Woman who started living in van at age 40 felt ‘ashamed’ at first

  • Annie Wonderlich, 41, lost everything she’d built on the brink of turning 40
  • Her event-planning business went up in smoke at the start of the pandemic
  • She ultimately decided to give van life a spin after getting to know the lifestyle

A woman has opened up about feeling ‘ashamed’ after winding up single and homeless during the pandemic while pushing age 40 – and how she ultimately made peace with the trajectory of her life after moving into a van and hitting the road.

Annie Wonderlich, 41, spoke to Insider about her transition from the owner of a small event-planning business in Los Angeles to her current itinerant lifestyle with a renovated van serving as her home base. 

‘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,’ she told the publication.

‘I always thought I’d be a millionaire by the time I turned 40, but here I was, living in a van, broke,’ she continued.

Annie Wonderlich, 41, spoke to Insider about her transition from the owner of a small event-planning business in Los Angeles to embracing van life

Back in 2019, she said, she'd had 'everything I could have ever wanted or needed' - but still felt 'lonelier than ever'

She went on to explain that, back in 2019, she’d had ‘everything I could have ever wanted or needed.’

Then in her late 30s, she had successfully launched an event-planning company that had grown to 11 full-time employees. 

She also had a boyfriend and a ‘beautiful house.’

‘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,’ she admitted of what how her old life may have seemed picture-perfect from the outside.

After her business collapsed at the top of the pandemic around March 2020, she found herself homeless and sleeping on friends’ couches.

It was ultimately the world of ‘van life’ on social media that sparked her imagination – and led her to her next chapter. 

In the ensuing months, Annie began peddling flower arrangements she’d made with a combination of flowers from ‘grocery stores’ and others she’d gathered ‘foraging … on the side of the street.’

By May 2020, she was able to save up $3,000 – enough to buy a van of her own: a 1989 Dodge Ram.

Annie saved up $3,000 selling flower arrangements to buy her van: a 1989 Dodge Ram

Before long, Annie also got a puppy, Charlie, and a kitten, Emilie, to keep her company amid traveling around the country via her van

She explained that for another six months after that, she spent most of her time parked in a Home Depot parking lot while continuing to sell flower arrangements to save up enough money for essentials, like gas, before taking to the road to explore the United States. 

‘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,’ she confessed.

She further acknowledged that she’d ‘always wanted to get married and have kids and I still want those things, but life sometimes doesn’t give you what you want, and you have to roll with the punches.’

In her early days getting settled into van life, Annie admitted that she ‘felt ashamed’ to be in her late 30s, while other creators she was meeting on the road all seemed to be in their 20s.

‘I felt ashamed that I was older than them,’ she said. 

Even after delving into content creation to support herself, Annie ‘still felt ashamed of my age so I kept it a secret.’

‘I look young, and people just seemed to assume I was in my 20s,’ she added.

But she eventually committed to be more forthcoming about how old she really was. 

In her words, she ‘decided to make [my age] my superpower by talking about it online to show that you can do anything and start over again at any time.’

Annie admitted she'd bee hesitant to share her age on social media at first - but ultimately embraced it as her 'superpower'

It was around this time that she also got a golden retriever puppy, Charlie, and a kitten, Emilie, to keep her company on the road. 

For Annie, the message ‘clearly resonated, because lots of women my age started commenting on my videos and sending me messages telling me how inspired they felt, and I realized there were lots of people out there who felt the same way as me.’

However, Annie was ‘equally shocked’ by hate messages she received on being forthcoming about her age, ‘from people who were mainly men.’

In one Instagram from October, she clapped back at notes from strangers, including one who declared they were unfollowing her for ‘for the emphasis on being single at 40 like you’re strong for that, while others who insinuated she had a ‘sad life.’ 

Ultimately, Annie has remained unfazed by the negativity.

‘Now that I’m in my 40s, I feel like my life is just beginning. I am still single and childless, and I don’t have a permanent residence. But I can’t wait to keep exploring life and the world,’ she concluded in the essay. 

As the DailyMail.com reported in December 2021, Annie further reflected of her personal transformation, spurred by the drastic shift in her day-to-day life: ‘I used to be more codependent in the beginning and found it hard to travel alone, but once you push past that, you gain ultimate freedom to do what you want when you want.’


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