Did you always know you’d be a nomad? Do you ever want to settle in a house? When did you know you’d be happy in a van? So many questions, not many answers.
This week, I finished one job, was head hunted for another and was interviewed for an apprenticeship that doesn’t start for another six months-a time frame I can not imagine; I’m not the best at forward planning and I could end up in a different county within hours after posting this blog, with no forethought at all. This week I also drove 700 miles backwards and forwards along the south coast of England visiting friends and businesses, went five days without showering and posted a risqué photo of my naked body on Instagram for a total of thirteen minutes before deleting it. But most notably, this week, Timothy Nephew came to visit me in the Dorset countryside and sent my head into a spin and my legs into a quivering mess.
Rewind to September 2013-I was moving into Halls of Residence at Exeter University. It was my first room all to myself, and had a lock on the door, a single bed along one wall, a long desk along the other, a worrying silverfish infestation and window that looks out onto more rabbit hutch residences containing an army of hungover 18-year olds, as well as few interesting mature students including Timothy Nephew (not his real name!). My room was only slightly bigger than the space I have available in the van, only at a stand-up-able height and had a running water in a sink at the bottom of the bed. It was a Sunday, Timothy walked past my door and into the next room, he was my neighbour and I was curiously in friend-love already. Within days, the delights of alcohol and events of fresher’s week had me knowing that this guy was great-funny, sporty, loud and silly. I’d joke that I was the life of the party and he would try to disapprove it, making every night out a fantastic display of carefree confidence and mutual adoration. We had shared interests and were here to study similar subjects although had grown up at opposite widths of the UK with very different families, we had a common moral code and parallel life experiences. And, unsurprisingly, as is common in university halls of residences, and house shares in general, Timothy and I began a friendship that included certain benefits and later developed the drama the often accompanies.
Over the months that this all continued Timothy had began to date a woman he had met only once before moving next door to me, I could see he enjoyed her company-returning from sleepovers exhausted but content, and whilst there was a small overlap in the timings, when his relationship with Rachel (nope, not her real name either!) became serious, our physical shenanigans fizzled out and what remained was a beautiful friendship- for him, at least. Behind the door to my first ever alone-room, I would cry at the emptiness and lost intimacy. When Timothy would disappear for weeks whilst he slowly and sneakily moved into his new girlfriend’s house, I tore myself apart wondering why he had chosen her and not me. I had fallen in love with my best friend, my neighbour and my lover, a selfish and cruel love. I wanted to keep Tim for myself, yet somehow, despite the secret crying and heartache, midnight phone calls to The Samaritans and everyday frantic journaling or scribbling, I maintained a reasonable mind and quietly allowed him to fall in love with someone else. I filled my new free time with meeting new people and dating new men, but no-one stood out, no-one could compare to the pure perfectness of the way I felt with Tim and so I began the runaway plan- the idea that I would spend the summer vacation- the long period April-October where there are no classes at the incredibly expensive university-travelling and working far far away from him, and then continue to move around; focusing on studying for less than half the year and wandering the Earth the rest of the time, making myself happy, but never giving myself the time to risk falling for anyone else. And it worked, I researched crewing opportunities on boats, cheap flights across the globe and seasonal work on sunny islands. Soon, the end of the academic year approaching, I threw a party to bid myself a temporary farewell and Timothy showed up, just to make things fun, and drunkenly sighed ‘I wish it wasn’t true, but you’re my favourite’. My nights months previously spent wondering why he had chosen Rachel instead of me were pointless- he would have chosen me, I was his favourite, yet we were not together, he had made a conscious decision to begin a life with her, and I had to respect it, and so in the morning he left to return to his quiet existence with the girlfriend and I made preparations to leave the mainland; that selfish love now more angry and frustrated.
Returning to Halls of Residence I once lived in for nine months. The small, exposed blockwork rooms were uninspiring, but my neighbour triggered feelings that began my van-dwelling.
Long story short, I believe this is where my passion for continuously moving began. Jumping into the van and escaping a tough place or boring place or plain wrong place was the easiest solution. I am not one to run away from my problems; indeed, any traveller will tell you that those inner issues and personal problems will follow you no matter which city, country or continent you rest in, but in the case of Timothy Nephew, there was nothing more I could do than withdraw from him entirely; he had, and still has, a girlfriend that he may, or may not be happy with and was not doing anything to change that. I wasn’t going to ask him to leave her and I wasn’t going to make any move. My selfish love for him remained but overtime it began to fade; I travelled, dated, bought boats and cars and vans, worked multiple jobs, studied art and partied with new friends. Living busily and nomadically helped avoid any repeat situation. I didn’t let myself fall in love with anyone else, although wasn’t interested in anybody after meeting someone I considered my soulmate, even though I couldn’t be with him. Now, at any moment that I ever became overwhelmed by my feelings, or underwhelmed by the company, I could easily walk away- everything I needed could fit in small van and eventually, after a few years, I had mastered the art of making friends and meaningful relationships that didn’t require me to forever live in the same place.
Until this week that Timothy Nephew reappeared in my life and the boundaries of our strained friendship were pushed into new painful and heart breaking dynamics, I had coped for two years without seeing him. We had parted ways on New Years Eve 2015 when I finally, in an act of self-love, decided to cut all ties with him; demanding my apartment keys be returned and blocking his number. I had perfected running away and cutting people out of my life easily. But this week, Tim was here, sat in my van, using my JetBoil, drinking tea from my ceramic mug and enjoying the life I had built for myself without him. He wore my warm hats, fiddled with the radio, laid out the picnic blanket and chopped avocados all whilst making me laugh just like five years previously. I could have driven away in Kiwa, but in the Dorset countryside, away from the distractions of modern life, I realised that I was more protective on my life in my van than my own heart. My love for Tim had evolved-no longer selfish and needy. I didn’t need Tim to be with me, I just needed him to be happy. I don’t mind if he doesn’t love me, just as long as he is loved.
There are many reasons why living in a van suits, and why I can not imagine ever returning to live in bricks, but the carefree, tiny, minimalist and simple life; away from the drama of relationships and careers is more than acceptable. Living in a small space forces you to step outside everyday- you can’t mope around in your pyjamas all day when you live in a van, especially a small Bongo. Living in a van pushes you to try new things and move to new places, which helps in getting over problems that trap you in sad situations. Being a van-dweller improves your confidence, gets you talking to new folk, and appreciating good people all over the world on the road. Yes, Timothy still feels like my soulmate, although we will probably never be together again, I am confident that in a world of 7 billion people, there must be at least a handful I can share my capability to love with. I feel that moving into a van began as a way to escape him and other people or issues that caused me pain and frustration but living in a van, and staying in the van has taught me to forgive, to move on and to grow. In the van, I am the master of my own happiness, with or without other people. Besides, Kiwa the camper is a bit too small for more than one big heart!
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on how I may have been conditioned to live alternatively or how the idea of van dwelling has become ‘normal’ to me and so many others. I’d love to hear about some of the stories of your ascent into van-dwelling or alternative lifestyles. This is just one of mine; I believe a multitude of life events and curious research led me to how I live my life now. What’s yours?