MGU 259 | Pandemic Lifestyle Changes

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only shifted the way we work; it also forced us to make lifestyle adjustments. But now that restrictions are slowly being lifted and life is getting back to normal the way we are used to, do we go back to how we were before or carry on with the new lifestyle changes we made? In this episode, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen take a closer look into the many lifestyle changes people made in the first fifteen months of the pandemic and what trends they see now that will affect our future. They talk about the explosion in animal adoptions and the problems shelters face now as people go back to their lifestyles. They also talk about the van life that gained popularity online during this pandemic—from how people opted to go houseless to start living on the road, to the drawbacks they have discovered, to how being a Vanlifer is faring now. Join Jason and Whitney in this conversation where they dig deep into the lifestyle changes people made out of fear and loneliness in this pandemic and where they are now that life is moving back to the way it used to be.

Listen to the podcast here:



Lifestyle Changes In The Pandemic: On Pet Adoption And Van Life

I’ve been reading a lot of articles, Whitney, and seeing a lot of social media posts about the reversal of some interesting trends that happened, I don’t even know if I want to say the peak of the pandemic because we have no idea. How long this is going to last? It’s certainly not over. I feel like any kind of terminology around post pandemic world is fallacious at this point. Let’s just say over the first fifteen months of the pandemic, in addition to things like baking, sourdough making. Also, people homesteading, pickling, and gardening, there were two trends that exploded that I’m seeing a lot of interesting coverage that people are now doing the opposite of them.

One of those things was the explosion in animal adoptions as people were on lockdown in their homes. Certainly a lot of people I know, it might be the case with you, too, Whitney, and to you dear reader, people being given the opportunity to work from home and not go into an office and not make that commute every day.

As a result of not only the lockdown and whatever was happening in our different cities or municipalities combined with working from home, loneliness, and not seeing our loves want loved ones, there was an absolute explosion in animal adoptions over the first fifteen months of the pandemic.

The sad thing is we are now seeing thousands of people are not just returning those animals to the adoption facilities. They’re taking them to shelters. Obviously, someone who is an animal lover, who’s vegan, who has five companion animals on my own, it breaks my heart. When I saw one of those article, I started crying because these poor animals were given these homes and hopefully given love and companionship, and now you didn’t get into the psychological factors of it. People are going back to work now and quarantine restrictions are being lifted and they’re seeing their friends and it makes me angry and lose faith in humanity.

It pisses me off it and it engenders a lot of emotions in me but it mostly hurts my heart for the animals to have been adopted and a year or two year and a half later being taken to a shelter and dumped. It’s happening here in Los Angeles in Southern California, it’s happening all over the country. I don’t know about internationally. It was focused in the United States but that’s one of the things I want to get into. The ethics and the dynamics of that. Second thing, which is something that I had also seen articles about, and maybe the readers know I’m a huge car fanatic. I love the auto industry. It’s something I read blogs about all the time what’s happening. Over the course of the beginning of the pandemic, there was an explosion in people, either selling their houses, renting out their houses, and completely going into van life.

People joke about hashtag van life but it’s interesting to see what people have done to the Dodge Sprinter vans, the Mercedes vans, the Ford Transit vans. I was talking to our mutual friend, Ross, about how many people he’s seen with a Ford. He works for Ford Motor company taking their high-top Transit vans and outfitting them with sinks, bathrooms, and indoor or outdoor showers. Now the reversal of animal adoptions and people dumping their animals at shelters, we’re seeing people realizing that this whole van life thing that seems so glamorous on Instagram and social media is not what they thought it was cracked up to be.

I went on Autotrader. I went on Craigslist to check this out myself. There’s a lot of custom conversion vans, not the conversion vans from the ‘80s from our childhood, Whitney. Not the kind with the screens and the seats. The kind of conversion vans I’m talking about are people living in their vans, shelving units, water filters, and cooktops.

A lot of people saw that as an opportunity to probably be safer. Get out of the COVID hotspots and go into nature and travel and be free from that but a lot of people I was reading are realizing that it’s not what they thought it was. Here we are 12, 15 months later, they spent all this money buying these custom vans, which can easily go for over $100,000. This is not an inexpensive venture to get a brand-new custom van. We also have another mutual friend named Justin, who is in the process of converting an old Sprinter van. I got to see it. Van life is a thing.

