How do long term Vanlifers deal with lack of self worth?

Vanlife interests me, but not because I’d want to do it anytime soon, but because for me, it would just take away everything I use to measure my self worth. What I mean by that is I value the contribution I give to society through my job, which can be difficult and sometimes demanding but fills me with a great sense of pride when I solve a tricky problem or be part of a successful team that delivers a project that will enhance the lives of people. Being a father and watching my lad grow up, make friends, enjoy sports and do well at school is also a measure of my self worth.
But if I was just bumming around constantly ‘travelling’ with no real responsibilities and living life as one long holiday, where would my self worth come from? I don’t count working out how to fix a broken fridge or finding a camping spot or stuff like that as real ‘problems’ to solve, as those are normal life things that non-vanlifers do at times anyway, along with a multitude of other things that folk have to sort out. That’s just normal life.
I guess van lifers are just more easily satisfied with their lot and are not bothered about the things that make me feel good about myself. And there is something quite serene about that in some ways.

Guess you have to ask yourself what’s important in life. Big picture view. Serving my country or doing good deeds sure, but I don’t associate “self worth” with working my ass off to make some jackasses rich. Done both - I don’t do the last anymore no matter how much they pay me. My remaining time is too valuable to waste on that crap.

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Greetings & Welcome Back!

I’m pretty much the same way. Today, I work for myself, and do volunteering in my free time. Retirement was just too boring for me. I’m not sure it had to do with self worth for me, more just boredom, even though someone always had something that needed fixing, but that’s only a very short part of any day. So now, I fix other people’s computers remotely, am a caregiver for half a dozen people, and volunteer helping the homeless & at the animal shelter. That pretty much fills my schedule, but still allows me to take time off occasionally if I want to.


"Always avoid complicated solutions to solve simple problems." ~ OffGrid

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What is fulfilling to one person, may not be fulfilling to another. A lot of people are nomadic for one reason or another. Some of us work remotely or our work takes us to different parts of the country or countries. Believe it or not, there are a lot of homeschoolers that call themselves Roadschoolers. ( I really would have liked to do that for a year! ) Some of us are weekend nomads such as myself. (Might want to check out the show Beat Monday) Some of us are retired and may just want to travel. Which is my plan. Both my kids are grown and I have a lot more time to travel. My oldest was in public school. Youngest we homeschooled. After my oldest graduated time opened up and I bought my homemade tiny travel trailer to travel more. I do work remotely at home, I can take my work with me. But my husband can’t. So we stay being weekend nomads for now. I come here for build secrets. When I retire, I will use what I learned and applied here on my tiny travel trailer to a van build. So exciting!!!


I’m sort of at a loss for words as I hadn’t considered that being an issue. Then again, I’ll be 75 soon, widower, kids grown and doing well with no responsibilities/obligations unsatisfied… other than to myself. Though I can easily perceive of one having such doubts who was forced into this lifestyle, I voluntarily chose it out of the many options available to me.

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My husband and I definitely struggled/struggle with that! Our society tells us that our worth is measured by our job. Unlearning that narrative and realizing that one’s life shouldn’t be measured by how much money one makes is a hard lesson.

In the beginning, it almost made us give up on vanlife. But after a few months, we got more or less used to the idea of a life being made up of happy moments rather than our work.

The struggle definitely still exists. But it doesn’t weigh nearly as heavily. Life is pointless and meaningless no matter what we do, so we may as well enjoy it.

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You have made a very big assumption here - saying living in a van full-time takes away from one’s self-worth. I would argue that for the vast majority of van-dwellers - full or part time, by choice or by need - vanlife actually INCREASES our self-worth. I have two jobs and I’m not nomadic. I work in an office full-time, and I work in a bakery on the weekends. Neither of these jobs increases my self-worth. I struggle to make ends meet, as I don’t make enough to afford my own apartment in this area. After moving about 5 times in less than 4 years from places I could afford to rent a room, I decided to get and build out a van. My van is a basic cargo van and I paid $2000 cash for it. I get FAR more self-worth living in and working on this van than I ever did renting rooms, or even my own apartment when I could afford it. Many nomadic vanlifers have jobs that they can work remotely, or they are retired and vanlife is the perfect way to travel. Whatever notion you have about vanlifers being a lazy, non-contributing members of society with no responsibilities is grossly misinformed. If living in sticks and bricks and having a “white picket fence” and working a 9-5 in a brick and mortar is a measure of self-worth to you, vanlife is probably not for you.


