I may not have everything I want, but I have everything I need.
In my family, this phrase is famous. I said it once to my father, early on in my journey living with Bruno in his Toyota camper van. He’d asked me how I – the girl with sixty shades of nail polish perfectly lined up in her adolescent bathroom – could live in such a confined space and like it. He never forgot my answer, and used it countless times when describing my nomadic life to incredulous friends and family.
I may not have everything I want, but I have everything I need.
At the time I said it – and for much time afterwards – the phrase held true. Totoyaya, and the life she offered, gave me everything I needed.
It’s been awhile, though, that my phrase no longer describes how I feel.
Bruno and I have long talked about the day we would upgrade to a larger vehicle. We’d want a family and a bit more comfort one day. That one day was always abstract; until it wasn’t. Sometime last year, that one day became now. As I type these words, it’s an urgent now.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when things changed for me. I think it was more of a gradual evolution. I have evolved over the years, as young people do, and my priorities have changed. Life in Totoyaya still speaks to many of my core values – like living simply, having more time to enjoy the moment, and having the freedom to explore and learn from the wider world.
But as with anything, when you feed certain values, you prioritize them over others; and, if those other values are also important, you eventually feel imbalanced. Our choices often have far-flung consequences that we cannot foresee until they are right upon us.
In feeding my sense of adventure and simplicity, I have neglected my own comfort and health. Allow me to explain:
Health has been a waxing and waning priority for me over the last dozen years. When I met Bruno, I was at a waning phase; in the past year, health has become a top priority. Eating healthy, home-made foods, doing yoga, and getting enough physical exercise have become essential aspects to my wellbeing.
I find them challenging to accomplish in Totoyaya. My ability to get physical exercise is dependent on finding a space to exercise. I can usually manage this, even with winter weather here in the U.S. (thanks to Planet Fitness), but there are often days on end when the weather is horrible, we’re in transit, and I’m stuck inside our tiny home without being able to release my pent-up energy (I’m a mesomorph and need to move a lot; and yes, I’m a chicken in bad weather).
Yoga has always been a struggle on the road. If I’m in a city and can find a studio, great. If I’m in a quiet, peaceful place where I can hide myself on my mat, great. For much of my time in Totoyaya, we’ve been in regions of the world where I don’t feel comfortable downward-dogging it in public; more recently, we’ve been in Walmart parking lots. After almost five years without one, I’m longing for a sacred space reserved for doing yoga poses and the opportunity to develop my practice.
Lastly, while finding fresh food is easy on the road, cooking up delicious, healthy meals is not. One day I’ll write a post about some of the techniques I use to eat healthy in a camper van, but today I must honestly confess that having no real kitchen makes this a challenge. Now that the weather is cold and we’re often in parking lots, it’s even more difficult to cook, as my “kitchen” had always involved pulling a gas canister outside and cooking on our picnic table.
Lack of comfort inside a four-square-meter sized space might be self-explanatory (I’ve had my fair share of friends and relatives remark this year, upon seeing Totoyaya face-to-face, that they don’t know how I manage to live in it), but, in fact, I didn’t feel that way until last year. It’s no coincidence that my feelings have emerged as we began traveling in Europe and North America, regions of the world that have temperate climates and prohibitively expensive campsites. Now, we spend many of our nights in parking lots and truck stops, which, along with the weather, has us taking our meals and spending our evenings inside.
I recognize we could solve most of these problems if we returned to the campsites of warm and sunny Africa, say. The thing is, we want to travel in Europe and North America. I personally just don’t want to be a claustrophobic blob while doing it!
I also recognize that some people travel in smaller, less comfortable vehicles than ours. All I can say is kudos to you. I no longer want to sacrifice my comfort and health to live this way. I’m obviously not getting enough out of our travels to balance out the challenges because I have become increasingly resentful of Totoyaya. She’s felt more like a prison than the engine to our dreams. My claustrophobia has made me increasingly intolerant of the previously-minor inconveniences of living in such a small space – like finding clothes in cardboard boxes and foodstuffs under the bed; like searching for things in our totally impractical Engel box fridge, and like cooking the types of meals I want to cook (I love cooking, FYI) in a non-existent kitchen.