Look up the hashtag. It’s crazy but it’s interesting. In both cases with, people thought it was going to be one thing, they get into it and they’re like, “This isn’t what I wanted.” I’m not trying to compare the ethics of a sentient life that thinks and feels like a companion animal versus a van. It is interesting how people made a lot of very rash decisions, a lot of emotionally fear-driven decisions out of either loneliness or fear and then realized, “I didn’t want this.” It’s fascinating to observe.

There are people living out of their vehicles out of necessity, not out of choice. Click To Tweet

With that, Whit, I want to pass the baton to you however you want to respond to either the animal side of things and what you think is driving people because it infuriates the shit out of me to see people doing this. You love road trips. You’ve talked ad nauseum here about your love of packing up the car and going on a road trip. That’s not the same as living out of your car but I’m curious how both of these things hit you as we’re seeing this massive downturn of this wave and things going in the opposite direction.

First of all, I haven’t found the data to back up your points. I would like to see some data because when I looked up the term van life and then looked at the news on the Google side, I couldn’t find a single article of coverage on these changes that you’re referring to, Jason. Maybe I’m typing in the wrong term but most of them are covering people that have made these changes. It’s interesting to me because a lot of people are hesitant to talk about the drawbacks to a big decision they’ve made. I think about this when it comes like having children, it’s a huge life change. It’s a big decision but how many people will admit that they wish they hadn’t had kids or how many people will say it’s hard and, “I can’t go back?”

There’s no turning back. Van life is very different. I’m not trying to say they’re the same but it makes me think of things like that. It’s the same with having an animal. I remember when I got my dog, Evie, I had a mini panic attack when I realized how much responsibility it was. I spent all this time planning for her. I was so excited. I had grown up with dogs but I’d never had an animal entirely on my own. I’ve always, previous Evie, shared them with my parents or a boyfriend or a roommate or someone that I was with. At the time I got Evie, I might’ve been single.

I don’t remember having a serious boyfriend at that time. I was living by myself and I felt overwhelmed. It was the thought of like, “This is so much work.” It didn’t hit me until it happened. I’ve often wondered if that’s what parenthood is like for a lot of people. In some ways, there are smaller things in life that are more reversible. Van life is something that you could decide not to do but to your point, Jason, the cost and time involved are so much that I’m sure people think, “I’ve put this much time and money into it. I should probably do this for a while to make it worth it.” How many people can admit that they “made a mistake or change their minds” when they’re that far into it.

Statistically, I’m not sure that they cost $100,000 or more. I would want to look at the data because I see so many people on platforms like TikTok talking about how they’re doing it inexpensive because you can get a lot of used vehicles and attachments to your vehicles like the campers. There’s a lot of ways to do it for less money but you might have to spend a lot of time hands-on building things and changing things and revamping them. I don’t know the cost but it can be done more affordably. That’s part of the big draw, especially when you add it up. I have trouble when I add up how much I spend on rent.

I don’t want to calculate how much I’ve spent on rent in my lifetime as a renter because it’s a lot of money but granted renting at most places, the advantages that you can leave and change your mind whenever you want. You don’t have to spend money on all the costs involved in owning a home or a piece of property. There are pros and cons to both. In terms of van life, getting specific back to that, Jason, I have had a taste of it given that I’ve spent some time doing road trips and camping out of my car and it opened my eyes up to a whole new world. Car camping is different from van life because there’s a complete difference in what you’re able to do in a car versus a van.

I’ve seen people in all different types of vehicles though, like big and small cars and vans and RVs and buses and I’m fascinated. To your point, Jason, a lot of it has been glamorized. A lot of people on social media covering either the build process which is interesting and/or what it’s like to live in it from a perk side like, “Look where I get to park. I get to go anywhere I want and look how fun it is.” My overall impression of that lifestyle is positive.

Every once in a while, you’ll see somebody admitting the challenges and talking about it but it’s rare. My experience has been fun. To your point though, I have not spent that much time in my car, sleeping in my car. It’s not a permanent or a long-term decision. It’s a vacation type of experience for me but it did give me some perspective. It changes the way you think about how you live from day to day. There’s a lot of things to consider. There’s a massive difference between me now in July 2021 versus August 2020. When I decided to do my cross-country road trip in 2020, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a lot of time because my friend, Leanne, we did several episodes on this, one with her.

Leanne and I made a fairly last-minute decision to drive cross country. I’d been considering it but I wasn’t preparing. There wasn’t a lot. It was like, “We’re just going to go do it.” I’m amazed on how we were able to accomplish all of that in such a short amount of time planning. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my next trip. I’ll be sharing in the show as I go through that process. I’ve started doing a deeper dive, Jason. I’ve been very fascinated by people that live in their cars and all of the things that they do and the changes and the decisions, especially women traveling by themselves.

MGU 259 | Pandemic Lifestyle Changes

Pandemic Lifestyle Changes: There are a lot of emotionally-driven decisions out of either loneliness or fear during this pandemic.

 

Overall, it seems like they’re happy, but again like, “Are they really, or are they just presenting that way on social media?” I wonder, is that damaging? How many people see someone looking so free and having so much fun and having such little expense, does that influence others to do it, too, that it might not be a good fit for? That’s an important part of this conversation. With anything in life, whether it’s adopting an animal, having a child, or choosing to live a radical lifestyle. We could say the same thing about tiny house living, which we talked about in another episode with Adam. Adam talked about the challenges of tiny house living or a little bit on the RV living. We also had another guest. We’ve had a few conversations around this. Christine Roberts is another episode. Mainly she talked about vacations. Do they live out of their RV, Jason? I don’t remember off the top of my head. She said they did it for like several months at a time or something.

She said that they sold their house, did the massive traveling thing, and then came back and then bought a new house after they were done as far as the story going. They went the step of selling their house committing fully to mobile living and then being like, “This isn’t what we wanted anymore,” and then reinvested in a new property.

That’s a cool example because it shows that you can change your mind but what you can do is relative. Right now, we’re in an interesting time with real estate because it’s incredibly competitive. I was talking to someone, I can’t remember if she said she bought or not but it was a purchased home and the stress in the competition to get a place to live, whether you’re renting or buying is an all-time high but it feels that way to me.

I don’t recall in the past to be in that competitive to live somewhere. That’s raising the prices and now people might be spending more than they need to or want to. The challenge is, if you decided temporarily to live out of your car and RV van, it’s not super simple to “turn back” because things could change drastically. You know this too, Jason. I’ve noticed over the years, you’ve moved a lot more than I have. I’ve had the same place for many years. Every time you moved, it seemed like the prices went way up. You’re often thinking about what it was like to move in the past but we need to wake up to what it’s like to move in the present. That probably doesn’t line up from our past experiences. Would you say?

We are, in June 2021, in a massive inflationary bubble, everything is more expensive. Lumber is more expensive, which is affecting the price of houses and the affecting the ability for home builders and what they’re able to charge. Gas, clothing, and food are more expensive. The car market and the housing market are fucking batshit crazy. Talking to people trying to buy a car or a house, to your point, Whitney, it sounds like a bloodbath.

It sounds insane. To your point, how long will this inflationary bubble last? No one knows. I see articles from Reuters and Forbes about them trying to forecast how long the bubble is going to last. My personal philosophy at this moment is I don’t want to buy a new car and a new house right now because it’s so brutally expensive and competitive to do so.

I’m waiting it out even though I’m ready to move out of Los Angeles. I don’t know where I’m going to move to because I’ve looked at the prices of houses in different markets. Even back home in Detroit, for shits and giggles, I was like, “What are the things going back for in Detroit?” Back in the day in Detroit, this is going to be funny to any Californians or any West Coasters, you could spend $350,000 on a house and you would get something palatial for $350,000 depending on the neighborhood. $350,000 gets you a lot of houses in the Metro Detroit area.

Now what’s going for $350,000? It’s basic, two bed, two bath, brick and mortar. It’s nothing special. The whole country seems to be affected. I don’t know about the world. I don’t know what real estate is going on internationally but to your point, Whitney, moving right now is a tricky proposition. Unless you have massive amounts of cash reserves, then it’s not a big deal. I wanted a comment also when you were looking for some articles not only the van life thing but the shelter dog. I wanted to clarify when I was talking about shelters the article I saw was from Reuters talking about specifically California, the massive rate of dogs being returned to shelters.

Each person is making those choices or not making those choices for different reasons. Click To Tweet

I apologize. I didn’t mean to make it sound like it was a national thing because the only article I was able to find on that was an article about California and the rate of dogs being returned to shelters. The other thing, too, when you were talking about prices of converting vans and converting things to hashtag van life. Our friend, Justin, is doing it totally DIY. He’s doing it on the cheap. He bought a used van that is 4 or 5 years old, saved a lot of money there, and he’s doing it all by hand. He’s doing it by himself. On the other end of that spectrum, if we’re going to go to the complete opposite pole, Airstream announced in June 2021, their Interstate 24X fully loaded adventure van. The images of this van are like rock and roll tour bus. When you click on it, you see the inside of this van, it’s unbelievable. Price tag of van now, a Mercedes Sprinter van customized by Airstream. They deliver it to you. It’s fully ready to go. It starts at $213,000. That’s the spectrum.

If you are going to live in it though, to your point, if you can’t find a great house for under $3,000 anymore but you can find a great van, a specked-out luxury experience, to some people they’re like, “As long as I live in this for long enough, it’s going to be worth it. If I can still sell it and make it worth it, maybe it’s great.”

I personally want to try out one of these vans and be in it to see what a $213,000 van gets you because it sounds totally bad ass. It’s got an air suspension, four-wheel drive, onboard generator, 5G wireless connectivity, solar panels. These cockpit seats look unbelievable. It’s got a 13,500 BTU air conditioner. If you look at the pictures, there’s people sleeping in the back, it’s got a standing desk, it’s got a 5G cellular antenna. It’s completely configurable. It’s got tons of overhead storage. It’s got an indoor bathroom. It’s got a galley kitchen with a sink, a two-burner stove, top small microwave, and meal prepping counter space. It is like a house on wheels.

It’s a tiny house on wheels is what it is. I get the price tag. I’m just saying that’s the nth degree. You can either DIY get a used van, build it yourself or you can pay Airstream $200,000 and get something that’s mapped out. The other thing, too, is you were asking about articles talking about van lifers exiting their van lifeways. I found an article on Jalopnik.com, which is one of my favorite auto websites talking about people selling their vans.

Before you get to that, I wanted to comment on the other thing that I saw that I almost sent to you, Jason. I was like, “He probably doesn’t care about this.” Now I’m going to bring it up. I saw a TikTok about a family that rents for vacation houseboats. It was one of the states with an M. It was not Michigan, it might’ve been Minnesota. There’s a cool company where you can rent these, not luxurious but nice houseboats. They teach you how to drive them. Everything’s included in the price and you can go on a ten-day vacation with your family. They can accommodate ten people in their beds and you drive it around and park it in specific areas, like on the lake.

You could pull up to a little beach, be completely on your own with your family and hang out. There were slides and all these fun things on them. It looks fun. Houseboats are another thing I occasionally see, I don’t know if it was in the US or was in a different country but there were some videos about people that go live in the canals. All the rules about where you’re allowed to go and how long and how you have to go to level out the water. It’s like a dam where you have to go to one side and you pull some lever. It raises your boat up so that you can be at the level of the next part of the canal.

All this travel and boat experiences, I was like, “That sounds interesting.” I don’t know if I would like it. Jason and I did a cruise together once, which I thought was fun but it makes me a little nervous being out in the ocean like that. You could certainly get sick from it but I did once sleep on a nice sailboat with beds. I remember it being very pleasant. Something else to consider in the mix of all of this is living on a boat. I know people do that in LA. There was, years ago, this woman that I did some work for, I found her on Craigslist. She lived in a houseboat in the Marina out here.

MGU 259 | Pandemic Lifestyle Changes

Pandemic Lifestyle Changes: Having a car to sleep in that protects you from the weather and keeps your things secure and safe and not exposed is important to remember.

 

That was her full-time life. Now that I’m reflecting on all of this, all these memories are coming up. I feel like I guy that I went on a couple of dates with lived on a boat but I never went over there because we didn’t make it, I wasn’t interested. In hindsight I was like, “I wish I had gotten in to see what his boat was like,” out of curiosity. What is a bachelor pad on a boat like? Jason, I suddenly imagined you living on the boat with all your animals. It doesn’t seem that farfetched to me. It would be cool and maybe your animals would be into it.

