Different year. Same mistakes.
One of the first people that I met on the road was a woman who I rented a room from for about a week in Boulder (check out her Air BnB here). Her home was essentially a half-way house for wanders and, naturally, I felt right at home. I mostly chose her place because it was inexpensive and pet-friendly, however, she did say that she doesn’t accept all pets, just the ones that she feels good about. Little did I know that I would get to know everyone in the house who came and went during my stay and find surprising connections with each one. It felt a lot like my life growing up living overseas where people came and went pretty quickly, but everyone had an interesting story.
When I first walked up to her door and knocked, a young man who looked like a college student and spoke in broken English opened the door. I asked if Joni was there and she yelled from the other room that I should come in. She was a short, fit and fiery woman in her mid-thirties with incredibly beautiful curly hair that dropped to her shoulders. I learned that she did jujitsu and could have probably thrown me on my ass if she wanted to. She was very blunt and particular. Take your shoes off at the door, no shoes in the house. Keep the cat in my room. Clean up after yourself in the kitchen. Clean up after your dog in the yard. If it’s yellow, let it mellow. This was clearly not her first rodeo. I then learned that she was a relator and just moved into that house, but also owns multiple properties around Boulder. She was one of those business savvy Jewish women who knows what she wants and kicks butt when it comes to getting things done. Needless to say, we had an instant connection.
Several of the mornings I was there we shared breakfast together. I also made a quinoa salad one day for lunch and without hesitation she asked if she could have some. I loved her bluntness and she was a hoot to talk to. Of course, as with anywhere I go, I enjoy grilling people on the place that they live and to learn why they love it. One of the things that she kept telling me was that she loved Boulder because the men all stayed 21 with awesome abs and they were always so grateful for a women who knew what she was doing.
Thank you, Joni. Noted.
Joni liked to get things done. During my one week stay with her, I helped her bring a load of stuff to GoodWill, did a few sewing projects since my machine was already out, and helped cook dinner for her and her friends one night at the house. She had suggested that we all do a group meal one of the evenings I was there and of course I was all about it. Goodness knows that I needed the company after several weeks of solitude, so we grilled ribs, I made vegetable kabobs and it was one of the best evenings I’ve had on the road to date.
Two of her friends had just bought a house together in the mountains and had also met on OK Cupid. The woman had just quit her corporate job and was finally really following her dreams. She also happened to be into pet psychics and we got talking about how Simone didn’t particularly love the van. I explained that she loved our apartment because it had a deck and she could be outside at any time and now I have to often leave her in the van by herself when I am working or running errands. What I didn’t tell her was that I also had not yet secured all of the things in the back of the van and sometimes stuff fell on her… I’m sure that didn’t help. Regardless, she gave me advice for how to talk to Simone to help her like the van better. She suggested that I talk to Simone every time we are going somewhere so that she knew what was going on and shouldn’t be worried, but also explain to her why we live in a van and what we are doing. She was adamant that dogs understand what we are telling them through our tone of voice and manner when we talk and it helps calm them. I can’t say I disagree, it was certainly a fascinating conversation.
Another one of Joni’s friends, who was also staying at the house, was Lee. He had been staying there a few months and was on his way to Hawaii to set up sustainable energy projects on the islands. He was essentially going to be a caretaker for a state-wide sustainable energy initiative. Sounded pretty awesome. He had noticed the solar panels I had installed on the van and we ended up talking about the process to install them, how many I had and then got into a long discussion about the amount of energy that is required to make solar panels and if it is so much that it’s not worth it to make them. I learned a ton from him and was definitely envious of his next adventure to tropical paradise.
One of my favorite moments of that night was when the Chinese student, Ying, was FaceTiming another one of his friends in China, speaking Mandarin and explaining the whole evening over the phone. He didn’t know I spoke Chinese, but he was sweet and grateful in his conversation and told his friend he was having a lot of fun with his “Mei Guo peng you”.
That night I felt so at home. I honestly didn’t really want to leave there. I can’t put my finger on why exactly I felt that way, but it probably had to do with the eclectic mix of people who were all there to enjoy the moment, but were also off to their next adventures. There were people from all over the world, and each person was following their dreams. It was refreshing. I cherish that night. I am inspired by those stories. It was a pinnacle moment in time for me where I felt encouraged that I was doing the right thing and simultaneously invigorated by all of the other amazing things I could do if I put my mind to it. Here I was, seeing it all first hand.
