This is probably the most personal post I will ever put on the internet.
I don’t like putting myself out there; I don’t like to be made a fuss of and I don’t enjoy being asked ‘are you okay’ because in my logical mind state, I am always okay. There is always someone out there who is suffering through real shit and I try and practice gratitude on a daily basis. Positivity is something I always strive for; I want to build others up, inspire people, laugh and find happiness in the simplest of things.
Personally I would rather be behind the camera than in front of it, and the only way I can communicate my feelings is through writing, a ritual I’ve found so therapeutic that I can usually figure shit out just by putting it down on paper.
I have been in that situation where my emotions took hold of my life and I didn’t enjoy being there; I dug myself out of that grave, and I don’t ever plan on getting back into it.
So, I want to talk about the most difficult subject that I’ve faced while living the solo vanlife: the fight between my introvertedness and loneliness.
Those who know me will be surprised that I am an introvert. I love spending time by myself. When I am in the company of others I enjoy the thought of climbing into my van later that night to steal moments of peace so I can comb through the happenings of the day, stare at the stars, or listen to my Spotify playlist while drifting off to sleep.
I Just Want To Be Alone
When living on a ski mountain, I couldn’t wait to be on the road, living in Betty (my van) by myself. The thought drummed up excitement; I couldn’t wait to lie beneath my fairy lights at night and write in my notebook, read, paint, draw; doze in the sun with my back doors wide open, a breeze trickling in to cool me from the summer heat.
Then something surprising happened when I moved into the van.
I hated being alone.
The first month of vanlife was the hardest, when I was really alone. I didn’t have a job; I was in a new town, had little money and my only human contact was getting drunk with a few people I had just met. No meaningful interaction, to say the least.
I met a lot of couples and groups of friends travelling together, and I started to think that would be nice.
Still, I wouldn’t admit to myself that I was lonely, and I fought it exceptionally hard, terrified I would fall into the deathtrap of needing a man in my life again.
I have been single for the last year, but prior to that I spent 9 years out of the past ten in relationships. That other year being single was split into a couple of months at a time being in-between relationships. Back then, I was so dependent on a man making me happy. I outwardly cringe every time I think about it.
I remember practically screaming at one of my ex-boyfriends asking him why couldn’t he do this and that, just to make me happy. Uh, duh, because that was my job, not his.
So when I encountered loneliness after thinking I had long departed its company, I found myself practising the warped belief that it is cool to be so independent that I needn’t rely on anyone else.
But you know what? Fuck that. You can only lie to yourself for a short amount of time. We all need friends; we all need intimacy and love.
Into The Wild
This wasn’t entirely surprising to me. I’ve seen Into The Wild; I’ve read Eat, Pray, Love and Wild.
I’d read tons of articles about solo travel and how neatly loneliness fits into your carry on. Sometimes it’s not until you dive into something that you realise your predecessors were actually right.
For those of you who don’t know the story of Christopher MaCandless, let me explain. MaCandless (or Alexander Supertramp, as he called himself) was a traveller who donated the entirety of his savings to charity before hitchhiking to Alaska to live in the wilderness. He ended up living in an abandoned bus near an overgrown hiking trail near Denali National Park. His intention was to live in the bus, foraging on berries and hunting game. Sadly this lifestyle didn’t work out too well for him, and he died from starvation, but not before realising “Happiness is only real, when shared.”
Buy this book. Read it. Then buy the movie. Watch it three times.
Make The Most Of It
So after a while I stopped being stubborn and I gave in to loneliness. I accepted it as temporary, and that I may as well find the positives in my situation. It wasn’t without the help of another book, however.
One day when I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, I decided I’d hide in my van with a book. That book was titled Only Pack What You Can Carry by Janice Holly Booth. This woman is a huge inspiration to me- she has accomplished a lot in her life, including hiking solo through Northern California, learning the flying trapeze and galloping across the fields of Northern Ireland after having a serious horse-riding accident; she has learnt how to drive sled dogs, authored best selling books and rappelled down slot canyons at Zion National Park. She is a woman who is constantly pushing herself to learn new and interesting skills- often without the security and comfort of others.
I reached the chapter aptly entitled ‘Solitude.’
In this chapter Booth said that whenever she was struggling with an issue, if she went for a solo hike in nature, by the time she walked out of the woods she would always have a solution to her problem.
So now I knew what I had to do. I tried to talk myself out of it, making justifiable excuses such as ‘you don’t have any bear spray.’ But I needed to book an appointment with myself and sort out this empty feeling once and for all, and this feeling was more terrifying than any bear.
As I walked deeper into the woods I heard the voices of others. I turned the other way.
Slowly I began to notice a few things; the colour palette of leaves that lay on the forest floor, the different types of trees and how some of the leaves only waved while others shimmied furiously in the breeze. I was deeply immersed in the forest when a great crack sounded above me. Splatters of rain brushed my jacket, and soon the sky was a yin yang of dark clouds and lightening.
I found shelter and sat down on a fallen log. I looked behind me and I saw a fir tree that had been split in half by the sky lying diagonally across the bush; a charcoal stain right at the point of impact. I sat in reassurance that it is rare lightening strikes in the same place twice, and I watched the orchestra that mother nature had put on for me.
Had I met someone and settled down in New Zealand, I would not be experiencing this right now. Had I gone hiking with another person, they may have suggested we go back as the weather started to turn.
There were serious perks to being alone. All I had to do was step outside.
It’s All Good. All Of It
For those of you who are already doing the solo vanlife, or thinking about it yet are uncomfortable with being lonely, I have this to say: while you will inevitably feel lonely at times, you will learn how to deal with it. You will find a balance between independence and socialising.
Vanlife has changed me for the better; it has taught me many things I wouldn’t have learned had I walked a more traditional path.
I have learned loneliness is a choice, not a state of being. Loneliness is like a hole, and you can choose to lay down in it or plant a seed, water it daily and watch it grow into something purposeful. I’ve stopped fighting loneliness and given it a hug instead; I’ve found a healthy balance between having alone time and socialising. I have a fantastic group of friends now, thanks to the way I live.
I have learned that if I crave external comforts (material possessions, a man, chocolate etc) to fill a void, something is out of balance in my life and I have some work to do. We should be in charge of baking our own cake and icing it; friends, family and relationships are the rainbow sprinkles.
“I’ve decided I’m going to live this life for some time to come. The freedom and simple beauty is just too good to pass up.”