#Vanlife is more than an Instagram fantasy



Photo by Joffrey Peters

Editor’s Note: As long as I have known Anne Farrell, she has been a hiker. She somehow makes it seem easy, aided by her long stride and relentless will.  Anne and her partner Joffrey have been riding down dusty US roads in their Sprinter van for the past six months, stopping to climb mountains, wander down city streets and backpack in gorgeous and isolated parts of the country. To follow Anne and Joffrey on their adventures, visit www.prejoyful.com. –HB

By Anne Amelia Farrell 

#Vanlife is a happening tag right now.  From the photos on Instagram, you might think the women of vanlife are all body building rock climbers (or surfers) with degrees in interior decorating.  They’re all dating male partners who are professional wood workers.  #Vanlife hair seems to be mostly blonde and shockingly clean.  Bikinis abound.  Every photo looks designed for an outdoor enthusiast magazine.

It was hard not to jump into the Instagram world when I was preparing for a year long life in a van.  Neither my partner nor I have any construction experience, so it was important to see as many van examples and build-out ideas as possible. While the life choice felt risky, vanlife seemed so romantic as I looked a VW’s, Previa’s, Sprinters with fancy kitchenettes, beds drowning in bohemian pillows, and smiling couples having the time of their lives.  There were endless links to blog posts about what it was like to be a trulyadventurous woman, and how living in a van makes relationships stronger.   I was both intimidated (how will I ever be that cool?) and inspired (life is going to be so easy and fun for a year!).

“We live in a glorified rolling gear closet. And living in the van hasn’t changed who I fundamentally am.”

It has been six months on the road, and I can say that my vanlife experience has not been so glossy and romantic.  First, vanlife is dirty.  Not a day goes by that my van doesn’t look like a mudpit, and this problem is compounded by the winter season.  Ski area parking lots and trailheads on gravel roads lead to a lot of dirt in the van.  Showers are a luxury – although we are privileged to have an incredible network of friends and family who have hosted us regularly.  Secondly, I just can’t manage “hip” or “cool” in the van. My clothing space is limited to one shelf, with most of it being layers for backpacking. I don’t have an eye for interior decorating, nor do we have room for lots of fancy design.  We live in a glorified rolling gear closet.  And living in the van hasn’t changed who I fundamentally am – I wasn’t that trendy to begin with. Finally, traveling can be hard – on our relationship and on us as individuals.  It has made differences in communication styles transparent, and it has pushed us to consider each other, our values, and ourselves differently.


Photo by Joffrey Peters

And yet, these are not complaints. These are the things that give flavor to this year of adventuring, not the social media worthy moments.  It is the grittiness of this trip that allows me to push my comfort zone each day. I have always considered myself outdoorsy, but this is the first time in which I am consistently outside every single day. I plan more trips than I ever did while I was employed. I embrace microadventures with enthusiasm. I read more books.  I create more space to simply think each day. I make time to talk to my partner, and I slow down to apologize when my patience wears thin.  I try to be more present, and set worrying aside. I have also found that the people of vanlife are wonderful.  The strangers we have met have been more warm, generous, and supportive than I could have possibly imagined. People are good.

These are the things I will reflect upon in future years, and I know I will be grateful that I made this strange life choice. These are the things I hope to incorporate into my daily life more fluidly once I settle down again.  These are opportunities I hope to offer to others through volunteering my time in some way. The wiser I grow through my van experience, the more I know that I don’t need to live in a van to embrace this magnificent, wild life every day.


IMG_4427-e1430801255736About Anne: Growing up in NH gave me opportunities to follow my family up mountains, stay in huts, and run around in my own personal wilderness. I hated the act of hiking, yet my favorite thing was still being above treeline and the feeling I got when ascending into the krumholz.  It wasn’t until college that I discovered all the joy that had been present in the act of walking all along.  I developed a sense of pace, confidence, and competence in the outdoors that led to endless opportunity.  I have been teaching urban high school math for the past four years, and I am embracing this break to return to a slower daily rhythm.

For more stories on van adventures across the country, visit www.prejoyful.com