How to Mentally Prepare for Living in a Vehicle
Many people are embracing the shift to vehicle dwelling, whether this is out of necessity or desire. Sadly, for many it is economic necessity that forces them from their traditional home and into mobile living. Still, whether vehicle dwelling is adopted by choice or necessity, it has the potential to be a good life.
Despite the fact that vehicle dwelling can be a good experience, it can also he a difficult adjustment. This adjustment can be hard from a practical standpoint, but may be very hard mentally and emotionally.
I have dealt with the mental challenges of being a nomad during my years of part-time vehicle dwelling, and then again when I started out full-time on the road. Even now, this is still something that I deal with occasionally. The two triggers that often lead to mental stress for me are changes in location to a new or unknown area and difficult financial periods. As a freelancer, work is sometimes abundant and other times sparse. Either of these triggers may lead to mental struggles and feelings of homelessness, desperation, or fear.
Mental prep is the hardest part
Mental preparation may well be the hardest part of adjusting to vehicle dwelling. There are plenty of “how to” resources available now that were not available to new nomads even several years ago. There are few, if any, resources for mental preparation though.
Zach Davis, in his book Appalachian Trials, suggests that it is psychological or emotional struggles that cause people to quit the Appalachian Trail rather than physical struggles. Davis made this observation during his own thru-hike on the AT several years ago. After finding no resources on the topic, he decided to write a book about it.
In my experience, there is a similarity between thru-hiking the AT and becoming a nomad. In both cases, we are striking out into uncharted territory where everything is different. The physical aspects of both can be learned through the plentiful books and online resources or through trial and error. The mental aspects, however, may prove more challenging for many people.
Why mental prep is necessary
Mental preparation is necessary (or at least incredibly helpful) for a successful transition to vehicle dwelling. There are at least three reasons why mental preparation is so helpful.
Vehicle dwelling, or any type of nomadic lifestyle, is a totally different experience from what most of have known and accepted as normal. This unique lifestyle then creates stress when it is first attempted. In many ways, vehicle dwelling can be compared to pioneer living, with the obvious exceptions of motorized vehicles and portable electronics. Still, many things that are easy and automated in a house require more planning, preparation, and thought as a nomad.
Many nomads also encounter resistance or, at the very least, a lack of support from family and friends. Some of them may think you have lost your mind, while a few may admit they are envious. In any case, the lack of support can be a mental challenge.
It is also common for new nomads (and even those thinking about hitting the road) to experience feelings of fear, inadequacy, or incompetence. This is a completely normal experience that everyone deals with to some extent. Those who have spent more time traveling, camping, or living in primitive situations may adapt more readily than others, but it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the number of new things that must be learned.
How to prepare mentally for living in a vehicle
Preparing mentally to live in a vehicle will almost certainly make the adjustment process smoother. There are a number of steps that you can take to ease this adjustment and reduce the stress, but the following ideas are things that I have found useful in my experience.
Recognize that this will require a process of adjusting. This may sound overly simple, but accepting that the transition will involve a certain amount of stress is incredibly powerful. Once you embrace this idea, you are less likely to be blindsided by the stress of learning a new lifestyle.
Be kind to yourself as you adjust to vehicle dwelling. This is a big change, and everyone needs time to adjust. Being hard on yourself because you are experiencing stress or frustration will only lead to more stress and frustration. Give yourself permission to sometimes be frustrated as you try to figure out how to do things on the road. It really does become easier with time.
Be prepared to make adjustments to your lifestyle (and setup) over time. You will almost certainly find better ways to do things as you settle into vehicle dwelling. One large example of this is that most nomads end up trying several vehicles before they find one that is an ideal fit. It is surprisingly difficult to anticipate exactly what your needs will be on the road and which comforts will be most important. Recognizing that you will be making adjustments as you decide what works or does not work helps to reduce stress.
Try to anticipate necessary adjustments and changes before you start vehicle dwelling. Reading honest blogs, watching honest videos, and practicing car camping before striking out full-time are all great ways to begin identifying some of the changes and adjustments that you will face. Knowing in advance at least some of what your experience will look like is comforting and can reduce anxiety.
Community is essential for humans, whether living in a city or camping in the wilderness. Connect with other nomads through gatherings, at popular nomad destinations, or through forums to provide opportunities to meet people with a similar lifestyle. Many nomads are surprisingly friendly and helpful. Having friends who understand what you are doing is a powerful tool for adjusting to the nomadic life.
Virtual community may not replace in-person community, but it can still be a good tool. Join a limited number of helpful and positive social media groups or forums (and get involved) to meet other nomads if you are not able to meet up with others in person. This is also a wonderful way to begin acquainting yourself with some of the people where you may be traveling before you arrive.
Continue work, hobbies, and activities that you currently rewarding, if possible. While some activities may not be suited to vehicle dwelling, any that you can continue will provide a connection between your old life and new life. Reading, hiking, cycling, cooking, and music are but a few examples of activities that you may be able to continue on the road.
Embrace new work, hobbies, and activities that may prove to be enjoyable as well. Since nomads often have more time than they did while living in a house, and not all of your previous activities will be suited to life on the road, consider embracing some new activities. Reading, writing, hiking, cycling, quartz crystal hunting, and music are all examples of activities that can be enjoyed by nomads.
Stay with it long enough to make it past the mental adjustment. It will take time to adjust to a nomadic lifestyle. I would recommend anticipating at least one year to really adjust. After a full year, you will have identified places to camp or work in different seasons and will have a good bit of experience with life on the road. The good news is that the mental struggles will usually improve much faster than one year, but it is not uncommon to experience a relapse when confronted with new situations.
Adjusting to a Nomadic Lifestyle
Mental struggles will be real when you first start vehicle dwelling. This is something that everyone experiences. Being prepared for this reality will ease the adjustment process.
Preparation for the mental struggles can smooth the process. Any preparation that you can do before starting full-time on the road will only help. Do not allow yourself to become paralyzed with preparation though. It is always an adjustment, and planning or preparation can only take you just so far. Ultimately, you need to make the transition and experience the lifestyle.
Remember too that it is okay to admit that you are having a hard time adjusting. This is completely normal. At the very least be willing to admit to yourself when you are having a difficult time with the adjustment. It can also be helpful to talk with nomadic friends who understand and have been through the same adjustment.
The nomadic life, including vehicle dwelling, can be a great life for many people. I hope that your experience is overwhelmingly positive, and that the ideas in this article are helpful as you prepare for life on the road.
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