Growing up in suburban Chicago, I never thought I’d be surfing from the frigid waters of Canada to the rugged coasts of Mexico, snowboarding through Japan, scaling the rocky Tetons, or exploring the American West from my 60-square-foot space. – A self-made camper van without a permanent address.
Throughout the five or so years of constant adventure and nomadic wandering, I have enhanced my life on the go—a dramatic and meaningful departure from the fear of stagnation I felt growing up in my hometown malls.
Over the past year, though, I’ve changed things up, putting down roots among the sweet-smelling pine trees of this California ski town. After I slowed down enough to catch my breath, I realized I wasn’t running away from home—I was running toward finding myself.
Growing up in the suburbs made me want to see what was out there, too
It didn’t always appeal to me, but I knew from a young age that hormones weren’t the only cause of my teenage discomfort.
I never felt quite at home as a teenager — not because of a lack of love, but because of a feeling deep in my being that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. In high school, anxiety started eating away at me. It made me question not only where I live but my place in the world. If everyone you grew up with seems perfectly content in the suburbs, there has to be no mistaking the place itself. It was just that I didn’t quite fit in.
My survival instincts kicked in — fight or flight — and I chose the latter. I left the flatlands for college in the West, hoping my fears would fade away like the rolling cornfields I left behind. I lower my head, pile on class assignments and extracurriculars, and get on with school, following a traditional approach: If you’re always on the go and constantly exhausted, it’s easy to forget your worries.
Once I started traveling, I was hooked
After graduation, I kept moving, and fell in love with hiking, camping, climbing, and photography—all activities that kept me busy and at least briefly fueled my nervous system with serotonin and overcame that feeling of sluggishness.
I was traveling to incredible places, going on adventures I could never have dreamed of in the suburbs. But my fear of not doing enough in life would intermittently rear its ugly head. Despite my newfound passion and sense of purpose, I worried that I wasn’t doing enough to be successful, happy, or in the right place.
I was fortunate to have found a partner who shared my love of adventure and appreciation for constant movement. Instead of finding an apartment to move in together, we built an old Chevy Express van, outfitted it with a kitchenette, bed, wood-burning fireplace, and shared pee-pot. Wood paneling and blue paint made the 60-square-foot box feel like a home, while our slow midnight laughter and dances made it feel like one.
Eager to enjoy the benefits of our new home on wheels, I became a freelance photographer. On our first truck trip, we enjoyed the romance of the road. We warmed up to tea and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the fire after surfing through torrential rains in Canada, biking along rocky beaches in Oregon, and marveling at the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the remote bluffs of Baja California. We worked in cafes, bookshops, and parking lots on the way, staying as long as we wanted at each stop until we called the road.
When we weren’t on the truck, we still filled our adventurous calendar until it was full, like when we booked a two-month work-and-play snowboarding trip to sample Japan’s legendary powder. I thought a different continent would quell the fear that I hadn’t done enough in life, that I wasn’t moving fast enough—but old thoughts crept in among the excitement of the apogee, the sushi, and the snow.
Upon our return, we continued to explore the western United States in the van, from the winding rivers of Wyoming to the deserts of Utah and the rocky coasts of the Pacific Northwest. The trips were amazing, and we had adventures that I wouldn’t trade for the world; I grew up and learned a lot from the experiences we shared during this time.
I’m starting to wonder if moving on is the same thing as moving on
The pictures I took on those trips are priceless treasures to me now, and they stain our walls. But those journeys were stressful at times, in part because I couldn’t shake — or even articulate — my anxiety about not taking concrete steps forward in my life.
We woke up every day knowing it was going to be different from the past. People, countries, opinions – everything was constantly moving. So why, deep down, was I still tormented by the fear of a motionless life?
We decided to put down roots in a funky little spot in the ski town of Sierra. After traveling for years, I find it very surprising that I can enjoy stillness. While the road still calls to me, and I still answer from time to time, my years on the road have made me deeply appreciate the power of continuity.
This home rule has given me time to reflect, dig through memories and moments, and address fears rather than run from them. It also gave me time to breathe. In the blink of an eye, it seemed, I had gone from chasing the next adrenaline rush around the bend to basking in the serene wonder of roots.
I realized that being flat is not synonymous with stagnation, just as life on the road does not guarantee growth. What matters more than our GPS coordinates or our travel plans is how we chart a course through our fears and challenges. For some of us travel is a way to heal. For others, it is an escape from the harshness of reality. For me, it was a little bit of both.
For years I chased new places and new adventures, confident that the constant motion might dampen my inner struggles, but I was completely unaware that they dragged on the confrontation. My most satisfying adventures these days don’t need a passport, my climbing shoes, or my snowboard; Perhaps they were simply sitting with a good book in my favorite armchair by the fireplace, recording my thoughts in my journal, or having a craft night with new friends.
These days, I often find myself sitting in contentment, happy just to be, happy to be still. I’m exploring myself and my new community in ways I didn’t — or couldn’t — when I was on the road. I still feel my fight-or-flight instinct some days, but now I’m brave enough to plant my feet, raise my fists, and throw a punch.