How Vanlife Transformed My Life – Love, Joy & Belonging

I Quit My Job For Vanlife

December 2021

Exactly two years ago as I write this, I handed in my notice at work from the corporate world and moved out of my house into my self-converted campervan.


Having worked really hard on my career over the last two decades and on a 6-digit income I was in a role of responsibility that I never thought I would reach. Yet unexpectedly I had a huge sense of job dissatisfaction. What was it all for anyway? What difference am I making? How am I contributing to the world?


My personal life wasn’t much fun either. I had moved to the Netherlands at the start of Covid on an 18-month expat assignment. I lived on my own, knew only a few people and worked from my apartment. Not being able to understand the local language and unable to leave my apartment after 8pm due to covid curfews it was an extremely isolating time. One year into my expat assignment, the boredom was real, bored at work and bored out of work.


By the end of 2021, the world was slowly getting back to normal from the impact of Covid. I was bursting to get out and do something exciting, something to give me energy and reignite my spark.


Two life changing resources were given to me as a result of my Covid confinement. 1. Money, not been allowed to leave my house and go anywhere meant I saved most of my disposable income. 2. Time, it is amazing how creative you can be when you have the space and time to think. It was time to do something about this boredom, it was time to plan an adventure.


I had bought a white sprinter van mid Covid times. I designed the layout and built a house on wheels from watching YouTube videos (gotta love YouTube). It was never my intention to travel and live fulltime in the van but as the build progressed so did my urge to have complete freedom and so I started to plan. The outcome of my plotting was an itinerary of spending the summer in artic circle of Norway and the winter in Portugal and Spain, it was a ‘Chase the Sun’ adventure. I was going to change the discontent I felt for such a long time by doing all the things that bring me joy and happiness; exploring the outdoors, hiking, connecting with nature, paddling, meeting new people, learning to surf and snowboard.


At the end of 2021 I told my line manager that I wanted to take a year off and use the company sabbatical policy which allows you to take up to two years off. It was line manager discretion. Not surprisingly he rejected my request as he was worried I would inspire others to do the same. A couple of days later I bit the bullet and handed in my notice at work. Surprisingly I didn’t feel nervous or scared not having a job to go back to, I just felt a huge sense of relief.


And so I moved out of my house and put all my furniture in storage. How long would I travel for? Would I travel for one year or maybe two? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure if having some time off would give me the energy I needed to pick up my career from where I left it or if I would do something completely different. I wasn’t sure where I would end up and which country I would end up calling home. The uncertainty was exciting to me.


I had opened my mind to a significant amount of change in my life, but I wasn’t expecting the scale of transformation that would come. If I told the 2021 version of myself where I would actually end up, I wouldn’t believe it.


For more context on my decision to quit my job and live in a van go to I Quit My Job To Live In A Van Blog


The Journey Begins

July 2022

It was reassuring how many of my friends and family not only support but related to my midlife (crisis) opportunity. They totally got it. One of my colleagues and friend Mike over in the US was going through a similar transformation of leaving the corporate world and was extremely excited and fascinated about the journey I was about to embark on. Knowing that I would have downs as well as ups, I video called my support crew along the way, and they became part of my journey.


I worked my notice whilst living in my van and my last day at work was the 30th of June and so at the beginning of July, I drove onto the Ferry to the Netherlands to make my way up to most northern part of Norway, the Nord Kapp. No job, no house, no responsibilities. Just me, my dog and pure freedom, it was liberating.


My time in the artic was amazing, it is an inaccessible and enchanting part of the world, where wildlife and nature prevails. I saw wild moose, reindeer, orcas, dolphins. I sat under the northern lights’ night after night. I cooked healthy food, surfed, hiked up to glaciers, ran through fjords, met amazing people and I slept! I slept for 10/11 hours every night for weeks. I felt great. My mind was clear, and I had never been healthier and fitter. I had a lot of time to reflect and contemplate the passage of life and how to make the most of it. What should I do with my time? How will I make a living? Would it be here in the majestic Norwegian fjords? By the ocean in the South? One thing I did know at this point was that a move back to a city to do a 9-5 job until I hit the retirement age was not calling my name.

How Much Does a Road Trip to Norway Cost?
Northern Lights Lofoten
Ocars Norway

Entrepreneurial Start Up

October 2022

I have been passionate about the mental and physical benefits of getting outdoors for over a decade. After a couple of days in the mountains I feel lighter, happier and re-energised. After a couple of years of getting into hiking it had become an obsession (albeit a healthy one) and it soon escalated from hiking in the UK, to the Alps to the Himalayas.


