Written by Faren Rajkumar
Meet Annie Nguyen, a vanlifer of Vietnamese descent who recently began exploring the US via vanlife. She is passionate about communicating the dire state of global climate change, and has learned on culturally-rooted minimalist practices in her nomadic existence. She shared some of her thoughts with us, about the queer WOC female vanlife experience:
1. Tell us about your journey, and how you merge “regular” life with travel, adventure, hiking, etc.!
“Hello! I’m Annie, and I’m a 20 year old rising senior at USC studying journalism with minors in cinema and gender studies. My van Gaia is a ‘97 Ford E-250 and I travel with my cat, Eucalyptus.
I’m currently working remotely as a media research assistant for the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and run social media for my school’s gender department. I’m returning to campus for the semester, so I’ll go back to part-time vanlife until I graduate.
I started vanlife this summer after hypothetically budgeting out exactly how much it would be for me and then the perfect van came up on Craigslist. Growing up low income and moving a lot when I was little, I was embarrassingly used to minimal living and frugal practices. However, as I got older, learned about the climate crisis and got involved in environmental movements, I reclaimed my conscientious habits as something we should all adopt, rather than something to be ashamed of.”
2. How do you feel about the movement to increase diverse representation in the outdoors?
“The survival practices of low income POC communities are at the very root of van life, something I’m not sure our fellow white nomads have confronted nor included in their travel and activism. The white nomad experience right now is mostly one of escape – from not only the unhappiness of mundane “normal” life and its burdens, but also unfortunately from the political responsibility of interrupting white supremist systems that keep so many BIPOC from the choice of doing what we want with our lives.”
3. What are some challenges you face as a BIPOC vanlifer?
“Being a queer WOC in the vanlife community is definitely interesting, gas station stops usually reveal that I’m out of place, and I’m not always sure whether I can mention racism I’ve experienced or an event I care deeply about to a new van friend. Most have been accepting, though I definitely vibe check people pretty fast, so as to not waste my time.
There are so few Asian American vanlifers, not to mention the dilemma I have is balancing the expected payoffs of my family’s sacrifices (I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 4) with, of course, being the eldest daughter who decided to live in a converted car. I’m also usually the youngest of any van meetup I go to, so entering the van community has made me extremely analytical of my very much Gen Z reason for going nomadic versus the reasoning of other vanlifers, on top of making sure I stay safe.”
4. What does community mean to you?
“I guess for me, being a BIPOC in this community hasn’t so much been about physical safety, but rather, about noticing what conversations are happening around campfires and which aren’t. Overall, however, vanlife has just reinforced that everything and everyone is temporary in an existentialist, beautiful way. But the inclusive evolution of this community is only sustainable if we realize we exist as a result of larger systems, not outside of them.”