According to social media and other forms of inflated self-promotion, the vanlife is nothing but freedom. Wide open roads to drive on, national parks to get lost in, and hammocks strung (illegally) between Joshua trees to nap in. Every night is a new sunset and every day a new adventure. But when was the last time you moved? When did you last leave everyone behind? To do that every day, week, or even every month may be a little more difficult than you think. Perhaps the extreme presence of van dwellers on social media is actually an outcry for a feeling of community during a lonely adventure.

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Outside of Red Rock, kind of lost somewhere. 

Theory of Human Motivation

To be part of a community is an absolute necessity. We as human beings need to belong. According to Abraham Maslow’s 1943 “Theory of Human Motivation”, there are five needs that humans strive to satisfy. They are, in order: survival, safety, social, esteem, and fulfillment. In the vanlife, the first two are taken care of by the van itself. The third, however, the next most important need (according to Abraham) is for social belonging.

Being solo on the road is no easy task. The freedom is real, definitely. You can do what you want when you want and be anywhere you want to be. Like everything though, it has a price. You pay with your isolation. As a fairly independent individual, I find it an easy price to pay. The pros easily outweigh the cons, and thanks to the technological advances of the 21st century, true and total isolation is hard to come by.

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Mammoth hot springs

A Family of Invisible Friends

Social media is absolutely booming with the “hashtag vanlife”. Nearly everyone who lives in a van has an Instagram and/or a blog. (Obviously, myself included.) There is more to it though. Since living on the road is detrimental to any classic form of social life, the internet has become the base of our community and social standing. With the lack of social belonging in the physical, we have branched out and found our peers through other means. To quote Jeff Goldbloom, “Life, uh, finds a way.”

Is social media enough? Can a human being’s social needs be satiated with nothing but the internet? Not at all. It goes beyond that. You need friendship, family, and sexual intimacy. This is is why I believe that a significant other is (almost) a vanlife necessity. Friendship is achievable through digital means and in some cases even family. But you need someone else. Someone to complete your triangle of social belonging. Someone to ensure that you feel like you belong. Someone to love and be loved by (thank you Lauren). It’s fine if you don’t have a SO though. If you keep living your life focused on your own happiness, over time, it will attract any sexual intimacy you need.

Find Yourself a Tribe

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Some of the tribe in Lander, WY

Other than some of the great people I have met through social media and my amazing girlfriend, I have been lucky enough to have found a very close-knit group of friends. We actually call ourselves a tribe. Being part of a tribe is more than just friendship. When you are in a tribe your contributions are paramount for the continued survival of others, and their’s yours. The feeling of contribution to others is hard to come by, especially if you’re mobile. So to have a close tribe that reaches out across country or state lines is invaluable. It’s more important than any single object in my van.

Moral of the story? Get out there. Become a member of your community. Meet some people, share some ideas and get out of your shell! Whether it’s through social media or through your hobbies (such as rock climbing). It’s not just nice to feel wanted by people, it’s a human necessity.

5 thoughts on “Loneliness and Community Through the Vanlife

    1. Thanks! Anything you ever wonder, feel free to ask. It’s tough finding topics to write about sometimes, and I would prefer to write to the community.

      1. Cool. Got one for you right now. I’m curious as to what your thoughts are about how you would go about being a beginner at climbing? How often to train, if indoor or outdoor matters, what I should know/do/have before taking my first climb outdoors.

      2. Awesome! I’ll do a post on it. But just to spitball a few points. It mainly depends on what you want out of climbing. If you want to get into the top percentile (12+) you should be training at least 3-4 times a week. But if you just want to be able to summit mountains and leisurely trad climb (5.9 and below). You don’t need any indoor training. Your time is probably better spent outdoors learning rope management, knots and gear.

      3. Nice, thanks for the info. Definitely look forward to the feeling of summiting walls and mountains. I think up until this point I’ve created excuses that’ve prevented me from getting outdoors.

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