#VanLife as Told by Cal Poly Women: Kat

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 Kat's experience.

Kat is a recent Cal Poly Grad with a degree in anthropology and geography who has been living out of her van for the past 4 months. Her life during this time has evolved greatly. She first started living out of her van, having come off the Colorado Trail early — they only hiked eight  out of the 30 days because her friend hurt her Achilles tendon. For four days, they hitchhiked back to the van, and from there, Kat, her best friend Hannah, and Hannah’s cousin Ellie all traveled around in the small camper van. 

They were able to find campsites and public land consistently while in Colorado. During this six week period, one person would sleep in the van, while the other two slept in a tent outside. They each had their individual stoves and lots of dehydrated food that was meant for their backpacking trip. Although Kat and her friends drove around a lot, gas was fairly inexpensive because they were in Colorado, she had a relatively small van and they shared the costs. She showered about once a week at friends’ houses and got clean in lakes and rivers almost everyday. She could go to the bathroom off the road in bushes or stop at gas stations.

Living in such a small space was difficult, but it bonded them together like nothing else. Kat looks back on this period as the best time of her life. They adopted the mentality to live as if they were alone, which means going on random side trips and spending the majority of their time naked. Kat fondly recalls that one time the three of them crashed a wedding reception in order to get into a bar. The bouncer asked the groom if he knew them, and the groom just replied with a shrug and they got let in. The party was a dud, but the three of them got the DJ to play “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire (it was September 21st) and the entire party started tearing up the dance floor! Another time, the friends were spending a day at a nude hot springs, and they were invited to a commune of gem hunters.  They spent the day with them, and it was, as you would imagine, pretty bizarre.

Now, Kat is working for a non-profit focused on providing nutritional plans for people with medical conditions and empowering teenage farmers and cooks. She is still living out of her van and has been paying $100 rent to park it outside a house. There, she is able to use the restroom, kitchen, and living room of the house. Her main motivation for living out of a van now is the cost of living in California. 

Looking towards the future, Kat sees herself living in her van for a while. She wants to continue traveling and living the simple life, while becoming more involved with her job for the nonprofit. As I wrapped up our interview, she left me with one main statement to anyone considering “van life”: don’t trust Instagram perfect portrayals of living in vans. The reality is much less glamorous. Everyone has it in them to live out of a van, but set realistic expectations.


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