• Lizzie Shutt

5 Life Lessons From Van Life

In Christchurch, February 12th, 2020, Emmett and I purchased our home on wheels for our New Zealand study abroad semester ahead! We were supposed to be at a new student orientation meeting, but finding and securing our home was a little higher on the to-do list. Originally we had flown into Auckland on the North Island to look for vans, but it wasn’t promising and school was going to start soon so we decided to fly down to Christchurch on the South Island. It’s the closest big city near the university and we hoped for better luck!

Quickly we fell in love with a 2000 Toyota Hiace built-out nicely with wood interiors. The previous owners were a sweet German couple who had just spent a few months traveling all around New Zealand. They were the first to live in the re-done van so it was pretty clean and new!

Emmett and I were taking a different approach to van life, one that almost contradicts it!

We attended “uni” classes and kept a strict gym regime (that’s also where we showered lol). To me having a schedule is the opposite of what I imagine van-life to be especially in New Zealand! When we told people we were living in a van and studying abroad most people thought we were crazy but others were like “Hell yeah dude!”

Even though we may not have had the luxury of traveling all around on our own time the fundamental life lessons of living in a van still were apparent!

1. Go Slow, Have Patience.

“Everywhere takes longer to get to in New Zealand'' they said, now add a van to it, and you're really taking your time! Going slow goes beyond traveling place to place, rather it was felt more while parked...at the campgrounds (where we slept).

Due to the small cabinet and counter space you are constantly moving one or more objects to get to the one you want. I learned to have patience when things spilled, I learned to ask for help, and I learned to manage my time to accomplish all my needs.

If we constantly were reaching over each other, rushing to do things, or complaining about space and time we would have been miserable and mad at each other. Instead we recognized, accepted this as a part of van life and a part of the teamwork experience this semester would bring.

2. Letting Go.

Happiness to me is freedom. Freedom comes when you are able to let go. Letting go of what people think about you, letting go of the dishes that just never seemed to be fully clean, letting go of the idea about surfing everyday while there, letting go of my preconceived ideas and desires about studying abroad has been one of the largest lessons for me. Mainly due to COVID quickly shortening our adventure have I come to better understand the process of letting go. When I live without attachment I don’t expect or rely on external factors for happiness. All my freedom and happiness can come from within when I Let Go (easier said than done).

3. Welcome Uncertainty

I am a person who likes surprises so the future appeals to my mind typically in a positive way, although there are times when dread or fear arise thinking about what is going to happen (surfing in big waves)! The decision to live in a van while going to school in another country was the first thing we felt unsure about. We didn’t know where to buy it, where to park it, where to shower, or how to store food without spoiling it! New challenges came up every day at first. The way we address these challenges is key. I like to address them as an adventure, usually laugh at myself, then problem solve with an open mind. Choosing to welcome the uncertainty with curiosity, with “beginner's mind”, is an approach that can promote clearer thinking and reduce the mind’s desire for walking down the fearful path.

4. Get Comfy Being Uncomfy

This is a common attitude in the outdoor adventure community to learn to embrace the elements! Although we weren’t in a tent the uncomfy factors were still felt. The chilly windy nights at the campsite, crumby bedsheets, lack of refrigeration, butthole flies in the campground bathroom...hahaha they were everywhere. Yet, we didn't let these uncomfy daily factors ruin our day, we figured out solutions and learned to accept. In our modern world people run away from being uncomfortable, our minds have programmed discomfort and fear together. Living in a modern society it is easy to take for granted all the amenities and privileges so much so that it is hard to imagine a life where there is no refrigerator or dishwasher or even no grocery store. I agree these are all nice, but it’s only because I’ve grown up to depend on these luxuries. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have these, it’s how we have advanced society, but rather I want to bring attention to the mass comfortization*(made this word up) we have experienced. I like to remind myself to practice gratitude for such luxuries in life and also know that life can still go on without these comfort things.

5. Listen to Nature’s Rhythms

Living surrounded by Nature you learn to live in rhythm with Nature. Awaking with sunrise and shutting our eyes with sunset was a beautiful outcome from this experience. We didn’t have much lighting inside or the internet with Netflix to keep us up late, but we also didn’t desire them because we were so sleepy by the time it hit 9:30 pm. Nature is my favorite teacher and the more you observe the interactions around you the more peace and understanding will fill your heart. I encourage you to start your day stretching outside or eating breakfast in the sunshine without your phone to scroll on or the News to fill you with nonsense. A daily dose of nature wherever you can feel it can reconnect you to the rhythm, even if it’s simply taking a few deep breaths it's a way to reconnect with the planet we are part of.

Thanks for listening to my life lessons. These lessons will be with me forever and constantly pop up in life, as new yet familiar challenges arise. It's through the hard times that we can choose to grow stronger.

"Live Dirty, Eat Clean & Green",

Lizzie Shutt


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