Photos by Laura Hughes and Shane Eubank
On the road, strangers use a lot of different approaches to ask me if the van is my home.
They ask me if I sleep in the van. They ask me if I have a house somewhere else. They ask me about my eating habits, bathroom habits, and a whole assortment of other questions you’d typically never ask someone at the adjacent gas pump. They look for light switches and measure how much a home my van is by how many of my belongings it holds.
Some faces brighten when they learn that I live in my camper, and some subtly recoil in discomfort. Some of them skeptically peer into the van, quietly commenting, “I could never live in a place that small.” Either way, a lot of the strangers I meet on the road seem to think some variant of this story: I’m on a permanent vacation because I struck the lottery and retired in my late twenties. It’s a story embellished beyond any conversation we could have had, but possibly one that’s more fun to tell.
They’re there, and then they’re gone– hearing the parts of my life that are most interesting to them and filling in the rest with their own imagination.
If I’m to truly paint an accurate picture of what living on the road looks like for me, you need to know that I sometimes walk away from those interactions wondering if mutual connection was forged in our conversations, or if it was simply a show-and-tell to satisfy the curiosity of passersby. Sometimes I walk away with a warm heart humming in my chest, and other times I walk away with the aftertaste of misunderstanding in my mouth.
Despite meeting so many people, living on the road can be an isolating experience. It can also leave you feeling unsettled in every way possible– a feeling that sneaks up on you as you look around a desolate parking lot late at night or, in a moment of sadness, realize the people who know you best are thousands of miles away. But even in the toughest moments, I remind myself that being unsettled was all part of the plan.
Despite meeting so many people, living on the road can be an isolating experience. It can also leave you feeling unsettled in every way possible… But even in the toughest moments, I remind myself that being unsettled was all part of the plan.
When I first started making good on my decision to leave the Pacific Northwest in a self-converted campervan for an indeterminate period of time, I was admitting that I wasn’t at home there anymore. I wasn’t going to settle down under the blanket of grey clouds I’d known since childhood, even though my closest relationships and best job opportunities were under them, too.
Some of those dear people wanted to know when we’d be back (which was a question we could never quite satisfy). Others wanted to hear answers to a lot of the prying questions a stranger at a gas station might. Some remained skeptical until the van no longer looked like a cargo van– the empty shell we purchased it as– but rather as a home in ways they could recognize. With a bed and our belongings inside. With screened windows and counter space and dishtowels. With outlets and photos on the walls.
Some people were concerned about us not having a home. The discomfort in their eyes taught me over time that it was easier to explain we were on a road trip to find our new ‘home’ somewhere in the States. But if I’m being honest, I didn’t know what that even meant to me at the time. I still don’t.
To a lot of our closest connections, being unsettled is the opposite of being at home. It’s scattered, disorganized, and sometimes wild enough to look intimidating from the outside. But when we hit the road, I made a commitment to be unsettled on purpose. For growth. For stretching myself inside and out. And to reveal to myself where home truly exists.
When we hit the road, I made a commitment to be unsettled on purpose. For growth. For stretching myself inside and out. And to reveal to myself where home truly exists.
To me, home isn’t a house, a point on a map, or even the van itself. It’s not where I grew up, and it’s also not on my own. It’s not something that inexplicably materializes from the air. It’s the amalgamation of everything that nourishes my body, mind, and heart.
It’s the feeling of warmth on my cool skin. It’s the humid, earthy air inside my lungs. It’s holding a camera. It’s seeing rusty rock towers peek over the hill as we drive through Arizona, or listening to the Pacific’s waves crash against the shore. It’s the toothy grin of the man I travel with, hearing him sing along to the Avett Brothers on a long night’s drive while I doze under a blanket in the front seat. It’s twisted canyon trails and treetop views. It’s a cup of tea in the quiet morning. It’s hearing a familiar voice. It’s seeing the sun come up as a tiny speck over the flat desert landscape. It’s a hug from someone who understands because they listened.
It’s looking a stranger in the eyes and feeling confident when I say I’m home right where I stand.
A little wild, a little unsettled, and totally at home.
Laura Hughes is a consistent contributor for She Explores and host of the Women on the Road Podcast, living on the road in her Ford Transit Van named “Vanna.” Follow along via her Instagram.
Thanks Laura, as always, for sharing with us, for being raw and vulnerable and real.
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