Thank you Joni. I can’t wait to have my own wanders’ commune like you do someday.
Blog post originally posted on Van Life Explorers.
One of the most difficult parts of beginning van life was figuring out what exactly I needed. I got rid of so much stuff, but am constantly haunted by this feeling that I still have too much. I enjoy a tidy space, so van life has been particularly challenging to find the balance between tidy and still fitting everything I need in the space. Most of the time my conclusion is that I don’t actually need that thing and would rather get rid of it than make my space too crowded. Yet, I also wanted to be careful not to get rid of something that I would need further down the line. In addition, there were definitely things that I needed to buy along the way that I had not expected to need. So as you prepare for your life on the road, I’ve compiled a checklist of my must-haves:
- Propane Stove $40
I use this stove every single day. Even if I am eating cold or raw foods for meals, I cannot go a day without my coffee. I use an aluminum espresso maker, which does not require filters, so all I need is water and coffee grounds. I also have a hand grinder to grind my beans. The hand grinder takes a while to get the quantity that I need to fill the pot, but it makes for an excellent cup of coffee. I have to say that I have grown to enjoy my mornings staring into the mountains, grinding my coffee to start off my day. It is quite peaceful. Then just put it on the propane stove and in ten minutes, you have fresh brewed espresso! You do need to keep your propane tanks stalked as well.
- Cooler $45
I have solar panels that are bolted to the roof and I started off my journey with a small mini fridge that I used to keep my food fresh. However, I quickly learned that if I did not have a full day of sun, the two 100-watt panels were not enough to power that little sucker. Sometimes in the middle of the night my inverter would start beeping at me because the battery ran out of juice. This was (clearly) super annoying and I did not want to drop the $800 bucks on an energy-efficient fridge, so I decided to go old school and use a small cooler. I do have to spend money on getting ice every day, which ranges from $1.50-$3.00 depending on where in the country you are located (pro tip: don’t buy ice in Aspen, CO), but it was worth saving the solar energy for other more important things.
- Cosmetics + Toiletries
I am not a high maintenance girl, but I do like to stay clean and take good care of my skin. This could apply to men or women – these are the main items that I use every day:
- Cleansing towelettes: disposable face cleansing cloths for when you don’t have water to wash your face. After driving or hiking all day, there is not much better than having a clean face.
- Sunscreen: Summer, winter, it doesn’t really matter; when you are in high altitude, you need sunscreen. Your 80 year old self will thank you.
- Bug spray: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve stopped at a state park for an evening run and quickly realized I would need about a gallon of bug spray for the woods I was about to embark on. This is a no-brainer for any vanner since we spend most of our time outside.
- Dry shampoo: I often go 3-4 days without showering and I have both thin hair and bangs, so dry shampoo is a life-saver for what would be a grease ball on top of my head. I mostly use it on my bangs and it at least keeps me looking somewhat like a normal productive member of society.
- Chapstick: I am a particularly dry-skinned person, so I have chapstick in every bag and every compartment around the van. I probably have a dozen different ones, but I use them ALL the time. When you’re hiking in the desert, you’ll thank me.
- Biodegradable shampoo: You can buy this a REI or any outdoor store, but biodegradable shampoo is incredible to have on hand when you are hiking. I bathe in rivers and lakes more than I do showers, so this gives me peace-of-mind that I am protecting the environment while still able to stay clean. I use it for everything — my hair, soap for my body, to shave my legs and wash my face. I prefer to have separate products for each of those things, but when you are in the woods, beggars can’t be choosers.
- Ceiling Fan $124
When I first got on the road I did not have a fan in the ceiling. It got so hot when I was sleeping because I wasn’t able to keep the doors open for safety reasons. I also worried about leaving my pets in the van without a fan, so this was an imperative addition. Especially when you are in the mountains, this is all you really need to stay cool at night. Open a few windows, turn on the fan and the cool mountain air will keep you comfortable. I have it hooked up directly to my solar panels and am able to track which speed settings will use what amount of power.
