On a cold day in Iceland I found myself making soup off of a camp stove in a rented camper van, gazing at a waterfall. Around me were other campers strolling around, making their lunches, packing up their rigs, taking pictures of the scenery.
These people just do this all the time? I was intrigued, inspired, and quite envious of them.
I had been in the military for 5 years, waking up before the sun to shine my boots, slick my hair back, press my uniform, and go to work. Every day the same routine. I had taken time off to cross seeing Iceland off my bucket list and decided to rough it in a van to save money. With the life I lived, I figured I could tough it out doing van life in the rugged terrain. In one week’s time, ‘roughing it’ felt like heaven. It was a glorious feeling, waking up in a new place in the morning, deciding where I wanted to explore that day. I was hooked. A little stinkier than normal, but a spark was ignited.
Normal life quickly took over once again, and that time in the campervan had faded into a fond memory. Three more years in the service passed, while I admired nomads from afar. I found my satisfaction fading with each day in my current occupation, no longer wanting to retire from the service. I had twelve more years before I felt like I could really start my life. The Navy had taken a physical and mental toll on me, and I decided it was time to end my service. I counted down my days left on active duty while looking for jobs and a camper, the head battling the heart.
I started traveling full time the day my military service ended in a cheap, old trailer I had found online. I learned how to fix up my new little home and take care of the inevitable wear and tear of life on the road, scraping by as I figured out how to keep going. I visited thirteen states, and camped for free on public land to save money. I woke up next to mountains, hiked to hot springs, explored the desert,
I’ve never been a particularly decisive girl, always wanting more, never quite sure if I’ve made the right decision. Each day spent on the road reassured me that that was something I was meant for. Spending time outdoors gave me something I had desired for a long time – autonomy. I was falling in love with life again and had no intent on stopping. I spent days on end without a hot shower, reading through manuals while I try to fix yet another broken thing in my trailer, questioning my sanity while driving for hours just to find a place to crash for the night, but never ever wishing I hadn’t done this. There is not one wonderful thing in life that comes without challenges. Accepting this reality made the lows feel all right, because the highs were so wonderfully high. I found peace and solace in nature, I discovered who I was outside of a uniform, and I figured out what my life was supposed to be about. I was staying in places that many will never see in their lifetime, and every obstacle felt like a badge earned. I accepted the challenges this lifestyle had gleefully, knowing the reward was well worth it.
Two years later and I am on my second rig, having just returned from a nomadic month in Mexico, my old life now a faded memory and suddenly now the person I envied a few years prior. I got a remote job with Dakota Lithium, where we upgraded my trailer with some new batteries while we got working on something much bigger – building out a new truck camper by four wheel campers with a power bank to last me months on the road.
I had spent many cold nights in my trailer with a dead battery, unable to use anything electrical without running my generator a few hours a day, certainly my biggest challenge that I battled every day. If I’ve learned anything about living nomadically, it’s that it doesn’t take much to live happily on the road.
I could deal with the chilly nights and running into town to fill up on gas for the generator, but much like having a house that you upgrade, the power system was a much appreciated change. Moving into the truck camper meant I could travel further, into more remote places my old trailer would have never made it to, without worrying about running into town to get gas for my generator. Instead of charging my camper every day, my generator collects dust in my back seat while I move from state to state, attending different camping shows and overlanding expos, displaying my truck to fellow nomads and outdoor enthusiasts and talking about my travels and how I am able to live on the road with less stress than before. Sharing the possibilities with people just like me.
I’ve driven this truck camper from Seattle down to the southern tip of Baja California Sur, Mexico and back up again, with plans to travel up to Canada and throughout the western United States, without worrying about batteries or if I can even make it there. I share my power bank with friends who need to charge their devices, pull out my batteries to jump vans that won’t start, and chat constantly about where my rig has taken me with fellow nomads and curious neighbors. I have constant heat and outlets to power everything I need, a luxury I appreciate very much. Every day has been a new adventure living in this rig and has made this journey even more enjoyable than I could have ever imagined. The possibilities here are endless, and with so much to explore, it’s time to get started.
BY Valerie Erlenbusch @thehappycampergirl