Thoughts: Things I've learned after a year in the van

In honor of our departure from the Bay Area, almost exactly 365 days after setting sail on our journey, I want to share some big takeaways. One of the biggest being that reflection is one of the most important of those things I've learned. To reflect and then learn from myself and my experience. So here are some reflections:

1. Documenting your journey is great, until it starts to take away from your experience

There's that famous saying most of us know: "a picture is worth a thousand words". Nowhere is that more true than on Instagram, where short captions attempt to explain what little a photograph provides. 

Over the last 12 months, I've attempted to share with anyone who cares to look, a little peek into the window of our lives. But what else lies beyond the frame...? A lot. 

Which is why it's hard to get a well-rounded perspective on what our life is, and hard to give it. In recent months, it became clearer and clearer as I started to leave my phone in my bag: I was losing perspective. I was losing experience. I hated the way my mind immediately wanted to possess what was around me, instead of just experience it and let it happen.

Regardless, I'm glad I made this mistake over the last couple of years. Not only has it helped me grow, it's showed so many others the options they have to get out there and live. 

2. Looking back, the wins wouldn't have been as good without the losses

We've had countless ups and downs over the last year. But undoubtedly, even though a lot of the downs have been painful and scary and uncertain, the ups wouldn't be nearly as good without them.

Never let a small glimpse into our world (Instagram photos) lead you to think that we're always happy and things are always sunny and there are no bad days. We're human, we ain't perfect, we embrace it. And you should too!

But our failures shape us and our futures. They've been invaluable in our quest to figure out what it is that we're meant for. 

3. Meditation works magic

This one sounds simple and catchy, but meditation? It's a struggle. Meditation isn't something that most of us (busy with our demanding, loud and frantic lives) can make even 10 minutes for. But what I've learned, slowing down especially here in Baja, is that it's one of the keys to finding direction/calling. Quieting the mind, letting all of the dust settle, and seeing what rays of light shine through, has helped me to realize what's really important to me. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a master of meditation and never will be. But now more than ever, I'm trying to make time to sit with my thoughts and feelings and explore them. Without them, it would be hard to know who I am and what I really want. 

So try it out! 10 minutes a day is a good goal. Maybe even start with 5.

There are some good guided meditations out there, via podcast and app, to start with!

4. If you're traveling with a partner, make solo time a priority

I think I've already talked about this one, but I'm going to add it in again for emphasis. When the waves of life are getting big and scary and sloshy, your partner should be the person/thing that brings you stability. But sometimes (especially living in a van together for almost an entire year with little breaks) those waves can start to crash right into your relationship.

Just as with anything else in your life, balance is key. Being with one other person in such close quarters for a long, sustained period of time can throw your balance off in a big way. So take time, make effort, to get outside of your comfort zone and get away from each other here and there.

Over the last 12 months more than ever, I've learned just how incredibly important it is to miss the person you love, to put in perspective just what they mean to you and your world.

5. Quality over quantity 

Checking places off your list just isn't traveling. Staying a while, getting to know a place without a map? That's where it's at. Only when you can get around on your own with a sense of direction can you truly start to learn the ins and outs of a destination. 

In the beginning of our trip, we definitely fell into the bucket of restless travelers. We tried to skip and hop our way through the Southwest, checking things off and spending little time. We were "traveling" in a hollow sense. Deep down, of course, it felt wrong. It was shallow. Looking back on those times, I so wish we'd given ourselves the chance to slow down and breathe in the spaces, to really get to know them on a different level.

Slow down and stay a while in a place that really captivates you. Throw away your "schedule". You won't regret it!

6. Less is so much more

This is probably the biggest one. Every once in a while, I have pangs of anxiety that remind me of the days I spent living in the city. They feel and sound something like "I haven't bought anything new in a while. Is something wrong with me?" Weird, right? It's really a sickness that every once in a while rears it's ugly head. And it's definitely taken this experience to reveal it to me...

(If you haven't noticed yet, I'm speaking from a place of privilege again)

In the U.S. especially, consumption is a huge problem. The culture of buying things is so real. One that a lot of us forget even exists until we step back and look at it from the outside. Think one-click purchases online. Buying new, buy in bulk, buying cheap. Like I said, it's something that's been so branded into me that every now and then, I literally feel it tugging at me. 

Living in the van has definitely widened my eyes here and encouraged that I do just the opposite: buy less, and value the less that I have more. Again, I'm not trying to say I'm perfect or be too preachy, but it's a lesson that I'll keep trying to apply in my everyday life.


Anything you want to share from your own experiences?

I'd love to hear your big takeaways in the comments below :)


Juliana Linder4 Comments