How living on the road shaped my take on sustainability
By Annie Seekins
A few years ago my partner and I purchased a used cargo van to build out into a campervan. At the time, we were living in a studio the size of a standard motel room. A small, overpriced apartment in the Boston suburbs, it was not a great fit for two people desperate to get into the wilderness any chance we could. Building out our own campervan was our solution to that. We had been talking about it for a while, viewing it as a good alternative to being stuck in the city and a way to scope out where we might want to settle down. Our feeling was that whether we loved the lifestyle or hated it, the experience would be an adventure either way.
“To say our time in the van has been something of a crash course in minimalist living is an understatement.”
To say our time in the van has been something of a crash course in minimalist living is an understatement. Our few years in that 300 square foot apartment gave us a head start on paring down our belongings, but there was still a steep learning curve while fitting our lives into the back of a van. Storage space is truly a premium in this lifestyle. Every item brought into the van was judged firmly on its versatility, and then reevaluated as we gained a better sense of what was practical while traveling across the U.S.
There were three things we learned early on (or at least couldn’t deny) when we hit the road: 1. We prefer avoiding going into towns and are willing to go quite a while between “town chores” (i.e. laundry) to minimize our time in heavily populated areas, 2. Smelly clothing and gear is worse in a 6’x9’ van than it ever was in the old studio apartment, and 3. Smelliness aside, some of our layers simply weren’t as versatile as we’d hoped they would be. With the exception of my partner’s first two thru hikes, both of us had only ever lived in the Northeast. What works in New England doesn’t always work in the desert, and we quickly found ourselves reevaluating our gear once again.
In all honesty, the gear that most easily makes the cut every time is our App Gear Co layers. Slowly swapping things out for more alpaca has been a game changer for us. There’s not much else in our van that transitions so well from the Arizona desert to the coast of Maine, and even less that smells fresh for so long along the way. We’ve also picked up a few new hobbies since hitting the road, like climbing and caving, and our alpaca layers have held up to both.
”Spending so much time on public land has also given us a renewed push towards more sustainable practices wherever possible…sometimes by choice, other times by necessity. Living so close to some of this country’s wildest environments has guaranteed we maintain an awareness of the impact of our choices.”
Spending so much time on public land has also given us a renewed push towards more sustainable practices wherever possible…sometimes by choice, other times by necessity. Living so close to some of this country’s wildest environments has guaranteed we maintain an awareness of the impact of our choices. Natural fiber gear and clothing may seem like a small thing, but it’s a small thing that we can control.
We knew that living in a vehicle wouldn’t exactly have the lowest carbon footprint, but compared to our old apartment, commutes, etc. it’s likely at worst a wash, at best a little better. It’s been a good way to explore more of the U.S. at a pace that allows us to really get to know areas where we may want to eventually settle down. It’s also been an effective test of how well we handle a minimalist lifestyle, and I wouldn’t trade the experiences or lessons for anything.