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5 Lessons Learned on the Road During My Cross-Country Roadtrip

5 Lessons Learned on the Road During My Cross-Country Roadtrip

Looking out of a van onto the lake and a sunset

Moving into my self-converted van in May of 2021 kicked off a cross-country roadtrip from mountain summits in Maryland to pebble beaches and big cities to barren deserts. Living in a van full time can be challenging at times, but these lessons learned on the road have made my lifestyle affordable, enjoyable, safe, and sustainable.

Take advantage of free travel resources

I have found tons of cool spots and affordable stays thanks to digital resources and asking questions. Get help from apps like iOverlander, National Park Service, GasBuddy, Harvest Hosts, and AllTrails to visitor centers, locals, and online travel blogs. Traveling on a budget is made possible thanks to these online resources, especially free campsites found on iOverlander.

Campgrounds can quickly add up, often $50 or more a night for a tent site in National Parks, and they often fill up far in advance. Access to information including reviews, amenities, and location of campsites anywhere your phone has service allows you to make decisions based on what you want your day to look like, as opposed to an itinerary booked months in advance that you can’t stray from. 

Person holding up a phone with the app on it
Photo Credit: Erika Hagen

Give yourself permission to be still

When you don’t have your family and friends around to get together or go to for help, you become firmly planted in the driver’s seat of your own life. Having to decide every minute what to do, where to eat, how far to drive and where, whether or not to shower, or where to sleep really pulls into focus the responsibility we all have for our own decisions.

Being in control of my time has forced me to make peace with my subconscious in terms of “time well spent”, “productivity,” and the idea that worth is measured by efficiency. I’m still working on giving myself permission to fully embrace my new lifestyle, which offers me the choice to spend each hour however I wish, whether that’s logging hours for work or journaling in bed. I’m learning to trust that the experiences I am seeking out are part of a life well lived.

Long drives listening to books like Range or The Gifts of Imperfection, hikes that are strenuous as well as easy strolls, crafts I don’t follow through with and conversations with people along the road are all starting to feel like the puzzle pieces of a whole-hearted fulfilling life.

Take your safety seriously

Trusting your gut is huge. Whether pulling into a rural or urban campsite, it’s so important to be cognizant of your surroundings. Locking your van, arming a SimpliSafe security system, and having a GPS tracker in your vehicle are other important safety measures worth taking.

Wyoming sunset
Photo Credit: Erika Hagen

Another way to stay safe is to keep in touch with people so that your friends and family know where you are located. In addition to texting and Marco Polo, I use Instagram stories to keep in touch with my loved ones. I have found it to be the easiest way to keep those interested up to date with where I am and share in the adventure. For my own safety, I do not make public posts with my location until after I have left. I am also mindful of tagging responsibly.

Use public libraries for WiFi

When you think of finding WiFi on the road, you likely picture coffee shops. While I do use coffee shops as an excuse to indulge in a $5 drink now and then, I have really started to lean into public libraries as a quiet space with WiFi and ample outlets. Public libraries often have reliable parking, and their atmosphere tends to embody the local flavor of the area I am visiting. Plus, they’re a great place to look for my next read!

Remember that “Everything Is Figureoutable”

Any Marie Forleo fans out there? After reading her NY Times #1 Best Seller title, “Everything Is Figureoutable,” I started to push the envelope of dreaming bigger.

Forleo challenges, “If you believed to your core that everything really is figureoutable, what would you do now? What would you create or heal or transform or transcend? Who would you become?”

Girl standing in her van in a field
Photo Credit: Erika Hagen

It turns out our brains really do reinforce what we already believe, and believing I was capable of converting a van and living on the road full time was the shift in mindset that opened so many possibilities.

Van-dwelling isn’t going to be smooth sailing by any means, but telling yourself, “One way or another, I will figure it out,” can summon much-needed perseverance. Whether that means driving a little further to camp, changing your route entirely, hiring an electrician, or jerry-rigging parts of the van back together (looking at you, unbolted toilet…), navigating hurdles that arise from traveling and living in a van have both made me a better problem solver and given me more confidence in my own abilities. With every challenge, whether I came out feeling victorious or a little beaten up, I felt a little more sure of my capacity to navigate life’s hurdles.

We are all capable of way more than we often give ourselves credit for, especially with the internet in our back pocket and faith in ourselves.


Lead Photo: Erika Hagen

About the Author

Erika Hagen

Erika Hagen is a Maryland native who recently moved into a van she converted into her home on wheels. With a degree in Graphic Design from UMBC and years of experience as a portrait photographer she now works remotely while road tripping full time. Keep up with her latest creative endeavors and outdoor adventures on Instagram @VinnieVan.Go and check out her other work at www.erikahagenphotography.com.

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