Staying Sane As A Single Vanlife Digital Nomad
(& The Monkey On My Back)
Guest Post by Sacky Sackville, SUP Board Guide
When in Thailand many years ago, I met a group of European travellers who adopted me. It was Christmas time and I was alone, so they invited me to spend the week leading up to the festive day with them.
It was Christmas eve when they dropped me at the storefront of a tattoo shop. They declared they’d all put in for a voucher for me to get inked with whatever I liked.
I’d been talking about how I wanted a tattoo, but hadn’t actually thought about what I wanted. I walked in and asked for the first thing that was on my mind: “You Never Know” – with a little monkey – because why not?
“I walked in and asked for the first thing that was on my mind: ‘You Never Know’ – with a little monkey – because why not?”
These three words would become my life mantra. They would remind me to always try before worrying. Because worrying is only suffering twice. Because you never know till you go.
Fast forward to now. I’ve built a client base online that’s more than enough to support me (and my lifestyle). I came from working hospitality and disability work, with no prior marketing/business/journalism training or education. Definitely no university degree!
It’s something I’m immensely proud of. It was hard. I’ve cried more than once. I still doubt myself now, but the payoff has been worth it.
My main gig is reviewing boards online at supboardguide.com. I’m out in the sun, deciding which is the best of the worst boards, or nitpicking at features to decide who should be voted the Kings and Queens of the site.
As far as a ‘home base’ goes, it’s anywhere with a WiFi connection. Preferably some ocean to paddle in or mountains to climb. If I’m in Australia, my home is the van I’ve built out (under very watchful supervision and much help – so as to not lose any more body parts. I have a missing tooth, but that’s another story for another time about my face meeting a cliff).
I love finding workspaces overseas to help feel connected with other humans, though in Australia they are few and far between. I seek this connection because the reality of this lifestyle of working online, living out of a van or backpack and being single is that it gets lonely.
“I seek this connection because the reality of this lifestyle of working online, living out of a van or backpack and being single is that it gets lonely.”
For a while now, I’ve been ambitiously proactive with my mental health. Obsessing over personal development books, being inspired by people like Mark Manson, Brene Brown and Simon Sinek, plus podcasts to do with habits or communication. All of it, it’s my jam.
I would call psychology my hobby, so as I felt this loneliness settling in, I naturally went about putting together ideas to combat it.
I’ve met other people who live isolated single vanlife lifestyles and seem to have a similar view of ‘I don’t really like other humans.’ But for me, I feel that’s a bit of a coping technique to deal with feeling the isolation. I love other humans way too much to adopt it.
So what do I do to keep myself sane as a single vanlife digital nomad? How do I keep away the boredom and feelings of disconnect? Here’s my short checklist:
1.) Nature, nature, nature.
Sometimes when I get the downs or I’m feeling lazy, the last thing I want to do is actually do something about it. Getting outside always at least alleviates, if not cures, the icky feels.
I have what I would call a daily habit of doing at least one ‘nature thing.’ Preferably in the morning, before any work! Swimming, surfing, riding… Even if it’s only 15 minutes, it’s worth it.
2.) Remove the emotion from the thing that’s bothering you.
Watching or reading something that directly relates to what I’m feeling can help shift my perspective from being helpless to curious. So if I’m having a real lonely moment, I might watch a TED talk on loneliness. Sometimes I’ll go back and re-watch the same ones.
3.) Set weekly challenges.
I have a few friends who I put the effort in with to keep on my radar. We don’t talk for weeks sometimes, though we keep in each other’s lives by setting challenges. Some of which are stupid in nature and some that inspire gratitude.
For example, I had to ask for a dollar off a stranger. Which seems like nothing – but damn, it was hard for me to do. I gave it back after and made it even weirder.
“They get you out doing something with purpose.”
Another challenge was to take 3 photos of things coloured blue that make you happy. They get you out doing something with purpose. It also gives you something to talk about that’s more than work or gossip when you do manage to catch up with each other.
4.) Strict rules about my phone.
I am not allowed my phone (I don’t allow myself my phone) in any kind of waiting situation. Doctor, coffee, food… It’s much more comfortable to look at some article online or scroll your Instagram feed when you have no one to talk to. But then you miss the connection.
That might be okay when you have a group of friends to go hang out with in 5 minutes, but if you’re doing it solo – every moment alone is a moment to be connecting with new and interesting people.
…but if you’re doing it solo – every moment alone is a moment to be connecting with new and interesting people.
Staring at that screen makes you unapproachable and you may miss the moment of making a friend. That friend might be the difference between talking to my toy monkey at night or attending a fun party nearby.
5.) Dating apps.
Okay, so this isn’t for everyone. It requires confidence in stating exactly where you’re at and holding your ground even if some people may judge you. I have used dating apps like Tinder and Bumble to meet up with guys who have similar interests to me.
I try matching with people who seem to be into climbing, surfing, paddle boarding etc., not really caring if they’re tall, broad-shouldered and mysteriously sexy. If we have a little chat and it seems we’d have a good conversation, I tell them I’m not there for hookups and just go hang out.
“I’ve made quite a few friends from those sites and we still regularly keep in contact.”
I’ve made quite a few friends from those sites and we still regularly keep in contact. And no, nothing happened. A lot of people using these apps are also, like me, just after some sort of connection.
Of course, there will be some people who call you names or ask if you want to test out the suspension in your van straight up, too. (Yes, that happened.) (Guess what my answer was?)
That’s just some of it, those 5 tips for single vanlife digital nomads. There are many more things I’ve nurtured into my life and I’ve created habits around them, so they’re as mindless as walking or breathing.
It wouldn’t make sense to use these (my dailies) in a ‘to do list’ for you, but adapting your own healthy habits as a lifestyle is an important part of losing the lonelies. And you never know, you might wind up with an inspired little monkey, too. Because why not?
I’d love to know how you tackle the ups and downs of vanlife and/or online work. Anything you do that helps with the loneliness or isolation? How do you stay sane? Let us know in the comments – we’re in this together!
And anytime you’ve got a case of the #vanlife lows or solo downs, you can hit me up!
Sarah ‘Sacky’ Sackville is an Australian contributor to several sites as a reviewer of all things SUP and a blogger of her outdoor travel adventures in the world.
In her own words: “Hello! I’m Sarah Sacky, most call me Sacky, some call me Sarah. I work online reviewing and managing all things SUP over at SUP Board Guide as well a few other tricks to keep the pennies flowing. Most weeks I find time to go explore wherever I may be calling home at that time in my van. All things outdoors that incorporate sports or movement inspire me!”