Travel is not about the miles. It is about growing as people, meeting people who are different from you, and experiencing things you couldn’t at home. This week is our first official ‘vanniversary’ – we have been on the road for six months. In that time, we have come over 15,000 miles, and spanned the line from north to south on one very large continent.
Damn. Six months on the road. I sit here, near Big Sur on the coast of Central California, and wonder what to write about that. It seems so monumental, on the one hand, and so trivial, on the other. So much has happened. How do I sum that up?
Neither Sven nor I have traveled for this long, this continuously before. In my previous travels, I’ve met many other people who have, and I have always wondered what it must be like. What does it feel like, constantly being on the move like that? Does it get hard to appreciate the uniqueness of it all? Do you skip over places, forget things, mix up different events and people that you meet? My longest traveling stints before this were about seven weeks. South East Asia with Sven, the West Coast tour in Big Emma. Sven and I were always able to recall, even years later, specific places and people we had met, our route, stuff that had happened. I could never imagine traveling for months at a time in one stretch before. It was always just the dream.
When dreams become reality
But now it’s the reality. And a long six months it has been. We can remember most of it, the feeling that you get from a place or the company you’re in. But there are also some times that blur together, where we will stop and say, “Hey, remember when thisorthat happened? Where was that?” and I will be surprised when the answer is “Oh, that was in Alaska.” I am surprised because that seems like it should be so obvious to me, like I should be able to remember everything we have encountered on this trip so far. But it does, there are things that just blend together, that get forgotten, that slip through the cracks.
And even though we knew it going in, it took us a while to realize: that’s because this is just life. We are not on vacation. This is not temporary. Traveling is a different story. It is living on the road. We don’t go do the tourist things (they usually cost money, which we don’t have any extra of), we usually search for beautiful foresty camp spots or try to meet locals or other travelers and see what they are up to. And life, just like life back at home, is really just life. It has it’s routine, and it’s odd days. It’s not simple, it’s not easy. Just like any life, we have the things we do every day, like switching from Drive Mode (what the car looks like when we are driving) to Sleep Mode (what the car looks like when we are camping or staying in one spot for at least a night), checking the oil, our morning breakfast routine. These things are the constants, just like the routines we had at home were, too.
Things are different now
But it is different than life at home was, of course. We can remember most days since we started to travel, what we were doing, where we were and what the weather was like. At home, those days blended together, most days were sort of similar. If you had asked me back then what some random day was like six months before, I would have no clue what had happened that day. Some days are special, yeah, but you don’t remember that big storm or that the grocery store was out of milk or that you were nervous about work the next day.
This blending of days, that was one of the things that bothered Sven the most back before we were traveling. What was a single day worth, he thought, if I will never be able to remember it? I disagreed, and was generally pretty satisfied with these routines and the stability that they brought to life. But I also get his point. Yes, there are days that I can’t remember on our trip so far, but it only surprises me because I can remember most of them.
Learning to live outside
Weather. That is something worth mentioning. I recently published an article that highlighted that every day is different when you travel. And a reoccurring theme was always the weather. Living in a vehicle, we are always dependent on it. Even on days where we try our best to stay inside our Bus – during storms or when it’s cold, for example – we don’t have a bathroom, and are constantly forced to acknowledge nature for what it is. At home, it was interesting when it was snowing, or storming, or so hot you could barely think. But now, weather is all-encompassing. It permeates to our bones.
And it makes me smile, because as I write this, the sun is shining on our beautiful campsite – a pullout off of a road that winds it way up through a national forest, right on the coast of Big Sur, California. The view is spectacular. I can see the ocean off to the west. And the most important part of that description – it is sunny. We have spent the better part of the last three months in southern British Columbia and the Pacific North West, where a day of sunshine is so rare you usually don’t believe the forecast (which is often just wrong). It sounds odd, but the sunshine just seeps through you, and our world is filled with joy. And it is good for Big Emma. It is much easier to take care of our Bus in the sunshine.
Learning to live with uncertainty, and inconvenience
But, as I said at the beginning, traveling is about growing as people. We are constantly learning. We have learned to deal the weather. And with uncertainty. It is hard, sometimes, to accept that we do not know where we will be at the end of the day, where we can park our Bus. What will happen.
Or who we will meet. Nine times out of ten, that is the key. Meeting people changes everything. You get to know them, or hang out, go do whatever they are doing. They are the ones who end up defining a place. A place will boom or bust depending on who you encounter. The places we liked the most so far on this trip – Homer, Portland, Bend, Fairbanks – often depend on the people we get to know. It will be interesting to see how this changes when we head to Latin America in March.
We have also learned to live with inconvenience. Every single day (one of our routines) we have to find a place to park the Bus for a night. We sometimes drive another hour or two to get to somewhere where we can be fairly certain we will not be kicked out. Sometimes we arrive with a headache, and tired and grumpy. Sometimes we still have to go out in the rain to dig a hole and shit in the woods. We can’t just heat up ready-made food. If we don’t feel like cooking, I still have to turn our stove on and afterwards do the dishes. Our house is not just automatically warm (unless it’s hot outside). I can’t just throw things in the washing machine, or the dryer, but will sometimes have to deal with towels that will stay wet for days. But it’s a kind trade-off for being able to park my house in a magnificent spot like this one tonight.
Every day is a good day
We have learned about mechanics, about writing, about geography and Canada and gumbo. We have learned that you can’t drive to Juneau, Alaska. We have learned about photography, and how much our windshield is worth. About how to find free camp spots, and how to judge one when we get there. About how much a dollar is worth. What Alaska looks like. About how to live with constant messiness and dirt. We have learned how to improve our Bus many times over. So many things. And almost all of them simply out of the necessity of our daily lives.
We have learned, and are still learning, to appreciate life. Every day. Someone we met recently told us, “When you travel, every day is a good day. Even the not-so-good-days are good days. They are just not as good as the other good days.” It is hard to do this. It is hard not to curse the days when the car suddenly doesn’t start and you’re left standing in rain somewhere where you know you can’t stay tonight. It is hard, some days, when you wish you had the stability and the conveniences of home.
But I remind myself of the fact that what I’m doing is amazing, and many people never get the chances that I do, that I am incredibly, uncomprehensively privileged. That I can remember almost every day of the last six months. And that even the rainy or annoying ones were beautiful. I am learning to accept the world as it comes, rain or shine, never take any of it for granted, and know that this is an ultimate form of freedom.
What may come
I used to sit in Big Emma back in Illinois, and just look at her interior. I would imagine what it would be like to live in her, where all of our stuff would go, what I would think after all of this was no longer as special as I was imagining it to be. But now, six months later, it is still special. Every minute of it. And I still love just sitting around and looking at Big Emma’s interior, looking at where all of our stuff is stored. Wondering about everything that will happen, where we will go, the people we will meet.
For this is only the beginning.