Van Living: Life on the Road

Travis Wild

Published on
Van Living: Life on the Road

 If you had asked me in college what I'd be doing in five years, I would not have told you I'd be in California. I wouldn't have told you a big part of my life oriented around the seemingly polar opposite worlds of photography in the outdoor/travel industry and helping the homeless, addicted, and mentally afflicted. I wouldn't have guessed I'd been diagnosed with cancer, or that I bought a van to build into a tiny home to live on the road full time.

 But if you would have told the five year younger version of me I was living passionately, and no matter what I did for work, the places I'd seen, things I'd been diagnosed with, that I was happy and hadn't lost my passion for life, well, I'd be pretty stoked. College me would have asked what I liked best about this life. He would have wondered about the places I wanted to go, the people I wanted to meet, and what it was like actively doing it all — living a non-stop adventure.

Well, college me, you're wondering what most people do. You're asking a lot of the questions I ask myself every day. So, here's the truth—it's a lot more work than you'd think, nothing comes as easy as you'd like, and it's undeniably worth it.

Life on the road (and on planes, taxis, in hostels, tuk-tuks, and on foot) has been an extremely healthy activity for me. While you might think it's lonely (which it can be, sometimes), I'd answer you with all the friends I've met. If you asked me about dating, I'd tell you about all the interesting girls who are living phenomenally cool lives which reflect on their personality — but how I just haven't found “the one” yet. If you ask me about roots, I'm going to tell you about the rich and different soil mine are growing in.

See, travel doesn't show you something new. It shows you what you already know, the things you wanted to believe in in the first place.

Travis Wild

 The reason the itch to travel is a centuries-long human want is because it keeps giving. For me, after working around a lot of hard stories and then getting diagnosed with cancer, I needed to see some beauty in the world—so I sought out the places I knew I could find it.

I just started going to places in my old car with my tent. Then I bought a van, built it out like a tiny log cabin, and started living out of it.

Since starting van life, I've gone to twenty-seven states. I traveled the ice road from Banff to Vancouver. I spent time surfing the beaches in San Diego and went home to Michigan to see family and to Colorado to see my college friends. I "home base" a few months out of the year around my communities in Moab, Utah and Truckee, California. I've looked at the moon rise over Big Sur in California, the Milky Way over ancient high elevation bristlecone pines, and listened to coyotes howl at the moon over the deserts of five different states. What I'm saying is life has been very full.

Van life has also allowed me to travel internationally quite a lot. I've left the van in airport parking lots and taken jobs which let me travel to over 16 different countries. I've seen how similar people "different" than me really are, how we look at each other and out at the world with different perspectives for being in the same spot, and how we've found a lot of humanity in the process.

I've come home and gone on trips with friends. We spend holidays together, miss home together, wake up for coffee views over canyons, and find a version of home on the road. The actual process of building this home in physical and emotional form are strikingly similar. You start with a shell and an idea of what you want to do. You drill holes to put up walls, cut holes to put in windows, put in a sink, a bed, a dresser, a bathroom — you decide what you need so you can experience what you want. With friends, you find people who kind of want to build a similar thing. Your friendships are framed with adventure, outfitted with climbing, hiking, photography, sipping whiskey while cooking over campfires. Some of your best friends live in homes with wheels, and some live in homes with foundations that go deep in the earth, but you get to visit everyone.

No matter what, you find people who are willing to be vulnerable, to take risks, to let themselves care so much that they too will find ways to see the world, to help people, and to not accept just what's given to them and never question it.

That leaves us this — where do I want to go from here?

Well, there are a few places I haven't gone. I want to drive to Baja, Mexico for the food and surfing. I'd love to take the road through Canada to Alaska because it's long, desolate, and beautiful. I want to go back home to Michigan, again, crossing through South Dakota this time and down through the Upper Peninsula, a different route on the way to see my nephew who's turning two soon. In a dream world, I'd travel to Patagonia, maybe in a plane (lemme check my skyhours real quick on that one...) but it's actually possible to take a van down there. For the fifth place, I guess I'd go deep into the Olympic Peninsula on Washington's coast. Of all the places in the US, the Olympic Peninsula is the least developed National Park and has the least sound and light pollution. I've been there before but didn't get to explore properly and it never stopped raining, so I'd love to go back.

And where I'd like to go personally? Well, I'm pretty happy with the direction I'm heading, to be honest, so I guess the road is pretty good. I would like to keep writing, continue learning from all the people I meet and always challenge myself to find something new about the world to love. But I can't tell you exactly where I'll go or what I'll do. Guess that's what makes this a non-stop adventure; one that, if or when I settle down, I will be so glad I dared to take.

Travis Wild
Photographer & Writer
San Diego, United States
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