The Ugly Truth About Long-Term Travel – The Grass Really is Always Greener on the Other Side

When people find out that I’ve been living in a big yellow van, traveling the country to climb for seven months with my handsome boyfriend, they always have the same reaction: “Wow, your life is perfect. I wish I could do that so bad, *insert grumbling comment about how much it sucks to have a job and a house*

My response? “The grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side, trust me.”

Niko sits proudly atop our new yellow home.Don’t get me wrong: I’m living the dream.

I get to wake up (most days) surrounded by thickets of trees, powdery red dirt, hauntingly steep canyons, commanding collections of the country’s finest boulders, and more fresh air than my lungs can possibly ingest. Those days, when I’m climbing all afternoon, cooking hot meals at camp, and snuggling up in my sleeping bag in the confines of my van are absolutely the best.

But life on the road isn’t all carefree camping and successful sends – even though that’s what most folks see and would like to believe. Most folks don’t think about the moments of long-term travel when your van won’t start in the middle of nowhere; those moments where most of your loved ones are cozied up in an air-conditioned house, and you’re sweating in your sleep at a crowded interstate truck stop.

How about the times when you realize you don’t have enough money left to do anything other than put gas in your tank and cheap food in your belly? Or when it’s raining for three days straight, but you have nowhere to go but sit in your van? Or worse, when you get sick? Have you ever been sick in a van? It ain’t pretty. Picture all the misery of food poisoning, all the fluids being spilled from all ends of your body, and you’re just curled up in a hot van. (It happened to me in Vegas, it sucked. A lot.)

Every single moment of my adventure across America has blessed me with life lessons and unforgettable experiences that will continue to shape me for the rest of my life, but I just have to set the record straight: this is NOT some sort of romantic journey full of sunshine and forest fantasy. This is still real life, and sometimes, it sucks.

Sometimes, you just want things like a house where you can spend the whole day loafing on a couch, a kitchen to bake cupcakes in, a shower whenever you crave one, and a desk to get some damn work done with a steady internet connection. Some days I find myself longing for the comforts of a steady lifestyle, a paycheck, and a properly sized closet (My boot collection takes up about half of my van storage, it’s out of control).

But then again, after a few weeks of house-sitting and staying at friends’ houses in Colorado – I’m itching to get away from all the concrete, away from the succubus of the internet, and away from this damn couch I can’t will myself to get off of. I’m sick of sitting inside all day, I long for hours of endless driving through farm land, and I am so over the stagnant routine of just being ‘around’.

And you know why? Because the grass is ALWAYS greener…

So keep adventuring, keep enjoying life as you have it, and for heaven’s sake, don’t complain to dirtbags about how horrible your air-conditioned, financially-secure life is. Adventure is always out there, so make it your own. And if you really want to “live the dream” like me, quit your job already! Just remember what I warned you about when you’re broke, dirty, and longing for a couch.


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16 thoughts on “The Ugly Truth About Long-Term Travel – The Grass Really is Always Greener on the Other Side

  1. 3Up Beth says:


    We’re currently plotting a dream expedition vehicle. Because you know, life on the road *is* better. It’s just nice to have a comfy place to sit when it rains, a bathroom to puke in (because, you know, it happens), and maybe even an oven for some cookies.


    It is real life and sometimes it does suck, but when we were there and it sucked, I tried to remember that for most people it *is* a fantasy life and I was lucky enough to be living it.

    • Katie Boué says:

      Amen to all of that, Beth! When I’m sick, miserable, hot, sweaty, and stuck in the middle of no where, I still have to remember that I’m lucky as hell to even be able to be sick and miserable as freely as I am. What really grinds my gears is friends/folks who gripe about how awesome this life is and how they wish they could do it – but in reality, they’d HATE what life on the road really entails. There ain’t nothing wrong with not living like this either, I think a lot of people get all shameful about their “normal” lives when they shouldn’t be!

  2. Monty says:

    Interesting perspective Katie! I think a lot of people, myself included, don’t think about living “real life” in a van.. Sure, everyone romanticizes life on the road and the life you’re living, but I can’t even imagine how uncomfortable it can be at times. Especially when you’re sick and/or when its hotter than blue blazes.. Ugh..

    Good read wo-man!

  3. Joshua says:

    I lived in my car in Berkeley, CA for 500 days. A 1987 VW Westfalia – luxury. I found that being happy is about balance. Some days in a car, a few days staying in someone’s house, camping out every now and then. In this day in age, people are so used to change that more than a week of anything is tiresome it seems. It’s all about balance 🙂

  4. Exploring Elements (@ExplorElements) says:

    Amen sister! I’ve been mostly in a house for almost 2 month now, and I have to say I miss traveling in the van a ton (even with 2 weeks+ of my recent time being in the van). There are always two sides to every coin and its really easy to romanticize the side your not living. In the end it is important to keep living the way you want to live, which ever side of the coin that might falls. Van life forever 🙂

  5. Philip says:

    I know this is late to comment but I’ve been home 3 years after a year on the road, I have never been unhappier. For all the hard times on the road on my motorcycle I would trade what I have to be back worrying about accommodations, gas money, where I’m heading to next, is the next meal going to make me sick. Life at a standstill is not it’s all cracked up to be!

    • Katie Boué says:

      Amen! After I wrote this post, I spent two years living ‘standstill’ in Colorado. Then in November I hit rock bottom in terms of cabin fever, and now I’m back on the road full-time! I think what’s really key is to figure out how to make the on-the-road lifestyle work for you in your own unique way.

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