Life Quest(ions): How #vanlife combats burnout

Embodiment of van-life (Photo by: Julio Yaia)

Sun shines through the windows of the remodeled ex-prison van, named Towanda (Wanda for short), illuminating the disco ball and rainbow prism strung up inside, as Abigail (Abi) creeps out of bed to make coffee in the tiny kitchen built into the van. Nat and Abi’s van is almost unrecognizable from the 2004 ex-prison transport sprinter van they purchased for $6,000 in 2004. The couple gutted the van, tinted the windows, painted the exterior sky blue and yellow, and furnished the interior, transforming the white industrial van into a mobile home. Since purchasing the van, Nat and Abi have invested another $10,000 dollars, equipping it with a full kitchen, plumbing and water service, electrical equipment such as the three solar panels on the roof which allow them to go off the grid for weeks at a time. Living a brick and mortar lifestyle in which they worked 9-5 hours, Nat as a commercial chef and Abi as a photographer, the couple paid double the amount every month due to rent, utilities, and other bills, so “they find it much less costly than living in a regular house”. 

As Abi films the morning coffee process for their Youtube channel “Ride and Seek”, she catches rescue dog Peluche (a Volpino) sneaking into bed for a morning snuggle with Nat. After calibrating for the day, Nat is up and at in the kitchen utilizing her retired professional-chef skills to whip up a breakfast of avocado toast on focaccia with cherry tomatoes, everything but the bagel seasoning, and nutritional yeast as well as ground cherries on the side. The morning also consists of checking up on various social media platforms (Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook) for the couples’ array of media promoting their van lifestyle, coined “Let’s Play Ride and Seek” as well as their Instagram account VanLife Pride, which connects fellow “LGBTQIA+ nomads”. Soon enough, Nat and Abi kick on the engine and head to Green Gables, the childhood setting of the author of Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Montgomery. Abi takes pictures of the greenery and the simplistic oil-fashioned stove that Nat is obsessed with, geeking out over “the true labor of love to have food around the table”, and a return to the simple and essential ways of life, noting how this concept is often overlooked in modern times. 

After embarking on a hike with the dogs on Greenwich Dunes Trail Back in the van, it’s time for dinner. While Abi films, Nat drizzles olive oil and seasoning over potatoes from a stand on the side of the road alongside zucchini and green beans as well as vegan chicken tenders. The pair head to bed after capturing a fiery sunset from the bed, only to embark on another day of adventuring living the van life.

Converted Ram Promaster 3500 with four 100 watts solar panels.

Nat and Abi post daily content to their various platforms in order to promote their photography business, connect with other van-lifers, and display the beauty and pains of life on the road. The couple shares plentiful information under tabs such as “Details and Resources”, providing information on every detail of the van as well as accessories and photography equipment for Abi’s prospering on-the-road photography business. In addition, followers of Nat and Abi can pay monthly fees using Patreon in order to gain exclusive content or even private cooking lessons with Chef Nat via video chat. Nat and Abi, despite their eccentric and personalized experience with van life, are part of a larger community of fellow individuals taking on life on the road to escape the constraints faced in society. 

In 2011, photographer Foster Huntington created the hashtag, #VanLife, and now if one searches #VanLife on Instagram, there are more than 12 million images depicting this lifestyle on the road. Fantasization about ridding oneself of all of their possessions and hitting the open road has existed for many years, but instead of van life it has been the R.V. movement. According to Benjamin Fraser, who founded Ready Set Van in March, the difference between R.V. culture and van life boils down to political ideology and traditionally, one’s socio-economic status. Van-lifers do not want to be constrained to R.V. parks, and instead want to be immersed in nature to gain an “authentic” off-the-grid experience. Additionally, R.V. Life commonly arises out of economic necessity, whereas van life is more focused on freeing oneself from the constraints of society and a traditional working lifestyle, despite also allowing for individuals to cut down on utilities and soaring rent expenses. In her poem titled Inversion Therapy, Nat writes “

Although Van life consists of many different experiences, it provides a promising solution for the massive increase in burnout felt increasingly by many.

The 9-5 can often have draining effects for individuals (Photo by: CIPHR Connect)

Burnout is an extremely tangible and real phenomenon that leads to feelings of exhaustion that might prompt a desire to get away from all the stressors and hierarchical influences experienced constantly. Humans are inherently predisposed to self-organize into hierarchies, where members vary in their level of power, influence, skill, or dominance. Social groups tend to use socio-cultural status cues like job titles and educational attainment. Studies have found that one’s relative status has major impacts on attention, memory, and social interactions, as well as health and wellness. However, burnout is on the rise. Research has revealed that over half of survey respondents are experiencing burnout in 2021, up from 43% who said the same in Indeed’s pre-Covid-19 survey. Burnout does not only come from being overworked, but also comes from feelings of not being in control of one’s career or job, essentially not being able to figure out how to succeed no matter how hard you try. When someone has to carry out tasks that conflict with their sense of self, whatever that may look like, burnout can follow. 

The burnout phenomenon rang true for Nat and Abi, who ditched their possessions, their professional careers, and their friends and families from home in order to escape the constraints of a brick and mortar lifestyle. One night while in Big Bend, Nat reflected on a vulnerable self-reflective moment outside, writing: “Being out in nature is so vital because it lends an ear. It listens. You are surrounded by a depth, a disconnect not possible within the confines of modern society”. That is the whole idea of van life. It is not only an escape from the confines of modern society, but an entirely new way of living. Van life puts forth the notion that humans are not one-size-fits-all, and provides a new perspective on burnout. 




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