The Hero’s Journey in a Motorhome: how to make road trips more epic

Home » Pilgrimages in a Motorhome: 7 ways to spiritualize your van life road trips » The Hero’s Journey in a Motorhome: how to make road trips more epic

Are you ready to venture further afield in your motorhome? Do you want to make your road trips more epic? Then how about turning the next adventure into your own version of The Hero’s Journey?

Mythologist, Joseph Campbell, came up with the idea of ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and in this article we’ve applied it to motorhoming and RV living.

Can you adopt a heroic mindset to make your van life adventures more epic? We say YES – you can!

It’s time to answer the call to adventure, leave the known world behind, and make your next road trip unforgettable…

Bilbo Baggins leaves the known world and starts the Hero's Journey
Image: Business Insider

This page contains affiliate links which may earn us a small commission. For further info see our full disclosure document here

The Hero’s Journey: the call to adventure

Like in all the best books and films, the hero usually starts off living a normal – even humdrum – life. Think Luke Skywalker or Bilbo Baggins. There’s nothing much going on to begin with but then they’re required to do something. Life comes-a-knocking on the door and the adventure begins.

And so it is with every journey you take in your van, especially the bigger road trips which can be seen as calls to adventure.

It’s as if life itself is urging you to jump in the van, turn the key and get moving. It wants you to learn something, or to experience life in a richer, more meaningful way.

You are required to down tools, jump ship, escape the rat race – or whatever – and do something different. A yearning from deep within compels you to start The Hero’s Journey even though you don’t know exactly where you’re headed to or where you’ll end up.

For us Hobos, getting in the van is really about freedom. Turning the key and hitting the open road still gives us the same buzz it did from day one. “On the road again,” we’ll often sing when we get moving, Canned Heat’s famous blues song becoming an ear-worm for the start of each trip. 

How travel gives life meaning

Adventure Before Dementia is now a well-faded sticker you’ll see on the back of vans – though not ours, because we don’t want to pre-empt anything!

Seriously though, maybe this was another reason that spurred us on; life is to be lived before it’s too late!

The thing is that at some stage in life we all reach a point where we know, deep in our hearts, that we have to do something different. Hobo Trudi quit her full time job to become a van-lifer. She knew something had to change.

So, getting started in van life – and taking some epic road trips – became our way of answering the call to adventure. To us, it was about leaving the humdrum behind and starting a new life, richer in meaning.

But answering the call is only the beginning of The Hero’s Journey…

Gatekeepers at the threshold 

Not everyone will want you to leave the known world…

Hobo Gav’s dad said we’d be better off getting a trailer tent. (He couldn’t quite believe we’d throw £6000 at an old van that needed work doing on it).

Then there are your own inner demons, the doubts that come out to play like ghosts in the night, waking you up at 3 am…

Why the hell are we doing this? Are we choosing the right van? Will we even be able to drive such a beast? Can we really afford it? Will we be safe?

Investing in a different way of life – even if it’s just a part-time thing – brings all the skeletons tumbling out of the closet. Big questions fill your brain space, questions that have, until now, been stuffed right to the back like moth-eaten apparel.

The real big questions are…

  • What gives meaning to my life? (Am I destined to work 9 to 5 for 50+ years, mostly lining someone else’s pockets?)
  • What makes me feel truly alive in the world? (When am I at my best?)
  • How can I connect up to a bigger reality (call it God, spirit, nature, the Tao etc.)

The thing is, if you are brave enough to ‘work with’ the questions, you push onwards, like little Lucy who made her way through the wardrobe and into the magic of Narnia. We all know the story.

Van life – and epic road trips – can be your own Narnian adventure…

Mark Twain quote
Photo: Pinterest

Helpers, guides and mentors

No matter how awkward and soul-searching these questions appear to be, they are the very things that can guide you onto The Hero’s Journey.

Once out in the open, we can look at these ‘demon’ questions right in the eye and confront life itself. This was best put by Nietzsche, when he asked…

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it…

[Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, aphorism 341, ‘The Greatest Weight’. For the full quote see here]

Hopefully, there’ll be good folks like Nietzsche in your life who will support you…

Some of the online motorhome forums are excellent places to find information and help you start answering those questions.

And we invite you to get in touch via email with any questions you might have if you’re just starting out or are about to take your first long road trip.

In this sense, I suppose we are helpers, guides, or mentors, encouraging people just like you onto your own ‘Hero’s Journey’ – if you’ve not already started, that is.

Ultimately the choice comes down to you. Stay in the known world. Or conjure up enough courage to step over the threshold into van life…

How to live van life - online course

The unknown world – leaving your comfort zone

So, maybe you’re still contemplating getting a van? Maybe you’re quite new and are still getting to grips with everything? It certainly took us a while to figure out how everything worked.

Perhaps you’re a seasoned pro who started this van life Hero’s Journey some time ago?

We’ve been doing this for over six years now, but we still clearly remember those first few times out in our VW van ‘Cree’. Entering the ‘unknown world’ of van life definitely felt like leaving our comfort zones.