Maybe I’m just at the 4.5 year mark now and my patience with the sacrifices I was once willing to make is up. Maybe it’s just the region of the world we’re traveling in, and things will be fine again in Latin America.
Or maybe it’s that I’ve outgrown my home. Having a haven has always been important to me (I’m a homebody), and I’ve always gone to great measures to create a pleasant, comfortable home for myself, be it a college dorm room or an apartment overseas. I think I gather the confidence to propel myself out into the universe if I’m supported by a cosy home to retreat back to.
I used to feel Totoyaya was that haven – I no longer do. My needs have outgrown her.
In my bad moments, Bruno wonders if this nomadic life is for me. He wonders if I can live permanently on the road in any fashion at all. Perhaps, in buying a new, larger vehicle, I am simply postponing the inevitable – that I need a larger home-base, perhaps with a routine and a community, and that no vehicle will be enough.
I don’t feel that way. When I imagine our future vehicle, it calms me. It is large enough that even when it rains, we can spend the day inside without falling over one another. Perhaps I’m baking a loaf of bread while doing some yoga stretches in the hallway, and Bruno is reading a book at the dining table. I imagine us being autonomous enough that we won’t always have to worry about finding a place to sleep that has facilities. We’ll have our own toilet, shower, high water capacity, and enough solar energy to keep batteries and laptops charged. We’ll be able to park on BLM/Crown land without a second thought, or along that random side-road with a few RVs that we happen upon while driving from one place to another.
In this future home-on-wheels, I’ll get the best of a home and the best of nomadic life.
I wrote this post a couple weeks ago, but I’ve been hesitant to post it. I’ve re-read and re-written it a few time. I don’t want it to come across as ungrateful or unconscious of my privilege. I recognize that so many people in the world live in mud huts without beds or running water and survive on a single starchy meal a day. Even in North America, people stuff themselves into haphazard apartments and live on food stamps.
I’ve decided to post it because I want to acknowledge two things, today. First is that, when you’re born into a certain privilege, it’s hard to go backwards, to subtract, to live less comfortably (at least for more than a time). In some ways, this is what my entire adventure in Totoyaya is – an effort to subtract. I may just have subtracted slightly too much.
Secondly, I want to be honest with you. I want to paint life in a vehicle as it actually is, not only as my Instagram photos show it as. It would be totally phoney of me only to write about the awesome moments, and to leave out these, sometimes very momentous-feeling, challenges in between. As I write this, I’m at a breaking point, and if I don’t share that breaking point, I may as well stop writing on my blog.
All this is why Bruno and I got an Air BnB apartment for Christmas, and another one for a few days in Las Vegas. All this is why we’re trying – desperately – to find a new vehicle. The narrative of Wandering Footsteps wouldn’t make sense if I didn’t share all this.
But let me finish with this: I have a lot to be grateful for (but living gratefully is a life-long process). I have a roof over my head, a small but comfortable bed, my health, and a husband who would do anything to make me happy (read: give up Totoyaya). I have the freedom to travel the world (on the cheap, but still), and the time to appreciate and enjoy life. I have the opportunity to improve my lot in life when it’s less than perfect.
Best of all, I have the opportunity now – in my discomfort and dissatisfaction – to grow. I am trying to lean into my negative feelings, to step outside them, and to breathe through them. It’s the biggest challenge I have ever faced, but maybe I’m meant to learn something before that new vehicle comes our way (and during the long conversion that will follow!). Maybe that’s why our vehicle search has been so frustrating.
I leave you with a poem from Rumi that was read to me at the end of a recent yoga class. It resonated profoundly with me in light of all that I’ve just shared. May it offer you, too, some glimmer of peace in whatever challenges you may be facing.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.