I’d have to make sure that Bella was constantly wearing a safety vest because Frenchies are too top heavy. FYI, I learned this early on, Frenchies need life vests to swim or they will sink like a boulder. Cats would be fine. I don’t think the cats would jump in the water but Bella would be a suspect for sure. I heard about people, when I was living in the Bay Area, saving a ton of money on rent because San Francisco Bay Area is notorious for being brutally expensive as well with rent and housing prices. I read about a lot of people doing that in SF as well. I never strongly considered it. Living on the water 24/7, I don’t know if I could do it.

I never seriously considered it. I have seriously considered, as we covered in the wonderful episode with Adam Garrett-Clark, wanting to explore the idea of a tiny house. To your point about cost, if you want to do it minimalist, you don’t want to do the $200,000 Airstream. I was saying that this automotive website that I love, Jalopnik, is where I saw this article about people selling their vans after they tried out van life and they didn’t like it anymore. There’s a link to vans for sale in this article. If any of you out there want to try van life and take advantage of people who’ve done this and are trying to sell their vehicles, there’s nice one in New York, Whitney.

It looks like it’s a Ford Transit Connect. Craftsmanship, there’s a Coleman grill, 30-can cooler, food prep station, side cubbies, 120,000 miles, 1 owner, $17,250. The average cost of a new vehicle right now in the US is right around $40,000. To pick up a van for $17,000, it’s nice. The woodwork in this looks amazing. There’s a bed in the back. It looks like a full-size bed. It’s very cool. It’s also cool to see creatively, how people are executing these things. Here’s another one. It’s a 2011 Chevy Express van, 153,000 miles, memory foam mattress, backup camera, storage, and trailer hitch, $18,500.

There’s a bunch of them on here. I’m not going to go through the name of every single one, but you can see that in terms of affordability, if you don’t want to drop six figures and you did want to say, “I don’t want to get in this crazy ass real estate market. I’m going to just live out of a van.” For less than 20K, there are some pretty rad options out there. Don’t get me wrong, notwithstanding to be in a small van with five animals, does it not sound like a walk in the park? I had my own version of this, Whitney. Rivian is an electric truck manufacturer and they are coming out with the R1T truck.

They have built it in such a modular way that they have on top of the truck a reinforced all-weather tent that you can buy. It’s a hexagonal tent that allows you to sleep on the top of the truck. If you spec it correctly, they have a modular kitchen that comes out of the side of the truck, full burner tops. They give you all of the dishes, silverware, all of the kitchen prep stuff is included.

All you do is hit a button and the kitchen comes out of the side of the truck. There’s a YouTube video showing this kitchen and action out of the Rivian truck. I was like, “I can get an electric truck that gives over 300 miles of range. I could get the optional hexagonal all-weather tent to sleep on the top of it. I could spec it with the onboard modular kitchen that comes out of the truck, live for $80,000 in this brand-new electric vehicle with an onboard kitchen.” It’s a fantasy I have. I might do it because that sounds bad ass.

It’s all theoretical, all these things we’re talking about, whether it’s animal adoption or living out of your truck. There’s a part of this that sometimes we get to the point of privilege and class status. Here in Los Angeles, there are people living out of their vehicles out of necessity, not out of choice. There are a ton of people here because of the cost of living because of COVID that are living out of their vehicles because they have to. I realized that us having this conversation is coming from a point of massive privilege of like, “I want to buy an $80,000 electric truck and live out of it,” because I can, not because I have to.

I don’t want to sound insensitive. I want to acknowledge that this part of the conversation is coming from a place of privilege and social status. Some people they’d be like, “I need to live that way because I have no other option,” which is a very real concern in this country with the rate of homelessness. All that being said, there’s dreaming about something, Whitney. There’s the theory of, “This is going to be dope. I’m going to live out of my van. I’m going to adopt a new puppy.”

