Forewarned is Forearmed: Emotional Reactions When you Start Vandwelling
Many of you are about to be forced into vandwelling; others are longing and dreaming about it. Whichever you are, you don’t really know what it is going to be like to live in a van. Others of you have just moved into a van within the last few weeks or months and are surprised by how hard it has been. The problem isn’t just the normal things like figuring out cooking, bathing and sleeping, the bigger surprise is often your emotional reaction to it.
Vandwelling is so far out of our normal lives and comfort zone that nothing we’ve experienced before can prepare us for our reactions when we finally start living in a van. Most of us experience at least some troubling feelings like:
Operating under the principle that forewarned is forearmed, in this post I want to talk about what you may expect to feel and assure you it is normal and nearly universal among us (although I have known some people who instantly loved it). Anytime I am with a group of vandwellers and the topic turns to how we felt at first they almost all say they went through these exact same things. But the goods news is that we almost all got over it after a period of time. Sometimes it was quickly and sometimes it was slowly, but among all of us who keep doing it eventually we calm down, adapt, and fall in love with our new life!
As you read these typical reactions to vandwelling, keep them in mind so you won’t be surprised if you feel the same way when you start. Hopefully, you will take some comfort in knowing that what you’re feeling is normal and reasonable and most importantly, that it will come to an end and things will get better. Next Sunday we will look at why you’re feeling that way, what it means, and how to cope with it.
What to Expect When you Start Vandwelling
1) Lack of Defined Territory: Whenever you live in a house, you have a defined territory that belongs to you and is your castle, your fortress. Living in a van you no longer have four thick walls keeping you safe from all the bad things in the world. Instead you are sitting in a parking lot, public street, or maybe out in the middle of the boonies. Wherever you are, you feel all alone and helpless. Inside the van is YOURS, you own it. But step outside and you have no claim to it. Anybody has a total right to stand exactly beside your van and do anything they want. You have no control over it. That is an unsettling feeling.
2) Uneasy about Parking: Where will you park? What will happen to you while you are parked there? Will you be hassled, fined or arrested? Those are scary questions and it takes a long time before you get it all figured out and get comfortable with it. But with time and practice finding a parking place becomes second nature and it stops being a problem.
3) Disturbed by all the Strange Noises: My goodness sleeping in a city is noisy! One night at about 2;00 AM I was woke up by three drunks standing outside my van finishing off their last bottle of booze. They had every right to be there so I just waited till they were done and they moved on. It’s just part of vandwelling! You will constantly be hearing these things in your sleep:
- Traffic Noise
- Car doors slamming all around you
- Street Sweepers
- Snow plows
- People walking and talking around you
- Rain sleet or hail on the roof
- Birds on the roof
For a long time it is disturbing and every sound wakes you up and brings you to an alert state. But after a while your brain learns that those sounds aren’t a threat and will start to just barely register them. Eventually you will just barely stir and go on sleeping right through them.
4) Lonely and Isolated: If you live in a city then you aren’t really any more isolated than you were when you lived in a house. The chances are really good you never met or spent any time with your neighbors any way so living in the van doesn’t really change anything. But at least in a house there were people you were familiar with all around you. You may not know their names, but at least you saw them every day and that felt good. That’s not true in a van. Where you sleep changes all the time and there usually aren’t the same people around. So you feel alone and disconnected.
This can be especially a problem if you are a boondocker and live on public land. I’ve gone a week without seeing another human being while camped in the desert. You may not want to hear this, but most of us have lost the ability to be alone and regaining it is a very good thing. I’d encourage you take the time to learn how to embrace the silence around you and find it in your own head.
As I’ve said many times, I’ve made more, deep, life-long friendships as a “hermit” vandweller than I ever made living in a house. The internet had made it possible for us to connect with each other and create a “tribe’ of mobile people. Take advantage of it!
5) Worried About the Police: At first you won’t be good at following your instincts and finding a place to park, but after some practice and trial and error, you will figure it out. Most of us develop a number of places we know we are safe to park and won’t be hassled. Eventually we will almost all have run-ins with the police, but after a few of them they start to lose their terror for you, “Here we go again, another cop at the door.”
6) Worried for Your Safety: You really aren’t more at risk by living in your van; but it feels like you are. Fortunately, that just fades away with time. You will gain confidence in yourself and in your safety as time goes on and the danger never materializes.
7) Disoriented: When you live in a house, you live in a very orderly fixed world. “Home” rarely changes. But in a van, “Home” changes every night! For a very long time every morning when I woke up I felt totally lost! I had no idea where I was and what all the noises I heard around me were. For some reason that lasted a long time. It was like my brain reset every morning and started searching for clues to its location in time and space and when it didn’t find any, it was worried. Eventually it stopped and doesn’t happen anymore. Now ever morning I wake up in the trailer and it is my comfortable home surroundings. Where the trailer is located in time and space doesn’t seem important at all.
8) Upset by A Lack of Routine: For your whole life you have had a normal routine beginning with when you woke up and lasting till you went to bed. It changed and adapted over time but not very fast. The day you moved into a van, it all went out the window!! Think about your daily routines at home and how different it has to be in a van. The things you have taken for granted your whole life are suddenly gone:
- Air Conditioning
- Unlimited Lighting
- Running hot water
- Dining Room table
The only solution is to establish all new routines, and that just takes time, so hang in there.
It took a long time to get over that fear and mainly it was just having multiple experiences with break-downs. Every time it happened, I coped with it. One time I stayed for a week with a friend; several times I was able to sleep in the van at the shop while it was being repaired. Many times it has been in and out in one day so no major problem. One time I simply slept in it along the side of the road while I waited for daylight to hitch-hike into town and get a tow truck.
I’ve written a blog post about this topic so I am not going to repeat it here. Suffice it to say that if you do preventative maintenance and learn to roll with the punches break-downs turn out to be a paper-tiger and not so fearful. In fact it is no longer a fear of mine at all. Now I just look at break-downs as another very minor adventure and look forward to learning how I am going to get out of this one.
Next Sunday we will look at why you are having these feelings, what it means, and how to cope with it.