I am just a boy born into the same trap as mostly everyone else:
I grew up a city kid and I typically worked two or three jobs at a time from age sixteen until almost thirty. 80+ hour work weeks were the norm for about 15 years for me. I worked hard and saved my money and eventually started learning, practicing and ultimately investing in real estate. After several successful years of making a considerable amount of money in real estate I did what most average successful Americans would do. I went out and bought a bunch of expensive things to show everyone how successful I had become. I had a Maserati, expensive wardrobe, expensive watches and a waterfront condo in Miami. I was living the American dream that’s typically portrayed in marketing, TV, movies and magazines. I wouldn’t say that I was unhappy, but I had a lingering feeling as if I didn’t belong in that world or around the people that fill that world. The car, the condo, the watch, etc. didn’t make me happy in and of themselves. Having money and lots of nice things made me feel ‘comfortable’, but that feeling of being comfortable (for me at least) started to remove me from the feeling of basic gratitude for the smaller more important things that we as people should be happy to have.
It sounds cliche but it really is the small things in life…the basic things (food, shelter, clothing, freedom, friendship) you can be grateful for that truly make you happy. You need to understand that this was the environment I grew up in. I grew up a city kid and was only exposed to media and marketing pushing the American dream lifestyle. The American dream being marketed to me was to have a high paying job, find a wife, buy her a big diamond ring, buy a big house with four bathrooms, fill the house with lots of furniture and TVs, pop out two kids, have matching luxury SUVs, go on a Caribbean cruise every February and retire when I’m sixty-five. I had been so programmed by the environment in which I was raised and marketing I was exposed to that it was difficult to see just how backwards I had everything. As I stated traveling internationally, I saw the way other cultures lived and witnessed real poverty. The more I traveled the more my eyes started to open.
From a very early age most of us are taught to do well in school so that we can get into a good university. If we get into a good university then we have a better chance of securing a high paying job with benefits. Once, we get established in our career and make a lot of money we’re programmed to spend that money on bigger and better things (and thus keep working to maintain the lifestyle that we’re projecting). We get so caught up in projecting this lifestyle and having all these things that we give up the one thing that will make us happiest…FREEDOM. Most of us never realize that there are alternatives because we are exposed to so much marketing (programming) from the day we are born that it’s over before we ever had a chance. As children we’re exposed to thousands of ads for toys and that childhood obsession with toys turns into an adult obsession with possessions. We see something, we want it and we buy it...but do we need it? We end up working jobs we don’t like…for things we don’t truly need…to impress people we don’t even like. Once we are in this cycle, it’s difficult to break out of it. It takes a lot of introspective work and a little bit of a leap of faith to get out.
Realizing the trap:
I worked hard to deprogram myself out of the environment and programming I was born into. After working for most of my adult life I came to the realization that most of the things I was spending money on were not essential. Every single thing I bought was weighing me down and taking me further and further away from freedom. Have you ever had to move apartments and realized how much useless crap you had? I finally realized that the watch, clothes, car, condo were all really just part of an illusion I was projecting to the world. Marketing was telling me I needed to impress other people and after realizing this, I just started to stop caring what other people thought about me. I also finally understood that most people are so busy thinking about themselves that it doesn’t even matter if you’re projecting an illusion anyways. The only person I needed to be honest with was myself and although it was tough at first, it was freeing.
Waking up in the trap:
At the same time I came to this realization about myself I realized that my daily routine was completely lacking in any kind of self-growth, adventure or connection to the universe. Like most people my daily routine consisted of: go to the gym, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV or read a book and go to bed. Wake up and repeat. By the time the weekend rolled around I would spend it running errands, decompressing from the previous week and loathing the week to come. The average American does this in the name of surrounding ourselves with…stuff. Yes stuff, I wish it was more complicated but that’s it. Slowly but surely I started making small incremental changes. I was spending more and more time outdoors hiking and camping, traded in my real estate and business books for more philosophical books, gave up my TV shows in exchange for podcasts and documentaries, and started doing yoga and meditation instead of lifting weights. For me it really ended up just becoming a matter of allocation. I would rather allocate my money and time on traveling, being immersed in nature, meditating, exploring my inner-self, educating myself on subjects I truly cared about than I would filling my life with stuff I don’t need and projecting an illusion of someone I didn’t like.
