Kansas is six hours of reflection. We take turns driving. We fuel up on caffeine. And we drive on I-70 as we watch familiar landmarks go by: the Topeka ‘skyline’, Lawrence, Flint hills… Until we approach Kansas City from the west and see the city unfold as we drive by. It’s the first year that I don’t have a home in Kansas City after our road trip. It has been difficult not having my own space in the city that I love, that I lived and played in for 6 years. I felt a pang in my heart as we drove past the exits that took me home so many times. I miss having my own space, my own domain to return to, take off my pants and binge Netflix completely alone in. I miss waking up in the morning and taking the two minute drive to Attitude for biscuits and gravy, or Brick House for bottomless mimosas, or Succotash with friends. Driving to my park of choice for an afternoon, or spending time at the Nelson, or Birding around town. How I miss not having to park! In this city, taking Lyfts instead. I’m only twenty minutes away and already I feel the distance. But during these pangs of nostalgia I remember that I’m searching for something more. I remind myself that my life was not feeding me what I needed and wanted. It was not bringing that same fulfillment and joy that it always had before.
Which brings me to the plan. The revisited plan. The disrupted many times but still perseveres plan. The last year and a half of unrest, I searched for options to fill the holes: I want space, I want challenge, I want nature, and I also want to feel at home anywhere. I want to come home and spend time with my family, take my niece and nephew on trips and have a Boulevard Wheat with my friends. I want to hike in the Rocky Mountains and sleep on the Oregon coast within the same couple of months. And I want to do it from ‘home’. Not from my car, packed with all of my belongings. Constantly pulling bags in and out, reorganizing, building a shelter, and waking every morning to pack it all in. I have always loved ‘home’ and my own ‘space’. (See: My work from college that explores domestic space as a young woman) I knew if I was going to spend any amount of time on the road I would need a space that was comfortable. #VanLife started showing up everywhere a few years ago, and in true Bailey fashion, I turned up my nose to the trendy, overly-instagrammed and heavily filtered lifestyle. It was not until my fifth long road trip, and many revelations leading up to it, that I imagined that way of life for myself.
I started the search for THE van as soon as I got back home. I read books about buying used RVs/Vans, Nomad life, and scrolled through forums of full time vanlifers. I chose a van over a camper trailer or class B motorhome because of my infatuation with ‘less’. It was a natural progression that began when I moved dozens (DOZENS) of boxes from my parents to my first apartment, and then proceeded to move nearly every year after that, hauling around everything I owned. I was truly a collector— of all things that caught my eye at antique stores and thrift store shelves. (see: video of my high school bedroom that was a small vintage museum) After spending far too much money on home interior (thanks, Mint! budgeting app) while simultaneously hiking and backpacking more and more, the idea of having fewer things was something I really latched onto. I began to feel the peace of having less and the truth that more is not always more. The desire to consume started to fade away. On any afternoon pre ‘less-is-more-lifestyle’, you could find me going shopping and buying things I did not need. One haul could bring home ten new items for my wardrobe, a cute new runner for my coffee table, old family photographs of strangers, a new chair for my extra room, and some new organization storage from Ikea. It was really thrilling, to hunt and find things. It gave me a rush of happiness and excitement. But after I carried everything in and put it in its’ place, tried on my outfits and ikea’d the mess out of my apartment, I was left wanting. The happiness faded. And in a few days, I’d go hunting again. Until I was left surrounded by things that made me feel stuck, when in my head I struggled with the desire to get away.
This realization was slow and took time to fully set in. While moving out of my third apartment on 39th street, I parted with furniture and clothes, and things I no longer needed. The process continued in my next apartment, as I spent time sorting and creating piles to donate rather than purchasing more. I did not spend any money decorating the place as I usually would— I packed most of my decorations away and bought only things I truly needed for the apartment. (I mean mostly only things I needed) And when the van idea came to life, I knew it was time for a major purge. Garage sales, trips to donate to the thrift store, and a year or so later, I am left with a dozen or so totes in storage. They hold my kitchen necessities, clothing, art, some decor, camera equipment, and a couple pieces of small furniture. It still feels like too much. But the process of slapping myself on the hand when I reach for something I do not need has been invaluable. I accumulate so much less, I feel at peace knowing exactly what I have, and I save a little money. I am sure this neatly typed up blog post makes it sound easy; it was and is a constant practice. And it does not always feel good. The absence of those temporary peaks of joy subsided, and I have had to find new things to make me happy. Real happy; not the artificial thrill of scoring a cool lamp. (Which is still really cool) Which is where Lucy finally comes in.
Going through this slow purge these past few years, it became clear to me the times I felt most excited, happy, and alive. For years I have planned everything around the road trips I take with Celeste every summer and the trips I take through-out the year. I am a little afraid to admit that I had been avoiding new jobs, summer classes, and internships to keep my schedule open. After college I stayed employed a job that did not entirely fulfill me, but paid for my trips and gave me a flexible schedule. Finally, in September of last year, I cashed out my 401K to buy a van. It was the first step to fully commit to what I want. I was knocked on my ass a couple months later, but I have been lifted by so many people— new friends, old friends, family, friends of family. Six months ago I felt lost and thought I would file this dream away to revisit in the future. Or not. I was afraid. I told myself it was stupid and crazy and irresponsible— an echo of the naysayers. And I am still afraid, but come October, I will be setting out in this van. There is nothing like the feeling of working towards your dreams. And I only just realized that I have been working towards this for a long time— it just did not look how I thought it would.
I have so many plans and outlets I want to explore. I hope to find a way to make a living anywhere I want to be, I hope to create more work, meet more people, hike more hikes, learn more learns (lol). I know that the first step in all of this is to get in this van and drive away and do the thing that I want more than anything. And I want to thank everyone who has supported me and lifted me up— some of you, for years. So many people have impacted me more than they will ever know and have given me the courage to do what makes me happy.
Stay tuned for whats to come— I will be around here a lot more very soon. I would love to hear from anyone reading what kind of content you would like to see from me. I’m thinking videos, more photos, and of course more blogs in the future. I’m so excited to share with you.
Photographer on the road