Wandering Footsteps: Wandering the World One Step at a Time » Blog

A Really, Really, Really Honest Account of Why We’re Searching for a New Camper Van

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.

This is the life - on a private African safari with our very own camper van.

This is the life – on a private African safari with our very own camper van!

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.

Enjoying the simple life at camped a public beach in Dubai.

Enjoying the simple life at camped a public beach in Dubai.

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.

It

It’s not easy to find a quiet, private place to do a bit of yoga. Even here, on the northern coast of Spain, I got caought on camera! (At least I was in the region of the world where it was ok to flash my belly!)

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.

This is my kitchen.  It

This is my kitchen. It’s AMAZING, when the weather is good and there’s space to bring out the 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!:)

Ahhh, the wonderful campsites of Africa.  For $6, this one had a clear view of the Nile River, a swimming pool, electricity, and amazing shower and toilet facilities (so amazing that there were even massage tables in there).

Ahhh, the wonderful campsites of Africa. For $6, this one had a clear view of the Nile River, a swimming pool, electricity, and amazing shower and toilet facilities (so amazing that there were even massage tables in there).

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.

A shield from the wind because it kept blowing out my gas cooker.  Very romantic, as long as it only happens from time to time!

A shield from the wind because it kept blowing out my gas cooker. Very romantic, as long as it only happens from time to time!

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.

I think, also, that maybe the amount of STUFF I have has outgrown Totoyaya...

I think, also, that maybe the amount of STUFF I have has outgrown Totoyaya…

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.

Admittedly, in my bad moments I have daydreamed about my lovely old apartment in Ottawa more than once...

Admittedly, in my bad moments I have daydreamed about my lovely old apartment in Ottawa more than once…

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.

This is my shower in Totoyaya, which is GREAT if the weather is good and you can bathe outside.

This is my shower in Totoyaya, which is GREAT if the weather is good and you can bathe outside.

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.

I got to live in a big, real, warm condo for a few days in Vegas... and cook in a GIGANTIC kitchen!

I got to live in a big, real, warm condo for a few days in Vegas… and cook in a GIGANTIC kitchen!

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.

Lean into the difficult moments, step outside them, breathe through them... be grateful.

Lean into the difficult moments, step outside them, breathe through them… be grateful.

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.

  • Alice - I actually met Phil (from Phil and Angie) while travelling in my micro camper. I’ve up sized too as I couldn’t cope with any more baby wipe washes and want to head to Scandinavia next. I love my new van and I hope you love yours too :-)ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Oh my goodness, I can totally relate to the baby wipe showers!! Small vehicles are wonderful for warm climates – cool bucket showers along tropical beaches are pretty amazing, actually! – but I couldn’t agree more than upgrading for Scandinavia (or North America, for that matter!) is a great plan. We’re pretty pumped because we’ve made space for an 80cmx80cm shower which is massive! We’ll still mostly do bucket showers in there (with hot water, though, haha!) but it’ll be nice to throw out the wet wipes!

      Where did you meet Phil and Angie? Best of luck in Scandinavia – it’s on our list for the future!!ReplyCancel

  • Angie - What a brave piece of writing Brittany. I can absolutely and totally identify with all of what you have said in such an open and honest way and I know how difficult it must have been to open up as you have.
    “People”, I.e. Friends and family and faithful blog followers so oftentimes identify this nomadic lifestyle as idyllic, which of course it most often is and we appreciate that fact.
    However, there is a flip side of course and apart from the mundane ( which the general process of life and living throws in, such as shopping and laundry) there are those things that we miss.
    Some of these things can be found in some measure, I.e. Your joining a sport club for some exercise but yoga, I’ve found has been remarkably difficult to maintain. Maybe I can too easily find too many excuses….it’s too public, it’s too windy, it’s too uneven, but the fact remains, nothing beats those regular classes with a known and trusted teacher!
    Being a member of a library and just being able to come out with armfuls of cookery and art books, is something else I miss.
    At the moment, the only way I seem to be able to appease these desires is to take more frequent visits back to Wales( though to be honest, I still don’t do as much yoga as I should!) This isn’t really an ideal solution though as Phil is still very much in travel mode and thinks we don’t have enough time to visit everywhere.. however, he, like Bruno, is caring enough to give me the opportunities that I need and compromise his own needs.
    You now have a new vehicle, an exciting new project, which will take you some time to complete but which I think will give you the injection of enthusiasm to continue.
    Don’t worry about what the future may bring………life has a curious way of springing change upon us, when we least expect it.
    In the meantime, thank you for allowing me to speak my thoughts too!
    A huge hug to you both.
    XxxxReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Hi Angie, your message (which you also sent to me via email) was the first thing I read when I woke up this morning, after posting this late last night. I felt like I could finally exhale deeply, and something truly lifted off my shoulders. I think the sharing of my inner thoughts has ended up being very cathartic for me, and I’m seeing the benefits of having a little community (or a few girlfriends!) to vent to or to unload that on when I need to. This life is wonderful but it can be lonely sometimes. Today I feel very much un-alone. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Nicole - Hi Brittany,
    This is a beautiful post. You succeeded in showing gratitude & honesty. We made the step from a Jeep Wrangler with rooftop (but with a better kitchen than yours & an a few closets instead of cardboard boxes) to a large self-build expedition camper truck. We understand the importance of feeling home on the road and that it requires some comforts. Especially on cold, rainy days we’re very happy with this “upgrade”.

    Best wishes,
    Nicole &ElmerReplyCancel

    • Brittany - As I’ve just noted to the kind comments of other nomads and overlanders, I REALLY appreciate your message. I was so hesitant to share this post and come off as ungrateful or overly-negative, but I’m feeling a lot better about sharing it now that I’m seeing I’m not the only one to feel this way from time to time. It’s really good to hear that your vehicle upgrade has done just the trick – I think it will for Bruno and I, too!

      Thank you both, and hope to introduce our upgraded rigs to one another someday! :)ReplyCancel

  • Phil n Angie - So good.

    I read this and can so understand exactly where you are coming from, but I also read it knowing the next vehicle is just around the corner, so not only do we understand where you are coming from but also where you are going to.

    With love.
    PnAReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Really appreciate the nod of acceptance and encouragement I’ve been receiving from other nomads and overlanders. Thanks a bunch you guys, it really means a lot. Where we’re going is totally unchartered territory, but we’re both really excited for the new adventure ahead. Can’t wait to show it off to you all!ReplyCancel

  • Tiffany - Hey Guys! This post makes total sense to me. Oh my gosh, after living so long in a small camper van I can only imagine the urge to enjoy a bigger one. This life on the road, it is such a great privilege, but there are certainly two sides of the coin. I know you’re not alone that sometimes there is a struggle to find and regain that balance. I hope a bigger bus brings you well into the next stage. All the best.ReplyCancel

    • Brittany - Thank you so much for the kind words, Tiffany. I feel good about having shared this post because, finally, I have received more encouragement and compassion than anything. It has helped make me feel like my feelings are legitimate, OK, and that they don’t necessarily mean I’m not cut out for this nomad life. Really, really appreciate the message, Tiffany. Thank you. :) And yes, I hope this bus will be just the trick, too, at least after the conversion process is over!!ReplyCancel

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