But despite some trepidation about driving a 20-foot, diesel guzzling monster – okay, it’s nothing compared to a 35-foot Winnebago – the strongest feeling for us both was a sense of freedom and adventure.

Leaving the known world means you’re stepping into uncertainty; you’re entering a deep learning curve.

For us, sometimes it is the van who decides where we go. We put aside any plans and turn left or right and see where Cree takes us.

Of course, when it comes to our bigger adventures and pilgrimages we’ll have a rough idea which way to head. For shorter, more local trips around the the Suffolk coast we trust the van will lead us to what we need to see and know.

It’s as if the van herself becomes the ultimate travel guide on this Hero’s Journey.

But it’s not all plain sailing…

The road of trials

You can be happily driving along when you hear a strange noise. Or there’s a weird smell coming from somewhere.

There’ll be potholes – we hit and avoided many on the Isle of Skye – uphill struggles, impatient car drivers, and things that simply go wrong.

Breakdowns, let-downs, dead-ends, and no-go areas late at night.

We spent much of our honeymoon driving through the Scottish Highlands sounding like a Sherman Tank after blowing a hole in the exhaust. We had been lucky to even get there. Less than two weeks before setting off, we had a gearbox oil leak and it was touch and go whether we’d make it to Gretna.

Whatever, the ‘road of trials’ will test you but you must carry on regardless. We did.

You see, no matter how hard you try to control everything, the van will invite or even force you out of your comfort zone and into places you’d rather not go or situations you must confront.

VW T4 breakdown!
Breakdown at Bawdsey! Read the full story here

The dark night of the soul

Running out of diesel is never a good idea but that’s what Hobo Gav did on the A12. “Now what do we do?” he wondered, as he sat slumped on the front bumper, feeling even more stupid to have been driving this thing without a working fuel gauge. Yes, a common problem on early VW T4s.

Okay, so it wasn’t a labyrinthine situation like where Theseus has to slay the Minotaur, but it’s an example of a problem that will test you one way or another.

We struggled uphill on Winnat’s Pass in Derbyshire, Cree’s wheels spinning on the wet road in first gear on the 20% incline. We made it…just!

On another occasion in the same area, we didn’t! We had to reverse all the way back down, the old girl simply running out of puff half-way up. Not easy, reversing around a blind corner with a raging river at the bottom as well.

Your nerves will jangle, sweat will drip from your brow and into your eyes as you face your own Minotaur. Then there are those first few nights wild camping. Is there a mad axeman about?

We’ve read of brakes failing in Swiss mountains, and knocks on the hab door in the dead of night where a stranger asked to borrow a knife! Yes, a true story cited in one of our favourite van life books…

How to live in a van and travel

The refusal to return

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Far from it…

In our six years on the road (so far) we’ve had our challenges but, for the most part, our journeys have been amazing. Challenges are part of van life. They show you who you are.

What we will remember most are the incredible drives, places and scenery we’ve encountered on our best road trips and some wonderful people we’ve met along the way.

Indeed, it gets so good you simply don’t want to go home. You want the adventure to last forever. We suppose this is why some people make van life a full-time thing.

Like the Lotus Eaters in Homer’s Odyssey, sometimes you just want to stay where you are, blissed out in your van, high on life and the journey you’re on, collecting perfect moments.

woman in the welsh mountains
Hobo Trudi amongst the Welsh mountains near Dolgellau with Cader Idris in the background: read the full story

Bringing the boon back home

But, we suppose, at some point – unless you’re a full-time van-lifer – you’ll have to head home.

What will you take with you? (We’re not talking about souvenirs here…)

Cherished memories for sure. Lessons learned. Natural highs that feed the soul. And the knowledge that you have dealt with some challenges – and can do so again.

It is by stepping into the unknown world and then journeying along the road of trails, willingly entering the ‘dark nights’, that we finally and fully emerge into the light.

Pinocchio became a real boy only after entering the Belly of the Whale. Yes, The Hero’s Journey is even in fairytales.

The adventures along The Hero’s Journey – both the big and the small – will teach you what you need to know for your soul to awaken. This is the ‘boon’ that Campbell goes on about.

The Hero’s Journey – both the light and the dark – will somehow change you.

And if not, you’ll likely have to hit the road and do it all over again to learn the lesson. Not such a bad thing!

Van life – and the road trips you take – will enrich your life with a deeper sense of meaning. With a willingness to surrender and drive into the unknown and embrace whatever lies ahead, you eventually return, bolder and braver than you were before.

Even enlightened.

Buddha quotes

Sharing the wisdom

We’d love to hear about your own Hero’s Journeys in your motorhome, campervan or RV!

What prompted you to step out of the ‘known world’? What challenges have you had along the way?

Get in touch here with stories and/or any questions you might have

If you’re interested in finding out more about Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey, check out his famous book…

hero with a thousand faces - joseph campbell

Back to Pilgrimages

Back Home