I think the original poster was meaning for those who quit everything and just travel…

I agree, that ultimately it does increase one’s “self-worth” (an ambiguous term, to be sure) because it makes one realize how narrowly we’re taught to judge another’s “worth”. It’s a philosophically interesting question that really just brings in a new category of existentialism that, once you find yourself on the other side of, leads you to be more confident in your place in this world.

But getting through that first stage of existentialism can be pretty rough! And, if you’re like my husband who worked the same job forever and is now retired, it can also create a sense of identity loss. He was a philosophy professor most of his life. Now that he’s doing vanlife, who is he and how is he defined by the world? (Side note, this is a popular topic in sports psychology for when athletes get injured or have to give up the sport!) Indeed, he is the one who struggles most with this question and with feeling like a bum! :blush:

Anyway, I thought it was a great question!

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Hi Karyssa,

Thanks for your response. I think my original question was worded incorrectly which was my error. ‘Lack of self worth’ is an emotive term and the wrong way to put it, as clearly this varies across the board for everyone. I guess a better question would have been ‘lack of real purpose’ in life, other than mooching around doing things that give pleasure and, let’s be honest, not really contributing to the world much at all. Of course this doesn’t apply to those van lifers who have spent a lifetime in work, as per your husband, and is now enjoying his retirement as a van lifer -his sense of purpose comes with knowing he put in all those years educating thousands of students. Same with van lifers who combine living in a van with a productive and fulfilling work life too, as its far easier now to work from ‘home’ as it were, than ever before. Their sense of purpose is evident - to life the van life and all that brings but also to work to sustain it which itself brings a sense of pride and satisfaction.
I’m just interested to know about the other sort of van lifers, those who choose to drop out of, for want of a better phrase, ‘normal society’ and go on the road at a young age for many years, maybe a lifetime. I would find it incredibly difficult to find a ‘sense of purpose’ in that, beyond indulging my own whims which would quickly get boring and unsatisfactory. How do others get over/through that feeling?
I only asked the original question because a mate of mine is struggling with his life for various reasons and the other day stated "Well I might just have to go and live in a van for the rest of my life’ in a really depressed tone, as if his life would then have no purpose. I suspect though many, if not all, van lifers would disagree with that.

Well, if you measure your purpose in life to be work, as my husband did, then when you finish that work, you suddenly lose your purpose. So it’s truly all in how you measure it. And our society encourages this perception.

This isn’t really a vanlife question, specifically, so much as it is a question of how one finds purpose in the world. If your friend finds purpose through work, but that work is miserable, then their life is probably miserable. If your friend finds purpose in volunteering, and they love it, then they might love life. If they find purpose in helping others, then they might be upset if they can’t find a way to do that or if their impact isn’t evident. And if they find purpose in adventure or traveling, then if they’re doing that via vanlife, hitchhiking, sailing, or other means, then they’re probably happy.

Of course there’s no easy answer to finding a purpose and contentment/ happiness. Philosophy has worked an eternity to answer these questions and still hasn’t come up with a one size fits all solution.

So, the short answer is, how does one define purpose, and given that, is one working towards that purpose (society be damned)? It’s a question everyone asks themselves at some point, usually at countless points in their lives. Vanlifers with no job who gave up on society still must ask the same question. This is the human struggle. To be or not to be. And why.


