5 Anxiety-Reducing Tips To Consider Before Embarking on Vanlife

Picture this:

You wake up to a sunrise in a different location every day. You have total freedom, to come and go and do as you please. You have nothing tying you down.

Does that sound lovely, or does it induce anxiety?

To me, that DOES sound lovely but at the same time, holds the possibility of inducing anxiety. Why? Several reasons:

1. I like being in control.

2. I’m a planner.

3. I like somewhat of a routine.

4. I’m very organized.

Can you relate?

Even as a child, I always had all my things (pencil crayons, toys, books) neatly aligned, in their proper place, because (looking at that from an adult point of view now) that gave me sense of control.

Maybe it’s because I’m an Aries (apparently, we like things done a certain way), or maybe because of birth order (I’m the older/oldest sibling), I don’t know why, but I like to organize, plan and not waste time.

I’ve been in the travel planning business for nearly 40 years now and I truly LOVE what I do. Whilst working with clients, I ask them to paint me a rough picture of their ideal vacation, and then I take on the challenge of taking care of all the small details, and making that dream come true for them.

And so, as I am in this next chapter of my life, I’m doing the same for my self….I painted a rough picture of my ideal vanlife last year, when I got Wanda, and this year, I’m going to take care of the small details and make MY vanlife what I want it to be….or at the very least, as close to what I want it to be as possible.

***I use the term vanlife throughout this blog…..it applies to anyone living on the road, be that in a converted van, school or shuttle bus, ambulance, truck, SUV, etc

For those who don’t know, Wanda is my 2009 Chevy Express with a Thomas Built body…she was a mini-school bus in her previous incarnation, had about 167,000 km when I bought her, I lived in her from April to mid-November 2022 to get a feel for HOW I’ll live in 98 square feet, we had an awesome summer and fall of exploring and meeting new people at vanlife meet-ups, and now Wanda sits in winter storage (for this winter only; future winters we’ll be spending in warmer climates) while I count down the days until I get her back (48 as of today).

I work two jobs for now, but when I have free time, I envision what I want my 2023 to look like….and it occurred to me….some people may WANT to live the vanlife, but might be wary of whether they CAN do it.

I’m here to tell you: YES, you CAN!

However, if you’re prone to anxiety, then I would recommend taking a step back and giving these points some thought. I call these the “W-5’s”: who, what, where, when, why.

The first thing you need to think about is WHO will be living the vanlife with you. Are you a solo? Are you like me, solo but with pets? What kind(s) of pets? How much room do they need? Are you a family with young children? Are you retirees? Are you living with mobility restrictions?

Secondly, WHAT do you want to get out of vanlife?

For example, for ME, I’m not comfortable staying put. The travel bug bit me at the age of 9 months when my parents put me on a plane to what is now Croatia, to go stay with my grandparents (not because I was bad, but because my parents were new immigrants to Canada and didn’t know/trust anyone here to take good care of me), and ever since, I’ve been prone to wander.

Travel really IS my life’s passion. COVID coming into our lives in 2020 grounded me (and so many others) from international travel, but it also opened my eyes to the fact that my “own back yard” (ie all of North America!) has SO MUCH to offer.

WHAT are YOUR “limitations”?

I’m all for learning new things, but in my case, I’ve developed arthritis in both hands this past year, so doing serious build projects is out of the question. I can still use power tools, but I don’t have the strength I did last year (I’m so happy I put in my floor and insulation and walls last year, when I was capable of doing so).

I also know that I can’t sew….sure, I COULD learn, but it’s not a skill I feel I’ll really need much in the future…..so instead of sewing cushions for my seating area, I’m just going to buy a loveseat, not put the legs on it, and will affix it on the top of the storage area I CAN build.

WHAT I want to get out of vanlife is the ability to explore North America, at my own unhurried speed, and having my home with me (vs flying from point A to point B and then staying in hotels, renting cars, arranging pet-sitting etc).

WHAT are your non-negotiables for your build/conversion? Keeping in mind that everything changes, so your non-negotiables NOW could very well change in the future.

As an example, for me, some non-negotiables:

  • I have to have a storage area at the entrance to my rig, to store my dog and cat leashes, poop-bags, and treats
  • I have to have a space for hanging coats/jackets and storing shoes
  • I have to able to make my bed in the morning (which means my bed cannot be up against a wall, it has to be free-standing
  • I have to have storage for art supplies
  • I have to have at least one bookshelf for my favourite books
  • I have to have space for my birdcage, and bird supply/food storage
  • I have to have somewhere to store opened wet (ie not kibble) cat/dog food (I had a cooler last year, this year I will get a mini-fridge)

MY non-negotiables are mine…yours could very well be totally different. Take time to figure them out.

