If this makes you cringe, it’s about to get worse. I had a partner in that van. We removed the back seats so we could sleep on camping mats. We inflated them every night. After about a month, one of them started to leak. After two months, air rushed out of both faster than we could blow it in.
As if our space weren’t cramped enough, we also brought our tandem bike. When we slept in rural areas, we slid the tandem under the van, locking it to a bracket near the back wheel. When we stayed in cities, we slept with the bike inside the van. More than once, I woke up with a greasy face.
Plenty of things have changed since 2003. But much has stayed the same. Once again, I’m taking a break from full-time work. Over the past ten months, we drove our van through the western part of the United States and down the Baja peninsula. We ferried the van from La Paz to mainland Mexico and drove it down to Belize. But this time, we aren’t driving the old Toyota. Instead, we’re driving the Shangri-La of vans. It has a toilet, a shower, a stove, microwave, television, bed, fridge, table, air conditioning and a generator for power.
If you asked me, “Are you happier with this van than you were with the old Toyota?” I would say yes. But UBC professor Elizabeth Dunn and Harvard professor Michael Norton might beg to differ. In their book, Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, they reference a University of Michigan study about people and their vehicles.
They asked subjects how they felt about their cars. Some of them owned flashy vehicles; others drove junkers. Those with expensive cars said they liked their cars more. But when they were asked to rate their level of enjoyment when they last drove their cars those with higher-end cars didn’t report any more pleasure than those who drove junkers.