Has anyone seen the movie Lucy? Kinda quirky. But one idea in the movie made me think. “Our purpose in life is to pass on knowledge.” Now, this may be a hypothesis, an idea, or maybe just something to think about. No other species passes on knowledge (other than to hunt and reproduce) to their offspring or the younger generation. Humans have really come into their own. I am a mom of two. I am more than happy to pass on my own knowledge and experiences. Whether they take that knowledge and build on it is up to them. I always listened to my grandma, watched my great gma (she only spoke apache and Spanish), Listened to my Oma, listened to my dad about his adventures on the family ranch. He was self-employed, I would help him at work, and listen to his customers. Quite funny. Learned a lot. We learned some basic survival on the family ranch. Very important. It’s out in the middle of nowhere. I tell these family stories and family history to my kids. Learn from one another.

And to Bandaidqueen, I forgot about a whole movement of van lifers living in their vans because the cost of living is so high in certain areas. It has skyrocketed in the last decade. Some places have high housing costs. Some places have high food costs. When I travel, I can see a difference in cost for a box of house brand generic cereal. It will be $2 in one state, go to the next state and it’s almost $4! Same for fruit and veggies. Peach- .69 cents per pound in one state, $2.49 in another. Ridiculous!

As I type this and read other posts, I think of the above. Passing on knowledge.


Hi DB0511

It’s an interesting question and one I think most vanlifers have asked themselves at some point. To me, and this is just my opinion, it comes down to what measurement you use to define yourself, your life and your purpose. To me life isn’t defined by the job someone works or the money they make. I’ll point out before I go any further I do work and I love my job. But I don’t need work for my life to have purpose, there is so much more to life than that. I chose to define myself by who I am as a person and how I live my life when I’m not working as well as when I am? Why should someone be restricted to living in one place and working a 9-5 because society says they should?

We’re on this planet for such a short period of time, and I personally couldn’t think of anything worse than spending it living a quiet, comfortable “normal” life. I live for adventure, for the moments in life I truly feel alive, I love having new experiences, meeting new people from all walks of life, living outside my comfort zone. So why not live an adventurous outdoors lifestyle with lower costs that allows me to spend less time at work and more time doing the things that bring me joy?

I’d actually be interested to turn the question back on you (and please don’t take this as an insult) and ask why do you feel you need your job for a sense of self worth and purpose? Why do you need work to feel good about yourself? Surely that should come from within, from an internal not an external source? In my opinion there’s so much more to life than work, and reducing the amount you need to work allows you to pursue other things, you can spend your time volunteering on projects that are important to you, you can pursue your hobbies, you could do anything, it also allows you to travel which in turns forces you to meet new people from all walks of life, learn from them and expand your view of the world.

Also while costs can be kept to a minimum, vanlife isn’t free. You do have costs (gas, food, insurance, vehicle maintenance etc + in my case beer). Unless you have saved a huge amount or have a trust fund, as a young person living full time, you will have to find some form of income. However as your costs are lower it allows you to fit work around your life rather than life around work. For me it allows me to spend summers on the coast and winters in the mountains all while taking the comfort of home with me.


Hi TransitEuro,

Interesting response and I would bet my right arm that you haven’t got kids! If I’m wrong and you do then apologies but it seems to me that your responsibilities begin and end with you, hence your emphasis on living life to your rules, prioritising adventure without the botheration factor of having to raise children and all that ensues. Fine, if that’s the case, entirely your choice, but that’s why most people just can’t be van lifers - it’s not conducive to what constitutes ‘normal’ life, at least not while kids are around and need all the things that kids need.
So following through on that, without much in the way of responsibilities, it’s quite easy to come to the conclusion that work is not very important in the whole scheme of things and is just required as and when to earn a few quid, so that ‘more important’ stuff can be done. Well, not in my world and not in many other peoples world. Children change everything (or should), which doesn’t mean that ‘personal adventure’ is off the agenda at all but it does mean that it needs to take second or third place behind the basic requirements of parenting - a safe, loving home, food, shelter, education and so on. Difficult to provide all that properly as a van lifer - it can be done I guess, but the fact that not many do is testimony to its challenges.
Personally, my job is very important to me as I am a small company owner and have built my little firm from scratch, providing employment for a few people and hopefully making the world a better place (I’m involved in habitat creation and restoration). It doesn’t define me but is a big part of my life because running a business, even a small one like ours, is hard work and takes a lot of time. It’s just how it is and I’m very proud of being able to provide for my family by putting the effort in. If it was just me, where would my motivation come from to give as much to the job as I do? I’d probably settle for less if I was just doing it for me to be honest, as I wouldn’t need as much.
Having said that, part of me does like the idea of getting to a point where the kids are gone and fending for themselves meaning I’ll have a lot more time and need to earn less money - that would possibly be the time to think about a van life kind of adventure. But kids always need help and input from parents in some way, whatever age they are, so taking off for years travelling and indulging whims is again not the way I would want to parent - I’d want to be there for my kids whenever.

