#Vanlife is a new movement that’s all about rejecting materialism and living on the road full time in order to collect experiences instead of things. I can’t even tell you how liberating it feels to have pared my possessions down to the absolute essentials—a few changes of clothes, camping gear, my laptop and phone, a surfboard, a couple favorite books, eight fedoras, three pairs of Nike Foamposite One NRG sneakers, a poster for the 1988 fantasy-adventure film ‘Willow’ signed by every cast member except for Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, some microphones and a mixing board in case I decide to start a podcast, another surfboard, and $27,000 worth of camera equipment, all tucked away inside this trusty old, fully converted and upgraded Mercedes Benz 4×4 Sprinter Sportsmobile van that my stepfather bought me for graduation. It’s a simple life, but I’m living deliberately, and I love it.
People think it’s really brave and inspiring for living like this, but there are some misconceptions about #Vanlife, too.
Think spending so much time in nature is peaceful and relaxing? Sure, I’ve hiked along the banks of remote mountain streams and suddenly felt the presence of a God I’d long ago rejected as a fairytale told to comfort the masses; but one time on a hike I came across two raccoons having sex, and one of them made direct eye contact with me and held it with such intensity that I was frozen in place, staring back, until they finished. Lying awake all night worried that you accidentally participated in a three-way with a couple of exhibitionist woodland creatures might be someone’s idea of peaceful and relaxing, but it isn’t mine.
People think #Vanlife is an endless vacation, but I have a goal. I’m trying to discover the real America. I want to meet salt-of-the-earth, hardworking Americans and engage them in an open and honest dialogue. I’ve looked everywhere—Venice Beach, Coronado, Laguna Beach, Malibu—without much luck, but I know they’re out there, and I’m not giving up until I find them.
Maybe the biggest misconception about #Vanlife is that it’s free of aggravation. I wish! The other day I was in Malibu trying to photograph the sunrise over the ocean when this deeply tanned blonde woman wearing a strapless sundress walked into frame and waved at me. I ended up posting the picture to Instagram and tagging my friend Tim to make sure he’d see it. Tim’s the night watchman at a landfill in Cleveland, where it hasn’t been above 33° in weeks. Hopefully seeing that I can’t even take a nice picture without some woman ruining it showed him that things are rough all over.
The woman’s name was Lena. She turned out to be a fellow #Vanlifer who came over hoping I was a salt-of-the-earth, hardworking American she could engage in an open and honest dialogue. I told her I’d been searching for the same, and she said there were supposed to be some around this beach in Ojai and invited me along to check. I had plans to record a freestyle rap about the danger plastic six-pack rings pose to sea turtles for my YouTube channel that afternoon, but figured turtles would still be getting strangled by plastic six-pack rings tomorrow, and offered to drive.
Ojai is about sixty miles from Malibu, but the drive took eight hours because we kept finding cool spots along the way to stop and photograph one another smiling beatifically at the sun. Lena was really good at smiling beatifically. She said her secret was imagining God applauding her humility. My usual method was imagining Tim taking a moment between checking rattraps around the perimeter of the landfill to reflect on how much I inspire him, but I tried it her way and my smile looks at least 15% more beatific!
A few miles outside of Ojai a guy standing beside a broken down pickup truck on the side of the road flagged us down. We were excited, thinking we’d finally found a salt-of-the-earth, hardworking American, but when he came over and Lena broke the ice by asking him why he always voted against his best interests, he acted all confused and insisted he didn’t.
He asked if either of us knew how to change a flat tire. Neither of us did, so Lena offered to sing him a Russian folksong about overcoming adversity instead. He said he’d rather have a ride to the next gas station. I said okay, but when he ran to get his stuff out of his truck I remembered that I’d collected the experience of helping someone stranded on the side of the road a month earlier, but I’d never collected the experience of abandoning someone to fate, so I peeled off.
Not one of the better experiences I’ve collected, although who knows—it might not have been so bad if the guy hadn’t ran after us, screaming and pleading for me to stop, for almost half a mile.
By the time we arrived in Ojai and found a place to park it was raining and no one was around. I kept flashing on the last glimpse I’d caught of that guy in my rearview mirror, the way he’d fallen to his knees in utter despair. Was I wrong to leave him behind? Was it selfish to choose a new experience over helping someone in need? I started feeling depressed, but then Lena suggested we have sex, which really cheered me up.
She asked if I was interested in role-playing, then handed me the script to “Waiting for Godot” and said to start at the beginning and to do different voices so she’d be able to tell the characters apart. Not what I’d been expecting, but I started reading and got about five pages in before she received a text message and started crying. She said it was from her sister, letting her know that their high school choir teacher had been murdered.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
Lena rolled her eyes. “You sure don’t know much about role-playing.”
“This is part of it?” I asked.
“This is part of it,” she said. “Keep reading.”
A few minutes later she interrupted to tell me that her choir teacher had been the first person to truly make her feel seen. I asked if she thought she’d fly home for the funeral and she got mad and said to keep reading, that this is still part of it. I kept reading. She cried softly, occasionally muttering, “Don’t worry, this is still part of it,” until she fell asleep.
I finished the play and waited to see what would happen next, but she didn’t wake up and after a while I fell asleep, too. In the morning she was gone, along with my laptop and all my camera equipment.
Living the #Vanlife requires a real sense of adventure and a comfort living with uncertainty. You never know where the day will take you. You might wake up in Malibu and fall asleep in Ojai, then spend three days waiting around wondering if you’ve been robbed or if you’re in the midst of an elaborate sexual role-play. It’s not for everyone, but if you have what it takes it can be enormously rewarding. Especially if this turns out to be part of it, and she brings my stuff back and we finally have sex.