- Portable Speaker $65
This little portable speaker is my best friend. I prefer to use it when I am driving rather than the crappy speakers that came with the ‘96 Chevy. All I have to do is hook up my phone up to the Bluetooth and we are off to the races. The sound quality is great and the size is perfect for what I need. Each battery charge lasts me about 8 hours of driving and it uses a micro-USB, which I can plug right into my adapter to charge while I am driving. I take this with me when I am working at a park, hanging out in the van, camping, etc. It’s small enough that you really can bring it with you anywhere. Music is a huge part of my life, so good speakers are a must.
- 120-Watt Power Inverter with USB Outlet $20
I spend so much time on the road, that I mind as well make use of the car battery when I am not using it for the van, hence the power inverted that I plug into the cigarette liter. It’s been great to be able to save power from the solar panels and plug into the cigarette lighters from time to time. I can charge my computer, phone, speakers, lamps, headphones, etc. Almost all of my accessories need to be charged, so before I hit the road, I’ll plan out what all needs to be powered up and make sure those things are on hand near me during the drive.
- Camel Back $77
I went on several hikes the first month or so where I used just an old backpack that I had on hand. After a few 5-6 hour hikes several days in a row, my shoulders were killing me, so it was time to invest into something better. I started to think about how much water I drank on a long hike per day and decided that the 70 oz Camelbak would be good for me. I could always fill up extra water bottles to pack in the side pockets if I needed them. If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s that I drink a ton of water on my hikes, so I wanted to make sure to have enough for a day, but not over do it with weight. I liked that there were also several other compartments in the pack for things I would need on a day trip: Rain jacket, flashlight, snacks, change of socks, bug spray, sunscreen, battery pack charger for my phone, Polaroid camera, etc. It is incredibly comfortable and I have no regrets with this purchase.
- Bike Rack $199
This was another purchase that I did not make right away, but knew early on that I would need it. At the beginning, I was storing my bike on my bed and had to pull it off, lock it up somewhere while I slept and haul it back into the van in the morning before leaving. This was a huge pain in the ass. The bike rack I chose has been awesome to have, it hooks into my hitch, it super stable, but also folds down so that I can open up the back doors and easily access my kitchen area. It has space for two bikes, which is all I really need, but you can buy ones that are 3 or 4 bike if you need that.
- Kitchen Supplies
I have never been much of a chef, but I do like to cook at home rather than eating out, so I had to think strategically about which kitchen utensils I would need on the road. I have a full drawer compartment of cooking accessories, but here are the essentials:
- Medium Pot with lid for cooking rice, heating up water.
- Cast iron skillet for eggs, meat, stir fry. I actually have two, one small one for eggs and a medium sized one.
- Small pot for heating up milk – this might just be specific to me since I like milk in my coffee.
- Wooden spatula for cooking in the cast iron.
- Bowls – I prefer to eat out of bowls, so I keep 4 of these on hand.
- Coffee mug – Splurge on one you love because you will be using it a lot.
- Nalgene – this is a no brainer, but I use this instead of a cup.
- Medium bowl for mixing salads or peanut butter balls
- Hand coffee grinder
- Coffee pot (or in my case, espresso pot)
- Tupperware for leftovers
- MiFi Wireless Hotspot $100 + monthly data
This proved to be imperative for me to do my job on the road. I work in marketing and need to have access to the Internet at all times. There have even been cases where I am at a coffee shop and the WiFi sucks, so I turn on my MiFi instead. I pay for 24G of data per month, which is enough for me to use this on a part-time basis. It’s great when I’m in small towns or somewhere where the WiFi is not reliable. It’s definitely saved my ass when it comes to client calls and getting projects done on time. If you have a remote job, this is worth the investment. Think of it as job security.
Van life brings a wide variety of emotions and thoughts on any given day. Here is a bit of flavor into some of the things that run through my head:
- I love waking up to the sunshine.
- That is the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.
- I love mornings. I love coffee. I love my dog. I love my life.
- Why are libraries so hard to find?
- Why is everyone at this park staring at me?
- Oh Simone, you are the best travel buddy. So chill. Go with the flow.
- It’s so awesome that my office can be outside.
- I’m so glad that I can have my dog with me when I work.
- No Simone! Don’t attack that dog!
- I can’t take you anywhere.
- I should never work outside, I can’t see my computer through the sweat running down my face.
- Dang it. My MiFi is almost out of data. I need to find WiFi.
- Simone, don’t bark at that nice old lady. What did she ever do to you.
