It's a thing. I see them all the time. Vans in their various sizes and values– Sprinter vans with surf racks, decommissioned plumber rigs with the only back window boarded in plywood, the previous's owner's buisness lettering still visible.
The van occupants, like the vans in which they live, all are recognizable. The current of similarity which runs through the people of #vanlife is that they are all seekers. They are searching for something, and if they find it, I will never know.
I was driving on the highway. It was a holiday eve. I passed a lone woman driving a van with a high center of gravity. In the roof rack was a kayak. My husband asked what kind of kayak it was.
"It's a sea kayak," I said.
"You think she's using it out here, in the desert? Or do you think she's just in a cost sunk fallacy kind of situation, where she got the thing for what she thought was a deal, but then it turns out its annoying to use, and she doesn't like kayaking all that much, but she has to bring it with her because she bought it, but now it's killing her already bad gas milage, and it turns out that living #vanlife is actually not what she thought when she quit her job and opened an Instagram account?"
"I think it's certainly killing her gas milage, and yeah, she looks worried."
I look at her as we pass her. She looks anxious, lonely, sad.
But isn't that what #vanlife is all about? Finding yourself? Learning who you are? But I figure that for this woman finding herself isn't what she put on social media. The feelings of going to bed alone in a place she doesn't know and wouldn't stay in can't be communicated through the perfect sunset picture. The feelings of not having anyone to ring in the new year with wouldn't translate through her photos of the inside of her van, all warm against a cold winter's night. The feelings of blowing a tire with no money for a tow, of overheating the van on a mountain pass, of peeing in bucket because she had no running water weren't going to find purchase on her feed.
"Maybe she's an expert desert kayaker," I said.
"What's that?" My husband asked.
"Don't know because I'm not one, but I like to imagine she's the champion of it."
I like to imagine that growth isn't hard. That finding yourself isn't lonely and scary and cold. That this woman isn't dying on the inside and trying to tell the world that she's not only fine, she's living her best life.
Because every time I see a #vanlife, I feel sad. I feel alone. I feel lost. And I feel great empathy for the person trying to make it work when really, I know, they have no idea where they're going.
I do know though, that most of them will get somewhere. That once they reach the other side of their journey, they will be fuller expressions of themselves.
It's just getting there sucks. Even if your #vanlife has wood paneled walls and a charging port for your phone, it's not going to be all rainbows and unicorns.
If that was life, no one would own a van.