• Megan Benzik

#VanLife Lessons: Reminders of What Really Matters

Updated: Feb 28

If you didn’t already know, we live in a van. A 138" wheelbase, solar power outfitted 2017 Dodge Ram Promaster 2500 to be exact. =] Pretty much the smallest van you can get that allows you to still standup inside. Why am I telling you this? Because it has now officially been a year of Austin and I living in it full time by choice.

Before I tell you what we have learned, I’m sure your biggest question is “Why?”.

Austin had a couple of different reasons such as increasing efficiency and having more freedom. I guess he had wanted to live in a van since he was younger. I had just simply never thought about it, until Austin started bringing it up. I looked into it, realized it was possible, and was left with the response of "Why Not?" I have already learned that you really don't know if you will like something or not until you try it. I knew it wouldn’t be easy so I personally saw it as a challenge. I didn't even think about how much I would grow and learn from it. We set a deadline of 3 months to make sure we would follow through, and yet 2 weeks later we were off to Moab, UT to get our new home. So no, we did not build it ourselves. We just didn’t have the time or interest to build it out ourselves. The one we found, looked like it would work really well for us and so far it has! =]

Sleeping in an avalanche zone at 11,000' elevation was a night to remember for sure!

We didn’t overthink anything. We simply made the decision that we were going to live in a van and then continued to take the next logical step that would get us closer to our goal. The times we did stop to think about what we were actually doing, we would often just bust out into laughter at how crazy and ridiculous we probably seemed to everyone else. We simply didn't care. Every time we talked about all the possibilities and freedoms living in a van would open up for us, we couldn't help but get excited. The unknown is pretty exciting when you are confident in your ability to face and adapt to new challenges.

Evening stargazing like this has become the norm.

We didn’t know how long we planned to live in a van and we didn’t have a plan for where we were going or what we were going to do, we simply wanted to experience it and see what would come of it. Our friends questioned us, thought we were crazy, realized we were serious, supported us, and then started to consider it themselves.

I can now say that without a doubt this was the best decision we have ever made. We are having a blast and learning more about life than we ever thought we would.

Here are some of the things we have learned over the past year. (Talk about a busy year!)

1.) Paralysis by analysis stops so many people from doing what they want. Stop thinking.

Everyone had questions for us during this transition time. “Where will your mail go?”, “Where are you going to sleep?" , "How will you shower?", ect... We had answers to some, but others we would simply say “not sure yet, but we will figure it out.” There wasn’t a doubt in our minds that we could make this happen. It was funny because so many people would say “that’s the dream!” Or “one day I’ll do that, I just have...(insert excuse here).” So many people stop themselves from experiencing things in the unknown simply because their minds put up road blocks. We accepted that road blocks would be there and knew that we would get around them.

2.) When you have no choice but to solve the problem, you will always find a way to solve it.

We moved into a van while in Arizona. This meant it was still too hot to leave our pups in the van. We had thought about this but kept putting it off as if the answer would just come to us. When it finally came down to it, we were pretty stressed trying to figure it all out. But guess what? We had no choice but to find a solution and that’s exactly what we did. For this problem, we ended up finding a portable air conditioner. We have encountered many other problems since becoming van lifers and have realized that as hopeless or frustrating as something may seem, there is always a solution and it always works out just fine.

3.) Support and communication are essential to having healthy relationships.

We have to be super organized, efficient, and work as a team to make it work. It requires a good amount of planning and communication. We don't have another car so we have to plan our day together and be on the same page. We support each other in our personal goals and so we work together to make sure our days are mutually beneficial. When miscommunication happens and we start bickering, we don't let it escalate. We usually just stop talking and then discuss it calmly later.

4.) There will always be chaos. You have to create the calm.

We are high energy people who own a business and live in a van. We are always working on Live ATOP or discussing it (and we love it!), but while doing that, if we aren't traveling to a new place, we are running errands, checking out events in town, playing in nature, or working out at the gym. Things can feel pretty chaotic at times trying to juggle it all. (There is just so much we want to do!) which is also why we both make it a priority of ours to spend at least an hour on our yoga mats stretching or breathing.

5.) Planning is good, but being able to adapt to whatever life throws at you is even better.

Things rarely go as planned, and living in a van requires a good amount of planning. We have learned that our "plans" often turn into simple outlines. Or worse, we get stuck in the mud on a cold rainy day in the mountains when we had planned on heading to town. It's still not always easy but we have gotten a lot better at flowing with, and adapting to, whatever unplanned situation life throws at us. Once it’s in the past, you can’t change it. The thing you can do is accept and adapt to it while focusing on moving forward.

6.) When you have to think about things like having enough water or where you are going to sleep, your mind is less likely to think about, or make up problems that don’t matter.

It's not that we stress about finding water, or a place to sleep, but it's still something we have to remember to consider. It keeps our minds distracted just enough to not care about gossip or drama. We care about survival and living the best life we can. It keeps things simple.

7.) It's hard to truly be grateful for something that you have never had to go without.

We have both worked on practicing gratitude on a daily basis in the past. One of our favorite ways to do this is by using the 5 Minute Journal. I am pretty positive that neither of us ever wrote "having running water" in there before van life. We were taking it for granted without even realizing it. That is, until we moved into a van and transitioned to a pump sink. When you can truly feel grateful for something as simple as running water, you begin to realize how lucky you are for everything in your life and how beautiful it really is.

8.) Living in slight discomfort leads to constant growth.

It's not that we are uncomfortable living in a van. It really does feel like home and it really is nice to be able to feel that way everywhere you go. It's more that we don’t have a couch to crash on after work or a TV to watch. We also don't have heat or AC unless the van is running so we often opt out of that. So yes, these are some discomforts, but it causes us to read a book instead of watch TV or find a new lake to play in instead of staying in and turning the AC on. These comforts are completely worth giving up for everything we have experienced and learned. Of course, we are not crazy and we are always more than happy to enjoy these comforts when visiting others.

I could write forever about all of the shifts and changes I have noticed within myself after only a year of living in a van full time. I am sure Austin could probably add a lot more too. It has helped us find a balance in life that has allowed us to truly experience what it feels like live our best lives. After all, it was only about 7 months after living in a van that we decided to form Live ATOP Coaching. It's not that we want to convince everyone to live in a van. Living in a van is definitely NOT for everyone. We want to convince everyone that there is a balance in life that can be found. We want to help people find that balance because we want everyone to experience what it truly feels like to live your best life.

FYI- It's pretty effing great.

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