Live Simply To Live Simply
My name is Daniel Barousse, and this is why I have chosen to trade my townhome in downtown Austin, TX, for fifty square feet of living space inside a cargo van.
Some people call it maturity, some people call it wisdom, some people call it stupidity, some people call it a life lesson, and some people may not know what to call it. For me, I’m not sure what to call it, but as time passed and I began to grow, I slowly learned that I needed very little in my life to be happy. I think needing loved ones is one of the traits that make humans beautiful, and it something that all of us need. Beyond that primal need to be loved and the physical needs of the body, I don’t believe we need very much to keep a smile on our faces. For me, at least, that is what I have come to believe.
Being from Lafayette, LA, I began on a path much like that of the average southerner; finish high school, go to college, and then get a job. While the career of a traveling sales rep in the skateboard/apparel industry was much different than the average person, it was still the same life outline that I was following. The next bullet point on that outline was to get married and then buy a house to settle. As time passed, I saw many of my peers doing what they thought they were supposed to do, much like myself, and then ending up in a place where they weren’t any happier than they were before they had reached those bullet points. Over the years I began to realize that what I wanted, what truly made me feel alive, was to see as much as I could on this beautiful planet we all call home.
Several years back I read an article that sparked something in me. The general point of the article based on a study was this: “As a child the years in a person’s life seem to pass much more slowly than the years in adulthood. The reason for this is that new experiences cause the brain to slow down the passing of time...” I decided right there that what I needed to focus on in my life was constantly experiencing something new. My whole life my older friends have told me this same statement in many different wordings: “Enjoy it, because life goes by fast.” Hearing those words echo in my mind and learning that new experiences help to slow life down, I understood why I loved traveling and seeing different parts of The World so much. Now I just needed to figure out how to maximize merging those two points.
Wanting to travel and see the world, is not a unique feeling. I would wager that the vast majority of people have similar feelings of wanderlust at different levels of intensity. More times than not, what tends to stop people from doing something where they can travel constantly is either a monetary constraint, a constraint caused by previous obligations, or a mixture of the two. I believe that if people could travel inexpensively and could do it in a way where they weren’t disregarding any of their previous obligations/responsibilities, most everyone would love to travel more often than not.
For me, this was when living in a van really started to make sense. I began to actually think of this life, not as giving up so many things, but I began to think of it as how much life I would actually gain. So there it was. That was the point where day dreaming about living in a van became a commonality for me. It still seemed so crazy and impossible to me at the time, but I began to dream. Dreaming led me to the idea of giving that dream a small bit of fuel. I thought “maybe I can rent one of these vans and try it out on a little vacation.” So that’s what I did. In November of 2016 I rented a camper van and went on a trip up Highway 1 from Los Angeles to Portland and back. I was with my girlfriend at the time, and we spent three weeks living in a van while seeing the sights the west coast had to offer. While the trip wasn’t perfect sunshine and rainbows, and my ex and I had some issues much like any other normal couple, I ended that trip with an invaluable bit of knowledge; “I can do this.”
Being armed with “I can” is something that makes nearly any person a formidable opponent to anything that may stand in the way of achieving that person’s end goal. For me, my goal was now to find a way to live in a van and travel. I had all the mental tools to do it too. The hardest part of coming to “I can” was already done. Now I needed to make it happen.
As time went on I began to spend more of my free time researching this dream, and learning what others, who had chosen the van life, had done to get there. After months and months of watching YouTube videos and looking at countless pictures on Instagram, I reached the next realization when it came to actually building a van by yourself; “I can do this.” I realized that if all these people out there could do it, then I could do it too. Most of the people I saw were similar to myself with little to zero experience in carpentry, electrical, solar, or automotive knowledge, but they were able to figure out what they needed to do to make their dream a reality. I just needed to figure out how to do it where I wasn’t going to give up on everything I had worked for in my career.
Then it happened. I had my “ah ha” moment. At the time I was on my fifth year of living in Austin, TX and I had decided to drive back to Louisiana for the weekend to see my friends and family. It was late at night and I was on I10 heading east with a nearly open road in front of me. My boss had just asked if I wanted to take on a new territory for our brand, and I was thinking of how I was going to manage this new area which was the entire western half of the U.S.. As I was driving and dwelling on the challenge of what was to come with my new territory, I shifted my mental gear and began to drift off into thoughts about how amazing it would be to live simply in a van and just travel. The universe must have been face palming itself and screaming “DUH” when it hit me. It actually would make sense to take on this new territory if I could travel inexpensively to see all of the prospective accounts. Living and traveling in a van would make perfect sense. That realization came late that Friday night. The following Tuesday I met with my boss in his office and, to my surprise, he didn’t tell me to get out of his office upon hearing my idea. After many meetings over the course of about nine months, my boss gave me the approval to do it. I would pay for everything out of pocket, but work would allow me to live and work remotely. Two weeks after getting the green light to do it, I flew to Chicago to pick up a van I had bought sight unseen, and experienced my first Sprinter drive by driving straight down to Lafayatte, LA where I would use my dad’s tools and work shop to build out my van. The rest of the story is much like everyone else’s; I knew next to nothing about wood working, electrical, solar, or plumbing, but just like everyone else, I figured it out. I read books, watched videos, read articles, and asked anyone who take the time to talk to me, about various steps of the process. After two and a half months, I finished my van and the very next day I left for the journey of a lifetime.
I am now writing this, between emails and work calls, in my van, while parked with my doors open, on the beach in Santa Barbara, CA. Every day I have various challenges and experiences that I’m not totally prepared for, but I can honestly say that the last three months of living in my van have seemed like an entire year. The van life isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect for me at this point in my life. As I grow and change, this life style may not be fit where I see myself, but for now I’m so thankful and appreciative that I get to do what I’m doing. My life is moving slower, and I feel like I am doing what I need to be doing in order to live my life in a way that keeps a smile constantly plastered on my face.
Follow Daniel @danielbarousse
Produced & edited by Jared Melrose Campbell of @vanlifediaries
Photos courtesy of Daniel Barousse. Video by @variouscharacters