Authors: Faren Rajkumar @faren_wanderer ;
1. Tell us about your journey, and how you balance “regular” life or business with travel and adventure!
“My journey begins in the San Francisco Bay Area, California where I grew up and spent most of my weekends shopping with my mom. “Road trips” and “the great outdoors” were foreign concepts to me and we didn’t spend much time doing “outdoorsy” activities besides occasional visits to the beach and a few skiing trips. I did however partake in track & field, swimming, and cross country that kept me outside in the fresh air. In high school I read the book “Into the Wild” which opened my mind to an alternative lifestyle that would allow travel, learning, and exploration.
In college as part of my Environmental Policy major, I had the opportunity to do a zero-waste study abroad program in Sadhana Forest, India which opened my eyes to minimal living and made me rethink all of my belongings, purchases, and the impact of our materials on the planet. Naturally, a few years later I joined a climbing gym and my relationship with the outdoors really took off. Being part of this gym allowed me to meet some fantastic friends who convinced me to convert my vehicle at the time, a Toyota Rav4, to a camper. In 2020, I had a simple build done in my Rav4 and by the start of 2021 I had my new Toyota Highlander fully built out.
According to an astrological birth chart my mom read for me, I “love adventure” but at the time of this personal discovery I didn’t really understand what that meant and didn’t quite think it was true. I loved to travel but “adventure” sounded extreme to me. Now, my friends remind me how I’m always out adventuring and doing things. For me, it’s about creating new experiences within my financial means and solving the mini journeys as they happen. Unfamiliar places and people are a gateway to having an open mind to learning, and outdoor adventuring is one avenue for that.
“Regular” life is relative to each person and the lifestyle they would like to live. For several years I rented a small space without a proper kitchen, living room, or other amenities of a proper home, so the move into my car felt natural. The cost of living in the Bay Area is extremely high, therefore, in the spirit of living a frugal and minimal lifestyle, I chose a car over a van to keep my start-up costs low and to stay resourceful with what I had available to me.
Between working remotely, dating someone an hour away, going on road trips, and visiting family, I became pretty used to spending a lot of time in my car and being adaptive to changing environments, and “road life” ended up feeling like “regular life.” When I was working remote full time I would maximize my lunch breaks, sometimes driving from one destination to the next so I could have the evenings to explore somewhere new. Understanding weather patterns, seasonal changes, and variations in my energy levels helps me find balance between work, play and relationships. I also live by Google Calendar and map out times of my day for certain priorities. I love being physically active but rest is incredibly important. Having an active calendar routine helps me find pockets for rest and re-charging for adventures. “
2. How do you commit to minimizing your negative impact on the Earth as a “traveler”??
“ ‘Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,’ is a phrase that I learned from a fellow study-abroad student in Sadhana Forest, India, where I attended a program on zero waste. While there we had to pump our own shower water and carry it in buckets to where we would use a cup to pour the water over ourselves. That experience humbled my use of water and put into perspective how little you actually need. Growing up in a Vietnamese family where I was instilled values of minimalism, I’m naturally resourceful with what I have even though, as a millennial, I have occasionally succumbed to the frivolous and excessive lifestyle promoted through shows such as MTV Cribs. I have worked hard to move away from that mentality and, through reflection, my mindset has shifted to “every dollar spent is a vote for the world you want to live in.”
I think the negative impact from what is considered a “traveler” is relative, as a non-traveler can easily engage in highly environmentally consequential practices such as over-consumption, supporting negligent organizations, and improper waste disposal. For example, traveling is part of my job so I choose to drive often because it’s less harmful than flying, I make the most of the routes I take, and I reduce my need for single-use items. I often share space with others when I have work to do, be it at a cafe or a gym, thus reducing my energy consumption. As a resident of drought-ridden California, I love using “nature potty” because it saves water.”
3. Why do you explore?
“There are a lot of distractions available to us in the urban world. Things are built and created for us to consume and exploit. However, exploring the outdoors is where I feel I can allow myself to be free of those distractions and let my inner child play and wander within. I do believe nature has healing properties and ecotherapy will grow as a branch within the field of therapy. For me, if I’m not exploring, I may start shopping unnecessarily or finding other expensive ways to fill time. The cool thing about the outdoors is that once you’ve acquired the proper gear you can be out there for a long time.
My mom feels that I do too much hiking, but exploring our natural environment puts us in touch with our earth, thus respecting the sustainability philosophy and what it has to offer aside from the enticements of our consumption economy.”
4. How do you feel about the movement to increase diverse representation in the outdoors?
“At the University of California, Riverside one of my majors was Media and Cultural Studies where I examined the importance of how media affects people and culture. We are all part of a public sphere of influence and every decision, mindset, and community shapes how we perceive our world. Representation matters in that it affects how individuals place themselves in relation to their outer world. Asians are often excluded or misrepresented in mass media and popular culture.
As a young girl growing up on Hollywood films, the only person that comes to mind that represented me as a strong female character in film is Lucy Liu. Now we have a handful more Asians in the visual art of storytelling. Growing up, whenever someone asked about role models, other kids would often answer with the name of a celebrity who looked like them. For me, I didn’t know of many people in popular culture or government that looked like me so I think that also drives me to do something different than what’s expected.
I’m lucky to have attended one of the most diverse schools in the University of California system. However, I grew up not seeing people of color doing the things I do today. I didn’t realize until I became an adult that I was surrounded by tremendous outdoors opportunities because of the barriers put in place by systemic racism and classism. I’m excited for the increase in diverse representation in the outdoors so girls who grew up like me may have more chances to see that they can do more than what is expected of them.”
5. How do you practice joy while on the road?
“I love snacks, LOVE THEM, ALL OF THEM. Always excited to try new snacks I find anywhere, and everywhere. Any random new snack I find at places I explore is exciting to me. Even if it’s gross, I’m glad I tried it once. Something I learned in yoga teacher training was mindful eating. Really taking the time to use all the senses to eat something is an easy everyday way to practice simple joy! Also, as much as I love being on the go, I find joy in hibernation. Whenever I have a chance to rest, I lie down and allow myself to settle. I really appreciate the stillness. Another thing I’ve been working on is to experience more joy is lowering my expectations regarding the outside world. Having high expectations can be a way to set yourself up for failure. Instead, I try to have high aspirations.”
6. Anything else you want to share with the community? Bonus if you can share something about your experience as a BIPOC in a typically white-washed way of life, how you try to co-create with the environment, respect Indigenous lands, etc. But feel free to write anything!
“It would be nice to have it, but you can survive without it.” This is a motto I came up with after discussing with my friend Dania (@inclusivelyoutdoors) about what I have learned from living out of my car. There’s a lot of “what-ifs” asked before entering the nomad lifestyle but after being in it, I have learned to deal with things as they arise and not let the anxiety around starting stop you. The nomads I have met through the parking lot I call home have all been white men; all the most popular images on #vanlife are of white folk. The movie that inspired me to do this is of a white man.
As a Vietnamese American woman in a largely White-dominated space, I hope to disrupt the status quo and inspire other BIPOC individuals to explore the outdoors and build safe communities. Times are changing though and more people of all backgrounds and lifestyles are entering the nomad way for assorted reasons, be it financial incentives to move into a smaller “home,” the freedom to explore, or the ability to work on the move. More people are getting out there, fostering more resources to make the lifestyle fulfilling and accessible.”
Connect with Christine La @xtine.lotus on Instagram or at her website: https://www.christinela.com/