Van Lifers special feature explores the inspiring lives of the next-generation people living in vans. Kaori Sakai (酒井佳織) talks about the joy of van life as an active vangirl herself and contributor to VANLIFE JAPAN web publication.
Tell us about your van life and how you got started.
I've been an official vangirl since March 2019, so about half a year. But the first time I tried car camping was in the winter of 2018, which is what I talk about in this article. I was originally a pink collar-worker at a major financial institution in Marunouchi after I graduated from college in 2014. The work culture was very rigid and suffocating, and every day I longed for a change, for the day when I could simply relax and recharge. Then I discovered surfing in the summer of 2018.
When I was in college, I used to watch this American TV series called "Beyond the Break." I was so hooked and always dreamed about the van life and surfing on the West Coast. My husband knew about this, that's why he took me to "Free Ride Custom" in Shonan-Kugenuma Beach to take a surfing lesson for beginners. (Book a surf ride here.) I was instantly addicted to the feeling of being one with the sea! "If I was gonna go search around for good waves," I thought, "might as well start driving again!" That's when I dusted off my license and hit the road. It's just much easier to simply camp overnight in your car instead of waking up way too early in the morning to drive to the location.
Cool! So basically, surfing was your catalyst to the van life!
Yeah, pretty much. I was looking for ideas on how to camp in a car and I came across the hashtag #Vanlife on Instagram. The thing the surprised me the most there was the fact that a lot of women go car camping—and that their camping cars are so cute. It's like having your own she-shed where you can do your thang!
I tried decorating the interior with West Coast-themed stuff. And now I'm so pumped with my new space here that I can take anywhere I want whenever I want. I'm totally lovin' this freedom!
Your car is looking really chic! What model is it?
This is Toyota Sienta. We bought the mattress and others at a home improvement store, then put them all together to look like a mini bedroom. (Details here!) All West Coast-themed merchandise are from general merchandise stores like "Awesome Store."
Toyota Sienta is a pretty compact car so it's easy for women to drive. We usually associate camping cars with huge vans or campers, but the van life community basically brushed that stereotype aside. Despite being small, longboard fits inside so it's perfect for surfers. And it's much preferable for most surfers to drive to the location the night prior and just camp there instead of waking up early in the morning to drive there.
I see! But aren't you worried about camping out alone at night as a female?
To be honest, I was at first. But as I also talked about in an article, even a woman can go car camping by herself safely as long as she takes the necessary precautions. And, really, it mainly depends on where you're staying. I personally only want to stay where it's 100% legal to camp, convenient, and completely worry-free all night, so I avoid roadside stations and service areas (they tend to be in the gray area, legally speaking), and book Carstay parking stations. They often have running water, and you can contact the owner for any problems even in the worst-case scenario. Carstay is your best bet if you're a car camping beginner.
Thank you for using Carstay! Where do you usually go car camping on the weekends?
I live in Yokohama so usually in the Kanto suburbs. Surfing spots are in Shonan or Northern Chiba, so after work on a Friday I'd drive straight to my destination and ride the waves the following morning on Saturday. In Shonan area, I usually go to a Carstay station in Chigasaki here. Recently, I've been into actual camping so I've been stocking up my car with stuff and going to campsites in Karuizawa or Izu.
Actually, just a few weeks ago I and 29 other people booked this camping site on Carstay. You can escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy the passing of time in nature. Even if you’re working, I think that the best thing about the van life is that you can enjoy it even over the weekend.
Do you feel like your life's changed ever since you started the van life?
I spend a lot of time talking to myself now. I think there's that lonely aspect in the van life. When you're in a city, you're connected to the Internet 24 hours a day and hence to everybody else at the tip of your fingers, but with the van life, I rarely use my phone and basically spend most of my time being surrounded by nature. At night I just go to sleep, when I'm behind the wheel I think about my life. And with that much free time in my hands, I get to think hard about what I really want to do—something I never get to do while absorbed in the material world. With van life, I have plenty of spiritual time to ask myself, "Girl, what do you wanna do?" or "What really makes you happy?"
So, you’ve had more time to think what truly makes you happy. Can you tell us what that is?
Actually, I haven't found the exact answer yet, but I feel like I it’s close to the life where I can freely go where I want whenever I want. Since I started this van life, I was able to see things and meet people I never though I would. It's opened my eyes to the world I've yet explored. I've experienced things I wouldn't otherwise between my office and home, and for that reason I want to continue my journey in finding my true happiness with the van life! In the future, I want to have a kind of work that complements this lifestyle even on weekdays, so I'm currently developing my professional skills as both a digital marketer and content writer.
"Freely go where you want whenever you want" sounds nice! You go, girl! Finally, what’s your message to the readers who may be interested in a new way of life and travel through van life?
Definitely check out #Vanlife on Instagram! I feel like this lifestyle trend is only going to get stronger in the years to come. 5G will make Internet even more accessible and faster, and electric connection inside cars will be second to nature with the popularization of electric cars. Also, when driverless cars become normal, you can literally have a movable space even without driving. Then, "living while travelling" will be mainstream. I personally like driving so I decided to get on it now and became a vangirl. If reading about this gets your wheels turning, why don't you actually try it with me? I'm always looking for new van-girlfriends! I wish more women would join this lifestyle movement!
Interviewee Profile: Kaori Sakai (酒井佳織)
Digital marketer and content writer. Vangirl in practice. Spreading the joy of van life. "Life where you can freely go where you want whenever I want."