There is no map for where we’re going, no fixed plan.
It’s not the destination that’s important; it’s the journey. It doesn’t matter what direction we drive when we’re in search of the elements – the solace of salt water, the windswept peaks or the shade of the forest. We make it there eventually. We follow our instincts, not the lines on a map.
The feeling of hitting the road never changes. When we set up Passenger, we lost sight of life’s balance. The routine of work that we were trying to leave behind soon crept back into our days. Van life was a means of escape, pulling us out of the fog and getting us back on track. Even in those moments when we felt disconnected and alone, tired from it all – the road was always there, like a good friend. That freedom and weightlessness, the reminder that we are alive, rushes back in every time we fire up the engine. It’s a good way to live.
We wake up early before the sun has a chance to take the chill from the air. Our bags are ready and waiting for us by the back door. Outside we strap our boards to the roof of the van, stock up on beers and load our gear. We check everything twice: board shorts, towel, cooler, wallet. We slide into the worn front seats of our old van Douglas Fir and we turn the key – then listen to the engine turn over, alert for strange noises. We know each other well enough by now. The relationship deepens with every mile that rolls on.
We take in the old familiar smell of tanned leather and cloth. Inside the cabin, the anticipation takes hold – the weight lifts, space for thoughts under the calm touch of the wheel. Our voices cut through the whir of the fan clearing the misty windscreen. We run out fingers through the condensation, and spell out the word roam. Music for the road, turn it up, steam billowing from a fresh mug of coffee, buckle up. The first song that comes on is Looking Too Closely by Fink.
We slip into the rhythm and swing out onto the empty fire track that splits through the pine trees. The landscape and empty road stretch out before us like a giant rolling wave, and that’s when we know we’re free.
At the top of the hill we take a left – or maybe a right. It doesn’t matter. The thing about van life is that you can change your plans at the flick of a switch, a nod of the head, a gesture of the hand as you see something out the corner of your eye that captures your interest. You can get your fix of waves and then cruise off somewhere else. We have the freedom to plan or not to plan, to go where the people and the weather take us – usually the people. Some of our closest friends were once strangers we shared a brew and stories with over an open fire on our way to nowhere. The van community isn’t a place in the guidebook, but it’s the best thing we ever discovered.
Over the years, we’ve learnt to find small pockets of time, like oxygen bubbles that sustain us. It could be a weekend or even a few hours in the afternoon, just long enough to change the view. Often, we head for the New Forest or the waves a few miles from where we live. If the calendar is clear then we make it way off the beaten path, into the mountains and the wilds of the furthest flung corners of this island. To a place where there’s no phone signal, only the enormity of nature and the sounds of an empty place away from the city. Pure escapism is addictive. It’s a drug.
Every trip starts off the same, but the journey is always different. We have our checklist and little things we do before we travel: the way we roll our socks to save space, the waxing of the board, sorting out the playlist, kitting out the van and making changes slowly over time. This is the build up before letting go and breaking free. Then turning the key and driving off without a plan, guided by a desire for new experiences and friendships.
For us, there is no routine when we travel by van, but there sure is a ritual.