We’ve all seen the cliched pictures of a pretty young couple with their feet pointing out the back of a van, facing a beautiful vista. Paradise certainly seems to be found when we see such images and it has become the archetypal symbol of van life.
But the truth can be somewhat different. The suicide of Instagram ‘influencer’ and van-lifer, Lee MacMillan, points out the sometimes stark realities of van life, as does Oscar winning film, Nomadland.
On this page – and the pages that lead off of it – we’re going to explore van life health and wellbeing and look at what you can do to maintain good mental health on the road. This is especially important now as we continue to deal with the mental fallout from covid-19.
The truth is that van life does have its shadow side, which is all too often overlooked. It’s not all sunny skies and stunning scenery!
We’ll be looking specifically at some of the things you can do to ensure that on each of your travels a positive psychology goes with you…
Van life – a solution to our deep need for freedom?
We don’t know your reason for getting into van life, but for us it was the promise of freedom. Several years on, it still feels the same when we turn the key in our old VW T4 Cree.
Freedom from what though?
Without getting too existentialist about it – where freedom becomes something we have to confront (1) – what we’re talking about here is freedom from the norm. Freedom from the 9 to 5, freedom from the system, freedom from what is expected of the human journey…
You grow up, get a job, get a house made of bricks (which takes 25 years to pay for), probably have kids along the way, retire, and then die.
Van life offers an alternative life narrative and it points immediately to something fundamental to health and wellbeing – the need to keep learning and stretching ourselves. And travelling is one way of doing that.
Our ancestors didn’t sit around staring at screens all day but instead spent hours walking across the savanna looking for food and a suitable place to shelter. It’s in our DNA to move the body and explore our surroundings. Our genes urge us to travel.
We believe that once you turn the key and hit the road you are tapping into these genetic blueprints, meeting a need deep in your soul to travel and expand your horizons.
Meeting your emotional needs
Being out in the van on a road trip going to far-flung places makes you feel more alive. It is sustenance for the mind, body and spirit.
But it also helps you meet other important emotional needs to maintain your health and wellbeing no matter your living conditions.
So, whether you reside in a house, a yurt, a narrow boat or a motorhome, these are the emotional needs we’re talking about…
- The need to feel challenged and stretched (your van and your journeys will certainly test you at times!)
- The need to achieve and keep learning new things (a healthy brain is one that is active and absorbing new information)
- The need to feel connected to others (van life is now a worldwide phenomenon, a community in itself)
- The need to feel safe and secure (not always easy on the road!)
- The need for quiet reflection and solitude (time to be away from the herd or away from your travelling companion, not always easy in a confined space!)
- The need to feel a sense of control or autonomy
- The need for meaning, goals, and purpose in your life
So, perhaps the first thing to explore when it comes to your van life health and wellbeing is to look at your emotional needs. The thing is that unmet needs will raise your stress levels, turning what should be a wonderful adventure into a nightmare!
And it’s not always easy to meet emotional needs when on the road, whether full or part time.
So let’s look at these needs and the reasons why they sometimes go unmet…
Van life stresses – where shall we park tonight?!
A fundamental need we all have is to feel safe and secure but this is not always easily achieved in an RV. We’ve heard of van-lifers’ things going missing in what you’d think would be completely safe environments. Unfortunately, there’s always an opportunist thief out there!
A recent response to our wild-camping questionnaire told of a real horror story of motorhomes being attacked during the night. There really are some lunatics about!
Many a time we’ve made our van as secure as possible and go off exploring only to be caught up in worries about a possible break-in or vandalism.
Of course, getting lost in one’s imagination takes you away from the present moment. You could be in the most beautiful setting in the world but not really be there at all. Your body is present, but your mind could be a million miles away.
It’s only later when you look back at the photos you half-heartedly took, that you realise you weren’t fully alive to the moment as it happened.
This is why we think the practise of mindfulness meditation can be vital to your health and wellbeing on the road. It will lower general stress levels and help you meet another important need too…
Feeling in control…without being in control!
We all have a need to feel at least some control and autonomy in our lives.
But far from home – such as on a long road trip, negotiating difficult driving conditions – you can feel way out of your comfort zone.
If you’re hiring a motorhome, driving a bigger vehicle than what you’re used to will sometimes stretch your capacities to the limit…and beyond!
What’s required is a willingness to surrender to the situation, to get out of your personal concerns (and the need to control) and open up to what the universe is trying to show you.
It’s about developing an attitude that is open and receptive to each twist and turn in the road, every step taken along the path, and all that life is offering you. It’s kind of ‘feeling in control by accepting what is‘ rather than fighting what is.
This might all sound a bit zen-like – and why not? Feeling in control is mostly illusory anyway.
Health and wellbeing through connection to others
Sometimes when you’re miles from anywhere you can feel cut off from the rest of humanity – but it’s the very thing we look for every time we hit the road! We’re always longing to find those out of the way places like Shingle Street in Suffolk.
We love getting away from the crowds but the truth is we are all hard-wired to connect to others. We feel safer in a herd. That’s just the way DNA programmed us. If any of our ancestors were ostracized from the group they didn’t live long.
