#VanLife Lesson 2: The Work-Life Balance

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When I lived in my van, I didn’t plan a sin­gle climb­ing “trip” most years, and didn’t take one day of vaca­tion to go climb­ing. When you live out of a van, one of the best ben­e­fits is that you nev­er have to go “home”—you just move your home to the next place. In a sin­gle year, I was able to rope up for at least one day in dozens of America’s climb­ing des­ti­na­tions: the Ouray Ice Park, Joshua Tree, the Tetons, Cas­tle Val­ley, Red Rocks, Dev­ils Tow­er, Lumpy Ridge, Vedau­woo, Rocky Moun­tain Nation­al Park, Boul­der Canyon, and more.

With a mobile office, you can man­age to work and explore some of the most beau­ti­ful places in the world—as long as you can con­nect to the Inter­net. My girl­friend and trav­el part­ner also worked remote­ly, and when we looked at a map and try to decide where to head next, we con­sid­ered three things:

1. Is there good climb­ing there?

2. Are there cof­fee shops, libraries, or oth­er places with free wifi?

3. Is there a place to park the van (prefer­ably for free)?

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We spent a week in March climb­ing in Joshua Tree, tick­ing off a hand­ful of pitch­es and get­ting to know one of the world’s most famous climb­ing des­ti­na­tions. In the morn­ing, we would dri­ve into the park, walk to a crag, climb a few pitch­es, and pack up and walk back to the van before the mid­day heat got too hot. Then we’d dri­ve into one of the near­by towns to a cof­fee shop or library, flip open our lap­tops and get to work until din­ner­time, when we’d dri­ve out to the free camp­ing north of the town of Joshua Tree, cook din­ner and talk about what we want­ed to climb the next morning.

The bad part is you nev­er get a real vaca­tion this way—you just trav­el as part of reg­u­lar life. But you’re unlim­it­ed in how much you can explore. Think about it: Joshua Tree is only three hours’ dri­ve from Red Rocks. When you’ve had enough sin­gle-pitch desert gran­ite, you can work all day, and in the evening, dri­ve to Red Rocks and climb mul­ti-pitch sand­stone and pati­na to your heart’s con­tent, and stay as long as you want. If you find out you don’t like Red Rocks, Zion Nation­al Park is three hours to the east.

This win­ter and spring, we fig­ured out a sys­tem. Some days, we’d leave “the office”—a cof­fee shop or library—early and get in a few pitch­es, for exam­ple, on the Nava­jo sand­stone sport climbs on Wall Street near Moab. Some weeks, we’d decide to work on Sat­ur­day and take Fri­day off to get on a mega-clas­sic like Red Rocks’ Solar Slab when it wasn’t crowd­ed. Oth­er days, we’d take the morn­ing off so we could get up ear­ly and beat the crowds to some­thing like the wild­ly exposed South­west Cor­ner on the Head­stone at Joshua Tree before dri­ving into town and open­ing our lap­tops next to a hot cup of coffee. 

If we want­ed to go some­where, we just did it. If it was five or six hours away, we drove at night or on the week­end. If it was two hours away, we drove in the evening or ear­ly the next morn­ing, depend­ing on work oblig­a­tions. Instead of work­ing all year so we could trav­el dur­ing our vaca­tion, we worked on the road and trav­eled all year. But at the end, it still felt like we could use a vacation.

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