Guest Post: Gypsy by Day, Van Life by Night

As Laysea bumps along in her '83 Westfalia, she spies a hitchhiker walking on the side of the road. As a female traveling solo, she is not afraid of meeting new people. Picking up fellow wanderers is one of her favorite things. With a wave, she motions to come inside her tiny home, cranking up one of Trevor Hall's songs on the radio.     

For the past 10 months, Laysea has been living in 80 square feet—smaller than the average American bedroom. But that space has become more than enough for her and her dog, Koda.     

It is van life that makes Laysea feel free and removed from her attachment to physical items. She can stop, or continue, whenever she pleases without having to return somewhere. She isn't tied down to something.

There’s nowhere you can be that is anywhere you weren’t meant to be. Trust, and all is coming.

In January of last year, just after my 22nd birthday, I moved to San Diego, with a jeep and my dog, Koda. I was renting an apartment, taking up so much space that I didn't need. Half of the time I would sleep in my Jeep in between adventures and return home to repack my backpack and head out again.

I found a van close to my hometown in Florida, my dad checked it out for me and I flew home to collect my new home. After I bought the van, my mom and I drove cross-country together to California on the van's maiden voyage. That experience has been the most memorable so far to me and the reason I am such a hippie. She trained me well.

It was with my mom on that drive somewhere on I-10 when the name "Nessea" came to me.

NSE is an acronym for Never Stop Exploring, and Ness is my little nest.

Converting the Van to a Tiny House

Shortly after, I began the process of moving my physical belongings into the van. My van was already set up with a fridge stove and sink. But like any old vehicle, I had to clean and repurpose some things like hoses and valves. I added a solar panel to the roof (gifted by a friend) and wired it to a charge controller. That powers my deep cycle batteries, which I built a housing for (now an art piece). The batteries power my fridge, sink pump and electrical outlet, which I use to run household items. I replaced the fuel pump with my dad's help the week before I drove across the country.

Inspiration to Live Small

My parents owned a '76 VW bus when I was growing up, and that was a nostalgic feeling for me—one I wanted to have again. They have been married since they were 20, going 35 years strong now. I will be more than blessed if I find a love like theirs.

My dad runs a construction business in Florida building certified economically friendly homes equipped with solar, wind turbines, water collection and repurposed materials. He gave me the idea to run my electronics (fridge, blender, charging outlets, etc.) on solar energy. My mom is a stay at home mom, taking care of the house with her hands in tons of projects so that she can boldly give her love to areas of need in their community.

My parents have done very well establishing themselves, but they have never been driven by physical possessions. My mom's entire wardrobe is from thrift stores collected since the 80s (and I love going through them and picking out a new item when I am in town). They cook and eat at home, and any free time they have they take mini trips together exploring and wandering and loving each other.

I am so incredibly blessed to come from such a strong, rooted tree that has given me the love and confidence to tackle the world.

My home is mobile, but my home is where my heart is. I am so thankful that my parents have been so encouraging and supportive of my lifestyle. I know that as parents it might be hard to accept that their 23-year-old daughter is living alone in a mobile home gallivanting the world, but it means so much to me that they have been nothing but encouraging and loving of all that I do.

Funding This Lifestyle

I have worked hard since I was able to, and I've saved money without spending frivolously. I have always been very independent; I am a Capricorn, so that speaks for itself. I went to college for a week and knew it wasn't my path. I have worked a lot in the service industry because I love giving back.

When I am on the road, the cost of living is quite low, so I don't consistently work. Sometimes I find seasonal work or work trade. I am a certified yoga teacher in Ashtanga yoga, which I am quite passionate about. Acroyoga, climbing, surfing and slacklining usually consume my time both on the road and in a community.

I would like to find a way to work from the road that is both expressive and creative, so that I can give back the gifts I was blessed with.

Yoga is an eight-limbed path; asana (the physical movement) is just one limb. Aparigraha is a Sanskrit word meaning non-attachment, and living in the van is enabling me to practice this limb of being unattached to worldly items (although I would be sad if my van was taken from me, I would take that as sign and move in a new direction).

