This interview features a story from She Explores, a website and podcast for creative, curious women in the outdoors, on the road, and beyond.
The end of a year is often a time when we look back on the moments, changes and accomplishments that hit close to home. We think about where we’ve gone, what the future would look like, and how the comfort of loved ones have provided continuous support in our lives.
After deciding to leave her Pacific Northwest home to take off for a life on the road with her boyfriend — vanlifer and storyteller Laura Hughes reflects on her experience so far. In an excerpt from her essay on being Unsettled on Purpose, Laura writes:
"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."
In her essay, she contemplates the interactions she encounters, the difficult challenges she overcomes, and the simple moments that make living on the road all worth it. We caught up with Laura to chat more about her experience on the road, and to learn what it takes to be unsettled on purpose.
Photo by Shane Eubank
BioLite: After reading your story, it seems like you and your boyfriend often cross paths with strangers on the road. Can you think of any warm and memorable connection with anyone upon meeting them?
Laura: Absolutely. One that stood out to me was this young man in his 20s, who approached us while we were loading groceries in Sedona. He was excited to chat with us about our van setup since he’s been thinking about doing vanlife around the area as well. Turns out, he’s a jewelry maker who casts small mushrooms that he finds locally and features them in his jewelry. He was so nice that he gave us one of his jewelry pieces, and now he’s a friend who we still keep in touch with. We’ve gotten used to walking away feeling misunderstood about our lifestyle after interacting with strangers on the road. But a pleasant moment like this reminds me that there are some people out there who just want to connect.
BioLite: Do you have any advice for anyone who’s been thinking about van life, and wants to transition from their stationary and familiar home to a home-on-wheels?
Laura: There’s the practical and logistical advice you’d first think of when it comes to this question — like how to store your things, where to use the bathroom, or where to get your mail. These are some of the things that come to mind when you conceptualize “home.” But I’ve been on and off the road for 3 years now, and I realize that I have to be flexible with staying connected with my friends and family. You realize that it’s harder than you think when keeping connected with them when you’re out on the road. You really have to practice being intentional and explore creative ways with staying in touch. Whether you’re sending silly photos, sending a message to share a moment while traveling, or scheduling a phone call to catch up — you have to bring intention into keeping your connections.
BioLite: You’ve mentioned a moment when the van no longer looked like just a cargo van but rather as a home in ways people can recognize. Was there any project while working on your space that made you realize that this van was finally your home?
Laura: We had a project of installing this cedar paneling that gave this cozy cabin feel inside, which was a big upgrade to the plywood that was originally there. The scent of the cedar wood inside the van is just wonderful. Since we screwed in all the cedar panels, we realized that we had all these screws that we can stick magnets on them too. So we started to add pictures and notes where the screws are. Adding those memories to the cedar panels really put the finishing touches for an “at home” feel.
Photos by Jessi of Echo Photography
BioLite: We love how you mentioned listening to a loved one singing along to Avett Brothers on a long night’s drive. What comforting tunes do you recommend listening to when hitting the road?
Laura: Recently I asked the podcast listeners of Women On The Road to share what their favorite tracks are for long drives and road trips. There’s even one artist in the playlist, Ira Wolf, who's a musician living life on the road as well. Check out the playlist the next time you’re settling in for a long drive: