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The Philosophy of VanLife

The minimalism, the nature, the challenge.

The people, the transience, and the peace.

The gratitude, the creativity, the solitude.

The little things, the self-exploration, and the freedom.

The presence.

Here is what I have learned, having lived in my van for a couple years.

This is the philosophy of VanLife.



Minimalism

Desires are contracts we make with ourselves to be unhappy until that desire is achieved. In excess, less becomes more. Modest, natural desires are the middle path, but can be very hard to control. In order to cap our desires and thus increase happiness and peacefulness we must consciously shape our environment. Radical reduction is in order.

In the small interior of a van, one cannot afford to buy unnecessary unessentials; not for monetary reasons — but because there is simply no room.

One cannot own a walk-in-wardrobe full of clothes;

One cannot own a library full of books;

One cannot have a kitchen with an abundance of blenders and mixers;

And one cannot use a garage — that no one really uses and so it just gets filled with never-to-be-used, hoarded and dispensable objects that are a result of our overly-abundant, single-use society.

No. Life becomes the essential.

The clarity and the peace that is brought about by the complete eradication of these things cannot be understated. A weight you didn’t even know was there has been lifted.


Nature

Living in accordance with nature is by its very definition, the tao.

As civilisation moved in the direction of what it called progress, it moved further away from what it has evolved to be. Biology has not caught up.

We trick ourselves into thinking that grey buildings, grey skies, and grey people will make us happy. But we are more unhappy than ever. We must re-wild ourselves.

We must completely throw ourselves into the hills and forests. Mother nature is always there — willing to accept us with a tight embrace.

And the van carries us there: across geographies and topographies. All of us know, deep down that the outdoors will lift our spirits and yet we bury this deeply instinctual urge.

Nature is a non-negotiable factor of the happiness equation.

And with a van, the wandering hunter-gatherer returns.

“The mountains are calling and I must go” - John Muir


Challenge

Boats are safe in the harbour, but that is not what they’re made for. And so it is with us. In this age of abundance, we must purposefully inject some challenge into our lives or our mind suffers. This counter-intuitive paradox was known the the ancient stoics as purposeful hardship.

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘is this the condition that I so feared?’” -Seneca

By changing our daily routine and adding adversity, life seems to almost magically extend. Our perception of time slows down. We remember every single day.

The time the gas for the heater ran out in -20C.

The many times the van wouldn’t start at all.

The countless times it could have been easier.

This is what life is all about.

Adversity makes you stronger. But more importantly, adversity makes you happier. Your mind and body will thank you for it.


People

“Of all the things which wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship” - Epicurus

Many introverts naively think that they can get everything they need from life entirely on their own. They are mistaken. I should know, I tend this way myself. One finds that one’s happiness is magnified when an experience is shared with others. I’m not saying one should become a socially-reliant hedonist. Most certainly not. But one should make an effort to meet wonderful, life-altering people.

As one travels with a van, friendships are picked up like souvenirs.

Party people in Palma.

Nomadic surfers in Lofoten.

Entrepreneurial mountaineers in Chamonix.

Distinct flavours and spices added to the colourful concoction of our lives.


Transience

There are hundreds of Billions of suns in our little galaxy.

And there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe.

And science now says that there are a potentially infinite number of universes parallel to ours.

Humans have existed for the blip of a moment.

And you are just one of those humans.

But when you look closer, there is no you. ‘You’ are made up of trillions of smaller living things. And every decade, your body will have nearly completely replaced itself with a new set of living things.

You are transient.

You play a tiny part of the universe you are in.

And equally, you are the universe for the living things that are you.

Infinite up. Infinite down.

You are the universe. And you are transient. Minuscule, but not pointless.

And so the van symbolises this impermanence. Moving from place to place. Making the very most out of the short time we have. For if indeed it means so little, then why not be happy? We have the choice. We can make a conscious decision. Mood follows action. Commit to being happy. Commit to doing what it takes to be happy.

Life’s too short not be.

Embrace the ever-moving transience; live every moment presently.


Peace

“Happiness is peacefulness in motion. Peacefulness is happiness at rest.” - Naval Ravikant

You falsely chase happiness, when really you seek peace. Everything good stems from a peaceful mind.

To quiet a crowd, whisper.

To quiet the mind, be gentle.

Practice non-resistance, non-action.

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

Peace in a van is like no peace I have experienced. This little zen den is a box of happiness and joy.

Total quiet. Infinite time. Endless growth, youthfulness forever. Morning meditation, evening meditation. Mindful practices. Totally and completely living in the present. Every second of the day.

