7 Lessons Learned From 6 Months Living In a Van

I recently celebrated my 6 month vanniversary. I’ve been traveling the country for half a year now, living with my brother in a converted Sprinter van.

7 Lessons Learned From 6 Months Living In a Van

The 23-year old, freshly graduated guy that left the driveway in January had some nice qualities, but he was also naïve, timid, comfortable with mediocrity, self-conscious, stubborn, one dimensional, directionless, and scared.

182 days later and I don’t even remember that guy. Deep down I’m still that guy, and I’m still most of those things to some degree. But it’s no secret that in just 6 months, I’ve changed. A lot.

7 Lessons Learned From 6 Months Living In a Van

I look at pictures from the first few days of life on the road and am in disbelief at how far I’ve come since being that guy. It’s not the birthday I had in May, the inches of hair that I’ve grown, or the many different beard lengths I’ve experimented with. So much has happened internally since January.

I don’t claim to know all the answers. In fact I know very few of them, if any. But this new process of learning by living has broadened my perspective. To put it simply, I’m growing.

I narrowed it down to the 7 most impactful things I’ve taken away from my experiences so far. Although it’s learned from living the vanlife, none of what I’ve learned has anything to do with a van and everything to do with life.


1. Do It Now

7 Lessons Learned From 6 Months Living In a Van

If you read one section of this post, read this one.

I can’t count how many people have told me that they wish they did what I’m doing when they were my age. I know it’s a compliment but when I look into their eyes as the words slip from their mouth, I see regret; clear nostalgia of a moment where they could have jumped but chose to sit down and follow the rules. It’s heartbreaking.

Since birth, we’re crammed into rule-shaped boxes. We’re told what’s good and what’s bad, what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy, how to live and how not to live. We’re told that if what we want isn’t safe we shouldn’t do it.

I’m begging that you do it.

While our friends, family, and mentors want the best (perhaps safest?) for us, only you know what you really want. Not your parents, not your government, not your peers. You. Only you know what you want. It’s up to you, and only you, to make your life truly yours.

In the first chapter of Love Does, Bob Goff writes: “The sad thing is there is no “next time” because passing on a chance is an overall attitude toward life rather than a single decision.” (If that line made you mutter ahh shit under your breath, you’re not alone. Me too, man. Me too.)

I’ve rushed through towns worth exploring, passed up on hikes with friends, and left lookouts early because of storms on the horizon. I’ve hoped that next time will be a better time. The brutal truth is that next time usually never comes. When else am I going to have opportunities like this?

If you can’t drop everything and do it now, you can at least take 5 minutes to start. Write down a gameplan, do research, or get your feet wet and learn from experience.

Whatever it is you want to do, for the love of God, do it now.


2. Location Does Not Equal Happiness

7 Lessons Learned From 6 Months Living In a Van

Since the very beginning of the trip, peers have expressed jealousy that I get to go to new places whenever I want. Being tied to one place can get monotonous and we often attach our problems to our current zip code.

It’s true that I constantly get to be in new places. When we get stagnant, we move. It’s simple. But what people don’t realize is that your miseries follow you. As do your habits and your attitude. You don’t change with your environment. If anything, being in a new place forces you deeper into your shitty ways. Our habits are our comfort in foreign places. The result: same problems, different coordinates.

I believe that happiness is a state of mind, independent of geographical location. Sure, uncrowded point breaks, dense forests, and starry mountain skies put a smile on my face. But the same appreciation for nature, life, and the unknown can be found in your backyard.

Changing your location does not make you happy. You do.


3. Pee Outside More

7 Lessons Learned From 6 Months Living In a Van

You’re never more alert than when your junk is hanging out of your pants.

Are there people around? Or worse, animals? Whoa, that breeze feels good. Is that a mountain lion?

You experience life more vividly when you’re vulnerable. I can’t imagine a more vulnerable state of being, can you?

Be vulnerable more. Pee outside more.


4. We All Define Success Differently

7 Lessons Learned From 6 Months Living In a Van

Some people feel successful with full wallets, some with a beautiful woman on their arm, and others with college degrees hanging on their walls. There’s no right or wrong. There’s just what works for you. It’s important to realize what is fulfilling to you. And more importantly, what’s not.

If you don’t define those things for yourself, somebody else will decide it for you. Define your own success and move toward it. Fill your days with meaningful work, people, and possessions that add value to your unique life. Trim the fat of what doesn’t fit, and move the hell on.

Don’t apologize for going after what you want. Your success is defined by you.


5. You don’t need to shower every day

7 Lessons Learned From 6 Months Living In a Van

I don’t know the scientific facts about how often you should shower based on climate, humidity, skin complexion, etc. What I do know is that in 182 days I’ve showered 59 times. Sometimes 5 days in a row, sometimes with 9 days in between. It can get a little gross but it hasn’t killed me. And I appreciate hot, running, water more than ever!


6. Don’t Let Your Possessions Own You

7 Lessons Learned From 6 Months Living In a Van

Inanimate objects are made to serve a specific purpose. Surfboards are for surfing, cameras are for taking pictures, and guitars are for wooing women. But the moment I associate them with a sentiment or price tag that used to hang from them, they become something bigger than what they are. They’re things. That’s it. Things come and go. Let them.

If you’re too attached to owning your things, they actually own you.


7. My Life Isn’t About Me

7 Lessons Learned From 6 Months Living In a Van

I can choose to do whatever I want with my life. It belongs to me. But that doesn’t mean it’s about me. I have the ability to impact so many others’ lives and so do you. The more you focus on yourself, the less impact you have on the world around you.