Third, WHERE….where do you want to go?

Now that’s the real beauty of vanlife, isn’t it? You can go pretty much anywhere you want. Having much lower living expenses (ie no rent/mortgage for instance), means that your destination(s) are determined by how much you want to put in your gas tank and how many kilometers you want to put on your odometer.

The “where” can give you a bit of anxiety, as, sometimes, having too many choices can be overwhelming. A good idea in this case is to do what I do, and plan out your spontaneity (haha, I know that sounds contradictory). More on this in a bit.

Next, WHEN….when do you want to embark on this nomadic lifestyle?

My plan, once Wanda’s cleared “for take off” (since she’s been sitting in storage, indoors, but still, I want to take her to my mechanics and have her looked over), I will be, for the most part staying in the southwestern Ontario area as that’s where I work job #1, and then, October 1st, I will be embarking on what I call my westward and southbound migration.

I’ve watched many Youtube videos where the creators say, “Just go, go now!”, but in reality, that can be frightening and intimidating, and anxiety-producing. So again, I say, plan it out. More on this in a bit too.

Lastly, WHY….why do you want to leave your current lifestyle and embark on vanlife?

For me, the WHY and the WHAT are similar, however, it’s important to keep the WHY in mind when you eventually DO hit the road and things don’t go to plan. Your vehicle might need unexpected repair. You might run low on funds. You may fall ill yourself. Reminding yourself of the WHY will help you get over and past those bumps in the road (no pun intended).

There is the HOW to consider too….how will you live? How will you support yourself? How will you get from point A to point B? How will you handle problems when they arise? How can you turn a negative into a positive?

Ok, now let’s zero in on the finer points of the W-5’s….

When I first moved into my tiny-home-on-wheels, and I’d finish my shift at job #1, I was all of a sudden confronted with a decision that I’d never had to make before….where do I go from here?

Typically, when you live in sticks and bricks home, you go to work, and then you go home when you finish work.

But living in a skoolie, “home” is wherever I’m parked.

I personally like to arrive at my “park up spot for the night” well before sunset as that gives me time to take my dog for a walk, so she knows where she can do her business, and I can scope out what’s in the immediate area. If my gut told me something was “off”, I’d simply hop back into the driver’s seat and get the heck out of there.

There are many great apps available for figuring out where you can sleep for the night…iOverlander is a popular one, but I also like to use the RV Parky website too.

My current “WHERE” planning tools: a Road Atlas of Canada and the USA, a Road Atlas & National Parks Guide, I’m logged in to my Harvest Hosts account, I have the RV Parky tab open, and my Dollarama spiral-bound book and pen (yep, I’m old school in some ways).

For those who don’t know what Harvest Hosts is: https://harvesthosts.com/

There are SO many cool Harvest Hosts “out there”!

I have a Plan A and a Plan B (as I always do) for my “migration”, A being with good fall weather and B with inclement fall weather, so I’ve been exploring the Harvest Hosts site and have Favourited dozens of them….everything from alpaca farms, ostrich farms, organic fruit and veggie farms….apple and pear orchards….pumpkin patches…apiaries with organic honey…..lavender farms and labyrinths……cranberry and blueberry farms…..truffle farms…goat yoga, soap making, walnuts, and of course wineries, meaderies, breweries and cideries oh my!

As lovely as they sound, getting to one may not be possible (for many reasons), so I’ve used the RV Parky site to determine alternate places I can rest my head, safely, for the night…such as truck stops and Walmart parking lots.

Side note: I have had very good sleeps during my stays in Walmart Super Center parking lots.

One very important thing to keep in mind when it comes to parking overnight at a Walmart…..they don’t ALL allow it.

In my experience, I only stay overnight in the SUPER CENTRE Walmarts, as they have very large parking spots and if you park along the perimeter, you should have no trouble. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to go into the store and ask to speak with the Manager.

Sometimes, depending on the location, sleeping in a Walmart parking lot can be loud, but typically, once the store closes (usually around 10pm or 11pm), shortly afterward, the noise level dies down.

