I’m going to be honest, I thought Pete and I had been through the two toughest tests of a relationship already.
The first was when we were backpacking Southeast Asia. We were with each other day in and day out; the only time we spent physically away from each other were the days that Pete would surf and I would devour my latest novel on white sand beaches. Also, like vanlife, backpacking is not a prolonged vacation like many people think, and when you’re with your partner, you see each other at their highest highs and lowest lows. I’ve always felt that before deciding to spend your life with someone, you should travel with them first. It’s one of the best ways to know if you’re truly compatible with someone, and Pete and I seemed to handle it with more ease than expected.
The next integral test of our relationship was when I left our travels early for personal and family reasons. In a single plane ride, we went from no escaping each other to being on opposite sides of the world. We were apart for five months, and the distance took a toll on our communication and relationship in general. I had just started a new job at a dog boarding and daycare facility (best job ever-shout out to Paws and Claws), and Pete was exploring countries with less-than-perfect internet like Nepal and Myanmar. The time difference and lack of technology were problematic when attempting to schedule Skype dates.
Both experiences were equally exciting.
New threats were also presented to our relationship, but I’m proud and grateful to say that we made it through are stronger than ever. I believe that the strength we built through these tribulations aided in our courage to pursue the vanlife.
Little did we know, we were about to encounter a few more relationship challenges.
I’ll say it loud and proud my friends; building a home together is TOUGH. Don’t get me wrong, a majority of the days we spent working on the van we were happy, excited, productive, and having fun while building our new home together. We blared music, sang and danced, and put our creative ideas together to create a unique blend of our styles.
Not all days were full of rainbows and puppies though.
We were living at Pete’s parent’s house, sharing a room. We both worked at Thuli Tables, his parent’s company, and were working side by side all day. Then, when we finally punched out, we began working on the van until dinner and beyond. If one of us was having an “off” day, the other felt it. We were spending as much time together as when we were backpacking, only this time we weren’t just dealing with the unpredictability of travel. Instead, we were collaborating ideas (which conflicted sometimes), doing hard physical labor, and problem solving whenever we ran into construction issues (which was often).
We found ourselves being snappy with each other for no reason. We would have to stop and ask ourselves “why are we acting like this?” We had to communicate our feelings and frustrations continuously to avoid frequent arguments.
In the end, we came out of the construction process as a stronger team than ever. When everything was said and done, it was all worth it. We could step back, take a look at our beautiful home that we built with our OWN HANDS, and know that we did it together. It was an incredible accomplishment to share.
And now I get to reflect on how it has been living together, along with our 90 lb dog, in 80 sq. ft. for three months.
In a word: extraordinary.
I’ll get to the tough stuff, but overall, this life has been amazing with my partner in crime. We’ve explored so many different states, parks, and ecosystems together. We’ve made an abundance of new friends together. We’ve worked hard as a creative team to write our eBook (which you can buy HERE) and build our blog and website. We’ve grown together and we’ve grown individually.
But with every new a chapter of life comes a set of new challenges.
The first is obvious: space. Space, or lack thereof, is a blessing and a curse. I don’t mean space in the van, our home has more than enough room for us three, but rather personal space. We do our best to take time for ourselves. I’ll take a step away and go for a run or do yoga. Pete will go for a surf or will sit outside and write a song. But sometimes you can’t help but feel like you need some REAL space. It’s difficult because we don’t have another way to travel; our van is our only means of transportation. If I want to go for a hike and Pete wants to work (or vice versa), we can only do one.
At the same time, this lack of space pushes us to strengthen our communication. When we are feeling particularly stressed, we can’t run away from each other. We are forced to sit with our conflict and talk it out in a constructive way. Sometimes the only thing we want is to walk away and let ourselves cool off, but the challenge of fixing a problem as soon as it arises is what allows us to grow as partners.
To be frank, there is one main thing that causes us to feel tense and stressed: finances. In choosing an unconventional lifestyle, we knew we would need to make money in unique ways and collaboration between the two of us is imperative. We have an ongoing, unpleasant conversation titled “How Are We Going to Make Money?” It’s like a bad play, starting and ending the same way every time.
We worked our asses off to write our eBook, which gave us an unprecedented amount of satisfaction and pride in our work ethic as a dynamic duo. I still have my online paper reviewing job, but it doesn’t bring in enough to sustain us. We both have prominent entrepreneurial spirits, ready to dedicate all of our time and effort into our big idea, but big ideas don’t appear out of thin air. This is where the intensity comes from. We want to put all of our energy into something created by us, and while we are already putting in massive efforts toward our blog and collaborations with companies, we want to sustain this life with our own ideas.
We know what the source of this stress is: the fear of not being able to finance this lifestyle. We’ve worked so hard to get where we are and make our dreams a reality, but what if we fail at sustaining it? What if we can’t do it? For us, those are some freaking terrifying questions.
They key to success in times of stress is simple: communication. By keeping an ongoing dialogue about our thoughts, feelings, fears, ideas, and concerns, no problem is too tough to handle. At the end of the day, we know that we won’t fail and we don’t even look at it as an option. We have each other’s backs, and we know that we will work as hard as we need to for us to live our dream. We know that one way or another, everything will work out.
Plus, no stress can take away the fun we have together. It's like an endless series of road trips and sleepovers with your best friend. Nothing beats driving and listening to Safety Dance on repeat, concocting new recipes, playing music, hiking through the wilderness, inventing new dance moves, and perfecting the art of improvised singing with your favorite person in the world.
Being a couple living in 80 sq. ft. is challenging, there’s no arguing that. The challenge is intensified when you’re not only partners in life, but also partners in business. But it’s also an incredible way to grow together and learn from each other. Pete’s creative drive, intense work ethic, and endless thirst for adventure inspires me and makes me want to push myself to be better. I’m going to go ahead and say that there are things about myself that inspire Pete as well (fingers crossed).
I’ll punctuate this post with one more cheesy line.
We are a team, and that’s the greatest thing you can be as a couple, whether that’s in 1,000 sq. ft. or 80 sq. ft.
So what do you think? What would be the hardest part about living in a van with your partner? Comment and let us know!