I think for me a van life type experience would have to be taking off for one or two months max but then returning back and picking up ‘normal’ life again for a while before getting the bug again and taking off for a short while. To me, that would be the best of both worlds and in 7 years or so I’ll start making it happen!

I appreciate you’re response DB0511 and 100% right I don’t have children and the responsibilities that come with that. I’m in my mid/late 20s and not looking at starting a family yet. However was adding my 2 cents in response to your statement in an earlier comment about “those who choose to drop out of, for want of a better phrase, ‘normal society’ and go on the road at a young age for many years”. I took that to mean you were talking about people like myself but I may have been wrong. If you were though, I think you’ll find lot of young vanlifers also don’t have children, many aren’t at that stage in their life yet. For those that do manage to juggle a family as well I can’t comment.

Please take no offence to my comment regarding your job and work, i certainly wasn’t trying to downplay your business. I think it’s a phenomenal achievement building a company from scratch and something you should certainly be proud of. I was merely trying to make the point that for myself there are different aspects of life that my purpose comes from.

However coming back to the kid aspect, if you didn’t have a family at the stage you started your business you may have found the increased mobility and reduced costs of vanlife actually an advantage (I don’t know). I love the idea of starting my own business one day as well (but it isn’t a priority for me at the moment) and feel living in a van will definitely have it’s advantages when I get to that stage.

On the note of a month or two van life then back to normality, this is a path I know a lot of people follow and possibly (again I’m not the person to comment here) one that could be managed with children if you work it around holidays.

I can certainly see why younger folk would feel hugely disillusioned with the state of the housing and rental market these days and choose to go down the van life route, at least for a few years, until they feel they are able to commit to a tenancy somewhere or possibly a mortgage - if they want to. I think that’s driven by circumstance - in my late 20’s I was in Japan for 2 years studying and also working when I was able to and that was not ‘usual’ in the least - all my mates were in jobs and getting married and thought I was a bit mad but it was one of the best times in my life, and also where I met my wife of 17 years! Then we came back to the UK, had kids and the need for some sort of security and roots kicks in, along with the need to work to pay for it!
Also I can perfectly understand how someone can have a strong sense of purpose in terms of buying an old van, fitting it out, sorting out problems etc. That takes a lot of effort and dedication so hats off to anyone who does that.

Being a mechanic I do enjoy fixing things including somebody’s broken refrigerator because that means I am saving somebody’s repair bill from a vulture. A lot of living on the road or boondocking has to do with helping other people in distress helping them get on the road, code of the road, etc. But then again part of my upbringing was working on my own car cuz we could never afford anything so I turned into a lifelong garage tinker. I was a cross-country truck driver for many years. I wish you had told us what your careers have been and what made you happy. That would have put an answer in better context. I would like to suggest a couple things. I’ve loved radio since being a teenager. In the last few years I have got into ham radio . There are many types of club like emergency clubs where they help with events and relays or provide Communications where other things don’t work like out in the desert with no cell towers . You could be the who Parks is van, and sets up a mast on a pole get on the air and provides Communications. Or you could take your field you liked to challenge you and create an online presence such as Finance advisor or have a database for different things that you run from a laptop out on road…