What is it like to celebrate holidays on the road?

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Vanlife during the holidays

Living on the road in a van has become the new American dream in many ways, but I’ve been doing this for over 4 years and I can assure there are plenty of nightmares to spoil the dream. One of the downfalls of living on the
road is loneliness and feeling lost around the holidays.

My first holiday season on the road I tried to pretend like I was really a normal
person, I actually dog sat for a friend and stayed in his home. I had a little tree and a Christmas dinner and mocked up my own little holiday festivities in Boulder, CO.

The following years I spent at the lodges I worked at during the summer with my close friends and a multitude of holiday cheer. The holidays here were easy as we had a big Christmas tree, tons of good people around, and even some gifts to exchange and an egg nog or two.

Adapting on the road

After I left the lodges, I looked to take my travels to the next level, and for the next two years I didn’t have time to celebrate the holidays as I was too busy planning the next hike or deciding what area to move to next. The search for new experiences was far more important to me than the comfort of celebrating a holiday like everyone else.

I think every nomad has a different way of celebrating the holidays on the road. Fellow nomad Kayla says her and her sister used to build gingerbread houses but now she and her nomadic sister paint rocks on facetime and leave them at places they visit along the way. My friend Zach celebrated a few years ago by tripping on acid and camped on the Rio Grande in Big Bend, saying it was one of his favorite places he has ever been.  When I was working with my good friend and nomad Cadell, he decorated his van to become frosty the snowman! We all have our ways of celebrating and getting in that holiday cheer! Fellow traveler Chris spent a Thanksgiving on Fremont St. in Las Vegas that he called very interesting while my friend Simone spent her Thanksgiving camping in a frigid Death Valley and reading about the persecution of it’s native people.

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I took an online survey to gather some questions about holidays on the road, here are a few of my favorites:

What holiday foods do you miss?
I definitely miss the sit down dinners at my grandmothers house. The smorgasboard of turkey, ham, and countless vegetables cooked with lots of butter and love.
How does Santa get into the van?
He looks for the starlink satellite, and since I don’t have one I get relegated to the “naughty” list.
What food have you had for holiday dinners?
At the lodges we always had awesome holiday meals prepared for us, but since I left I’ve had a turkey dinner from a church that was giving out meals to the homeless and another dinner of turkey hamburger helper at the Bradshaw Ranch.
Where do you put your tree?
I don’t have a tree, I’m usually surrounded by them! But some of my friends do
put in little trees with lights and ornaments.
Do you have a question? Leave it below and I’ll be sure to answer. Maybe some other nomads will chime in as well.

The reality is that while living in a van may seem like the best experience in the world, it comes with some trade offs. If you are big on holiday cheer and spending time with your family, most likely you are going to catch a plane and give them a visit. Despite our efforts to make vanlife holiday friendly, we are still homeless people squatting on public land in the winter. You can pull it off, to varying degrees, but as with everything on the road you have to remain flexible.

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Personally, over the years I’ve just given up. Living on the road has bouts with loneliness as much as times where you are surrounded by many like minded people. It can be the best of times and the worst of times, and if I need some holiday vibes I’ll pick up some gingerbread cookies and look for a good place to eat some mushrooms. On the road, if you’re doing it right, every day is a holiday.

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