How living in my van for over a year has turned me into a worry warrior


I have lived in my van for over a year and traveled coast to coast to coast… What about it?

Well, I’m a woman, and I was alone for most of it. Before I go on, let me tell you about my van… it’s not as fancy as most of those #vanlife pictures you see on Instagram. I’m not a trust fund kid, nor do I have a sweet high paying remote job. As a matter of fact, I started living in my van out of necessity, I needed to dodge rent. With a sky high lump of debt to my name and desire for adventure in my heart, I pulled the seats out of the minivan that had been in my family since 2001. I replaced them with click-clack futon from Ikea with plastic storage bins underneath. The back hatch opens to a dresser and one of those plug-in coolers. That’s basically it. It’s so simple. The rear windows are tinted, so I didn’t bother with window coverings until about eight months in… two months later I had enough with the now bent and uncooperative springy curtain rods, tossed them in the trash, and went back to my uncovered window ways.

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Now, back to the point of this – how I became a worry warrior.
“Weren’t you afraid?” That’s probably the most commonly asked question when it comes to my grand vanventure. The truth is, I get my jollies and utmost satisfaction from crushing my fears in life. There’s a reward in falling asleep alone, in a van that hasn’t been specially decked out with window coverings.  I’d awake every morning to a feeling of success, I rarely laid awake terrified of what might happen. Actually, I’m quite certain that few people ever suspected that I was sleeping in the back of my minivan. What’s it to me if someone did notice me in there, peering in the tinted back windows bewildered by this sleeping girl? Nothing. What if something HAD happened? My plan all along if someone tried to break into my van while I was sleeping was this: climb up front and DRIVE AWAY.

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One time I found a 24 hour beach in Florida, I thought it would be a great place to park for the night. I was wrong! This was the only time I was ever asked to leave. I was awoken around 1am by a flashlight shining about. I was half delirious and am pretty sure that the police officer told me I could stay but there was some other authority on patrol and if they found me sleeping there, they would “lock me up.” I heeded his warning and relocated to the nearest WalMart parking lot I could find.
The most fear I ever felt came when I was camping in the wilderness with friends. We had just driven through Rocky Mountain National Forest in Colorado, crossing the Continental divide. Cruising back down out of the mountains, the brakes began to smoke. I decided that the next day, I would stop at a mechanic to be sure the brakes were not in need of servicing. For the night, we found a relatively flat, open space dispersed campsite. My friends set up their tent about 20 yards in front of the van. One incessantly talked about bears before they went off to their tent to tuck in for the night. I noted that with all of the food in the van with me, I was essentially sleeping in a giant cooler – just waiting for a bear to catch a whiff and come snooping around my windows. When I laid down, I noticed the slight downward slope that the van was parked on. As the van settled in the soft ground, the brakes moaned. I was suddenly washed with paranoia… “Great,” I thought, “not only is a bear going to come snooping and scratching at my windows but these brakes are likely to give out and I’ll be rolling straight toward my friends sleeping in their tent!” I climbed into the driver’s seat, considering turning the van on and moving it. I didn’t want to cause a stir and wake them up to a false alarm that a bear had come along. After sitting in the driver’s seat for several minutes I decided that I was being completely ridiculous. I’d leave the keys in the ignition and be ready to steer clear of my friends or come to their rescue should a bear sniff his way over to our camp. After a little while longer of imagining what might happen, my fear of a bear coming along turned into excitement… it might actually be neat to see a bear up close and I could just drive away if it was threatening. I finally fell asleep and somewhat to my disappointment, a bear never came. As for the brakes, they checked out A-OK with the mechanic.

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Another memorable night was on the Pacific Coast highway in California.  I found a small stretch that was lacking the typical “No Overnight Parking” signage. The pull off was narrow, cliff side, but there was another van parked there- one of those rentable van campers painted in all its faux-hippy glory. I was too tired to keep driving in search of a better spot, so there I parked. The van would rock side to side when a tractor trailer whizzed by. I managed to relax myself into sleep and didn’t get plowed off the cliff by a rogue truck.
Looking back over the past year of this unusual lifestyle, it’s so easy to see how little worry serves us. Thoughts happen and that’s fine. It’s when we think on those thoughts and the present moment spirals away from us. We create a delusion that cascades into damaging physiological responses and inhibits us from dashing forward into our glory. Next time you catch yourself letting a thought brew into worry, do what I did each night in the van. Breathe in deep, let every muscle relax and note the safety of the moment. Note what is real and what is only in your mind.

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