Escaping the trap:
So it’s 2016 and here I am with a nice watch, car, condo and STUFF…and I don’t want any of it anymore! I created a plan and decided to sell my watch first since it had basically been sitting in my safe since I bought it. Sure, I wore it a few times to show off but it didn’t make me happy…it mostly made me worried. With each item I sold or got rid of I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I started reading books on minimalism and decided to see just how little I needed. (spoiler alert: it wasn’t a lot). In fact, the more stuff I got rid of the happier I became…with one exception. I started acquiring the gear essential for camping and backpacking. I justified these items as necessary for taking me further into nature than I had previously been. With this new found love of ‘less’, I made a decision that would change my life forever. I would create an ‘experiment’ that would combine my love of minimalism, the environment, travel and the outdoors. In the spirit of Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, my experiment was to sell all my non-essentials, build a van and live in it while exploring all the natural places I had dreamed of. The van would ultimately force me to take my obsession with minimalism to a new level. I had already been vegan for 12 years and following other environmentally conscious practices so my carbon footprint was already low. The thought of moving into a solar powered diesel van which would shrink it to microscopic levels excited me. This low impact on the environment fit well with my yearning to be in nature.
Living in a van was the ultimate solution to the questions: How can I shrink my footprint on the environment while getting immersed in nature? How can I travel, explore the country and live a life full of adventure?
The most common question I get is how I arrived at the decision to move into the van and travel. There were a few catalysts that set this whole journey into motion:
Every time I would go out to a bar or restaurant in Miami I had a sinking feeling like I didn’t belong or that I was wasting precious time being there. It was precious time that I could have been spending outside hiking or camping. If you’ve ever had this feeling you know what I’m talking about.
Walden. I read this book when I was seventeen and it left a mark on my soul that didn’t completely flower until much later in life. Upon re-reading it after I had accumulated wealth and possessions I understood it much better. Having grown up in Boston, a couple miles from where it was written, many of it’s passages resonated with me and the book is still as relevant today as it was 165+ years ago. I understand this book more and take something new away everytime I read it.
The Four Agreements. After reading this book I started doubting the path that I was on and the programming I had received up until that point in my life. If I could recommend one book to anyone, this is the book.
The Environment. I had become increasingly concerned after doing extensive research on human consumption behavior and it’s effect on the environment.
Kayaking Trip. I took a kayaking trip with my friend Eli and we stayed in a tiny plywood hut with no cell signal. The hut and it’s 2×4 bunk bed couldn’t have been more rustic and simple, but it was quietly tucked away in the woods, alongside a river and I couldn’t have been more happy.
Tiny House Movement. I’d become increasingly interested in minimalism and shrinking my footprint. From watching tiny house TV shows to vanlife youtube videos, the evolution and decision to build a van crystalized when I realized this was possible.
The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns was one of the best docu-series I have ever seen. After watching this documentary I realized that while I spent my life traveling the world I had neglected the treasures in my own backyard.
All of these catalysts came into my life at around the same time (late 2016/early 2017) and by the Summer of 2017 I had made up my mind to change the trajectory of my life. Within a year I had built my van, sold my stuff, sold my company and was hitting the road to begin the physical journey that was a manifestation of the mental, philosophical and spiritual journey I had just embarked on.
The most common question I get is how do I afford vanlife.
I sold everything I owned including my business. That gave me a comfortable amount of savings and money to invest.
I’ve made some good investments that provide me a steady stream of income.
I go home for a few months a year to visit friends and family and work seasonally to make some extra “comfort” money.
I live extremely frugally. I don’t spend a lot of money. I shop at thrift stores and farmers markets. I try to save money wherever possible.
#4 is important. A lot of people forget that making money is only half of the equation. The more important part of the equation is how much money you spend. If you don’t spend a lot of money you can last a long time on the road and living this lifestyle for as long as possible is the ultimate goal.
Follow along with Josh’s adventures and keep in touch with him by clicking his social media contact below. Thank you Josh for sharing your inspiring story with us and our community at Vanlife Diaries! We hope to catch up again soon mate!