Many of us are so privileged just to have a bed to sleep in. Click To Tweet

We get into the reality with so many things in life. Even dating someone new, have you ever fantasized about like, “I want to date this person.” You finally ended up dating him and you’re like, “This isn’t what I thought it was going to be.” There’s a lot of things in life that we get ourselves into that the reality doesn’t often match dreaming about having the thing. Do you find that, too? I feel like that’s a huge element of this conversation.

I’m trying to think of an example in my life. A brainstorm on that, there was a couple of other points. I found an article on USA Today, which is published in February 2021. It was just covering different stories of how van life took off. There were some interesting elements of it like why people were making this decision? One person said, “We were incredibly restless. If every day we wake up in our small apartment and we walk our dog around the block and that’s the extent of our life, why aren’t we doing this throughout the country?” That makes so much sense. I can see so many people want to travel. During COVID, that was one of the reasons I decided to drive cross country. I did not feel comfortable flying.

I wanted to see my family. I also thought it’d be amazing to see more of the country. That’s why I did it in 2020 and I plan to do it again in 2021. I understand the restlessness. I’ve been taking a lot of walks almost every single day lately and I’m getting so bored of the area that I’m in. Every day I have to go down this street again. I wish I could be somewhere else with nature, too. This came up a few times, another article I want to bring up. In this article in USA Today, Jason, there’s a ton of examples of how people can find a van or some sort of vehicle for $8,000 to $20,000 and it costs like $8,000 to $10,000 to do upgrades like bathroom equipment, shelving, bedding, and gear.

It’s not that much money but it’s very relative. The article touches upon how some people who are now jobless or their income were reduced. They lost their homes. They have to live in their vehicle because they have no other options. That’s important thing to bring up here. It’s a perspective that I’m interested in now of having more compassion for people and understanding how there’s a lot of judgment around it. I still feel judged. I tell people that I’m sleeping in my car while I travel. Most times somebody will say, “You don’t have to sleep in your car.” Especially in 2020, I chose to sleep in my car because of COVID.

I was visiting family members, and for most of them, I would sleep in their driveways. They thought it was weird. Once I explained to them, A) It’s because of COVID and I want to reduce my exposure. B) My car is comfortable and I’ve outfit it. It’s a Tesla. My Tesla has all these elements built in. Speaking of privilege, I can only speak to sleeping in my car in a Tesla aside from other cars I’ve had in taken naps in them or something. There’s a definite level of privilege in which I have traveled around in the car. I realized that. My point in bringing this up is that people have these misconceptions of sleeping in your car is awful like, “Why would you do that? That’s desperate.”

It’s important that we realize that sleeping in your car may not be so bad. It’s a privilege to have a car at all because there are plenty of people who are living on the streets. Some of them might not even have the fortune to have a tent. Most of us have seen people living in a box or sleeping under a blanket if they even have one. Many of us have seen somebody curled up on a newspaper. There are some extreme examples of houselessness.

Having a car at all to sleep in that protects you from the weather and keeps your things secure and safer than being exposed is important to remember. Even on that note, there are too many judgments around it at all because each person is making those choices or not making those choices for different reasons. There’s another couple that I followed on TikTok. This isn’t quite related but worth bringing up because I’ve learned from them. They are walking from Mexico to Canada and they’re documenting the entire experience. They’re boyfriend and girlfriend and they’re just walking with a backpack of their things. They’ve shared all the different experiences they’ve had sleeping. Some nights, they sleep out in the elements without a tent. They don’t have the room in their bags for a tent.

The most they have is this cover that protects them from the rain but they’re out in the desert sleeping on some mat. You can do that. That’s safe. They’re challenging all my misconceptions about the extremes in which you can survive. That’s a part of this conversation, too. It helps us realize we have misconceptions but also many of us are so privileged to have a bed to sleep in.

All of these situations are very diverse and we can’t project our beliefs on to somebody else without fully understanding the situation that they’re in. It’s important. This article in USA Today says, “For those that can afford it, van life is particularly well-suited for this crisis, meaning COVID, because it’s socially distanced, can be done on a budget, and it fosters outdoor activities, which are safer during the outbreak than indoor environments. That’s why a lot of people are making this choice.” There was another article I brought up that is important side to this to consider, this article is on this website Ispo.com. I don’t know anything about this site.

MGU 259 | Pandemic Lifestyle Changes

Pandemic Lifestyle Changes: These situations are very diverse, and we can’t project our beliefs onto somebody else without fully understanding the situation they’re in.

