Sleeping At Walmart, And Other Life Lessons

Dear reader, you may recall my last post where my best-laid plans were foiled. I had problem solved how I could successfully sleep in Violet the camper van in sub-freezing temperatures. This was so I could offer a little help to my out-of-town daughter, who was recovering from surgery. I would assist her during the day and then retreat to Violet in the evening. All of these plans were upturned when my granddaughter became sick the night after I arrived. I wrote my last post with that theme in mind. Sometimes stuff happens, and you have to accept the outcome. We don’t have control over the universe.

To update you, my granddaughter did have COVID, but thankfully, her case was mild. In addition, the fact that I didn’t sleep in my daughter’s apartment reduced my exposure to her, and I didn’t contract the virus. So my planning did have a positive impact, just not the results that I expected. This leads me to today’s story, which takes place several weeks after the above incident. 

My daughter, Grace, needed a ride back to school after winter break. It is a 5 ½ hour drive from our home to her school. Add in refueling, bathroom and food stops, plus a grocery haul for Grace, and the entire adventure can easily last well over 12 hours. I have driven this route many times in the last four years, and it is exhausting. Julie will accompany me on some trips, and having a companion and co-driver for the return ride can ease this burden. However, it has gotten progressively more taxing for me to do the round trip solo as I have aged. Because of this, I decided to split the driving into two days and sleep overnight in Violet, the camper van. However, this would be challenging as the temperature was predicted to be 9F (-13C), the lowest temperature I had ever camped in.

My friend Ralph queried why I didn’t stay at a hotel. Indeed, I could book a hotel for about $120, but I didn’t want to. I like the idea of traveling with my things. If I want a cup of tea at midnight, I have it at the ready. If you know me, you understand that I love solving problems and enjoy coming up with solutions. I feel that any knowledge that I gain, no matter how trivial, is worthwhile and could be useful at some later date. Lastly, let’s not forget that I am secretly a 12-year-old boy hiding in an adult man’s body. The thought of urban stealth camping while battling the elements felt like an adventure in the making.

Making a late-night cup of tea in the Walmart parking lot.

I had already worked out several cold-weather techniques during past winter trips, refining them to maximize their effectiveness. Utilizing various techniques allowed me to survive sleeping in Violet when the temperature was in the high 20s. Could I rework these ideas further to comfortably sleep in single digits?  

I like to conserve energy, so I had planned on only running my Webasto heater for a few hours before I went to bed. However, my friend Tom convinced me to run it continuously, which turned out to be a good idea. Listening to someone else’s opinion can sometimes give you a better perspective. 

In addition, I would close off the driver’s area from the rest of the cabin and put up an insulating panel on Violet’s sliding door window. I had my 12-volt electric blanket in place, and I added a quilt layer to my blanket set-up. Lastly, I would dress a bit warmer this time than my usual sleepwear.  

It was already dark when I pulled into the Walmart parking lot. After a few hours of activities, I settled down for the evening, pulled my covers over me, and switched on my 12-volt electric blanket’s timer to give me 90 minutes of high heat. I slept through the night comfortably and was not a bit cold. The experiment was a complete success.

If you have read this post to this point you may be thinking about why I am writing this? I’m writing this because it illustrates the complete opposite point of my last post, which was that you couldn’t control things. This post suggests that you can control things. You may be feeling that I am contradicting myself; however, that is not the case. It is comfortable to think that we live in a black and white world. This is wrong; that is right. I’m on the good side; you are on the bad side. Today, I would like to challenge that.

Yes, there are times that we have no control over situations, but we do at other times. With that said, most of life falls somewhere in between. If you take an absolute position, either way, you will be an unhappy camper (pun intended). 

You may not need to come up with solutions so you can sleep in a freezing camper, but you do have to come up with solutions for other issues daily. For example, if you are always short of cash by the end of the month, what things can you do to lessen that issue? If you are lonely, how can you gain meaningful relationships? What things will you have to modify, and what other changes will you need to adopt? Your efforts may yield a complete change or perhaps a partial benefit. Sometimes they will fail, but you can still learn from your failure as you launch your next solution. 