At this stage in life, I am more interested in learning from the world, in hopes that one day I am in a place where I can create space to give back and others can also give what they have.

Traveling Solo as a Woman

Traveling as a woman affects me most when it comes to using a restroom—which is much easier for men. Though, bags have worked wonders in emergencies.

I have never felt unsafe, though I have had experiences when I've felt eyes on me. But that's the beauty of a mobile home; I can change my address at any given time.

I always keep a positive mindset and use my intuition to judge my situations, so I always feel very aware. And my dog helps warn me of strangers. She will bark when she feels unsafe or someone approaching. She doesn't do that for everyone though, because she senses people we already know.

I am never lonely; I always have my best friend with me.

The Ups

The most rewarding part about van life is the spontaneity and freedom it gives me. I have always been type A—planning out the next day before the current day is even over. Van life has taught me to slow down and enjoy the present moment. All we have is now.

There is so much more space to love the little moments and absorb the parts of life that a lot of the time are overlooked by our fast-paced lifestyles.

The Downs

I discovered the most challenging part about van life just recently when I got food poisoning and had bodily fluids coming out of both ends. As you can imagine, that is challenging even when you have a bathroom in your home. Thankfully I have an amazingly supportive and loving community of friends who took care of me, so I was able to hang out inside with a bathroom and good company. In usual circumstances, not having a bathroom is probably the only challenge of van life, but I usually start my day at the local co-op or coffee shop where I can use a restroom and also socialize with the morning birds of the area. When nature calls in the middle of the night, I call to nature like an Earth mama would.

Go-To Van Items

Squeegee: For the morning condensation on the windshield

Incense of any variety: To keep life smelling sweet.

My dog, Koda: For vital companionship to my lifestyle. I am not sure I would be able to live van life and travel alone if I didn't have her. I could, but it would be different.

Showering, Parking & Health Insurance

I get asked a lot about where I park and where I shower. Residential parking where I can blend in is always my go-to. However, nothing beats being the only vehicle or home for miles in wide-open spaces or in a forest, looking up at the stars from my bedroom or listening to a fire crackle. Natural water sources are a gypsy's paradise for bathing or recreation. When I am in a city, I shower in either a yoga studio, which gives me a chance to practice and meet like-minded people, or I use a 24 Hour Fitness gym, which are conveniently located in almost every city.

I eat vegetarian/vegan and treat my body very well, so health care isn't a thought of mine, though that may change with age or family creation. I trust that my path will care for me and my future, whatever it may hold. I don't plan to retire, as I love working and having purpose.

Favorite Place to Visit: Deserts of Arizona & Utah

My favorite physical location is definitely the desert space at The Wave or The Narrows by the Arizona and Utah border.

However, when asked about my favorite part of my travels, it isn't a physical location. Learning and living with people who come from all walks of life, all religions and races, understanding their perspectives and creating space where strangers become sisters and brothers has been my highlight by far. A gypsy, vagabond, traveler, is a specific kind of human. They are the eager for life, glass half full, sunshine-seeking, question-asking, gliding on the wind kind of human. It would be very challenging to live a simple life in a tiny home if those outlooks weren't present.

What's Next

I just got back from backpacking for a month with Koda in Peru. Now I am with my van in Humboldt working on a farm for the season.

My journey in the van is been life changing, and I don't plan on going back to being a consumer in a concrete jungle any time soon. One day I may be apart of a sustainable living community, or I may just stay a gypsy forever.

I dream of creating a place for people including myself to give back their talents, I don’t know where or when that will be, but I know this is my journey now.

A dandelion seed floats around wherever the wind takes it, rooting itself wherever it lands. It doesn't need a partner as it is self-pollinating. It is very uncommon for two seeds to intertwine, but maybe one day I'll find a seed that is free enough to float alongside of me.

Until then, it is Koda and me and the world as our oyster!

Follow Laysea and her adventures

Edited by Kate MacDougall.
All photos credit to
Laysea Hughes.