into the wild: finding liberation in van life as a trans woman

somewhere in the western lake district

nothing is comparable to the sense of freedom that you obtain from travelling with everything you could ever need in a pack on your back and being totally severed from society and people.

in 2019, some friends and i hiked the near 100mile trek in scotland called the west highland way in just under six days.

trekking through the scottish highlands with a tent, a week’s worth of provisions, and about fifteen pairs of socks on my back was an experience that changed the way i viewed holiday making forever.

not only was i inspired by the fearsome terrain i was surrounded by day and night, i was bewitched by the euphoria of an uncluttered life and the simplicity and single mindedness that comes with travelling light. 

tyndrum, scotland

fast forward to 2020, three months into lockdown, my long-term partner and i bought a short wheelbase ford transit camper conversion in order to plunge ourselves further into the wilderness than leg power alone would usually allow us to.

we both live and work full time in london, but equally recognise that nature is an integral part of our identity, and its presence in our life represents a necessity, thus we spend our weekends travelling across the uk. hastily jumping into the van on a friday night, picking a location on a whim, and spending the weekend living in the moment with complete liberation from any type of planning has been one of the greatest joys in our life.

ullswater, lake district

you can go live your best summer dress life by the lake and nature doesn’t judge or make assumptions about who you are.

travelling can be an escape from the harmful reality of everyday life, and van life is a particular form of travelling which transplants you into the lonely wild where you can live self-sufficiently. it differs from conventional travel because of the opportunities it affords you. having a tiny home on wheels means that you can travel at your own pace deep into the unknown, untamed, and magical corners of the world where there is no infrastructure or modes of public transport for other travellers.

for trans people, this means you have a break from interacting with society and worrying about how to present yourself or be perceived by others. you can go live your best summer dress life by the lake and nature doesn’t judge or make assumptions about who you are. in this aspect it’s very freeing for us, not only to be immersed in the healing environment of nature, but also to have the burden of others’ perception lifted from you, creating a true sense of freedom. 

dover western heights

what’s more is that you really feel like you have a grip on your own destiny. if places give you a bad vibe or you don’t like their energy, you can just move on as you aren’t tied down to one reservation or booking you committed to beforehand. 

although our van has solar panels, propane gas cooking, running water, and even a tv and dvd player, living in a tiny space puts a lot of emphasis on the simpler aspects of life and focusing on these brings comfort to an overwhelmed mind. 

in such a tiny environment it is impossible to exist in a lazy manner; we only have space for four plates and four bowls, and we only have two forks. the sink is actually a large mixing bowl set into the worktop so it’s impossible to just leave the dishes on the side and deal with them later as this stops you from having access to your water or moving around the van. anything not secured in the cupboards or on the walls rattles around inside when you drive and can smash on the floor, so it all needs to be tidied away before you move to the next park up. 

somewhere in the peak district

all too often trans people are dehumanised in the name of ‘safety’, and hiding my identity in order to safely travel internationally is a feeling i am sadly familiar with.

having everything packed away and secured in its little space always gives me an immense feeling of satisfaction, and existing in such a well-managed but also easy to maintain environment is very fulfilling. chores like this at home often weigh over you like a heavy black cloud, but somehow the mobile wooden cabin transforms these tasks into a form of self-care. having them built into your lifestyle and everyday routine like this in some ways feels akin to being set free from the everyday drudgery of household clutter. 

of course, it’s a great incentive that when not doing the ‘chores’ you are free to sit back, admire the captivating views in nature and imagine the possibilities of the days to come. the best part of the day is often finding a spot somewhere in the wild where we can park up, open the back doors of the van, and admire the magnificent sunsets or captivating scenes from the comfort of our own bed in the evening; an experience which is largely unavailable in conventional travel.

snowdonia north wales

during the lockdown in 2020 – 2021, by necessity, our travel and holiday experience was turned inwards towards the uk rather than abroad, which at first seemed like a negative implication. however, this time spent roaming the untamed parts of england and wales really caused me to fall deeply in love with the geography of the country again. the uk can be an incredible place to travel with so much history, culture and variety to enjoy and this is often lost on us amidst the propaganda and affordability of the international travel industry. 

the crammed beaches of lanzarote and the nightclubs of malaga are in no way an escape from the crushing weight of urban living for me and don’t bestow those feelings of recovery and escape i seek during the holiday period. 

add to this the huge amount of stress and anxiety associated with going on a journey across the world, specifically for trans people: from wondering if your accommodation host is queer friendly, to official documents often not matching our identities, to dysphoria-inducing id checks and misgendering by airport security. all too often trans people are dehumanised in the name of ‘safety’, and hiding my identity in order to safely travel internationally is a feeling i am sadly familiar with. 

holidaying within the uk bypasses this and frees you from the shackles of dysphoria and the watchful gaze of cisgender heteronormacy. for some, this alone may be incentive enough, but it must also be said that the location itself presents travellers with an exciting and unique range of experiences. 

near din lligwy, anglesey north wales

the van for us is a magical portal into that kingdom of beauty and euphoria.

often when travelling i am hit by the sensation that is so well described on tiktok as “times when life felt unreal”, as nature triggers in me the level of feeling only usually found in psychedelic or spiritual events.

at times you really feel like the peregrine falcon, buffeted by wind as it soars over the plummeting cliffs at south stack holyhead, or the sprightly deer as you hop from stone to stone along the death defying knife of striding edge on helvellyn. a short walk along the south west coastal path reveals savage cliffs in colours of rock you never imagined ending at the mystical durdle door; a perfect portrait of the turquoise sea through a white stone frame. for those who enjoy the providence of high fantasy, the list of fortresses, castles, and ancient sites to inspire the imagination is endless: dover, caernarfon, tintagel, corfe, warrick, stonehenge, avebury, orkney, castlerig…

portland bill lighthouse dorset

through van life, i have come to realise the uk to be the home of some of the most rugged and fantastical natural beauty the world possesses. the van for us is a magical portal into that kingdom of beauty and euphoria. you jump into the cab in london and when you get out it’s the cottagecore fantasy. 

trans people are magical beings and nature is a part of our soul.

autumn simone, langdale pikes, lake district

this is one of two pieces we commissioned on the theme of ‘travelling when trans’

we’d like to acknowledge that sadly, due to systemic financial scarcity exacerbated by living in a transmisogynistic society, paired with a wider cost of living crisis in the uk, for many transfeminine people travelling represents a luxury.

we’re aware that too much trans content is centred around violence, and we hope that by providing essays which focus on the nuances of the experience of travelling whilst trans, we can tap into our memories and fantasies, breathe and smile.