We’d just hit mile 300 on a westward crawl to British Columbia when Sam peeked his head under the van at the gas station. For a solid 20 seconds we unsuccessfully tried to ignore the gas spewing out from underneath.
That breakdown in middle-of-nowhere Utah is a small example of how our ’82 Westfalia Vanagon, affectionately named Hans, quickly became the symbolic moral of our story — take it slow, adapt with gratitude, and, simply put, just go.
Instead of your standard travel guide of “where to sleep” and “what to eat”, we are humbled to share a few things the road (and returning home) has taught us.
MOBILITY IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT
While dreams of longer journeys with Hans exist, we knew our first trip could only be 10 days due both to work limits on vacation days and also to a strong desire to return to what we were building at home. Denver means the world to us. Not only is it home to an extraordinary community, but we both have jobs that push us to grow creatively in such a way that we rarely refer to them as “work.” Coming from nomadic pasts of touring & living overseas, we knew that movement was a priority, but that it needs to co-mingle with our existing passions. The same applies to all who seek mobility — there is no magic formula.
For us, it’s the van that sits outside our small 1890s apartment as a reminder to get lost once in a while. Whether it is the neighborhood or country next door, we know there is much to learn in miles. From weekend trips to month-long-excursions alike, we strive for balance in rooting down while simultaneously acknowledging the need to explore roads undiscovered.
The inversion of priorities can spell doom faster than a faulty fuel line for those on the road. Some helpful clues that priorities are askew:
As restless souls, we’re more than aware of these missteps. Hell, we’ve both been guilty of them more times than we’d care to admit. Yet experience and hard truth have proven that prioritizing a look or a lifestyle over human connection only dilutes a truly beautiful journey—both for ourselves and for those around us. Our van and our time to roam are merely tools. They can be replaced. What cannot be replaced is the story we coaxed out of the waitress at Buffalo Cafe in Twin Falls, ID or the sense of connection when Laura didn’t even question Sam’s need to pull over and skinny dip despite our tight schedules. Relating to the world around us is not only our chief goal in travel, it’s also why we exist. The looks, the hellos, the farewells and the raised glasses formed the base of our travels in much the same way that they fuel our daily lives in Denver. The faster we all move away from conforming to a look, be it backpacker, creative or what have you, the faster we’ll stumble upon the real path.
Travel provides rare opportunities for pause — from driving out of cell service, to hopping aboard a long train ride, to engaging in conversation with a complete stranger. When driving in Hans, there is no way to entertain ourselves with today’s typical distractions. We have no AC, no power steering, and a stereo that plays only on low from the rear speakers. Yet, these creature comforts are rarely missed and instead get replaced with a certain magic that hovers somewhere near the edge of boredom.
Try it for yourself. Instead of notification-upon-notification, let your mind slow. If not already out of service, the handy “airplane mode” on your phone does wonders. If we aim to travel truly, then let us detach. Let go. Allow your existence to be enough.
THE DAY-TO-DAY AIN’T SO GRAY
Our best friends extract the latent potential lurking in our brains and bones out into the light of day. Sometimes it requires a quick rapping of the knuckles when we stray into our lesser selves and sometimes it means injecting a bit of inspiration to remind us of what is actually possible with these handful of years on earth. Regardless of who we are, everyone needs constant reminders of why our endeavors (and adventures alike) are worth it.
For us, it meant buying a van. Admittedly odd, we’ve found that a physical symbol of our curiosity is powerful. It means that each day as we walk out of our house, tempted to live yet another throw-away day, there sits Hans in all his boxy glory — daring us to remember that each hour is ours, that the practical and magical exist in equal measure, that a meal can be more than simply eating, and that our work better be worthy of the people we are when we leave our desks behind. This reminder keeps us on our toes better than any cup of coffee ever could.
"Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable." - Mary OliverTweet It!
We’re not here to convince you to quit a job, or buy a van, or make any sort of drastic change. Rather, we here to remind you that adventure doesn’t always require a passport or full tank of gas — any act of exploration — be it big or small — can be worthwhile. It can embolden and enable you in ways that little else can. Your community and this world need less complacency and more listening. Simply put: go, but go with intention.
Laura Schmalstieg and Sam Pike are building a life together where creativity is prioritized. Both part time explorers, Sam spends his weekdays making films & Laura plays connect the dots with words and photos. They are based in Denver (or wherever their work takes them via van).
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