At thirty years old, Allison Vesterfelt has visited all fifty states in the U.S. In fact, she traveled to them all in the span of a single year. In her recent 2013 memoir Packing Light, Vesterfelt describes her journey of faith, risk, and following her dreams. It may sound cliché at first—definitely a millennial narrative—but Vesterfelt does not sugarcoat the trip or the lessons that she learned.
Most young people in their twenties and thirties can relate to feeling restless. Although a handful of us truly long for the 9-5, a white picket fence, and 2.5 kids, many of us desire “something more”—whatever that means. Often, it implies sacrificing stability and risking comfort or expectations in pursuit of what that means to us.
Christian authors have been writing on this subject for the past decade, like John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, David Platt’s Radical, the Harris brothers’ Do Hard Things, or Owen Strachan’s Risky Gospel.
Vesterfelt is currently settled with her husband in Nashville, where she works as a writing coach, author, and speaker. She has learned and wants to show others how to “pack light.” For her, its a phase of life that is less about material possessions and more about pursuing a lifestyle of freedom.
Tell me more about how you felt like God led you to pursue your dreams? A lot of people feel that this is a tension and not an inclusive path. What makes your experience different?
My friend asked me, “What would you do with your life if you could do what you really wanted: got rid of the obstacles—money, what friends would think, what parents would say, school loans—if all of that was gone, what would you do?” I don’t think she, or God, was saying we could do whatever the heck we wanted, but if God puts these deep desires in our hearts, there is something really powerful in removing that baggage and feeling those deepest desires.
It is a huge misconception that dreaming is selfish. I think that dreaming is the most unselfish things you can do. It’s humbling.It’s wanting something in the deepest parts of ourselves versus what we want for lunch. For example, when I was single, I deeply wanted to be married. But that didn’t mean that I was just going to go find the first person and ask them to sleep with me. I think that question “If you could do anything…?” connects us with that deep desire because it removes what gets in the way. And then we ask how can we get there.
What gets in the way?
I think we’re so focused on doing the right thing. I get it. I’ve been there too. I’m thirty and settled again in Nashville. I have an apartment with furniture in it, and a husband.
I think that we think there’s a formula. If I do the right thing, then I will get all the things I want: success, money, fame. A meaningful story is going after the things we want the most deeply; it means we won’t have the other things right now. There’s a lot of suffering, putting off. Oftentimes, we can make the right choice and at the time it feels very wrong.
I wrote a lot in my book, but I can really identify with the rich young ruler. “Look, I did everything right—grades, degree, pleased parents—but now what? I feel like I’m missing something.” Jesus is saying, “Let go of the rules and expectations you place on yourself and let Me in and follow Me.” I just wonder what it would look like if we were willing to put in our shoes of the rich young ruler.
I want to go to Europe. I feel selfish spending that money on myself. Is this wrong?
It is a huge misconception that dreaming is selfish. I think that dreaming is the most unselfish things you can do. It’s humbling.Once you get to the root of that dream (family, certain community, planting a church), when you enter that deepest desire and step into faith and enter it, you will realize you are way over your head and you have to rely on God.
You have to listen so carefully for His voice and rely on discernment. It will change you inside out, and because you are changed, the people in your inner circle are changed. That’s Jesus’s ministry. He’s not going to put the ticket in your hand. You have to step out in obedience. Make a list.
Do you feel like the transient nature of Millennials creates a difficulty for belonging to a community or church involvement?
I was a little bit naïve about my need for community when I went on this trip. What I think happened is that I learned how desperately I need people. There’s something really weird that happens when you feel like you can make any choice and it won’t affect anyone. I made stupid decisions because they didn’t matter, since I was the only one affected.
If I did it over again, I think I would bring people along (figuratively) who were speaking into my life, who I was looking to for advice, who were more consistent. You can lose your identity in Christ when you don’t have other people.
Our generation wants to move around more. The beauty of that fact is that we are not alone. Technology is amazing. Whether traveling for work or for fun, use technology to stay connected.
What other challenges might young people of a transient nature face? Definitely a theme of our generation. Why do you think that is?
Don’t be scared to stay put—not settled down—when the time is right. That fear is part of the reason we’re putting off marriage for longer and why we want to move around more. The most satisfying connections are the ones we build up for years and years and years.
Pursue the person or group of people that you want to invest deeply in … you might feel scared but don’t let that stop you. It’s hard for me to say that because I’m two years married, and I’m in the early stages of that process. In my two years of marriage, I’ve had moments where I’ve been like, “We’re in this together forever, and it makes it the most beautiful thing.” I encourage you to figure out what’s meaningful to you and invest meaningfully in that place.
Could such an adventure be a lifestyle or do you think this is something that many people should just experience once?
For me it’s a lifestyle, and it looks different for different seasons of life—when you get married, when you have kids. But be willing to take risks: being courageous and brave, giving unending love that you have to give, being generous with everything you’ve been given to you. The people I look to in my life ahead of me are all doing that, but it all looks different. Even in their forties and fifties.
What are some challenges you face in this season?
Paying off loans. There are definitely things during this season that I wish I didn’t have to do. I’m not personally invested in some projects, but it’s paying my way.
Know what this season is for; anytime you know that, it gives you a purpose. I wake up and go to Starbucks every morning at 4 a.m. and work to fundraise for my book. If it was about coffee, it would have been miserable. But I could keep my eye on the prize. That’s what keeps me going.