So that’s another thing to ask yourself: what kind of sleeper are you? If you’re a light sleeper, you’ll want to find a quiet place for the night….depending on your rig…..you might be able to do some back-country exploring. Wanda isn’t equipped for off-roading, so we’re limited to places she can get to (without getting stuck or damaged).

If you are going to be living in a van or smaller vehicle, you can urban camp (ie on city streets, hotel parking lots, hospital parking lots, etc) as you’re stealthier than my Wanda.

Wanda will never be stealthy….and I’m good with that, as she is perfect for MY lifestyle (I have three pets; a dog, a cat, and a love-bird….so I need space for all their things–dog bed, cat litter box, and bird cage). I also hope to get another dog before I leave Ontario….a rescue, but that’s another story for another day.

Initially I had thought I’d purchase a van, as I’d watched a gazillion vanlife videos during lockdown in 2020…but as luck would have it, I found Wanda and 98 square feet suits my needs much better than 70 square feet (ie what typical vans have) would have.

So, very important factor to consider: what is YOUR lifestyle?

When you’re going to check out the vehicle you plan on purchasing, no matter how cute/bad-ass it looks, make sure it’s mechanically sound. There’s no point in buying a rig that has a lot of issues from the start….that would be like trying to build a house on a pile of sawdust. You don’t want to buy a money pit.

As I mentioned earlier, I like to plan out my spontaneity……meaning that I am planning where I want to go, what I want to see and do and experience, but I am also leaving “space” for Life.

Life is so unpredictable, and it’s usually the unforeseen that bites you in the butt, but leaving yourself room for that will make it a little easier to deal with.

What I mean is, don’t go to the extreme and plan out every moment of every day of every week of every month…..because something will happen and it’ll throw you “off schedule”, and then you’ll get anxiety and be stressed out.

It’s also important to leave “space” for Life because possibly something GOOD that you didn’t predict will happen.

For instance, when I hit the road in the fall, maybe I’ll love a certain town I find myself in, and want to spend a month or two there.

Maybe I’ll start a new job that will have me staying put for longer than expected.

Maybe a “bad thing” will turn into a “good thing”….like maybe Wanda will break down and she’ll need expensive work done so I might have to stay in a certain town to pick up extra work to pay for the repairs, but will also meet some awesome new friends there too.

You just never really know what can happen, but it’s important to be open to it, otherwise, this lifestyle really isn’t for you……sorry to be blunt about it, but it’s true.

Going back to one of the “how” points….very important thing to think about, to minimize anxiety: income.

I know, thinking about income (or lack thereof) can actually prompt MORE anxiety, but I’ve found that if I plan for it, it works in my favour.

I, personally, am not yet ready to retire. I’m 55, will be 56 by October 1st, and I hope to have many more years ahead of me of work.

I know, some people can’t wait to retire. I’m not one of those people. I truly enjoy working…..it keeps my mind and body healthy.

I don’t need a lot of money, but I DO need SOME money to put gas in the gas tank, to pay for insurance, repairs, food, “emergency fund”, etc.

I also like working because it brings new people into my life…sometimes, you just click with someone….and, I’ve found, you’re never too old to make new friends..

There are many, many videos on Youtube about making money on the road, so check those out, but my two favourites are signing up on Indeed (for job alerts) and, this is a personal preference of course, house/pet-sitting.

Of course, it all depends on your skill-set and what you WANT to do….the beauty of living a simple life with minimal expenses is that you don’t have to settle for a job you hate just because you need to make that mortgage payment/rent payment…..so you can do what you WANT instead of what you HAVE TO.

The next thing to consider: amenities.

By “amenities”, I don’t mean the amenities you’ll want/need in your tiny-home-on-wheels (though you want to think about those too), I’m referring to the amenities you’ll need in places along your journey.

Of course, this will differ depending on your situation, but for ME, these are important:

Does the town/city I’ll be staying in/passing through/visiting have a fitness facility with showers?

I’m still considering which gym I want to join. I know Planet Fitness is a popular one with vanlifers, but there ARE other options “out there”. I used to work for GoodLife Fitness so I know what to expect from them….but also Anytime Fitness appeals to me as does the YMCA. But if you don’t want to commit to a gym membership, most towns will have a rec center that you can drop into and use their facilities for a small cost.

Is there a library?

To me this is important, not because I want to sign out any books (I use the Libby app for that), but because I need a quiet place to set up my laptop and get some (travel consulting) work done, uninterrupted. Yes, coffee shops are good for working remotely, but they are often loud and with too many distractions….so I prefer to work in libraries (it’s also cheaper).

