How to Prioritize Mental Health and Build Community as a Nomad
How to Prioritize Mental Health and Build Community as a Nomad
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We choose this lifestyle because the traditional structure of society just doesn’t work for us. For some of us, we want more, and for others, we want less.
Table of Contents
Everyone has their own reasons for taking to the road.
Most of the time the variety, independence, and joy of being truly immersed in the world around us keep us fully stocked up with dopamine and endorphins.
But at other times, we find ourselves missing the places where we always see familiar faces.
We miss sitting around a meal table, shouting and laughing with friends. We miss the small moments in the day that connect us with other humans.
So today we’re talking about mental health, loneliness, and the importance of community and connections, even when the physical community you’re a part of may change daily.
While many of us spend hours a day traveling, we don’t always tend as carefully to the necessary movement of our bodies. Exercise is so important, not just for our physical health, but also for our minds and our emotional well-being.
We’re not saying you need to start a new hobby as a runner tomorrow, but find something you like doing that gets your body moving, and try and do a little bit of that every day. Maybe it’s yoga, maybe it’s a boisterousroundoffetch with your dog, maybe it’s swimming, or maybe it’s just a regular circuit at a gym.
Many van dwellers combine their physical wellness with hygiene needs and get a membership to a national gym like planet fitness.
There’s one in most major cities, as well as in plenty of suburban areas.
It offers routine in knowing you’ll have access to all your usual equipment wherever you go, and the opportunity to luxuriate in a hot shower afterward for as long as you want (provided there’s no line of folks waiting!)
However it works for you, just moving your body, or getting outside to feel the fresh air in your lungs and the sun on your cheeks does a body good, and there’s plenty of science out there to prove it.
Whether you’re stealthing it in one place for an extended period of time or you’re moving around regularly, a great way to get that human connection is to just check out stuff in the community you’re in.
So many towns and cities offer free live music, talks, art events, and even group fitness classes.
If there’s a cause you’re passionate about, such as beach or park cleanups, show up to volunteer at one near you! You’ll undoubtedly make connections when you’re surrounded by others with similar interests.
If you’re staying in one place for a while, consider regularly patronizing a small business or two.
With all the dough you’re saving on rent and utilities, you can afford to support a local coffee shop or community coop a few times a week.
You’d be surprised how quickly service industry folks recognize you as a regular, and you’ll enjoy the warm welcome they throw at you and the camaraderie of subsequent visits.
Finally, don’t rule out others in your own community- the nomads.
There are vanlife gatherings and meetups all over the country, all the time, focusing on bringing together all these folks who choose to live outside society’s typical structure. Go on Facebook or Reddit, and start searching vanlife-related terms + your area.
You’ll undoubtedly find regional and sometimes even city-centric meetups of like-minded folks to hang with. These can be afternoons in a park, hangs at a coffee shop or brewery, or even overnight trips.
Vanlife gatherings are a bit different than meetups.
These are usually larger events that draw folks from every corner of North America, Canada and Mexico included.
They’re usually multi-day, multi-night events over a weekend, offering entertainment, workshops, talks, yoga, Makers Markets, and other activities.
If you’re traveling alone, make sure you’re still connecting with others regularly.
Call family, call friends, do Facetime cocktail hours, or set up “cooking dates.” Utilize “watch party” features on your streaming service of choice, and catch up on a show alongside a friend in another place, texting reactions and reflections in real time.
If you’re a social media person, reach out and react to friends’ stories or posts, and offer your own updates on your adventures.
Reddit is also a great avenue for this, as the r/vandweller community is always chatting about this life, and there are always folks looking for advice that you very well may have!
If you’re spending a lot of time alone, use it. Journal, voice memo, or do whatever other avenue of reflection feels right to you.
Spend time with yourself, observe yourself without judgment, and use this solo time to reflect on the dark and dusty things in our brains that we usually try to stay busy enough to ignore.
If you think you’d like someone to bounce these reflections off of, or if you just want to connect with someone outside of your circle to listen to what you’re working through, consider an online therapy platform.
There are so many now, with different focuses, and the below options are just a few of what’s out there:
Betterhelp– Arguably the best online therapy platform overall
Monument – Great if you’re trying to cut back on alcohol
Get Some Unconditional Love
We mentioned it briefly above, but one of the first suggestions, when folks ask how to battle loneliness, is: get a dog.
If dogs aren’t your thing, get a cat.
There are plenty of adventure cats out there, it’s not as wacky as it sounds!
If you’re living alone in your rig without a human companion, adding a fur friend to your home will change your life for the better in countless ways.
Here are just a few:
When you have another life depending on you, every single day, to get out of bed, eat, have water, get exercise- you also have to do all those things. You can be sure your cat will never forget what time breakfast is, and your dog will **** your whole day up if you decide to sleep in and not take them out when they ask to go “potty.”
Knowing you have to structure your day around their needs (because they can’t do it for themselves) gives you new purpose, and helps create a homey routine in this life. A shared routine and shared life. You, and your critter.
Pets are funny creatures. That’s why at least half of youtube exists. The bond that’s created between humans and animals on the road is unlike any other. You are each other’s closest friend, and every day, the only constants are you, the animal, and your rig. You begin to be able to anticipate each other’s behaviors, and after a while, you’re convinced that the animal definitely speaks English.
If nothing else, that animal is certainly fluent in you, and you can feel that.
Their interpretation of events, actions, or new experiences is often hilarious, and knowing that you’re on the journey together, day in and day out, rain or shine or mechanical breakdown, is a level of love and partnership that our species has been enjoying for over 10,000 years.
If you think about it, it’s basically a return to the natural order of things.
Animals help us stop, take a breath, and realize that sometimes, whatever is happening right now, truly is awesome:
What a cool bush! That bird is fascinating! What is a turtle? What are waves?
Animals ground us, remind us of the countless small joys all around us, all the time, and aid us in dropping our own “shit” for a few moments to be able to see the world through their eyes.
Just having another living being with you makes you feel more secure, especially when you inevitably find yourself in a campsite that gives you the heebie-jeebies. Maybe it’s a boondocking spot that just doesn’t feel right, or for whatever reason, the gorgeous isolated forest service spot you found suddenly feels different after the sun goes down. Having a critter with much better ears than you is an excellent security system, and one that barks threateningly at potential intruders is even better (even if you know they’re just a harmless floppy baby.)
When your pet protects you or insists on cuddling you right now, even if you’re “busy”, or when they reach out their paw to communicate with you, or when they refuse to get out of bed in the morning because they haven’t had enough of your snuggles yet, that feeling that swells in your chest is love. And humans cannot live without love.
Whatever your reason for hitting the road is, know that you’re never alone, no matter what. There are so many other folks on the road that feel like you do, and they also want to connect from time to time with someone who gets it.
All it takes is letting others know you’re there. So say “hello” when you’re out there on the road and keep your mind and heart open. And adopt a dog!
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