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Woman quits anxiety-inducing career to live in a van

A 30-year-old woman whose high-pressure corporate job left her struggling with anxiety and panic attacks has revealed how she quit the role in favor of living a nomadic lifestyle in a van that she converted into a home.   

Marketing freelancer Hilary Bird, from New Hampshire, has always had a passion for travel but her successful career in corporate marketing meant that she was not able to travel as much as she would like.

After seven years in corporate marketing, Hilary started to develop regular anxiety attacks and she knew that this was a sign that she needed to make a major change in her life.

On the road: Hilary Bird, 30, has revealed how she quit her high-pressure corporate job after it drove her to panic attacks and moved into a van, in which she now travels across the country

Something new: The New Hampshire native worked in corporate marketing for seven years, before her anxiety became too much for her to handle

Something new: The New Hampshire native worked in corporate marketing for seven years, before her anxiety became too much for her to handle

Sight-seeing: Hilary says she had always loved traveling, and wanted to find a lifestyle that allowed her to do more of it; living in a van was the perfect compromise

Sight-seeing: Hilary says she had always loved traveling, and wanted to find a lifestyle that allowed her to do more of it; living in a van was the perfect compromise 

Hilary wanted to have the freedom to travel wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted and be her own boss where she could work remotely.

Some of Hilary’s friends had lived the van life before and realizing that this nomadic lifestyle would enable her to fulfill both her travel and remote working dreams, Hilary decided to do her research.

In November 2019 Hilary took a massive leap of faith and quit her job without having another one lined up and bought a 1999 Ford E250 van for $6,200 to convert into her new home on wheels.

Hilary spent the next five months transforming the former Holiday Inn shuttle bus with the help of her dad, Jim, 61. 

After spending $3,600 on crucial repairs which included a new brake system and windshield and $1,700 on materials for the interior of the van, the build was complete.

In May 2020, Hilary hit the road and she has since clocked up 15,000-miles, traveling through Idaho, the Pacific Northwest and Arizona.

Work: She bought the van for $6,200 and then spent five months renovating the vehicle, which cost her just over $5,000

Work: She bought the van for $6,200 and then spent five months renovating the vehicle, which cost her just over $5,000

Open air: While traveling, Hilary is doing freelance marketing work that provides her with enough money to fund her nomadic lifestyle

Open air: While traveling, Hilary is doing freelance marketing work that provides her with enough money to fund her nomadic lifestyle 

Freedom: She says she is happier than ever, and is almost completely free of her anxiety

Freedom: She says she is happier than ever, and is almost completely free of her anxiety 

Since hitting the road, Hilary, who is currently located in California, has been completely anxiety-free. Van life has enabled Hilary to have more freedom and live life spontaneously – which she loves.

‘After almost seven years in a corporate marketing career, I started developing anxiety attacks at work and I knew it was because I was craving serious change,’ said Hilary.

‘I had always wanted to travel where I wanted, when I wanted, be my own boss and work remotely.

‘After knowing some friends that had done short stints of van life, I started looking into it. I realized van life would facilitate all of my goals – so I quit my job without another lined up, flew to Canada to pick up my van without even seeing it in person yet, then set off on building it out for the next five months with my dad.

‘I knew quitting my job would give me the ‘kick in the pants’ to make myself find remote work.

‘After I quit, I started reaching out to old connections on LinkedIn asking if they had freelance marketing needs. I now have three part-time freelance jobs – all with old connections, which is great because I can be very transparent about my situation.

Anywhere and everywhere: Hilary hit the road in May 2020 and she has since clocked up 15,000-miles, traveling through Idaho, the Pacific Northwest and Arizona

Anywhere and everywhere: Hilary hit the road in May 2020 and she has since clocked up 15,000-miles, traveling through Idaho, the Pacific Northwest and Arizona

Anywhere and everywhere: Hilary hit the road in May 2020 and she has since clocked up 15,000-miles, traveling through Idaho, the Pacific Northwest and Arizona

Struggles: Although she is happier than ever, Hilary admits that living in a van can sometimes be 'exhausting', particularly because simple daily activities are more complicated

Struggles: Although she is happier than ever, Hilary admits that living in a van can sometimes be ‘exhausting’, particularly because simple daily activities are more complicated 

‘My dad and I spent a little over five months gutting and then building out the van. We used a lot of old parts and materials from my parents’ garage to save money on the van build.

‘My must-have items were a sink, stove that could stay attached in the van and bench-to-bed conversion bed. I wanted a setup that gave me the flexibility to not have to leave my van for any daily necessities if need be. I could use my bench-to-bed as a workspace during the day, cook and clean up all from within the van.

‘Van life is definitely what you make of it. Most days I love that sense of not knowing where the day will take me – will I stay at the same camp spot or find a new one? Will I do a cool hike or work from the van all day? Do I need to stock up on supplies or meet up with friends in the area?

‘Some days, it is exhausting because everything you take for granted while living in a house now becomes a micro-decision that is mentally draining. You end up lying around in your van all day stuck in analysis paralysis. But, mostly, the freedom to choose your own schedule is inspiring.

‘Since starting van life, I’ve basically been anxiety-free. Sure, everyone has some anxiety to a degree but I’ve had nothing like I used to have. Uninterrupted solo time in the van is great for helping me look at life’s ‘bigger’ picture.

‘You run into a lot of problems you can’t predict. Maybe a mechanical issue pops up or you get to a great camp spot, only to see the spot is already taken. Or you’re cooking dinner and run out of propane for the stove mid-cook.

‘I overcome issues like these by reminding myself that I chose this lifestyle because I wanted to experience something new and unknown and problems will inevitably pop up with the new and unknown, so it’s just part of the journey.

‘I don’t feel rushed or stressed when issues pop up because I’m not tied to a set schedule or someone else’s schedule, so that helps me approach issues more calmly.’

Hilary was apprehensive about sharing her van life journey on social media but she decided to bite the bullet and share her incredible story with the world in the hope of inspiring others.

Hilary shares her adventures on Instagram under the handle, @green.van.go.

Idaho has been Hilary’s favorite place to visit and she is keen to visit Nevada and New Mexico soon.

‘I love Idaho because it has tons of national forests and public lands to camp on, lots of reservoirs and lakes to cool off, mountain ranges and really unique places like Craters of the Moon National Monument,’ she said.

‘The solo time and freedom to be where I want, when I want, is really empowering. I feel like I get to slow down and be more present when I’m in the van.

‘You don’t need a big fancy van to start this lifestyle. You could buy a few thousand dollar used van, build a fixed-frame bed and be on your way or you could even start in your car.

‘Don’t let complex van builds or expensive add-ons overwhelm you to the point of not trying it. I’m offering tips on how to start van life on budget on my site, Green Van Go as well.’


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