- I’m so hungry. Crackers and turkey it is. (again…)
- I have to pee so bad. I hope no one sees me.
- Client call. Dear God/universe/higher-power/Allah/whoever, pleaaaaase let the WiFi hold out.
- I need a quad espresso. STAT.
- It’s so fun to run somewhere different every day.
- I wonder if people think I’m homeless.
- If someone did think I was homeless and offered me food, I’d probably take it.
- I’m so hungry. Where the hell are the crackers??
- I miss motorcycles. It would be way more fun to drive into the mountains on motorcycle.
- Why am I so exhausted, it’s only 8pm.
- I should write a blog.
- I am so hungry but too lazy to make anything. Canned baked beans will do.
- I need to stay awake until it’s dark before I find somewhere to park for the night.
- Did you hear that?
- Is that someone trying to break in?
- Is that someone walking past the van? Why are they walking past the van?
- Did that car just stop near me?
- Did that light just flicker?
- Did someone just come out of that house?
- Am I going to get kicked out of here?
- Is it too late to move and park somewhere else?
- Is it better to stay here because I’m so tired or leave because now I’m paranoid and won’t be able to sleep?
- Simone would bark if someone was trying to break in.
- No one cares that I am here, calm down.
- I just look like someone’s weird cousin parked outside their house.
- Wait, wasn’t there a weird cousin in Full House who lived in a van?
- Maybe I should watch Netflix. But the light of the phone might attract attention.
- I’m always the loneliest at night.
- I wish it were darker here.
- No one on the east coast is awake for me to call.
- Did I remember to plug in my computer?
- Dang it, my light isn’t charged.
- I forgot to put ice in the cooler.
- WHY AM I A FAILURE AT LIFE.
- Shhhh…. go to sleep… you can deal with it in the morning.
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about dating tips for men, so I thought it would only be fair to write a follow up post of advice for women. Some of this advice is based on my own personal experience and some is based on things I have heard from my male friends. Enjoy.
#1. Don’t Talk Politics on the First Date
I typically don’t like to talk about controversial topics until at least the 3rd or 4th date when I’m sure that I really like someone. Well, I broke that rule once. I went out on a date with this guy who I knew was trouble even before we met. There was just something about him where I knew that we wouldn’t get along, but he was attractive and liked outdoorsy things, so I thought, why not give it a shot. Is nothing else, it could be a good story, right? Well, it was.
We met for tea because he didn’t drink alcohol and we made small talk about our hobbies and swapped stories about our dogs. He told me about his Snapchat account where he gives little fun facts about history every day and has a pretty big following. I like when someone has a passion project, so that was a plus. I honestly am not sure what happened from there, but before I knew it, everything went downhill. He made some passing comment about how we need more money to invest into our military and I stopped him dead in his tracks. “Pardon me? More money for our military? The organization that we spend trillions of dollars on? Do you know what would happen if we even took a fraction of that money and invested into something like our school system?”
After that, he tried to be polite for about another 15 minutes of the conversation. Then all hell broke loose. We went back and forth about the role of government and how money should be spent. He kept arguing for bigger military so that we can patrol the world, because apparently someone has to do it, he thought it should be the U.S. — at the expense of the quality of life of our children and thus our future as a nation. Then finally at some point I made the statement, “Well, maybe we should just raise taxes. We have the lowest taxes of any developed country, so it’s about time we caught up with the rest of the world, right? Then we’ll have enough money for everything.”
He looked me straight in the face and had an expression like I just killed his dog. He literally got up from his chair and walked out of the cafe.
I think that means I won, right?
#2. Initiate the First Kiss
Listen up, ladies. It’s a sign of a confident woman when you initiate the first kiss. And any time I’ve done this, I’m always met with surprise and delight. I think I can safely say that as women, we know when the date is going well. We’ve got some pretty solid intuition in our brains, so when you know he’s into you and you’re into him — keep him on his toes, do the unexpected.
#3. Give Him Grace
I’ve had more than one man tell me that I should try to give every date a second date, no matter what. The rationale is that men get nervous and often times aren’t really themselves on the first date. Although I don’t always follow that policy, I do like the sentiment of giving the man some grace every now and again. Especially as we get older, I think women can start to formulate this long list of deal breakers and may be ruling out some pretty great guys. Especially when you are first getting to know someone, give the poor man some slack.
