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It seems like more and more women are taking the leap and living in a van full-time alone. Many are discouraged, and warned time and time again that the van life is too dangerous for a single female.
So, I wanted to find several women who are doing the van life alone to see how they do it, why they do it, and whether they’d recommend living in a camper van full-time to other women. Overall, I found all their stories very inspirational. These are brave, no nonsense, intrepid adventurers! Love it.
Jessica Ward, lived in van solo for 2 years
What was the biggest challenge of embarking on van life alone?
My most pervasive challenge was loneliness. To unplug from society’s mold of what a normal day should look like, or a normal dwelling, begins to stir up some deep philosophical questions in your mind. It’s totally uncharted territory. How do you feel when everyone else around you is living a different way? What significance about myself do I draw from this?
You’re also secluded in the physical sense, because you aren’t occupying the same spatial orientation as the majority. You move on a daily basis; they don’t. Your house is on wheels; theirs has a wooden frame and an address. Even when these two structures are mere feet from each other, there’s still a sensation of being the odd duck out. I label it loneliness but in hindsight it might be something akin to psychological discomfort, sprung from our natural yearning to be understood and accepted within our society. You completely lose that anchor as a van dweller.
How to you maintain a level of safety living in a van full-time?
In the planning stages of my journey, I had several panic attacks when thinking about life in a van. It occurred to me early on that my idea of safety was directly tied to structure and form. I felt safe within the walls of my brick-and-mortar condo. Like, this fabricated box was the lone condition of my foundation of personal security. That blew my mind! I knew I had to shift that perspective, and I did.
Safety, for me, became a daily practice of trusting the world and my intuition. I adopted a state of mind that I was inherently safe. If anything felt fishy about a place, I simply moved on. It didn’t matter whether I got that fishy feeling at 3am or not. I owed it to myself to be 100% comfortable with where I was at all times. That tactic served me so well because I had no issues during my travels.
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You can learn simple skills easily before you embark on your van trip. Knowing how to change a tire, basic first aid, or even practicing your fight/flight plan in your mind (in case someone tries to break into your van) goes a long way to ease any qualms. Do whatever you need to do to get into the mental arena of inherent safety.
Most every night I parked under a street lamp at the local Walmart. I found that hiding in plain sight brought me a lot of comfort, especially since there were other people in the parking lot at all hours of the night.
The one time I did park out in the forest all by myself, I didn’t sleep well because I was too creeped out!
What do you think when people say van life is unsafe for a solo woman?
I think that those who say that are simply projecting their own fears. By that logic, the mere act of living is unsafe. You could die tomorrow from a mosquito bite or a walk across the street. Risk is inherent to life.
The thought that women should be cloistered away from the world in order to keep them safe is rather archaic. As women, we are so deliciously sensitive to how we feel–it’s one of our gifts. That’s why I think, as a solo female van dweller, relying on your intuition is exactly what will keep you far away from any potential danger.
What have you learned from living in a van full-time?
I learned that true freedom is slightly uncomfortable, because the minute you have it, you might feel lonely. The fringe is an incredible, expansive place. It feels like growth and looks like solitude.'The fringe is an incredible, expansive place. It feels like growth and looks like solitude.'Click To Tweet
I learned how Western society keeps a tight hold on social norms in order to dissuade anyone who might want to venture to the fringe. But there are workarounds to the rules. We are slowly opening our minds to alternative ways of living.
I learned that when you have a dream, you just have to go for it. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it, even yourself in a fearful state. No matter how wacky or silly or ridiculous your dream might appear to others, your dream came forth to move you forward as a person. It’s your opportunity for evolution. Head for the fringe if it calls you. I’ll see you there.
*Jessica Ward has written a book on van life for women, check it out here: The Intrepid Women’s Guide to Van Dwelling.
Sarah Taggart, living in Ford Transit Connect van
Why did you decide to live in a van full-time?
I am a traveling Occupational Therapist. This means that typically every 13 weeks I move to a new location for work. The first 2 years of traveling I stayed in short-term temporary housing which can cost anywhere from $1500-2800 a month, thus I really wasn’t making much money. Besides the expense of short term housing, I loathed moving every 3 months.
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I started to brainstorm ideas to save money and making moving around a little easier. At the time I was a driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee and was planning on saving money to purchase a travel trailer. As I seriously started to research travel trailers, I discovered they were a bit out of my price range. After researching a few different options I ended at converting a van. So one day I sold my Jeep, bought a 2010 Ford Transit Connect and converted it into a camper.
I had a “WTF did I just do moment,” for sure, but it’s been a year now and I haven’t looked back!
What are your biggest obstacles to van life?
The two largest obstacles for me living this lifestyle thus far have been the winter and illness. I have been sick twice since going full-time, but every time it tends to be overwhelming. The truth is, its very difficult to deal with not being well and not having the convenience of indoor plumbing. The two times that I was very ill I just opted to get a hotel room for the night, and it was worth every penny.
Another big obstacle was winter in Alaska. I had plans of staying in mild climate throughout the year, but due to some life circumstances, I found myself in Alaska for the winter. I tried to make van life work but once temperatures started to drop below 20 degrees every night my little heater and sleeping bag was not cutting it. It always was extremely difficult to get up and get ready for work when it was that cold. I ended up renting a room from a friend for the coldest months. My plan going forward is to stay in more mild climates, hopefully. One of the biggest lessons I learned is to not push my limits.
What do you tell people when they make comments about van life not being safe for a woman?
