The Real Side of Van Life | An Interview with Laura Hughes
Laura Hughes is a full-time traveler, living on the road in a camper van. She also is the creator and host of Women on the Road – a podcast about full-time traveling women.
And I got the pleasure to ask her about the real side of being a woman on the road. The side no one tells you about (hint: it’s actually more difficult than Instagram tells you it is)
“We had a thirst to do more”
Both Laura and her boyfriend Shane started out traveling on the weekends in Shane’s Toyota Cruiser. Like anybody that’s been bitten by the travel bug, they wanted to be able to explore more outside of their 2 day time limit. They wanted to be able to go further and see more.
What made you want to get the van over using the Toyota Cruiser?
1. We value space both mentally and emotionally and it’s difficult to have that in a smaller car and 2. We wanted to be able to stand up and also be able to just cook something in a vehicle. This was a novel concept to me at the time, like “wow we can actually make a healthy dinner”
“I opted for a career in creativity rather than one I think I should have”
A big misconception of van life is the “I quit my boring day job and now I’m living the dream” philosophy. While yes, I’m sure that lifestyle is true for many vanlifers (and is a great philosophy), there’s also a whole other side to it: the people who left really great stable, and amazing situations in order to do something bold, scary, and unknown.
Both Laura and Shane were in Human Resources before the van. Laura worked at Geocaching in Seattle and believe it or not – loved her job.
“It’s not easy to leave that world”, she said. She went on to tell me that what most people don’t want to know about van life is that you are definitely letting go of something stable. You are much more aware of the nitty-gritty stuff. For instance, when it comes to healthcare:
What’s one of the more difficult parts of leaving the stability?
The things I never had to think about before. At my HR job, I had great pay and great benefits but now I’m on metacare and I have to pay out of pocket for certain medical services like getting my teeth cleaned. That’s where I’m at while I continue to build a business on the road. Next year might be different, but that’s what I have to do now. I never had to think twice about that before.
“I was ultimately afraid to fail so I kept what I wanted to do with my life in a passion bucket”
Most of us are so scared of taking the leap, that we completely withhold our passions. We allow our fear to guide us through life. Yes, Laura is working for herself, writing, and doing what she’s most passionate about, but that doesn’t mean in any way it was easy. The road to passion is not black and white, it’s not talent or no talent, and it’s definitely not success versus failure.
What obstacles did you hit from quitting your job to being where you are now?
I would come home from work and work on my passion projects/side hustles and eventually it started to feel like a double life. I didn’t want to admit my passion was becoming much bigger of a thing.
It’s weird when once you admit it, it makes it real – which makes you think there’s a line between success and failure.
Yeah and even after we’d been on the road for awhile, I still was in denial. I couldn’t even admit to my partner of 5 years that I wanted to write, take photos, and create things.
It’s like if you didn’t tell everyone every second of your life since you were born that you wanted to be a writer, it’s like you can’t be or become a writer.
There was no reason Laura couldn’t have been happy with her HR job. She had success, money, and influence. But it was a disservice to herself and to the person that would love that job to keep going when her passion was knocking at the door. The signs are there, you just have to look for them.
“The things no one tells you about van life”
My favorite part about interviewing Laura is that about 20 minutes in, her “mobile office” (a.k.a. her 6 person tent that her and her boyfriend set up every where they stop) broke down from the wind. She had to hang up for a bit to fix it. Why was this my favorite part? Because van life can be a complete misconception through social media. It’s not picture perfect the whole time. It’s not all Instagram photos. A lot more time is eaten up doing other things that you wouldn’t normally think about.
What do you wish people knew about living on the road?
All the in-between moments. You are constantly at the whim of your environment. You are living in other people’s towns and cities and they are completely unknown to you. You are always unaware of the environment and you have to always be a respectful member of society in someone’s hometown.
A typical day is being in transit to somewhere new and find a place to camp out to get work done. But you have to camp in van-friendly, non-restricted spots. Then you have to occasionally dump out the van water but you can’t just dump it wherever you want. You need to find an environmentally acceptable area. They are continually figuring out what their next move is, which can be difficult at times. Especially if the environment is working against them.
“Two independent people living under one van roof”
Roughly how much time and money did you spend to build out the van?
We joke that we did everything twice. We had a leak during building and had to take the whole van a part and put it back together. Overall, it took us about 2 and a half years and we spent around $10,000-12,000.
They decided it was best for them to buy a brand new van and since they had to do 2 iterations, they took more time and spent a bit more money than most people. People do it for less and people for it for more. It all just depends what you can handle.
Living in a small space with a significant other must be difficult at times. Has it affected your relationship?
We are both very independent people that love having our own space. I’m an extrovert and he’s an introvert which means we need to be very honest about our needs.
Sometimes, this means him going on bike rides or hikes by himself and her traveling for work to create that space. Or creating artificial space when they’re experiencing and doing all the same things. It’s about communication and being open about what you can and can’t handle.
“Continually challenge the assumption that you need to do it the way it’s done on social media”
If you want to travel or live on the road, know that you can make any vehicle home. There are so many people that live successfully on the road. And not in the social-media-everything-looks-perfect way, but in the this-is-my-passion-and-I’m-going-to-work-for-it way.
What are you hoping people walk away with from this conversation?
If you want to make a van, there’s so many resources now for you to do that. I promise you can make it happen. Continually challenge the assumption that you need to do it the way it’s done on social media. If you actually get out and see people on the road, there’s a million different ways to do it.
Every part of traveling, even going in your own backyard, is not what it seems. Every experience cannot be summed up into one thing.