I’m no saint, and I struggle with this daily. But when I do get it right, it feels way better than worrying about myself.

Look outside yourself. Your life is less about you than you think.

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  1. Jack gasior July 5, 2016 at 7:24 pm #

    #1 is the most important,passed up many places we should have stopped for but always in a hurry to stay with the schedule,. bad,bad. Still waiting to see the places we passed up.

    • Adam Fricke July 7, 2016 at 2:30 am #

      We all pass them up! It’s just important to recognize it, move forward, and try not repeat history!

  2. Mitchell Barnow July 6, 2016 at 6:07 am #

    A remarkable list from a remarkable man!

  3. Deborah July 14, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    Courageous! How do you deal with such solitude?

    • Adam Fricke July 14, 2016 at 6:42 pm #

      Thank you Deborah 🙂
      Well I’m currently on the road with my brother so technically I always have someone to talk to. But it can definitely still be solitary! Some days are harder than others for sure. I find it helpful to always have a goal, big or small, for each day or week. That way I’m always working toward something, not just aimlessly wandering. But staying busy doesn’t fill the void completely. It’s a work in progress I suppose. I’m still learning a lot about myself and have a lot to learn still!

  4. Millie May 22, 2017 at 8:14 pm #

    “The sad thing is there is no “next time” because passing on a chance is an overall attitude toward life rather than a single decision.”

    Go Bob, that’s such a good book.

    Go Adam, this was a great post.

  5. Barefoot Emmy May 24, 2017 at 4:33 pm #

    Responsibilities that came while I was still quite young meant I had to wait, but I intend to live my retirement in a similar fashion. The kids are grown, the house is paid off, and it’s MY TURN. In the interim, my husband and I always crammed as much as we could into every trip we took, just in case we didn’t get to go back. (It’s why we like driving better than flying.) First rule of thumb: We must go somewhere we’ve never been. You will never regret this chapter of your life!

  6. Digital Nomad October 4, 2017 at 8:49 pm #

    How are you funding your travels?

    I’m older now, and my regrets are a combination of what I did do, the same as you’re doing, and what I didn’t do which was to work my butt off while I was young. That bad decision haunts me constantly. I could have been fully retired at a very young age if I hadn’t decided to enjoy life first… I missed out on a lot of opportunities that just weren’t there later. My life today would be 1000% better if I had worked harder while I was younger.

    I work and travel now, and I have to tell you that you will enjoy your traveling much more when you’re older and have more life experience behind you. I worked odd jobs while traveling for a couple of years while I was younger. Looking back, I was too young to know what I was doing, or to fully appreciate or explore the things I could have. It was all a waste of my youth. I lost most of my friends in the process because they weren’t there when I returned. I was on the other side of the country and too broke to return when my loved ones needed me. Build your life, your friends, your family, and your finances while you’re young, and those things will last a lifetime. It’s a long lonely road without them, and I severely regret the time I didn’t spend with my friends and family.

    • Adam Fricke October 22, 2017 at 2:08 pm #

      Digital Nomad,

      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. Wow. Being able to discuss real life stuff like this is what encourages me to keep sharing my story. So thank you for sharing yours.

      To answer your question, my brother and I initially funded our trip by ourselves before we even hit the road. As I finished up college, I worked multiple part-time and freelance jobs to save up. He was working full-time at a bank doing the same thing. Since I didn’t want to take a year off after finishing school, we found a way to make our trip a unique entreprenuirial experience that we could put on our resumes. We reached out to, and partnered with, a handful of brands that would help us financially along the way. In exchange we provided them social media content from the road to use for their digital marketing efforts. Although we were prepared to spend all our hard-earned money to go on our adventure, we actually ended up making a bit of money through these partnerships by the time the trip was done.

      In terms of lifestyle, I agree with you 100%. The nomadic way of life is heavily romanticized and has some major pitfalls that most could never understand, including those that you’ve mentioned. In my case, we surely didn’t know what we were doing and I’m not convinced that I know what I’m doing now (or that I’ll ever know what I’m doing). Honestly I doubt that anyone does. I believe we make decisions based on what we think is best for us in that moment. Although we can’t predict how we will feel about them later, how could we have known if we didn’t try?

      I’m deeply sorry that you regret your earlier travels. But I do respect you for making bold decisions based on what you thought was right in those moments and I’ll bet you’re a better person for that.

      Right now, I’m settled in Nashville, TN working at a desk job in social media marketing (they liked my resume). It’s safe,I have a 401k, I have friends, I live down the road from my brother, and I go to 2 concerts per week on average. It’s a pretty sweet setup. But I do have moments where I wish I was driving through Wyoming with no plans for the day, or tomorrow, or the next day. And that’s alright. I’m learning that work and life have a balance. As does having a home and having freedom.

      As of writing this, I’m 25 years old. I’m no expert on life by any means. But from what little I do know is that we can only move forward. We can learn from our previous decisions and use that information to be better in the future.

      In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the time you have with the friends and family that remain. Yes, work is important. Money is important (I hope to retire one day too). But experiencing life is also important and it sounds like you’ve had your share and that’s something a lot of people can’t say.

      Most people I talk to wish they did what you (and myself) did! They wish they’d worked less when they were younger and enjoyed life while they had their health and fewer responsibilities. Nobody goes through life without mistakes. We could all have done things differently. But you made your decisions and you are where you are today because of that. It can be good or it can be bad, but ultimately that’s up to you.

      I hope you’ve found this at least a tiny bit helpful. If you’d like to carry on with this conversation, visit the Contact tab on my site and give me a call or send me an email. I’d love to chat more on this.

      Happy trails,

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