It’s hard to say exactly where this idea to take a year off work, rent out my home, and live in my VW Westfalia began…. maybe because I was working at a job that didn’t maximize my true gifts, where I couldn’t find my way to a position where I felt passionate and excited to do what I do best each day. Or maybe it was because my relationship had become distant and unsatisfactory over time, and I became more and more aware of how much of myself I gave away by staying in it. Taking off on a long trip was a good way to either end it or find out if I really wanted to make it work. Or perhaps it was because I felt an increasing dissatisfaction with living the lifestyle I had carved out for myself. I went to work each day mostly in order to keep my house- a house that I barely had time to enjoy because I was constantly doing things to earn more money to pay the bills (like manage air bnb guests coming several times a week) and do the required maintenance on its 70 year-old bones. I was tired! And I wanted to be more connected to the natural world, my inner guide, and my true nature.
I kept hearing a voice in my head telling me to just do it- trust that the bills will get paid, my house will be fine without me, my daughter will find her own way in my physical absence, and I will figure out how to get by on a minimal income from the rent I can earn from my home. And if it doesn’t work out I can always go back to my job, knowing that I gave my dreams a good chance of becoming reality.
I bought my Westy in 1992 when I was a single mom of 2 children, and I remember thinking that if things got tough for me I could always live in it. My kids and I had many happy times camping out in our Westy, who I named Wanda in honor of my yearning to wandering off to another beautiful natural setting. About 10 years ago I bought another car and quit driving Wanda around town in order to save her for longer wandering trips- she does not like around town driving anyway. After having knee surgery and stem cell injections to remedy my bone-on-bone arthritis, I finally decided that now is the time to take that longer trip, while my body’s working relatively well and I’m not too fragile to take care of things on my own.
I got a year’s leave of absence from my teaching job, rented my house out to a lovely family, sold my car, and spent the last 5 or 6 months getting things ready for a major life transition. I will turn 60 in October, so this is the perfect time to push the reset button and decide if I want to change course to a more satisfying lifestyle in better alignment with my core values. That may mean finding a new community where housing is more affordable so I’m not working just to own a house, and where there is a sense of shared responsibility and connection (like co-housing). Or maybe I will find a new vocation that I’m passionate about and that I can do from wherever I am- I fantasize about not being tied to much of a schedule and being able to live a somewhat nomadic lifestyle- with my dog, of course. Or it may be that I realize what I’ve got is pretty darn sweet and I’ll figure out a new way or a new attitude to make keeping my home work- and I will have had a wonderful year of exploring parts of the US, as well as parts of myself.
The journey began several months before I left home on August 1. There were many preparations to get my house ready to rent. I sorted through everything I owned and decided what I would pack away, what I would take with me, and what I would let go of. That in itself is a very liberating thing to do! I finished repairs that had been started long ago, pressure washed the whole house and painted parts of the exterior. I began saying goodbye to friends and coworkers, and my students as I handed them over to other teachers- some with tears in my eyes. I fixed up the van, including re-tinting the peeling windows, painting the exterior, refurbishing the old plastic coolant system with metal pipes, washing the curtains, deep cleaning all the cabinets, and fixing the leaking propane tank. I had the good fortune of re-connecting with my high school friend, Max, who is an excellent foreign car mechanic and a whiz at electronics. He installed an auxiliary battery in Wanda and hooked it up to a portable solar panel so I can run electrical things even if I’m out in the middle of nowhere for long periods of time. He also researched and found the perfect Engel refrigerator to run off the battery, and installed an inverter so I can continue to make smoothies with my Vitamix blender. Was I ever lucky!!
The most interesting thing about this decision is the reaction I get from people I talk to about my journey. Some ask questions about the possible things that could go wrong, or worry about my letting go of the security of things like health insurance, but by far most people react by saying what I’m doing is inspiring, and that they, too, dream of doing such a thing. I had imagined that most people would think I was foolish, which is one reason this trip took awhile to happen. They must have noticed the sparkle in my eyes as I spoke of my dream, and maybe they noticed how much lighter I felt with the decision to let go of things that were weighing me down. I’m questioning a lot about our busy, stressful modern lifestyle, and I think more and more people are doing the same. After two trips to the Ecuadorian rainforest with the Pachamama Alliance, I pledged to create a more sustainable human existence on Earth in any way I can. This trip is part of that promise to the indigenous people of the rainforest and to all living beings everywhere. I want to create a more meaningful life that includes connecting with and caring for the natural world. And so I want to live in it as fully as I can for the next year!