 

I found this article titled Find the Balance: #Vanlife – How Not to Turn a Trend into a Nuisance. This came out in June 2021. “In times of cancelled air travel and strict hygiene regulations and hotel complexes, being alone in untouched nature is all the more enticing but the van life trend, which already caused record years in the RV industry is leaving devastating traces and many places.”

“Chemical toilets emptied into the great outdoors or piles of garbage left behind on beaches and fields are regularly upsetting residents and communities. Field paths blocked by wild campers make it difficult for farmers to do their work.” It looks like this article is mainly covering European countries. It also touches upon how this shift has caused more traffic. There are dangers of campfires or blocked escape routes. There’s a lot of issues here that I didn’t even think about. It’s touching upon what they call wild camping, which to my understanding is there are certain parts of the country, depending on where you live, where you can park without paying anything.

You’re sometimes pulling off the side of the road or going into the woods. I personally don’t feel comfortable doing that. That makes me feel nervous for my safety. If you’re parking in some random place, what’s stopping some stranger for coming and breaking into your vehicle or doing something dangerous? I feel more comfortable at a designated campground but that’s because I tend to travel so low. Even when I was traveling with Leanne in 2020, it felt better to be around other people.

That makes me wonder, “How safe or unsafe are we?” If people are sleeping out in the open and surviving the night, why couldn’t you do that in a car, a locked vehicle in the middle of the woods where there’s no one around? To that point, who’s going to come over there and find you? We talked about when I was gearing up for my cross-country trip by myself, how it’s given me a lot to think about in terms of safety and our misconceptions around safety. It goes both ways, but I do want to come back to all of these downsides environmentally because a lot of people don’t think about these things nor do they understand the consequences. There’s this term called leave no trace. I didn’t realize until one day that things like spitting out toothpaste onto the ground is technically leaving a trace.

I did that my entire trip, so I’m like, “I need to go research this. Does that count?” You’re supposed to take everything that you used and pack it up and dispose of it properly. I realized in 2020, I didn’t understand how to properly dispose of things. I imagine there are a lot of ignorant people who are doing whatever they want thinking like, “Why does it matter?” They could be breaking some laws or destroying some natural environments. If all of these people are doing this now, the pollution from vehicles is probably going up. The traffic is getting bad. To that note, Jason, as I plan my next cross-country trip, I’ve been thinking like, “I bet you there’s going to be so much traffic.” It’s making me nervous, but I don’t want that to get in my way.

I need to anticipate it and make choices based around high traffic areas. I imagine a lot of that though is happening because COVID has caused more people to spend time doing road trips and being out in nature. I think like Joshua Tree. I heard in 2020 that there was a lot of damage done in Joshua Tree because many people were going to visit and they didn’t understand the rules. If you’ve been to a lot of these parks, there are not that many park rangers around. There might be some signs, but a lot of these places don’t have signs along the whole trail.

They’re there at the beginning. Many people don’t read the signs. If there’s no one around to watch you, you can get away with all sorts of shit purposefully or inadvertently. You could litter, spray paint, and take things that you’re not supposed to take but some people might innocently be doing things without realizing how much of a ripple effect it has. That’s an important element of all this, too.

I want to put a counterpoint out there though. Is it ignorance or willful rebelliousness and not giving a shit? I wonder about this. As an example, you’re brushing your teeth. You’re spitting on the ground. That’s ignorance. That’s not you going, “I don’t care. I’m going to spit this natural toothpaste on the ground even though it might infect the nearby waterway. I don’t give a shit. I’m no longer Eco-Vegan Gal. Fuck it.”

That’s not your MO. I get disheartened, Whitney, when I hear about people dumping their chemical toilets and leaving trash and putting stuff in the waterways as they’re doing this camping/van life thing. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt but it’s hard for me because I live in a neighborhood in Los Angeles where I literally will see people roll down their windows in a passing car and throw trash out the window.

