RV Living: How to Meet Your Emotional Needs on the Road

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PAGE UPDATED: 13.06.2022

It’s not always easy to meet emotional needs when living (or touring extensively) in a motorhome, RV, or campervan. We’re talking about things like the need to feel safe and secure, the need for connection with others, and the need to belong.

The thing is that when emotional needs are unmet our stress levels rise and we start to suffer an array of psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.

If you’re struggling in any way or you feel that your mental health could be better, this page will help you assess your emotional needs and get your van life back on track.

Let’s find out how to rediscover the goodness…

Couple sitting looking out back of RV across lake to mountain
Image: Togo RV

Identifying basic needs for life on the road

We are all aware of our basic human needs; the need for food and water, warmth, clothing, shelter, and sleep.

All van-lifers need to ensure these basic needs are met, though some of these can be difficult to achieve at times…

Keeping warm in your RV over winter can be expensive if you’re using things like a diesel heater or a generator to power an electric heater.

And if you are a full-time van dweller, it’s not always easy to sleep if you’re having to wild camp, what with the possibility of having to move on to somewhere else. Indeed, wild camping has been made much more difficult since the pandemic, especially in the UK.

But it’s not just these basic needs that we need to meet. Unlike a plant or flower that just needs the right conditions to flourish and grow, humans are born with an added layer of complexity…

The essential emotional needs for mental wellbeing

The emotional needs we’re talking about are…

  • The need to feel safe and secure – not always easy if you live fulltime in your van
  • The need to give and receive attention – if you’re a solo van-lifer how do you meet the need for attention? Humans are social animals and we all need at least some interaction with others now and then
  • The need to feel in control of your life – again, not an easy task if you’re always on the move
  • The need to feel a sense of belonging – one of the reasons (perhaps) that van-lifers like to group together
  • The need for time alone – to reflect and mentally assimilate experiences
  • The need to feel challenged and stretched (but not stressed!) – a healthy brain is a brain that is learning new things
  • The need for meaning, purpose, and goals in life – perhaps one of the reasons for travel?

But what if these needs go unmet? This is where the problem lies…

Why unmet emotional needs raise your stress levels

Meeting emotional needs in balance can be a real challenge, especially if you’re living life on the road as a full-time van-lifer or traveller.

Of course, it is sometimes inevitable that these needs go unmet, whether you’re living a traditional bricks and mortar life or living in an RV. We are all faced with difficult situations at times.

But here’s the thing…

Unmet emotional needs are one of the main reasons for raised stress levels and if high stress continues you are more vulnerable to a whole host of emotional and psychological problems such as…

  • Sleep problems
  • Anger and anxiety (the primitive fight/flight reactions)
  • Worry and depression
  • Fears, phobias, and panic attacks (how many of us are now more frightened to travel since the pandemic?)
  • Addiction problems
  • Low confidence and self-esteem
  • Loss of meaning and purpose in life
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness

The 3 main reasons that prevent you from meeting your emotional needs

Just before we show you the audit you can use to assess your emotional needs, let’s look at the three main reasons emotional needs might be going unmet in your van life…

#1: You are living and/or working in a toxic environment

If you live full time in your van it’s not always easy to find a place to stay that feels safe and secure. Even worse, there are some ‘toxic’ people out there who seem intent on causing trouble!

Just take a look at some of the responses to our wild camping questionnaire to see what we mean!

And if you’re a digital nomad, working to make money on the road is not always easy. This can be a constant source of worry.

So, right environment is crucial if we are to flourish and achieve good mental health and wellbeing.

We all know how much better we feel when we find a really nice campsite or the perfect wild camping spot such as this one we found in Scotland…

VW Autotrail motorhome wild camping in Scotland. A safe and peaceful place helps meets the emotional need for security

#2: Your innate guidance system is not working properly or you are misusing it

Perhaps there is ‘unfinished business’ from your past that keeps coming back to haunt you? Maybe negative conditioning keeps you stuck?

We can all be victims of our histories, all too easily sucked back in to old emotional patterns. Hobo Gav sees this all the time in his hypnotherapy practice.

Or perhaps you are mis-using your imagination (one of your most powerful resources when used correctly). Mis-using the imagination (such as worrying or ruminating) could eventually lead to depression.

#3: You are suffering from psychological damage e.g. trauma, abuse.

Untreated psychological damage will keep you stuck in the past. Trauma, PTSD, sexual abuse memories, and the like puts the emotional brain in charge, keeping you either hyped up (looking for danger) or dissociated (as a means to escape reality).

Neither makes for a great van life experience!

But the good news is that nature has been clever…

If your environment is suitable enough and you are not suffering psychological damage (or misusing your resources) there’s every chance you can meet your emotional needs on the road.

Van life itself offers you the chance to develop your resources, skills, and strengths to help you meet all of your emotional needs.

It’s almost as if your van and your adventures become your teacher lighting the way ahead…

VW campervan in the woods at Minsmere Nature Reserve, Suffolk

Assessing your emotional needs

So, if you’re not feeling quite right in yourself, the first step is to figure out what unmet emotional need might be causing feelings of, say, anger, depression, or anxiety.

[Remember, needs that are not met satisfactorily will often be the cause of raised stress levels, undermining your mental, emotional and even spiritual wellbeing. It will certainly interfere with your enjoyment of van life!]

The Emotional Needs Audit below has been especially adapted for van-lifers. It will quickly help you identify the potential causes of any mental health issues.

Download and spend a few minutes completing the audit now then come back to finish reading this page. (The download is a PDF and, depending on what browser you use, you should be able to mark your scores).

How to meet your emotional needs

So, how’d you do? Any needs that are scoring low?

Once you’ve identified which needs are unmet, you need a plan of action!

For example, if you’re feeling lonely and your need for attention is not met, make sure you get out there and meet other van-lifers.

Exchanging attention nurtures the soul. It provides you with a sense of emotional connection to other people.

Or if your need for time alone is unmet, make sure you get away from it all – even your partner – for a few hours. Go for a walk in nature and enjoy some silence, stillness and solitude. We all need solitude to process life’s experiences.

Or if your need to keep learning things is unmet, take up a new hobby or try something completely novel. One of the things we intend to do is acquire some basic mechanical knowledge (perhaps a vital necessity if you drive an older van, like we do?)

Once your emotional needs are met again, you feel as if you’ve gotten your life back on track. You feel secure in yourself, connected to others, competent in your skills, and you regain a deep sense of meaning and purpose.

There is a reason you’re alive; get out there in your van and make your mark in the world!


Further info and resources

If your emotional needs are unmet and you feel you need some extra help check out this hypnosis download

For more info read about emotional and spiritual needs on Gav’s hypnotherapy site

And for more about emotional needs and mental wellbeing check out two of our favourite books…

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