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#VanLies – All That Glitters is Not Gold

When we first began dreaming about a recreational vehicle, I was all in on the Airstream. Not because I knew anything about RVs, or Airstreams. I knew precisely nothing. I just thought Airstreams were super cool. Case closed. I was also really naive about what's involved in pulling a trailer. I remember thinking you could literally just buy one, attach it to a vehicle, and go camping.

Vehicle wise, Lori was in a different camp, so to speak. Unbeknownst to me, she harbored a deep and lasting fear of pulling things. I expect this is due to a previous life she had as a sled dog in Alaska. She was probably cold, a lot. Whatever the reason, the fear hasn’t receded despite over 40,000 miles of pulling Stanley, tightly clenched, over in the co-pilot seat. Kidding. She's much more relaxed now. She is only lightly clenched.

Her vision for our road machine was a van. Simple, easy to drive. No fuss. I think in her mind this would have been an orange VW van too. This may also date back to another previous life where she was a hippy and traveled around in one of those. Or maybe that actually happened in this life. You can’t ever be totally sure with Lori.

Regardless, I vetoed the van straightaway due to lots of concerns about space and being able to bring all the cool camping gear that I had accumulated by this time. More importantly, I wanted an Airstream. So I was willing to make whatever rationalizations were necessary to make that happen. Much later, when we were fully enmeshed in the nomad life, nothing I learned about the van option made me think we had made the wrong choice. See my piece over in the Adventure Institute about vehicle choices called How You Ramble and Roll for more on all the various options.

Fast forward to Covid, and kids grabbing their laptops, phones and stickered water bottles and hitting the road in the millions (Someone please explain to them that you have to work for the man in a soulless, burlap cubicle, for forty years before you get to do this!). And voila, you have a lot of photos on Instagram with hashtags like #VanLife.

You will see images like this. Which is probably what Lori was imagining the trip would be like as well.

These photos will make you instantly jealous of these modern-day gypsy’s and their carefree, effortlessly epic existence. Striking the warrior pose on top of your groovy van parked on the rim of Crater Lake is undeniably bad ass. But, and you might not know this, not every picture you see on social media necessarily reflects the full picture. In fact, if you want a little Schadenfreude, you might enjoy reading this humorous article I Lived the #VanLife by Caity Weaver in the New York Times.*

To be fair, Ms. Weaver would have benefited from spending time reading the information at the Ramble On Adventure Institute before heading out on the road. You can't just go to Yosemite anymore than you can just go to the Super Bowl. Planning is paramount. Still, she shines a light on some of the obvious bullshit and it makes for a funnier articl

*Note: you need a NYT subscription to read her piece, but if you don’t want a subscription you are entitled to 3 free articles a month. So give it a try.

None of this should discourage any of you who still dream of hitting the road, whether in a tiny van or in a monster truck. The road is great. Truly. But the road can be hard. Results may vary.


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Mike Turner
Mike Turner

Great piece Tom, I always wondered how you two managed the plan.

I read the NYT piece and had to laugh. No planning, high expectations - they reaped a just reward. Now maybe the demand for vans and such will diminish...not. I spent many years in my late teens, early 20's living in a '63 Ford Econoline (cross-country 4 month trip), Dodge Maxivan XL's and a camper equipped Ford F350 Super Camper Special (company vehicles) with a work buddy (same cross country buddy) traveling the south for 2-3 week periods between materials reloads in Suffern, NY - college marketing gig took us to every college, university, trade school - anywhere with classrooms to plaster with our materials or leave on…

Tom Piper
Tom Piper

Classic adventures. Things that are not only possible when we were young but that were generally amazing. Lori and I traveled around the country in our late twenties in a 4-cylinder Mazda pickup with a futon in the back for months at a time. And it felt luxurious.

It's tougher now for lots of reasons, even for the young of heart and young of body. But not impossible. Thanks for sharing!

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