When I turned 40 I was broke, unemployed, and living in a van. Then I started sharing my life online, and now I no longer feel ashamed.
19.11.2023 - 13:17
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Annie Wonderlich 41, an Instagram and TikTok influencer who is traveling the US solo in her van. It has been edited for length and clarity.
In November 2022, I turned 40. It was really rough on me. I was living in a van, and I wasn't married. I didn't have a house. I didn't have all these things that society told me I needed.
I always thought I'd be a millionaire by the time I turned 40, but here I was, living in a van, broke.
Three years earlier, before COVID-19 hit, I had everything I could have ever wanted or needed. I had founded a successful events company with 11 full-time employees, a couple of shops, a beautiful house, friends, and a boyfriend.
But despite my success, I felt lonelier than ever. It made me realize that you can feel utterly isolated despite having everything you ever wanted on paper.
Everything changed when I started watching videos about van life on social media and dreaming about living like that myself. I was sleeping in rental cars and on friends' couches at the time.
When things began opening back up, I started going to grocery stores to buy flowers, foraging for them on the side of the street, and making flower arrangements. I saved $3,000 by delivering them to people's houses and used the money to buy an old van in May 2020.
Now, just after turning 41, I no longer feel embarrassed about my lifestyle. Instead, I feel free and empowered. A lot of people think you have to be rich and young to live in a van, but that's not the case.
This unconventional lifestyle isn't for everyone, but I want to show people that you don't need to do what society tells you. You can carve out your own path without anyone else's permission.
When I first bought the van, it was such a struggle. I'd spent all my money on it, so I barely had enough money to pay for gas to drive it back.
I lived in the van in a parking lot in Home Depot and on the street of Abbot Kinney in Los Angeles while renovating it and selling flower arrangements to make money. It took me about six months. After that, I finally left to go and explore the US.
At first, I was embarrassed about living in a van. I'd worked hard to climb the ladder and start my own business. I imagined myself as a successful businesswoman in my head, and living in a van didn't fit in with that.
I started meeting online creators who lived in their vans, and I saw them making money from sharing their lifestyles on social media, but most were in their 20s. I felt ashamed that I was older than them.
I never set out to become an influencer, but after living on the van for around a year, I decided to start posting about my life on Instagram because I saw my other van life friends doing it and making