This year I’m going to buy a van and live in it. I’m not sure exactly where I’ll park it, but I’m hoping to find a small town on the Chilean coast, not too far from Santiago. Personal hygiene will be a tricky one. I may join a yoga studio with particularly nice showers. I’ll have to remember how to drive stick shift on hilly roads — Chile has a lot of them.

Before I find myself behind the wheel of a large automobile, I want to ask: how did I get here? Why am I choosing to live out of a van? I want to articulate my reasons for doing this because there may come a day when I need to revisit them. I’ll be giving myself a damp paper towel shower while sitting on my van’s stoop, thinking, ‘well, how did I get here?’

The VanLife Philosophy, as defined by someone who has yet to live in a van

Self-reliance.

“I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

My foray into van life will be a small social experiment on the independence of thought. Van life offers a way to ‘opt out’ of conventional ways of living. And I hope that by living unconventionally, I’ll be predisposed to adopt other alternative lifestyle choices.

Van life will be my first case study: what happens when I live simply? If I’m lucky, this experiment will lead to many more. What other things should I reevaluate? Industrial meat? Media conglomerate-driven journalism? I’m not sure what’s next, but I’m hoping to start thinking more critically about the things I buy in to.

Minimalism.

It always seems to creep back. That distinctly American urge to acquire things. When I moved into an unfurnished apartment in Santa Barbara, the emptiness gave me the howling fantods.

One craigslist rampage, two trips to the Bay Area and 6 potted succulents later, the apartment had begun to feel less empty. But the impulse to acquire never fully left. I maintained a mental list of things I ‘needed.’

I moved out 9 months later, with the same problem in reverse. How do I get rid of all these things? Perhaps the physical limitations of a van will quell my inner hoarder.

Freedom to roam.

My van is going to be research vessel #1. This March, I’m kicking off a research project with a Chilean professor at the University of Santiago, Chile. We’re setting out to identify the most effective methods of teaching computer science in the country’s public high schools.

With my van, I’ll be able to follow my research throughout the country. I can study schools on top of the Patagonian highlands and in the middle of the Atacama desert. On my weeks off, I can camp on the Bolivian salt flats. Equipped with a kitchen, a water jug, a solar-powered fridge and a bed, my van and I can disappear into the desert for weeks without seeing a soul.

Home is where you park it.

Dylan and I met this couple in San Juanico who we still think about a lot. To give you an idea of who they are, this is how they met. Sam had been hitchhiking across the country. He was dancing on a street corner in Santa Barbara, hoping to find his next ride. Kaylee picked him up.

Sam hasn’t worn shoes for the past year. He has a few reasons for walking around barefoot, but one stuck out to me. People usually take off their shoes when they get home. It’s more comfortable. By walking around barefoot all the time, he eliminated the line between being home and being away. He was always barefoot, always at home, even on the road.

Similarly, van life offers a way of making the world your backyard.