#VanLife as Told by Cal Poly Women: Emily

In the past few years, van life has become more prevalent and accepted. A simple search on Instagram will show you hundreds of different photos with beautiful, smiling people, incredibly elaborate vans and cars, and stunning vistas. However, the reality of living out of your car is less glamorous. To get the real scoop, I interviewed three Cal Poly women who have lived out of their vans or cars. The following article is about Emily's experience.

Emily is a fifth year education major at Cal Poly, and she has been living out of her van since June 2019. The first half of this time was spent traveling up the Pacific coast through Oregon, and the second half has been in San Luis Obispo (SLO) where she’s been attending school full time. The van gave her the financial freedom to travel all summer without a job because she didn’t pay rent. While she traveled, she cooked her food outside with her camp stove. For personal hygiene on the road, she used a gym membership, friends’ houses, and rivers. Her personal hygiene resources were unpredictable, but she liked that unpredictability. 

While Luchetta stays in SLO, she parks outside her friends’ house and uses their bathroom, kitchen, and living space. When she wants privacy, she goes in her van to hang out. Of all the women I interviewed, Emily’s van is the most elaborate. With the help of a friend, she built a deck for her queen sized bed and a few storage compartments. She really appreciates having a full bed that is ready at night, rather than a sleeping bag or fold up bed. Because her bed is raised up and the van has a roof extension, she has significantly more space for stuff, which makes long term living easier. 

While it took some time, her van now feels like a cozy home, and she loves how her home can move with her. Emily’s favorite thing about “van life” is the simplicity. In order to move into a van, she had to get rid of the majority of her stuff, so now she only has necessities and meaningful things. This minimal lifestyle also means that she buys less things because it will mean giving an older possession away to make space. 

An unexpected result of living in a van is that she drives less now. Because she has to prep her car each time she drives, so that things don’t slide around, she has begun biking and getting rides with friends instead. 

Emily is definitely aware of the threat of cops finding her living out of her van. While she was traveling, she methodically picked places to park, seeking out neighborhoods with lots of cars parked on the street, Walmart parking lots, and public parks. Her van has limited window space, which she now appreciates because it offers privacy and security. When she is in her van in SLO, she’s careful not to have her door wide open so that she doesn’t draw attention to herself. However, as of now, she has never run into a cop asking about her van. 

Emily remarks that the most interesting experiences normally happen at gas stations, when people see her filling up her van. Often times, people will come up to her out of curiosity, and she enjoys meeting people she normally wouldn’t have. However, on occasion, a creepy man will come up to talk to her which in unnerving. Sometimes she’ll pretend to talk to imaginary people in the back of her van, so that people won’t think she’s alone. 

Looking to the future, she intends to live in her van for at least a year, if not more. The largest variable will be what her future work entails. If she travels in it longer, she hopes to get equipment to cook, shower, and go to the bathroom at her van. Overall, Emily is a huge fan of “van life.” It gives her the financial freedom, ability to travel, and simplicity that she loves. 


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