Although I always set out on my hiking adventures solo, I would often meet other hikers and many have become good friends, but rarely did I meet female hikers. When I did eventually meet a female hiker on a trail, I would get excited to talk to them, it was refreshing and warming to have some female company. If you think about it, getting excited about meeting another woman in the hills is actually quite sad. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from other women ‘I’d love to that, but I can’t navigate’ or ‘I’d be scared I’d get attacked’. Confidence and self-belief are one of the biggest barriers for us women getting into outdoor activities.  Over the years I advocated hiking to other females without much thought by organising hiking and wild swimming days in the mountains with my girlfriends. One friend had told me that a wild camping expedition I led was the best thing she has ever done. ‘It’s sad to think that not everyone has an Emma to give them this experience’. My friend said.


Three months into my trip and three months of hiking and running in the beautiful Norwegian mountains I made a decision to start an outdoors business for women with a mission to knock down those confidence barriers. On route from Norway down to Portugal I made a last-minute decision to come back to the UK in October to do my Mountain Leader training and……. I loved it! I loved everything about it. Being in a group of likeminded people who I bonded with over wanting to guide others into the mountains to share that connection with nature.

It is crazy to think that after all these years of wandering around on top of mountains for no reason other than it made me feel good, that it would actually lead to becoming a qualified Mountain Leader and perhaps….. a career.


I had 4.5 months between my training and assessment. I hit the road to spend the winter in Portugal and Spain. I surfed in the morning and was busy building a website during the day. I registered a company, built a brand, a logo, a website and a mission. Women Outdoors was born, an outdoor adventure company for women. Finally, I had ignited my spark again.

Women Outdoors

April 2023

My assessment was one of the most intense and nerve-wracking 5 days of my life. However, it was the biggest boost to start Women Outdoors as a qualified Mountain Leader.


It was the end of April and Women Outdoors was about to go live, I was leading my first event which was a hike and a wild swim in the Peak District. All of my events were in national parks, Peaks, Lakes, Snowdonia, Yorkshire Dales. The beginning of the season went well, I scoped the best routes / trails and wild swim spots I could find, and I would share knowledge on the area’s history, flora and edible plants, letting ladies taste natures wild food.


I had collaborated with other amazing, qualified leaders to provide a variety of outdoor events through the summer including; paddleboarding, climbing, wellness days and trips abroad. I provide one free hike a month and concessionary tickets for ladies who have financial barriers.


I also managed to secure some funding to take the ladies out hiking once a month from the local Women’s Aid refuge. Providing them with boots, transport, child carriers and anything else they needed to get them outdoors. On arriving to the refuge to lead the second hike one lady’s skin had completely cleared up and she was glowing with a big smile. Talking and laughing with the other ladies.

‘You look amazing’ I said to her,

‘Thank you, I feel amazing, I have been walking every day since our last hike and eating really healthy’ she said.

I had a sudden rush of emotion and I had to hold back the tears of pride I had for her. ‘That’s brilliant’ I replied.


By the end of June and two months into Women Outdoors all of my events were fully booked for the rest of the summer, including the 3 trips abroad for 2024. The first trip abroad sold out in one hour! When the season was coming to an end in October Women Outdoors had a combined social media following of 15,500, I had led 45 outdoor events with 70% of women booking onto a 2nd event.


There is no doubt that organisations like Women Outdoors are needed, Women Outdoors has become more than just an outdoors activity business it is community of women providing a safe space for ladies to be themselves. After living in loneliness and isolation myself I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see pictures of ladies doing fun shit together who have met and formed friendships from coming to a Women Outdoors event. I’ve seen women support each other, inspire each other and I’ve seen ladies physical and mental health transform.


Having said all of that it is important to note that not all of my events have gone smoothly, but I have learnt from the mistakes to continuously improve each event and the positive impact they can make. It has been a lot of hard work and a great deal of believing in myself and Women Outdoors. Of course, I’ve received some negative comments in the beginning. You will always get risk adverse and resentful people telling you things like ‘it’s not going to work’ ‘it is not worth the return in investment’. I ignored those comments gracefully, it usually says more about them, plus if I did fail at least, I gave it a go and did so trying my best.  


For more info on Women Outdoors you can visit my website WOMEN OUTDOORS

Falling in Love

March 2023

Now what I didn’t tell you earlier about my friend Mike is that I had a crush on him. Michael has a huge heart, he is thoughtful, secure in himself, driven, funny and level headed. He always wears a smile and throws himself into trying new things. He has always being a great support and he never fails to give me wisdom and make me smile. I kept my romantic feelings to myself in fear of rejection and for the fear of making things really awkward between us, I really valued our friendship. Anyway, he lived 3,000 miles away, and we had never met in person. Our friendship had developed through sharing what we were up too via emails and teams calls.


