I lived in a caravan for three years before the pandemic. I paused that lifestyle and for nine months lived in a mountain cottage in northern Alentejo; lovely, but recently I took a trip in my van again and realized how much I love the vanlife and why.

I love the vanlife mostly because it is a long lesson in emotional posture. My recent trip wasn’t long: just a night and a day driving to a new house for a new quarantine. This recent trip was short but reminded me of why I have enjoyed living in a van. The vanlife is a little like the weather in some of my favorite positions around the globe. I’ve never gone in for that paradisaical Los Angeles city, for example, because is it always seventy degrees Fahrenheit and full sun. One never awakens and says, “Not sun again!”, you know, but change is nice, too. Change; weather. Weather is pleasant; not too much sun, not too much rain, not too many clouds; change; variety. And, the most important thing of all: clothing.

Speaking of Los Angeles and rain: it only rains in Los Angeles like three days a year. I was in the city once when it was raining and I remember driving across Santa Monica with my cousin to a supermarket. We passed this cafe where a serious writer always sat at a table to write and/or read heavy tomes of serious literature. I laughed aloud when I saw the guy’s face; I’ve never seen a human look more like an angry, wet kitty cat. The guy couldn’t handle a little change and, like all Los Angeles inhabitants, didn’t know the truth that: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” He sat in his usual spot, wearing his usual beach attire, with his usual tome, coffee, and just sulked about the irritation of the change in the weather. He was all claws and existential hiss.

Anyway, traveling in a van: the vanlife weathers me. The vanlife presents that daily change that annoys one just a little, but is easily overcome with the right habits, tools, or gear. The vanlife ensures you maintain that emotional posture. A night in my van reminded me that for the last nine months, I have been in a rut emotionally and, as a parent, that means that my kid has been in a rut. In a house, it is always seventy and sunny–or we try to make it that way. Sleeping in the van reminded me of some of the great moods I used to adopt as a vanlifer faced with an interesting and/or annoying situation. I was reminded of the kinds of conversations I would have with my kid about these situations and the conversations became wonderful jokes and teachable moments about how to make wonderful jokes. My goal, as a vanlifer, was to teach the humor in the annoying situation. In contrast, my life in a house has one goal: keep things seventy and sunny for as long as possible. As a result of my houselife goal, when there is weather–and there will be–I don’t know what to do with it. I’m not prepared emotionally for change. I’m all claws and hiss when things go a little wrong. Houselife is too convenient all the time for me to remember the correct emotional posture to adopt when things wonky; rather, annoying situations are an opportunity for the old grumpy bobcat to waddle out of his cave and meow about the spritz of coffee grounds be-dewing his scalp after the young kitten tried to make the morning coffee. As I said, the vanlife teaches emotional posture. The vanlife teaches that “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” The vanlife reminds me to ask myself: Am I slouching towards the grave with a scowl on my face, or am I smiling, straight backed, proud of my eau-de-coffee for petit-dejouner with my little kitten giggling beside me?

Come to think of it, most of my favorite characters in stories, plays, novels, and movies are those who, when faced with an annoying situation, joke and then discuss solutions. Compare this heroic behavior to sighing and then discussing problems. The vanlife reminds me to be what I admire.


At the time of writing, I’m living in the Algarve near Tavira, Portugal. I hope to buy a dinghy sailboat soon so that I can paddle around the tidal pools of the Ria Formosa.