For example, he might not always say the right things. I’ve been told that my teeth are crooked, the hair too short or too long, my legs are “thick” or that I’m fat, that I’m too crass for a woman, or too abrasive, or how I’ve ranked in attractiveness compared to other women he’s dated… the list goes on and for completely inappropriate comments that I’ve gotten from men. As much as it doesn’t feel good to be told something like that (and this is not an excuse for men to keep doing it), but I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t trying to be malicious. So I guess this point is advice for both women and men – ladies, try to be patient and recognize that he might mess up sometimes and men – lay off the insults. Yes, they are insults and just don’t do it.
#4. Don’t Make the Date an Interview
I’ve heard this time and time again from both male friends and men I have been on dates with: don’t sit down on the first date and just start interviewing the poor man. I know that your time is limited and you probably don’t want to bullshit around. But you’re talking to a human, not an applicant. Even if he’s not your future partner, treat him with a little bit of respect. No matter what his interests are or baggage or job status, I bet that if you just decided to listen like you would listen to any of your close friends, you’ll learn something.
I used to get really nervous when I would go on first dates because I worried that I wouldn’t like him or he wouldn’t like me. Or what if it was awkward, what if I just wanted to leave. But the thing that I would always say to myself is that, everyone has an interesting story. And every person is different than me and could have something to share that I might learn from. So even if we don’t have a lot in common, chances are that if I just view him as another person and not as a potential partner, I will enjoy hearing about whatever experiences he has had.
#5. Be Spontaneous
Men have a tough job – they have to come up with ways to impress you without even really knowing you. Men are usually the ones to plan the first few dates and the woman gets to decide if he’s worth her time. So if something pops up out of the blue that would be super fun to do with that person — take the chance and do it!
One of my (few) actual relationships was with a guy who had been planning a month long trip to southeast Asia, which happens to be one of my favorite places on earth. We hadn’t been dating that long and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to take off much time from work, but I figured, when will be the next time that I am going to have an opportunity to travel with someone else to southeast Asia? It’s hard enough as it is to find people to travel with, let alone across the world with, so I jumped on the opportunity. Within a few weeks, I had a plane ticket to Indonesia and swung my work schedule so that most of my time away was over Christmas and News Years and was able to take just a few days off of work. And let me tell you, it was the trip of a lifetime. I had no idea how beautiful that country is and was blown away at every turn. And since he planned everything, every new adventure was a grand surprise (I love surprises). It was definitely a stretch financially and I had to sacrifice being with my family over the holidays, but truly the adventure of a life time and something that I will never ever forget.
So go ahead, say yes to that crazy adventure. You won’t regret it.
#6. Challenge Him to Try New Things
One of my biggest complaints about men is when they have nothing that they are passionate about. If I ask you what you do with your free time and your response is, “I don’t know, I watch Netflix and sports,” I can guarantee you that you will need to move along. Or worse, if you list off a bunch of hobbies that you did five years ago and it I later find out that all you do is Netflix and sports… you’ll have hell to pay.
There’s little that is more attractive than when a man gets super geeked out over something and pours his heart and soul into it. I’ll speak for myself, but I think a lot of women can relate to the idea that yes, we want to be adored, but we also don’t want to be the center of your universe. Something besides your woman should make you light up in life.
I’ve heard from a lot of men that the same goes for women; sometimes women are just boring. So in order to curb that potential danger, challenge your man to do something new. It doesn’t have to be something crazy like traveling to a different country, but surely you have parts of your life that he hasn’t experienced that you can share with him. Take him to an art museum. Or make him a traditional family meal that you grew up on. Or find a secret spot for a perfect little picnic. Or find the most beautiful location in the city to watch a sunset.
#7. Say Thank You
Even though I believe men and women are equal, I do still like good old fashioned chivalry. But this is a two-sided coin, ladies. When he picks up the tab, say thank you. When he opens the door, say thank you. When he offers to pick you up, before accusing him of being creepy, just take it as a kind gesture (even if you don’t end up taking him up on it). If you’re going to expect to be treated in old fashioned ways, then you better respond with old fashioned politeness. I think as women we sometimes believe we deserve or are owed something from men. Don’t be a pretentious diva. If you want him to be a gentleman, then be a lady.