After a 5 hour drive through west Texas as I left Austin, I pulled into the Walmart of the small town of Fort Stockton. Walmart has been considered a staple place of nomads around America for years. Many of their locations allow overnight parking for free, so you can find RVs, vans, trailers, and trucks parked all night alongside each other near busy interstates and in towns and cities across the country. I’ve spent most of my time in cities stealth camping, so prior to this particular evening I’ve only stayed in a Walmart overnight once before. I was eager to stop for the night on my drive heading to New Mexico - though in good spirits I was pretty hungry and ready to not have my full attention focused on the road. As I checked for a suitable place to park, my eyes looked across the lot and fell upon the most elaborate rig I have ever seen - I had to look at it over and over again to confirm that it wasn’t just a commercial truck towing smaller vehicles. Behold: an 18-wheeler cab with two ATVs stacked on the back, towing a large RV trailer with a Smart Car hitched behind, plus a satellite dish, two fans, and an AC on top. I’m talking…the works.
And that’s just what’s visible from outside! I took a video that I posted to Instagram so I would never forget this rig. I was in awe. I continue to be in awe. I kept rewatching the video I took. I kept sneaking peeks at it from behind my privacy/insulation curtain separating the cab and the camper area of my van. Then I would retreat back to my seat or bed, look around my comparatively humble little setup, and smile. Though some folks might judge the trailer owner for not “roughing it" or having too many creature comforts or for their perceived privilege. But I was actually stoked to see that setup. Not necessarily because that is something I want or need for myself - I went the white Sprinter van route for a reason - but because I love the equalizing effect of choosing to be nomadic, even if it’s just for a short period of time. I love that it’s possible that someone which such a, shall we say, EXTRA, rig is also just looking for any easy place to rest their head for the night. That they're sharing the same space with a person whose van includes a portable toilet that doubles as extra seating (lid on, of course) and streams TV on their iPad mini with a broken screen. And next to them is a cute Japanese style RV. And next to them is a couple with a pickup truck towing a 13 foot Casita trailer. And next to them is a person who is sleeping in their sedan. The road makes us all neighbors and a funny community of sorts.
This is even more exemplified in the ways that nomads intentionally choose to create community. Part of the reason why so many people choose to travel extensively or live on the road is because they like to do things their own way. You can go where you want, when you want, and you can take all that you have with you. No one to answer to. But even if you are a traveler and identify as a loner, there is still that desire for community and conversation, especially if you are mostly solo. And that’s what events such as vanlife gatherings are for. To cultivate community among a group of people that have intentionally chosen to live unconventionally. To celebrate our wild souls and create the human connections and friendships we all need.
There is a distinct leaning towards non-judgement, availability for magic, and conscious living among vanlife folks in particular (whose vibe can be a bit different than those who for example travel and find community within groups for people with vintage travel trailers, or retirees at expensive RV parks with uber-comfy rigs). I have had the great pleasure to meet some amazing fellow nomads at some truly special gatherings. The most precious one for me was my first, the New Orleans Vanlife Gathering, which I talked a bit about in last week’s intuitive update video. Organized by the luminescent Noami and Dustin of @irietoaurora, this gathering intentionally focused on environmental sustainability, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. This joyful event brought what many other fellow Black attendees noted was the most diverse group that they had ever seen at such a gathering. Opening with storytelling and a ceremonial blessing from Grayhawk Perkins of the Muscogee Nation, the weekend-long gathering included talks on mental health, Leave No Trace principles, and solar power, along with daily yoga and breathwork, plus a powerful panel on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It was a gorgeous weekend, full of sun, laughter, and new friends.
It was a real treat to hear the beautiful family of @themeditationbus share on the panel as they spoke to the spiritual principles of nonjudgement, while simultaneously acknowledging and reflecting on racial and economic injustice. They decided to move into a converted school bus after seeing the lack of empowering opportunities for home and land ownership for their community in their home state of Georgia. As they spoke, while I loved what they were saying, I also noticed that I felt a discomfort - they were speaking to a mostly white audience about something fairly huge: the spiritual fallacy of assuming the moral high ground for people who have historically been marginalized. It almost felt like - “Hey! You can’t say that in front of these people! What if they get ideas or take this the wrong way?” Because, I mean, this stuff is not easy to integrate - nonjudgement is one of the greatest challenges of ones' commitment to deep spiritual work. But it’s also one of the most rewarding. (Note: I hosted a workshop in Chicago last year on the revolutionary invitation of Judgement both in the tarot and as a tool for awakening radical acceptance. Stay tuned for an updated version of that coming again next year!) Of course, folks (of the privileged variety) might misinterpret the message - the signs of such are spiritual bypassing and declarations of color-blindness - but the evolved perspective recognizes that we cannot manage the feelings and prejudices of others. That this bypassing is not our responsibility to judge - it just shows where that person’s comfort lies and where they need to continue to grow, but not their worthiness as a soul. When we truly integrate that we are all One, we are also actively and consciously accepting that all we can do is choose to live authentically and in alignment with our values - values that promote peace, care and healing of Nature, and racial, economic, and gender equity.
Which is what makes vanlife so special. Living this way is a way to say no to the oppressive systems designed for exploitation and manipulation that we are brainwashed from birth into accepting, while simultaneously being able to create new worlds that cultivate genuine compassion, trust, sustainability, and communion with Spirit. Of course, not all vanlifers are necessarily consciously spiritually minded. I have attended two other vanlife gatherings, both in Austin, and spent days at a time after those gatherings with other attendees, people who I now count as friends. And through all of those experiences, I have seen how the intentional practicing of values of vulnerability and availability make this group and nomadic living special. I have found that many of the folks I have met in this community are deeply generous, exceptionally environmentally conscious, and very willing to accept new ideas and share them readily with others. I think a huge part of this difference is the intentional choice to be in community - it could be easy for nomadic people to just live on their own, and/or to perpetuate the same kind of territorial colonization that we’ve all been brainwashed to believe is simply human nature as opposed to deliberate structural violence. The folks that I have met, as flawed as we all may be, seem to genuinely want to cultivate a sustainable way for people to connect, learn from each other, and share joy together.
No one is perfect. And there are certainly plenty of vanlifers and nomads who are not as conscious or evolved on these issues. But it’s been really incredible to have communed with so many similarly-minded adventurers on my journeys. I am so grateful to be able to live this work of community and nonjudgement from root to crown - to live, speak, and breathe these insights everyday, whether I’m traveling solo or surrounded by friends.
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Alia Walston is a traveling writer and intuitive making connections between the challenges and ecstasies of our evolution