I’m beginning the end of my van life. No, it wasn’t the tire trouble, check engine lights, or fleeing fires in the last two weeks that put me here (even if I swear the universe was trying to send me some kind of smoke signal of a middle finger. I mean, really. How many mishaps can one human handle?). No, this chaos didn’t make me consider this ending.
It wasn’t people asking when I’d be done, either, and let me tell you – they always ask. One of the first questions I get from almost everyone is “well how long are you doing this?” I smile and shrug. I never had some specific end date planned for this completely unexpected adventure. Hell, I never even expected to actually do this thing.
I was not a camper as a kid. When other people were learning how to start a fire and pitch a tent, I was moving. That’s what my military family did every summer. We moved, and there’s no way camping gear was going to fit on our truck. I remember specifically telling one of my exes that I was “not a camper” at least a hundred times.
Yet somehow I had this particular dream and it wasn’t about learning to camp at all. This journey would take me home and teach me what I needed to know about life.
But the truth is, once I was on the road, I didn’t feel like I was on some spiritual journey. I caught myself wishing for home again. The safety and simplicity of the same grocery store, gym, and routine every day. For the longest time I thought it was a glitch – I mean, what’s wrong with me? How could I not love the idea of trading a couch and convenience for these views?
As I adjusted to the van life almost a year in, the idea of ending it panicked me almost as much as going in the first place did. I didn’t want to live like I used to. To exist again with the part of me that always felt restless. The one that couldn’t just get up and go anywhere without feeling frozen. I didn’t want to be them again.
I sat with this feeling for weeks until a podcast popped up on my account during a long drive last weekend. It featured Glennon Doyle and Elizabeth Gilbert and you can listen to it here. At the very end, someone called in with a question about going to an ashram. They said living at the ashram away from the business of the world “didn’t feel real” and they had to go back to “real life.” But they still felt restless in the real world, ready to escape to the ashram again. My ears perked up. “Me too,” I thought.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s answer was to remind this person that the point of a spiritual journey isn’t escape. It’s learning how to live in the world as it is. To train yourself to be grounded in something so that whatever comes, you can face it.
I sighed. Then hit rewind and listened again. And again.
As much as the point of van life was to find a home in myself, I know now that the purpose was learning how to live with the everyday mishaps in a more healthy way. I’ve taken this year to be with myself. To sit in the woods with no service. To see these beautiful places that make my heart feel something. Now, I need a path that’s not about hiding or solitude. It’s about learning how to do the hard stuff in the world.
My lesson from this life isn’t about becoming a camper (although I can build one bad ass campfire). No, it’s about learning what I love and how to make time for it. How to create a life that’s disciplined by my choice, not some rules society wrote that don’t make me happy. How to take what I love about this van life and fold it into my life.
This journey wasn’t about ending up anywhere or finding anything. It was about learning how to live better every day, everywhere.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.