I spent much of my professional career working with people who wanted to do the same behavior repeatedly, but they somehow expected that they would achieve a different outcome. So it was not a simple matter of me highlighting their missteps, as they would often agree with me while continuing business as usual. 

Sometimes, a person would marry a dysfunctional person to correct their childhood traumas, for example, marrying a person similar to their mother with the hopes that they could correct that old relationship by fixing or controlling the new one. Sometimes a person would seek one inappropriate job after another similar job because each would promise them big commission money. However, they weren’t suited for that type of work which meant that they were unsuccessful and miserable. Sometimes, people would falsely think that they would feel better about themselves if they possessed a new thing or went on a fancy trip. Indeed, they may have had a moment of bragging joy, but that quickly faded as the reality of their life swopped back in. Unfortunately, their short buying high could be enough to continue their behavior, often leading them into credit card debt and more unhappiness.

The above examples are meant to be generic and general. However, such illogic impacts individuals on all levels. We are forever using old behaviors and defective logic that doesn’t suit our current needs.

Why not try a different approach?  

Instead of being a victim, empower yourself. This can be more difficult than you think, as it involves taking responsibility for your life rather than blaming others for your unhappiness. 

Learn from your past errors and correct them. If an action or choice resulted in a bad result, what makes you think that doing it again will result in a good one?  

Imagine yourself where you want to be instead of where you are. The more you see yourself this way, the more likely you will behave in a way to get you there.

Think about the common elements in repeating situations that did not go well. For example, do you always find friends who tend to use you? Are your kids always taking advantage of you? Are your bosses always abusive? If you see a trend, then admit that you are likely part of the problem. How can you change yourself, or how can you interact with others to be treated in the way you want to be treated? 

If you have dysfunction in your past, you will find that new dysfunctional relationships will feel comfortable. They will remind you of home. I would often tell patients who found themselves in bad relationships to run if they felt that they had known a new friend for years. The new person felt that way because they were likely a clone of former dysfunctional connections.

The above examples are relationship-based, but thinking solutions can also be applied to other problem areas in your life. Always short of cash? Write down every expense for a month and study the results. I had one patient who was constantly short of money. She said that she bought very few things and couldn’t understand why she couldn’t pay her bills. She was married with no children, and both she and her husband worked full-time jobs. Eventually, they wrote down their expenses for a month and discovered a huge cash outlay was because they ate every single meal out. Changing that one behavior not only relieved their money shortage but also allowed them to save money.

Examine life changes that partially worked and tweak them. My initial cold weather sleeping plans were somewhat successful. What eventually worked was based on multiple times sleeping in cold weather and the information I gathered from those events. In addition, I listened to the advice of a trusted friend. Using all of that data allowed me to develop a plan that let me comfortably sleep in a camper van at 9F. If my situation changes, I might have to rethink, readjust, and realign my solutions. Once you have something that works, you still need to be aware and observant. This is not only true when camping, but (of course) with life in general.  

No, we don’t have control over the universe, and we sometimes have to accept what life gives us. However, we can point ourselves in the right direction, and in doing so, the likelihood of having a good life is greatly increased. Growth is not only avoiding external negatives; it is also about challenging internal narratives that may be pushing us away from what we want in life.  

Please don’t make the mistake that happiness can be obtained by achieving a single objective. “I’ll be happy if I”m rich.” “I’ll be complete if I find the perfect partner.” “I’ll feel confident if I have an impressive job” People who choose such singular paths often feel depressed, cheated, and empty. 

Your life’s meaning may differ from mine, but I can assure you that it is not one of the above. Instead, explore your desires on a more fundamental level. Your efforts should be directed to move you in that direction rather than some singular quick-fix approach.



Parking away from the store’s traffic as I settle down for a night of stealth urban camping.