Are there parks/trails nearby?

For me this is very important as I need my time in nature, I need to move my body in the outdoors, I need to fill my lungs with fresh air, and I need to do all that while walking my dog….because she needs all those things too.

Is there a coin laundromat?

I know some nomads have laundry facilities onboard their rigs, but I’m choosing not to…..the less water I have on board, the less weight I’m transporting but also the less likelihood of there being a leak, which could cause damage but also bring on mould….no thank you!

I actually really like taking my laundry to a laundromat. I like that I can get all my laundry done at one time….meaning I can use one machine for my darks, one for my whites and one for my coloured clothing, and they can handle any size (so I can throw in my heavy blankets or floor mats/rugs).

I can sit and read (either in the laundromat, but usually in my tiny-home-on-wheels) or watch something online or make/eat dinner, then, throw everything into a couple of dryers, and it’s all done within a couple of hours.

Is there an emergency vet hospital nearby?

I share my life with three other beings….each of which I need to consider when it comes to their health. If I ever need to take them to the vet, I want to know in advance where there is one, and what their hours are.

Is there a hospital, for me?

Again, not a fun thing to think about, but accidents happen…sickness happens….you never know when you’ll need an urgent care clinic or trip to the emergency room.

Is there a Harvest Host nearby?

Of course, this would only be something a member of Harvest Hosts would be interested in, but since I AM a member, I like knowing in advance that I for sure have a safe place to rest my head for the night…and one where my animals are welcome too.

Is there a Trusted Housesitters client in the area?

For those who don’t know what Trusted Housesitters is: https://www.trustedhousesitters.com/

I’m not a member yet as I can’t get to the homes with Wanda in storage right now, but I have a friend who IS a member and like me, she is an animal lover, and she loves pet-sitting AND makes a decent income doing it. Win-win-win-win in my mind.

Is there a mechanic in the area?

In my case, I need a mechanic that is well-versed in large vehicles…if you have a van, it’s much simpler, but Wanda weighs nearly 10,000lbs and some shops aren’t equipped for a large vehicle.

One final tip: K.I.S.S. = keep it simple, sweetheart.

Some people envision themselves living the vanlife, but then get overwhelmed by the decisions they think they need to make right away.

Keep it simple.

For seven months, I slept on my mattress, on the floor (that is, not on any kind of frame), I used a portable butane-powered single-burner campstove (or made food that didn’t require cooking, like salads, sandwiches, “charcuterie boards”….or I’d eat out….heck, I’m saving on rent, I can afford a good burger now and then). I used string/fairy lights (battery-powered). I warmed up water for washing myself using that same little campstove.

As time, resources and finances allow, you can add to your rig….for instance, now that I know HOW I live in 98 square feet, I have a final floor plan (I say “final” because I created about a dozen of them over the past year), so I will build as I need to.

Now, I’m going to switch gears for a bit….and instead of giving advice, I’m going to ask for it.

These are some of the places that are on my Plan A and Plan B itineraries…..if you live in one of these places, or if you’ve recently been to any of these places, please share with me some advice you’d have, like for instance on something I really should see/do/experience in that place:

  • Barrie, Ontario
  • Huntsville, Ontario
  • Owen Sound, Ontario
  • Tobermory, Ontario
  • Espanola, Ontario
  • Sault Ste Marie, Ontario
  • Wawa, Ontario
  • Nipigon, Ontario
  • Kakabeka Falls, Ontario
  • Fort Frances, Ontario
  • Kenora, Ontario
  • Portage la Prairie, Manitoba
  • Brandon, Manitoba
  • Estevan, Saskatchewan
  • Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
  • Swift Current, Saskatchewan
  • Medicine Hat, Alberta
  • Lethbridge, Alberta
  • Cranbrook, BC
  • Kelowna, BC
  • Penticton, BC
  • Abbotsford, BC
  • Everett, Washington
  • Tacoma, Washington
  • Olympia, Washington
  • Astoria, Washington
  • Newport, Oregon
  • Coos Bay, Oregon
  • Grants Pass, Oregon
  • Klamath Falls, Oregon
  • Crescent City, California
  • Weed, California
  • Eureka, California

Spring 2024 I may migrate northward to Alaska for spring and summer or I may head north and then east, ie to Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and back to Ontario….if you have any advice to share, I’m all ears.

If you’re already a vanlifer and have some wisdom to share, please do so in the Comments section.

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