Having 3 weeks spare before Women Outdoors 1st event I travelled to Canada to visit some friends. I was 5 hours from Mike, and we agreed to meet up halfway. Seeing Mike in person for the first whilst I was pulling into the carpark, I became so nervous I couldn’t park my rental car in the bay straight. I pulled out and tried to park again but my car was still wonky, I tried unsuccessfully for the 3rd time and left it parked diagonal across the bay lines. Being a gentleman that he is he didn’t mention it.


The evolution of mine and Mike’s friendship is long one so I won’t go into detail here but what I will say is that the connection I had with Michael virtually was even more wonderful in person. The rest as they say is history…..

I Quit Full Time Vanlife

October 2023

I cannot put into words how much I appreciate my vanlife days and I can’t see my future without the escapism of a van, but after 2 years I was ready to get a hot shower and wash my clothes at a push of a button. After working long days, leading events in the mountains, organising accommodation, meals, managing the social media, the website, marketing, answering emails, accounting, applying for funding and so on, I was mentally and physically exhausted. The UK isn’t set up for vanlife like Europe, finding water, somewhere to empty my toilet and to park became a chore after a long day working rather an enjoyment of the simple life. By November the Women Outdoors 2023 season was over until Spring 2024, and I decided to get an off season 6-month contract job doing what I used to do in Procurement to top up my savings and move into a conventional home as a base.


Where is home? One of the questions I pondered many times. What I have come to realise is that when I’m in the US with Michael I feel at home, when I’m in Hull with my family I feel at home, when I’m in the mountains I feel at home. Home is where the people and the things I love are. I don’t believe I will ever have ‘a home’ and be tied to one place. Nor do I think I will ever have one full time job again.


I believe my future now is Women Outdoors and jumping into my old career as a contractor as and when it suits me. My goal is to lead a much simpler life and to be financially independent so that I can take several months off to adventure when I want to. I realise that all of this is not the conventional way living or what society expects of us but in my gut, I know this is what is right for me. Afterall, I have never been a conformist.

Love, Joy & Belonging

January 2024

I remember being teased by my old work colleagues for receiving a generous car allowance but choosing to bank the money and drive around in my 10-year Nissan XTrail instead. ‘When I’m able to be retired 5 years earlier than you, I’ll think about you driving to work in your new Land Rover whilst I’m sat on a beach drinking a Pina Colada’ I used to say. People seemed to be so caught up in material things. I never got it. I didn’t yearn for the big house, the fancy car or starting a family. I desired the hills, being bare foot and not having access to electricity or running water. I never felt like I quite fitted into society, I felt different, always the black sheep.


However, having the courage to stand alone on my vanlife journey, meeting likeminded people and leaning into pure joy has made me realise that true belonging is to be who I am no matter where that is. It has made me realise that to ‘fit in’ is to be like people around me, but to belong is just to be me.


Hitting the pause button and going into Vanlife gave me so many new skills and unique experiences that I will cherish forever. But it also gave me the space and time to re-evaluate how I want to spend the rest my life. It has given me an opportunity to get off the road I was going down and change direction. My decision to take off in the van took me to my Mountain Leader qualifications, to starting my own business, to falling in love with one of my best friends, to being appreciative of my personal authenticity. That little van was a vehicle that drove into me the 3 most important things in life; love, joy and belonging and it was the best decision I have ever made.


And even though I have been through a vast amount of change over the last 18 months my life’s transformational journey is far from over, and so is my writing about it.


Until the next time……….

Emma xx


To follow Women Outdoors…..

To follow me & my adventures……..

“Tell me, what is it your plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”


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6 thoughts on “How Vanlife Transformed My Life – Love, Joy & Belonging”

  1. Absolutely loved reading this Emma. Over the moon for you and your lovely journey so far. Drop by again next time you’re in Spain.
    Saf x

      1. Hi Emma love your story. I’m 60 live alone with my dog. Have thought about doing this but not sure and bit scared. I like my home but, I want to travel. I can’t buy a van unless I sell my house. It’s tempting. My job is hairdressing and cleaning. But, I would like to give it all up really and live. Whats your thoughts on this?

        1. Hi Angela,
          Thank you for your message :-). I hope all is well with you. Have you thought about renting a van for a couple of weeks in a place you’d like to travel to test the waters before jumping all in? Then you can see how it goes and make a better informed decision on which direction to go in?
          Emma xx

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