I often catch myself peering out the window in my house full of awe, curiosity, and the urge to understand more about not only myself, but also humanity and the world we live in. It’s a feeling that ripples through every cell in my body, giving me a message that my soul is not designed to sit still in the comfort of my home and think about the wonders of life beyond my front door.
My soul is meant to experience those wonders.
Luckily for me, from the time I was very young my parents understood the relationship my soul had with the outdoors, for they had a similar connection with nature. They made a point to cultivate that bond not only in their lives, but in my life too.
I can’t remember a time when our family didn’t spend the summers camping underneath a canopy of California Redwoods, dodging mosquitoes left and right. It’s hard not to love the outdoors, adventure, and camping when you grow up spending your summers in these groves, tree bark painted red and brown and the ground covered by a blanket of fresh green pine needles. There’s something about the fresh, cold, tingly, and invigorating scent of pine that makes you want to stay forever. These groves in Northern California felt more like home every time we went.
There was a lot of packing to do for a family of six before we could leave home for the groves.
We’d gather all our essentials—cereal, milk, plump sugar-filled marshmallows, the perfect firewood that crackled in a peaceful, mesmerizing way—and pack our favorite clothes to scuff up in the dirt-covered campground.
Prepping for camping trips can typically feel exhausting and like a never-ending process of rummaging through your garage to make sure you have everything you need to survive for a few days off the grid. However, as a kid, there was something uniquely special about this part of the trip.
As my dad strategically packed the car and readied it for our weekend adventure, I always wanted to lend a hand. It seemed like a rite of passage to be involved with packing the gear for each camping trip. Enamored by his process and wanting to do whatever he was doing, I’d ask if I could help. However, his answer was always a quick “No.”
In disbelief that I was turned down, I’d start to pout just like any other kid would if their expectations weren’t met. My internal tantrum continued just long enough to kick some dirt around and cause a minor scene. But I eventually found myself sitting at the top of my driveway looking down into the trunk of the car watching ever so closely.
My dad said no for a reason—he had a scientific method to the madness. I realized that, so I studied every single move. My eyes were glued to every piece of gear he yanked from the pile of camping essentials in our garage, focusing on what went into the car first and what went last.
I’d pay attention to my dad’s Tetris–like method as the camping gear slowly began to take up every inch of free space. Boxes stacked on top of each other like a glove, soft blankets and sleeping bags were stuffed into the random gaps, and there was just enough room to put the cooler in last to allow for easy access. It all seemed to fit so perfectly, too perfectly. With my eyes glazed over in envy, I subconsciously dreamed of the day I’d play Tetris with my gear as I prepared for my own adventures.
That day is now.
My road trips began with a Volvo wagon just big enough to pack it tight with weekend essentials—beer, surfboards, firewood, food, and friends. This was my first swing at taking what I learned from the years of playing in the dirt while camping under California Redwood trees and using it for my own travels. While I knew the wagon wasn’t my dream adventure car, it was the perfect steppingstone and glimpse into what this adventure-based lifestyle could bring into my life—purpose.
The wagon had its good days—like road tripping along the windy Pacific Coast Highway up the California coast or camping alongside a bluff so I could wake up to the rhythmic explosion of waves in the ocean below. The wagon gave me a sense of purpose and freedom while roaming unfamiliar regions whether under a night sky speckled white with stars or making camp beside 3,000 feet of sheer granite walls in the middle of Yosemite Valley. But the wagon also had its bad days—like mechanical issues, flat tires, and a transmission that ran its course and decided it no longer wanted to work. Over time, the bad days overcame the good, which was a nudge that it was time to move on to something new, refreshing, and fulfilling.
I had always dreamed of converting my own campervan, and it seemed like this was the moment where life asked, “Are you going to buy the van or not?” With the Volvo wagon a thing of the past, and thank goodness it was, I didn’t hesitate to answer “Yes.”
I bought my first van in 2017, which sparked and then ignited an entirely new avenue of adventure and purpose for the outdoors in my life. However, I didn’t fully understand what I was getting myself into at the time, which was a blessing in disguise because if I had, I’m sure I would have hung up the cleats on chasing my dream of converting a van. There were countless hours of blistering, intense labor, an abundance of frustration, and the potential for failure that stood in between me and the dream of traveling in my own self-converted campervan.
While it would have been easy to back down on a project with challenges of this kind, my obsession, passion, and dedication to the outdoors motivated me to buckle up for the ride. Those obstacles seemed obsolete to me because I knew once it was finished, I’d be able to tap into a new level of the outdoors that my Volvo wagon or family summer camping trips never offered.
Without ever owning a single power tool or having previous woodworking experience, I somehow convinced myself I could convert my own campervan. I submerged myself in the pond, giving no room to come up with any sorry excuses that would keep me from following my heart.
It was a long couple of months working on this project. Little splinter here, a miss cut on a piece of wood over there, and far too many trips to Home Depot. Although these nuances of converting my own campervan were challenging to overcome, it was part of the process. They were my initiation.
My campervan has done more for me than just teach me lessons about woodworking, overcoming frustration, and practicing patience when it comes to chasing a lifelong dream. It’s granted me a new love and connection with the outdoors by allowing me to drive along roads lined with deep red sedimentary rock, slumber in the middle of nowhere to experience a night sky full of dancing stars, and wake up to crisp morning air paired with that same fresh and tingly scent of pine I remembered from camping as a child.
My campervan helps me understand how crucial it is to stay connected with the natural world even if our society has slowly built it out of our lives with manmade concrete jungles and technology like social media that makes us falsely believe the aspects of life that truly matter are likes, comments, and shares.
I do this kind of adventuring because it infiltrates my life with an immense amount of positive energy, appreciation, and gratitude for everything that surrounds me, whether I’m on the road or simply enjoying time in the comfort of my home. It’s gifted me with more experiences, lessons, and moments of awe than I ever could have wished for.
It’s taught me to never stop living for joy, and it can do the same for you.