There are definitely some people who are not thrilled about the idea of a woman living alone on the road. If someone approaches me about this, I typically tell them the ways I stay safe. I don’t sleep in spots that feel unsafe, I trust my instincts, I have some protection (bear spray and a taser), and I also am not afraid. I have strong feelings about me being more unsafe than a single traveling male.I don't sleep in spots that feel unsafe, I trust my instincts, I have some protectionClick To Tweet
I am also not naive , I understand anything can happen to anyone no matter how prepared you think you are. However, I do have to say that I have found most people to be incredibly supportive of my lifestyle. I do get the occasionally “be safe” but most of the comments are similar to, “ wow that’s awesome!”
What would you say to other women wanting to do this?
I’d say if you’re serious about this lifestyle, do it! However, there are some things you should know. If you have a very minimal van like mine, you must be okay with not having certain conveniences. For example, I have no water tank, I complete most basic grooming activities outside or in a public restroom. I have to plan things like showers and laundry. It’s definitely not a convenient lifestyle but I think the freedom is well worth it!
If you decide not to embark on a similar lifestyle do not let the reason be that you are a female. You can live any lifestyle you want, and don’t let anyone else’s opinion deter you.
What are your favorite places you’ve been?
I really fell in love with Alaska, it’s a whole different world. In what other place can you see the northern lights, abundant wildlife, the largest mountain range in North America, and much more. I am very happy I stayed in Alaska for almost a year and experienced all four seasons. The drive to Alaska is also one of the best road trips I have ever been on. If you ever get the chance to drive to Alaska, please do!
What are your long term plans with the van?
I am currently working in Colorado and hoping to make some changes to the buildout of the van. Essentially right now it is a platform bed with storage. My goal is to make the van more modular. I’m hoping to make a pull out kitchen as well as a bed that can also be folded into a couch. I plan to continue traveling for at least the next 2 years and then reevaluate then.
You can follow along with Sarah’s adventures on her blog: Tiny Van Big Living.
Jennifer Vegvari, living in Jeep Cherokee
What made you decide to live in a Jeep Cherokee?
My mom bought this Jeep brand new in 1989 and it was hands down her favorite vehicle. She was the only owner and took really good care of it. She passed away suddenly late October 2014 and I asked my dad if I could take the Jeep as it was a second car for him and he said yes. I decided to live in it on a bit of a whim.
I’d been doing research on Van Life and realized people lived in all sorts of vehicles. I decided that I’d never done something this outrageous before. The official sign came from my landlord at the time. She sensed I wasn’t happy in the rental I was occupying and she let me know that she’d let me out of my lease, no hard feelings, and that’s when I decided that I’d live in the Jeep starting June 1st, 2016.
What is your routine like?
I have a corporate office job outside of Los Angeles, so during the week, I sleep in my jeep in the parking lot at work. I’ve made friends with the security and my colleagues know about my lifestyle. Some say it’s a mistake to tell people, and they may be right, but that’s just not how I operate. So I told everyone and their mom my plans.
I have a favorite spot in the lot that gets shade all day and when I’m ready for bed, I’ll park there, head inside to shower and change into PJs and watch some Netflix on my Kindle until it’s bedtime. I set my alarm for 530am, I like to be up and out of the jeep when other employees start showing up. We share the lot and building with other businesses. On weekends and trips where I work remote (my job is incredibly flexible) I hotspot with my work cell phone and have internet. I don’t make a lot of money but the perks of my job (shower, 24/7 building access, company phone, laptop, gym, etc) mean more to me than money when I’m living in the jeep. I realize I’m incredibly fortunate to have the routine I do.
Where else have you parked in Los Angeles?
In the beginning, there was a spot along Mullholland highway overlooking a state park about 7 minutes from my work. The sunsets and sunrises were glorious. I still park there on occasion but I don’t want to draw too much attention to myself and realized parking at work when I can is the safest bet for me. I’ve parked in Santa Monica in residential neighborhoods (getting there after 10PM, leaving by 530AM), along PCH, on land that belongs to friends in Topanga. I’m a bit of a creature of habit though, so I’ve been parking at work during the week for the last month or so consistently.
What are your long-term plans?
My long term plans are a converted van. I have a cat, Barney. He’s currently being fostered by a coworker and once I get a bigger vehicle (with better climate control), he will join me and be my adventure buddy. I honestly don’t see myself ever living in a “sticks and brick” again, but if I do I have a hunch it will be temporary, or a really awesome dwelling like a tiny house or a shipping container.'I honestly don't see myself ever living in a 'sticks and brick' again.' Click To Tweet
After my mom died, it sort of just all came together as a grieved: I don’t want the things I was told to want my whole life. I decided I don’t want to have children, I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder and buy a house and live my life slaving away hoping to live long enough to retire and enjoy my efforts. My mom was 58 when she died. I refuse to work hard my whole life to risk dying before I can truly enjoy my life via retirement. I tell people I’m living the retired life now, as much as I can anyway. My mom’s favorite saying was “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal” and that’s sort of my mantra now.
What is your advice to others about taking the leap?
I am absolutely loving it. The first month was hard. The month leading up to it was hard. Every single morning before I left my apartment for the month of May my first thought would be “Oh my God, I can’t live in my car, I’m just going to find a new place to live that’s cheaper” and I just pushed through those thoughts.
I moved out of my apartment alone (making 3 trips to my cheap storage unit), panic attack level anxiety brimming just below the surface ready to spill over. I spent more nights than I care to admit in a Motel 6 that first month, but now I can’t even remember why I was feeling so anxious. I am absolutely happier. The advice is I have is that this is a drastic change from what people know and go their entire lives trying to achieve.
It will be HARD, you will get scared and want to back out. You will not feel happy all the time while you’re doing this, but I promise it’s worth it. The anxiety will settle, you will find a routine, and all the reasons that drew you into this lifestyle will become real.
You can follow along with Jennifer’s adventures on her Instagram: Topanga Jeep Life.