos by Sasha Juliard
For more from Nicole and Sasha, click here.
Nicole Lindstrom is a travel writer based in New York City. She is the creator and editor of the online travel guide GLDMNE and co-author of Wanderlust, A Modern Yogi’s Guide To Discovering Your Best Self.
Sasha Juliard is a freelance photographer and web designer. He started How To Work Remotely in 2015 and is a contributor to several online publications.