• Hayden Seder

Van Life: Annekathrin Rothe

Annekathrin Rothe or Anni (@travelingbybus) has lived in numerous vans over the year before settling into her current 42-year-old Mercedes bus Elsa. The freelance digital designer and content creator from Germany has traveled the world living in various vehicles, a lifestyle she embraced rather than go the standard path of working in an office all day for the rest of her life.

Name: Annekathrin Rothe

Age: 33

Vehicle type: Mercedes Benz L407d

Time spent in the Mercedes van: some trips over summer time (just finished her in July 2020)

Time spent in other Vans: 3 years (9 different vans)

Hometown: Erfurt, Germany

Average monthly expenses: 500€ more or less [roughly $610 USD], depending on how much I’m driving.

What made you decide to move into a van?

Anni: I never wanted to live a normal life, I always dreamed of an unconventional lifestyle. My future looked like working in an agency after university for the rest of my life. That thought is pretty depressing, especially for someone who promised herself to live the best life I can dream of. The feeling of being free and independent, making new experiences and meeting new people were some reasons to start traveling.

The first time I moved into a van was in Australia. I shared it with my ex-boyfriend for almost 2 years and it just felt perfect. We traveled, stopped, worked eight different jobs (no fruit picking) and had the time of our lives. The weather made living in a van super easy. After those two years we continued our travels in New Zealand, Hawaii, western USA and Canada in several vans and RVs. We separated and I went backpacking through Mexico for more than half a year until I came back to Germany. While traveling the US, a friend of mine agreed to buy the Mercedes bus for me. When I came back, I picked it up and started the conversion for almost a year.

What were you doing before that?

Anni: I made an apprenticeship as a digital designer. I worked for some years and then started to work independently self-employed. Then I went to university to study communication design for four years and after that I applied for a job. Shortly before signing the contract, I decided to break up with a normal life and started my travel to Australia.

What was the hardest thing to let go of when making the move from apartment/house to a van?

Anni: The only thing I really missed was family and friends, celebrating Christmas in the way I used to, and stable internet in certain areas of Australia (sometimes we didn’t have reception for weeks). I didn’t even miss a bathroom cause I always saw it like: the front seats are our living room, the bedroom in the back, as well as a little kitchen, and the biggest bathroom ever: the outdoors.

Where are you living right now?

Anni: I just moved to Leipzig/Germany. To me, van life in winter isn’t too romantic, especially when you are on your own. I want to take care of my work, which is pretty overwhelming some days. Living and working on the road can be very tough when your business is working pretty well. In times like this it doesn’t matter if you are parked on the beach or in a forest when the only thing you are doing is staring at your laptop and working.

How do you shower?

Anni: I built myself an outdoor shower. I open up the back doors, put a shower curtain between and use the water of two tanks in the back of the van. The shower itself is a 12V shower.

If it is too cold or rainy, I use the shower at public pools.

What’s something that surprised you about living this lifestyle?

Anni: The feeling of how we perceive our nature and surroundings. Many things seem much clearer to us when we spend a lot of time in nature and we learn to appreciate small things much more. The chirping of crickets in the night, a starry sky. A sunrise. A free shower. People who suddenly help you without being asked or the openness of some people. We figure out what is important in life and what’s not.

What are some of the ups and downs of van life?

Anni: That you are suddenly on your own and have to solve problems yourself or rely on the help of others if you don't know what to do next. But the good thing is also how independent you become with it or how to interact with strangers. You lose your fears and you feel proud of solving your problems. In the end, some problems that used to mean the end of the world don't seem that big anymore. Another point is that you can also feel very lonely at times although you meet many new people. But sometimes you make friends for life and that's another awesome thing.

What are some elements you added to your van that are unique or that you personally wanted?

Anni: I created a secretary desk to work at and a narrow drawer for paper, pencils and brushes. I added lots of design elements to make it unique and special, and I've built in a rack for plants and an airy wardrobe what shines when I turn on the light.

What kind of small touches have you added to make it feel more like home?

Anni: Flowers, macrame, pillows, pictures, drawings, pennant chains, lights, candles, cacti, lots of plants and books.

What’s one of your favorite spots you’ve camped in your car?

Anni: I love to camp at beach sides, listening to the sound of the waves, as much as I love to camp in lonely forests. And I’m not afraid of that.

What are your favorite outdoor activities?

Anni: I love bicycling, canoeing, roller blading and swimming. And I have everything on top of the van or stored inside. The only thing I would love to do too is climbing and standup paddle boarding.

How would you say being a female living in your van differs from what you think or know the male experience to be? Did you feel like you had to take further precautions or were perceived differently than men who live in their cars?

Anni: There is definitely a difference. Women are often not perceived as traveling alone. Again and again I am asked when my boyfriend will join me or I am addressed as "you (both)" from the start. Hi, no, it's just me. Without wanting to scare anyone, women always seem to be "easy prey" somehow. I have never had bad experiences, but I also behave accordingly and take precautions. I have a machete in the windshield, an ax, pepper spray and always something lying around in the driver's compartment that looks like a man lives there too. I think it's safer to be a man. On the other hand, you can find help faster if you are a woman :)

#vanlife #wildwoman #staywild #solofemalevanlife

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