I entered van life mid-COVID. The transition to van dwelling alone can cause one to question and re-question their decision a million times. It took me four rounds of downsizing to finally get all my belongings to fit inside my tiny home on wheels. But after all the convincing it took to rid myself of my precious goods I then stepped out into my new adventure; except a lot of the benefits I was counting on were no longer available. You see, I found the ability to live frugally while also adventurously to be a huge draw for VanLife.
By cutting my cost of living expenses I could finally indulge in the $5 cup of Starbucks because not only would I be paying for the coffee but also an air conditioned office space. This way of thinking applied to many aspects in this new way of living. For instance I had planned to utilize gyms for showers, local diners when in need of sit down dinner, and theaters as my living room. But with all these options being restricted by COVID, most of my downtime was spent right here in my new home, exploring new places, discovering new recipes, and adoring God’s creations.
The why & how of VanLife: When I separated from the military, I had a lot of questions to answer. What would I do next? What direction would my career go? Where did I want to settle down? My time in the van is helping me to sort out answers to these questions while keeping expenses low and allowing me to explore the nation in search of my final destination. Van dwelling is challenging. When living on the grid, you can dispose of your bodily waste with the pull of a handle, water magically appears when you turn on the spout and electricity and closet space are available in surplus.
For me, the challenge I find most difficult to accept is loneliness. Major concerns that presented themselves as I prepared for this lifestyle included safety and funding. In building my van I decided to forgo windows to make myself less vulnerable to outside dangers. Further, I try not to let anyone know that it is just me in the van, especially when arriving to a campsite. Funding is something that I am still working out. Luckily when I started this venture, I had a fat savings account and though it has gotten a bit slim, it will support me until either I can supplement my pension with my photography or I select another remote career path.
While on the road I tend to see more men, couples and even families file out of vans than I do single women. But that’s not to say that we aren’t out there. I have many single female friends that are also wandering in search of something more than themselves. It’s much akin to the ratio of women in the military, there may be only a few of us but our dedication and determination make sure that our presence does not go unnoticed. Now I am behind the lens, capturing frames exploring this new life that I’ve chosen.
I have no doubt that I’ve made the right decision to live off-grid. This collection of work has started to give the journey more purpose and grounding.
BIO: Jessica Bidwell is a transitioning veteran; she spent the last two decades globetrotting with the U.S. Navy. One constant, her camera was never far from reach. While in service she was blessed with the opportunity to capture moments that would forever inform, teach and reach future generations, offering a muse to serve or simply a glimpse of the world from a Sailor’s perspective. As she immerses herself in the civilian sector, one thing remains the same, she consistently finds herself behind the lens capturing frames with the desire that others will be as inspired as she is by merely a moment in time. Her latest project highlights her post-military lifestyle. Though van dwelling comes with its own unique set of challenges it is allowing her to explore the civilian sector while keeping expenses low. Moreover, it’s given her the freedom to explore the beauty of the States in search of her final destination. Follow her adventure here.
Photos by: Jessica Bidwell
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