Never have I been more at peace than I am right now. A complete enigma given that I run a startup…

But the conscious design of environment helps shape the mind. Mind follows body and action. Sure, mind can be built with mind alone, but it is a lot easier if you help it along.

And easiness is the tao.


Gratitude

We reached an inflection point. In fact it was some time ago. When supply outweighed the need. Today, true wisdom lies in reduction, not in addition. In the age of abundance, those who don’t practice self-restraint get caught in an exponential flywheel that only leads to misery. But in the wise man’s conscious subtraction, it is important that he not hold what he has access to in contempt. Indeed, quite the opposite. He should overflow with gratitude for how lucky he is. When else in history has this been possible?

With the lifestyle reduction that comes with living in a van, some sacrifices are made.

So, how grateful I am for a bath.

How incredible the electricity and heating in a house is.

And the myriad other things that I used to take for granted.

But the gratefulness isn’t just for what I don’t have, but for what I do.

How wonderfully fortunate I am. I can travel wherever I want, working whenever I want, and doing whatever adventure takes my fancy.

I wake up every morning and say ‘thank you’.


Creativity

There are many components of a full life. Many variables in the equation. And certainly creative fulfilment plays a big part. How dull would life be without art?

Building a van is a highly creative process. Not only in the design, but the physical work of the carpentry, electrics, and plumbing. It pulls you into a flow state where minutes become hours. A state of deep work, enviable by the TikTokers of the world. A state of creative movement and physical meditation.

And on the road, with the right mindset, the creativity continues. Endless play and learning. Reading and writing, music and painting. And weird skills that you didn’t have time for or even contemplate doing before. The van, equipped to the right human is a life-changing, creative catalyst.


Little Things

The morning coffee, so carefully crafted.

The leather-bound journal, with tales of adventure and philosophical wanderings.

the cosiness, the coldness, the sound of the birds first thing in the morning.

The peace, the silence, the time and the space.

The ambient lighting, the beaming smile, and the view of my skis from bed.

The fulfilling work, and the time-off.

Mont Blanc from my window, the sound of the stream by the door.

Fresh flakes in the morning, or evening sunlight setting the mountains alight.

The Yin and the Yang.

These are the little things.

But those little things? Those little moments? They aren’t little.

“Wherever you go, there you are” - Jon Kabat Zinn


Self-exploration

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without” - Buddha

One can go infinitely deep down the rabbit-hole of introspection. And the rewards for doing so are substantial. A van gives you time and puts you in the right environment to delve deep But the execution is down to you.

Prolific journalling, meditation, reading, and nature walks gets the philosophical creative juices flowing. Encouraging boredom and discouraging short-term pleasure is crucial. Slow stimulation, rather than energetic impulses.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything gets done.” - Lao Tzu

Your van is a tool for developing mental clarity. Use it as such.


Freedom

Freedom has become cliche for millennial VanLifers inspired by the romantic impression they develop from social media. But it must be discussed as it is vitally important.

In Mao’s China, Stalin’s Russia, and Germany’s concentration camps, freedom was a word that could scarcely be whispered. Luckily, much of the West has largely remained a stronghold of liberalism. However, up until very recently, the extent of that freedom was capped. Are you really free working in a grey suit from nine to five for forty years in a tiny cubicle on the basement-level of a bank in a city with towering grey buildings? At least to me, that sounds like a different form of prison.

Today, the dream is no longer the white picket fence.

Many of us readily have access to abundance.

The dream is freedom. Freedom to live wherever you like, work whenever and doing whatever you choose. Full, unrestrained freedom. That is the dream.

A van gives us every single one of those things.

When else in history could I be living in the mountains in a van, running a company?

Utilise the opportunity that lies at your fingertips!


Presence

The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion” - Thich Nhat Hanh

Living in the future causes anxiety. Living in the past causes depression. The only thing that exists is the Now. Dwell in the Now. Stress is caused by being ‘here’, but wanting to be ‘there’. How you live in the present is how you live your life. Use that van to live the best damn life you can. Take the path less trodden.

But be careful you’re not running away from anything. To be restless is to lose one’s self-mastery. Relentless travel will not solve your problems. You merely bring your baggage with you. The best way to develop a sage’s strong foundation is through complete presence and unfaltering gratefulness.

It is through developing a peaceful base upon which all else is built.

It is though

The minimalism, the nature, the challenge.

The people, the transience, and the peace.

The gratitude, the creativity , the solitude.

The little things, the self-exploration, and the freedom.

The presence.


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