So, do you belong to a group – either online or in the real world? Do you contribute to a Facebook van life forum?
(If you do, we’d love to know your favourite group or forum – let us know by contacting us here)
Do you feel like you are part of things, like you belong and are connected to others, sharing common goals, values and guiding principles?
Or are you a lone traveller, comfortable in your own skin for days, weeks or months at a time, enjoying solitude? That in itself is another important emotional need…
Silence, stillness and solitude
If you travel with your family, with a group of friends, or with your partner, it’s not always easy to meet the need for time alone.
So, even though we need connection to others, we also need time to ourselves. But if we’re cooped up in a small space for days or weeks together, where is the chance for solitude?
It is in the silence, stillness and solitude – when you’ve parked the van and have, maybe, wandered off for a walk on your own – that you can reflect and simply BE.
This ‘beingness’ is what turns everyday road trips into a type of spiritual experience, a pilgrimage if you like. Each journey then takes on more meaning. It’s no longer a case of getting from A to B but more about learning along the way.
Talking of which…
How van life meets the healthy need to keep learning
So, two more emotional needs that, when met, help with your health and wellbeing: the need to keep learning and the need for meaning.
When we feel that life is intrinsically meaningful we seem better able to cope when things go ‘wrong’. We can put a different spin on things, see things from a larger perspective or a bigger consciousness.
A brain that is active and learning new things is a healthy brain. And there’s loads to learn if you’re just starting out in van life! That’s why we wrote our free ebook!
Perhaps even more important is the fact that when you are learning you go into an altered state, a bit like daydreaming. Entering a light trance state is very healing for mind, body and soul.
This is one of the reasons we’ve decided to include hypnosis downloads on this site. And it was inevitable really, what with Hobo Gav being a qualified hypnotherapist…
All learning – right from the early days of your life, through school and up till now (and beyond) – is done when you are in a focused state, where the rest of the world kind of disappears into the background. This can better be described as a trance state and is the state Gav uses to help people in his hypnotherapy practice.
In this way, new ideas are more easily absorbed into your psychological make-up, influencing the way you feel, think and behave.
Hand made by hobos on the road
Another need that, when met, improves van life health and wellbeing is the need to create. What’s your way of letting your creative juices flow?
The thing is that humans are innately creative and if this gets thwarted in some way it’s almost like your inner energy gets frozen. It needs an outlet!
We’ve read of people making soap in their campervan! On our travels we’ll make music; sometimes we take our instruments and record songs on the road.
Trudi’s poetry will sometimes emerge from the ether as she sits there with a map on her lap, scribbling the odd inspired line or two onto a note pad she always has on top of the dashboard.
We’ve made wooden staffs and wands from the pine we’ve collected from Rendlesham Forest, home of one of the world’s most famous UFO incidents.
Losing yourself in a creative hobby – music, art, poetry, story-writing, crafting or whatever – gets you out of the usual narrative of everyday living. But rather than mere escapism, creativity plugs you into a sort of universal energy field, where you then become the portal or conduit to something out there waiting to be birthed into the world.
How do you do this in your van life?
Back to nature
There’s one more need we must mention that is vital for your health and wellbeing: the need to feel connected to nature.
More and more research is showing that being out in nature is good for your mental health, whether it’s going for a walk in the woods or along a beach, sitting by a stream, doing some gardening, or simply hugging a tree (2).
When the van is parked up, it’s one of the first things we do: wander and look for a place where we can commune in some way with this wonderful planet: the fields, trees, flowers, plants, wildlife, seas, streams, and mountains, connecting up to something beyond ourselves.
Forest bathing (3) is becoming more popular as we return to nature, answering a deep need in our souls.
By so doing you expand your conscious awareness and open up to another realm. For a while, at least, you can put aside your everyday concerns and feel at one with Mother Nature.
The next steps to van life health and wellbeing…
So, in summary, for you to maintain (or return to) good mental, emotional and spiritual health on the road we’d encourage you to…
- Check out our page on emotional needs which will introduce you to a simple way to identify where potential stresses are coming from
- Find out how practising meditation and mindfulness helped us through the pandemic lockdowns – and how it can help you!
- Browse through some of the hypnosis downloads that we recommend. The ‘Top Ten’ we have chosen are all related to travelling, driving, health, and wellbeing and will ensure you take a positive attitude and a sense of adventure with you – wherever you go
- Contemplate all the ways you can exercise your creative capacities such as re-designing your van’s layout, re-upholstering the furniture, or creating an itinerary for an amazing road trip. There are so many ways to get those creative juices flowing!
- Read our page on ‘back to nature‘ that speaks in more detail about the importance of reconnecting to Mother Earth as a way to nourish your body and soul.
- Check out our top ten brain boosting foods for life on the road to help raise your energy levels and keep your spirits up, no matter how tough the going gets (sometimes!)
We hope you’ve found this page useful and that it gives you some pointers toward good van life health and wellbeing.
If you’d like to know more about Gav’s hypnotherapy practice – where he does online sessions – check out human-spirit.co.uk
If you have any questions or would like to share some of the things you do to maintain good health on the road please contact us here. We’d love to hear from you.