In the summer of 2015, Brian and I drove up the coast of California for an amazing 2 1/2 weeks on the road. After bee-lining our way from Colorado to Ventura Beach, we meandered up Highway 1 in my Subaru Outback, camping all along the way.
We hiked, we mountain biked, and we backpacked. We drank local wine and ate fresh seafood. We fell asleep every night to crickets chirping and frogs singing, sounds that I miss living at 9,300 feet above sea level.
I’ve always had a love affair with California. There’s just something about mountains and ocean together that feels magical to me, and I adore the mild, sunny climate. Combine those things with incredible local food and drink, and it feels like paradise to me.
I’ve also always known California was densely populated, but Brian and I naively thought we’d be able to easily find public land to camp on like we reliably do in Colorado and Utah. We love to travel without a set schedule or even much of a plan, but California is not designed for spontaneity or flying by the seat of our pants like we usually do.
We noticed a trend that seemed like the perfect solution though: the camper van. No campsite? No problem…just pull over into a Flying J or a Walmart as a backup option. Of course we’d rather be at a campground on the beach, but unless you are there, ready to pounce as soon as someone checks out of their site, you probably aren’t getting one if you didn’t make a reservation six months in advance. So at least you have more options when your plan to be spontaneous doesn’t exactly work out.
We spent the rest of the trip fantasizing about our future van: solar panels, a little kitchen, a heater for the winter, storage for our bikes, skis, and paddle boards, plus our own separate compartments for our personal clothing and gear.
We had big dreams, but for me it felt like too much of a financial stretch for us to rush home and buy a van. I was only two years into my business; and we had a mortgage and a car payment. As much as I wanted the freedom and adventure that come with a camper van, I kept talking Brian out of it, because it wasn’t “realistic”.
But in 2017, things changed. After my mom and I were both diagnosed with cancer, things like money worries just didn’t seem to matter any more. Our financial picture didn’t change significantly in two years, but my priorities did.
Our friends were mildly shocked when I finally agreed to go look at empty cargo vans with Brian. They knew that I was the logical, “numbers” one in the relationship, and that until now buying a van hadn’t added up in my head. And everyone was even more surprised when we drove off the lot with a van the very first day we started looking.
When we bought our van, we couldn’t afford it any more than we could when we first started dreaming about it. But suddenly I had this feeling like, “how can we afford NOT to?”
My cancer was very early stage – only about 4% of women with stage 1a ovarian cancer don’t survive five years. And the survival rate for my cell type is even higher than that, although the statistics aren’t conclusive since it’s such a rare type.
After a few months of emotionally processing all that I had been through, it dawned on me that there are women who aren’t as fortunate as me, who would kill to have the opportunity to live their dreams, even if those dreams feel scary. It suddenly felt like it was not only my right to live my most amazing life, but my responsibility. I had been given a second chance, and it was time to rise to the call to make my life incredible.
I stopped working so hard and hustling to make my business to grow. I started saying yes to more invitations. I met an old friend for a long girls’ weekend in the Florida Keys. I went on more biking trips to the desert. I flew to visit my mom three times in four months over the course of her treatment. We said yes when we were invited to stay in a friend’s house in the Bahamas.
And we bought and built the van. We figured out how to make it work. It felt like a leap, but it all worked out financially. We still have a monthly payment on it, but our other car is paid off, and so is the van build.
When I tell you all that, it doesn’t even begin to account for what we have gained with this purchase. We have made countless memories in the last 18 months, driving the van to eight states and a Canadian province. We’ve done last-minute ski trips, used it as a basecamp for countless bike and bikepacking rides, and have cooked our breakfast beachside. Our van sometimes feels more like home than our actual house, because we both feel so relaxed and like “ourselves” when we’re on the road. It may have been one of the scariest purchases we have ever made, but it has been one of the absolute best.
Van life is awesome. I’m actually writing this post from a hammock on empty, beautiful BLM land, just along the Colorado-Utah border. It’s 85 degrees here; it’s 50 and rainy back home. Brian is chilling in a camp chair 100 yards away, blasting bluegrass and drinking a well-deserved beer. There are no words to describe the feeling of freedom that comes from this life.
Whatever your big dreams are – the dreams that feel a little bit scary – I want you to take some time to really step back. What limiting beliefs are holding you back from your dreams? Maybe it’s a perceived financial limitation like mine was, or maybe it’s something else.
I don’t want you to wait for a life crisis to reevaluate your life’s priorities. Do what makes you happy now. Have confidence that if you have a dream, it is there for a reason, that you were meant to do it, and that it will all work out.
Take the leap. Do the thing that’s on your heart. Make your life amazing.