My Sustainable Vanlife
By Faren Rajkumar
Transitioning from a stationary life to full-time vanlife offered a nearly effortless opportunity to re-consider my consumption habits and waste. I know so many nomads can relate.
I had to pack my entire life into the small storage compartments of a vehicle, while still allocating space for my partner and a lot of outdoor gear. Most of my unnecessary belongings went to friends, family, and donation centers, and it was surprising to reflect on how much stuff a sentimental human can accumulate over the years, but say goodbye to it all in just a few minutes. Maybe I didn’t resist because my soul felt it was the dawn of healthy change.
Because I have been on a budget since beginning vanlife, anything “new” we need usually comes to us through trades, thrift stores, or donations. Even our van interior is built from repurposed wooden shipping pallets, free furniture that we sourced online, and a mismatched collection of things that are more functional than aesthetically pleasing.
These have also freed up my mind and energy for the pursuit of more soul-fulfilling activities, rather than building up a collection of stuff. Even though it’s sometimes haphazard and tricky, I wouldn’t change a single detail about my very minimal vanlife. I need much less, which allows me to do much more.
These choices have helped me cut down on packaging that typically accompanies new stuff, and the carbon emissions that are produced when online orders are shipped to a buyer. This also improves my everyday consumption habits, including shopping, water use, conserving gas, and more.
- Always have canvas bags on hand for shopping and keep a reusable water bottle!
- Don’t fall prey to large brands who greenwash their mainstream products with terms like “eco-friendly”, “ethical”, “sustainably sourced”, “natural”, etc. Read your labels carefully and do your research.
- Opt for more vegetarian or vegan food options, since meat production is devastating to our environment!
- Store leftovers and produce in reusable containers (even old yogurt containers and Ziplocs can last a lifetime if you want them to).
- Avoid single-use utensils, plates, bottles, etc. when camping, and in general.
- Store glass, metal and paper waste until you can drop them off at a recycle center or public bins.
- Need fruits & veggies? Visit local farms, community gardens, join CSA, and learn to forage for edibles.
- Learn safe & easy foraging from https://www.youtube.com/c/BlackForager !
- Biodegradable wipes + soil-friendly soap are a must. The reliable favorite is Dr. Bronner’s.
- Walk or bike when you don’t need to drive for a short distance.
"What Is All This Junk?"
There IS one aggravating side effect to adopting a minimalist and hopefully sustainable lifestyle, especially while on the road. I’m constantly reminded that I can’t have a meaningful effect on my own. Noting my own drastic reduction in consumption and trash has cast into sharp relief all the discarded pieces of random human junk that are scattered in the most undeserving places: parks, beaches, forests, trails, and campgrounds.
These are homes to our flora and fauna kin who are not threatening humans at all, and yet, some visitors think it’s appropriate to toss wrappers or bottles on the ground where they will never decompose. It’s a painful and puzzling phenomenon to observe, especially as a nomad who considers the outdoors her home.
I get overwhelmed and fired up by all the crap littering our beautiful blue and green home. It sparks me into action. If an onlooker watched my partner and I during an average hike, we look like pack rats! We hoard every little piece of plastic, metal, and colorfully manufactured junk that we find. Other people’s trash is tucked away in our pockets, backpacks, and hidden corners of the van. Personally, it feels like my admission ticket to the trail or the forest, and it gives me a chance to restore a co-creation relationship with the Earth. She gives, and I take; in this case, I’m taking away the crap she doesn’t need.
Being Responsible and #NoTrashLeftBehind
Starting the #NoTrashLeftBehind social media campaign with Diversify Vanlife was one of the most tangible efforts I’ve ever participated in on behalf of the lands. I have become committed to challenging community and friends to get outside as often as possible, and clean up whatever area surrounds us. By re-sharing everyone’s efforts, we are expanding the conversation surrounding nomadic responsibility and land stewardship.
Just because we don’t inhabit a single piece of land doesn’t mean we aren’t held responsible for our actions in the outdoors. I hope #NoTrashLeftBehind inspires everyone to think twice and observe when their impact leaves a place better than it was found.
By pledging to clean up after others, we are unlearning the conventional principles of being totally unseen and unheard in the outdoors. We are acknowledging that humans can’t help but leave a trace when we explore, and so, we are choosing to make that impact a beautiful one.
Clean Up Tips + More
- Vanlifers – Keep a few trash bags and reusable gloves handy in your vehicle.
- City dwellers – Grab a bag, gloves, and visit your nearest public park or beach.
- Be careful when handling broken glass, metal, or hazardous materials.
- Read all recycle symbols on plastics & metals, and appropriately dispose of recyclable items.
- Bring a buddy (or five!)
- Take photos and videos to share with your community, especially Diversify Vanlife!
- Always complete the additional responsibility of educating yourself & your community on Indigenous land history and geotag/acknowledge Indigenous land names.
- Use this resource on Indigeous land: https://native-land.ca/.
- Consult our Respecting Native Lands section of the BIPOC Guide, as well as these resources, for more tips, true history, and info on how to navigate Indigenous land or nature “conservation” activities with respect:
Sustainability: How To “Increase Your Footprint” and Be A Good Land Steward is sponsored by Campendium!
“At Campendium, we are committed to the care and conservation of our public lands and are serious about providing the tools and information that campers need to respect and steward the lands that they visit. We do this through blogs, videos, and social media.”
Campendium is a web and mobile application providing comprehensive campsite information and reviews for over 32,000 public and private camping spots in North America. The platform encourages community participation through campsite reviews, campground Q&As, and engaging video and article content.
Creating a safe environment for diverse voices and experiences in the outdoor recreation and travel space is important to Campendium. We recognize that creating this space requires action, and we are dedicated to joining and supporting partners who have the knowledge, skills, and passion to move these initiatives forward.
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