From City Life, to Van Life, to Off-The-Grid Farm Life

The blogger with her partner, son, and their school bus home.

Why my family of three has decided to volunteer in Hawaii.

I used to be a New York City girl through and through. I’d dive out of the subway on 14th Street and merge into the crowd, coffee in hand, ready for what the city had to offer that day.

I don’t know if it was my age (mid-30s crisis, anyone?) or the pre-lockdown anxiety, whose ominous undertone was buzzing louder than the city traffic noise by then, but after over 10 happy years as a New Yorker, a scary thought crept up into my mind: “I might be done with the city.” Its vibrant energies now turned into strings wound so tight, they morphed the city sounds that used to be music to my ears into a disharmonious cacophony.

And then, suddenly, all of it was gone. The lockdown wrapped the city into a suffocating blanket of silence and stillness. All the charm was stripped off the streets, revealing only dirt and bitter nostalgia. So many New Yorkers held on, as they had after 9/11, fighting for the city’s spirit, believing in another revival. But many gave up, and I was one of them. I longed for open skies, bird songs, and lots of parking space.

The truth was I had already had a glimpse of something very different, far from the glittery flare of the city. My husband had been obsessed with the tiny house movement and van life, and I had to tag along on quite a few alternative getaways. Little did I know that the getaways (which my husband called “vacation” and I “a test of endurance”) would become my life. After almost a decade of city living with its buzz and constant movement, my family dove head-first into tiny living far away from city lights, first renting a tiny house for almost a year, and then moving into a short school bus converted into a camper—for good.

When people think of van life, they think of the glamour of the endless, pretty views, the desolation of vast spaces, and the dangers of the road. But know this: the most beautiful and dangerous thing about this lifestyle is that it turns your world upside down. You break out from your cozy life into a space of unlimited possibilities and feel lost at first. Then, you want more. And then, you don’t know how to stop.

After about two years on the road, a new dream was born: we wanted to visit Hawaii. Now, our finances were not the ones of the shiny #VanLife Instagram couples sponsored by the mighty Internet for being awesome. We thought: “This is a wild idea, but our whole life is one wild idea by now, so let’s make it happen!”

“This is a wild idea, but our whole life is one wild idea by now."

Our initial desire was to rent a cheap apartment, which we planned to share with a family of friends. (Two families with a bunch of kids in two bedrooms? What’s it to us; we live in a bus!) We thought we'd work menial jobs to pay for the place, and spend time at the beach. Little did we know, the universe had a different plan for us.

After months of searching for affordable places to rent to no avail, something entirely unexpected emerged from the depths of the Internet. We got invited to volunteer at an ecological community called Earthsong on Big Island. It is in a rural area, not too close to the beach, off the grid and so wild! But wild is the name of the game, right? During many conversations around the fire, doubts and fears were expressed, but in the end, the spirit of adventure took over. We said yes!

It feels like this experience will either inspire us to go right back to the comforts of city living or make us want to explore more in the direction of all things alternative. We are feeling happy excitement about life revealing itself to us from a new angle, just the way we felt when we left New York on our little bus. There is the fear of the unknown as well, but one thing we know for sure: just like the last time, we are in for some adventures and unexpected discoveries.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Irina Abraham

Irina Abraham is an actress turned writer. Originally from Belarus, she spent most of her adult life in New York City. She writes about her travels on a short school bus and is currently volunteering with her family on Big Island, Hawaii. @kit_the_bus


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