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I want to slash their tires. It drives me nuts. Is that willful ignorance? Do they not know it’s “bad” to litter or ethically wrong to litter? Do they just not give a shit, “Someone else will clean it up?” If you’re an adult human being in the modern world, you probably have an inclination that leaving your shit and your trash all over the place is not a cool thing to do. A lot of people don’t care, Whitney. It could be ignorance but it leads me to an offshoot of this conversation for people who know better but don’t do better. Why don’t they? “There’s someone else to handle it.” Is it the passing of responsibilities? “Someone will be here to clean it up. I don’t have to.”

Is it the disconnection from the Earth and the point that we think we’re so superior? In some ways, one of the reasons we’re in the mess we’re in on the planet right now is we thought we had dominion over the Earth and the animals and all things on it. We’ve done a great job trashing the place, people. When I hear this, it’s disheartening, Whitney. In my heart, I like to believe it’s ignorance but observing human behavior, it’s more people don’t give a shit and they’re egotistical for the most part. The leave no trace thing reminds me of Burning Man. Having been to Burning Man personally and having many friends that are burners, people are very hardcore about that philosophy. When I was there, not even your trash but people would see like a random tissue blowing in the Playa or they’d see a piece of plastic and they’d grab it.

There’s a strong commitment in that community to not only mind your personal space but look out for the entire community and have that leave no trace philosophy be extended far beyond your camp. I would love to see humanity have more of that approach to our life outside of Burning Man and outside of the Playa. Every single day I go on a walk with Bella. I’m picking up other dog’s shit, I’m picking up trash, and I’m throwing it away. Is that mine to do? It’s not my dog shit and trash, but it drives me insane to walk through my neighborhood and to see it so filthy and to see people not caring. What does that mean? I’ve got to do my part. I feel compelled to do my part because other people aren’t doing theirs.

Dear reader, how are you feel about this trend in animal adoptions? Did you adopt a companion animal during the pandemic? How’s that going for you? Is it your first time? Is it adding to your collection of fur babies? We’re curious if you have brought a new friend into your life over this pandemic. We’re also curious if there are any van lifers out there. I don’t think we’ve ever had an email or direct message from any readers who are van lifers. If you are living in a van or you’re planning on it or you’re in the middle of that experience, we’d love to hear from you, too. You can respond to us at [email protected]. That’s Whitney and mine’s direct email. You can shoot us a DM on Instagram @Wellevatr. That’s also our website. Whitney’s got something to say.

I got very curious as we were wrapping up about leave no trace and toothbrushing because I need to think about this in terms of my next trip. I found multiple sites referencing something called Eco Spray, which sounds like a product name but it’s a technique that minimizes the impact on toothpaste in the environment which seems like it’s more of a concern for animals who might come and eat the toothpaste. I haven’t found conclusive tips yet but it seems like if you’re using a natural toothpaste, which I do, that’s probably creating a minimal impact versus the standard run of the mill toothpaste out there. According to leave no trace, this might be the official.

There’s an organization LNT.org, it looks like they recommend that, first, you brush your teeth with as little toothpaste as possible. Make sure that you’re away from trails, campsites, and water sources and pick a spot where nothing is growing because if you spit into a bush, the animals could get it in there. I’m on a website called TreeLineBackPacker.com. He gives a great description and he says, “Build up a fiery energy from deep within, level up and spew the toothpaste saliva goulash as far and wide as you can. Let it rip like an angry cobra taking on a herd of honey badgers, eject a wide spray of minty freshness.”

The idea is you’re spraying it out and you’re diluting it. You’re evenly dispersing the toothpaste to bring the concentration down to a level that will have realistically no effect on the environment at all. Thankfully, many of the ingredients are already found in nature in one form or another. That’s why you should avoid toothpaste with anything additional added to it but I did not consider this whatsoever. There you go.

Whitney is going to be practicing her cobra spitting before her trip. I’m looking forward to those TikToks of Whitney’s cobra toothpaste spitting technique as she takes on a gang of wild honey badgers. That was perfect writing, by the way. Perfect description. We have something new when we’re out in the wild to practice. That’s a wrap for this episode. Whitney, thanks for tackling this. We also encourage you, if you have a companion animal, please don’t take it back to the shelter. Please adopt it out to someone you know. Be responsible with the guardianship of your companion animal. If you have a van for sale, send it my way. That’s all for now. We appreciate you getting uncomfortable with us and we’ll be back with another episode with the Queen Cobra soon!

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