February 23, 2017
How and when did you two decide to live in a van together?
In 2013, we bought a ’98 Chevy Astro Van. We had been scheming about a road trip through Mexico and Central America, and decided it was the perfect vehicle for the trip. We spent that winter driving from Wyoming to Costa Rica and back, and loved cruising in the Astro. We traveled in that van for a few years, but it was never really big enough to live out of full-time, so we were still renting places when we were stationary for a few months. We made the transition into full-time vanlife in the spring of 2016, when we upgraded to our Sprinter Van. We moved into the Sprinter as soon as we had a bed frame, and lived in it while we were building it out (and working our busy summer jobs), which was interesting, to say the least.
Did you have support from friends and family when you made the transition to van life?
Definitely! Our friends and family have always been amazingly supportive–both directly and indirectly. We’re fortunate to have a lot of really talented, experienced, and generous people in our lives that have lent a hand in the conversion processes for both of our vans. The life we have built would not have been possible without the help of our amazing friends and families. We are also really lucky to have a great network of people around the western US (and the world) that have welcomed us into their homes and shared their space (and showers/washing machines/etc) with us. Meeting up with our friends and family while we’re on the road makes traveling feel a lot less lonely, and we often plan our trips so we can catch up with our loved ones along the way.
How has van life changed your outlook on life?
I don’t think our outlook has necessarily changed living in a van–I think we have always had a certain attitude about life and the way we wanted to live it that is compatible with living a nomadic lifestyle. We both spent a lot of time living out of vehicles and traveling frequently before we ever thought about moving into a van. But being tied down to one place and paying rent was holding us back in some ways. Moving into the van full time has increased our flexibility and allowed us to be much more comfortable and adaptable on our travels. Having all our gear and everything we need with us all the time allows us to spend more time doing the things we love and less time worrying about packing and travel arrangements. The van is just allowing us to live the life we’ve always wanted with the outlook that we already had. We prioritize being outside and taking full advantage of all the adventures we can go on most days. We do have down time, and usually rainy or super windy days for us mean posting up inside and getting work done on the computer. As tandem paragliding instructors, the majority of our work is super seasonal, and very weather-dependent, but the van allows us to be more flexible and able to take advantage of work opportunities as they arise as well. We do our best to work hard, play hard, and explore often.
Tell us about some of the benefits of van life.
Having everything we need with us anywhere we go is super convenient. When we drive across multiple states and suddenly see an amazing place to paddleboard, paraglide, or ride bikes, we have all of our gear with us and can take advantage of these opportunities instead of wishing we had packed different toys. Similarly, when we go over to a friend’s house for dinner, our home is right outside in the driveway if we need an ingredient that we forgot or want to spend the night after a few beers. We also love waking up in a beautiful remote location ready to get outside first thing in the morning and having the comfort of home waiting for us after a long day playing in the backcountry. We made a big investment when we bought our Sprinter van, but we love putting our hard earned money into something that’s ours. Living in rented houses and apartments over the years always felt like we were throwing money away, especially because we were always outside and hardly spent any time at home.
What are a few struggles you’ve encountered living in a van?
Finding free/cheap (and legal) parking can be a challenge for sure. There are great National Forest and BLM options some places we go, but we’ve had to drive pretty far out of our way to score decent campsites at times. Laundry, showers, and other amenities can be a constant struggle when living on the road, and there are days that all you really want is a long hot shower. We’ve traveled a lot together over the years, so we are pretty good at sharing small spaces and being in each others’ bubbles 24/7, but there are always times when 72 square feet can feel pretty small, and we need our space. Fortunately, we’ve usually got a pretty nice backyard and all it takes is a little walk to get our heads straight again.
What are 3 pieces of advice you’d give to someone getting started in van life?
- Baby steps. Van life isn’t something you have to jump into head first. Take some road trips in your current vehicle and see if you like the lifestyle before you sell your house and quit your job. Obviously having a kitted-out van makes living on the road a lot more comfortable, but its pretty committing to get rid of all your possessions and drive off into the sunset. It took us 3 years of cruising in our first van with nothing more than a camp stove, a futon mattress, and some sleeping bags to decide we wanted to commit and invest in a full-time van home. Some people maintain their ‘normal’ lives and use a van to adventure on the weekends. There are a lot of ways to skin this cat.
- Research. There is an amazing amount of information on the internet about alternative living styles, types of vans, and design/ layout right now. We spent months saving photos from Instagram and reading blogs before we even decided on what kind of van we wanted and the basic layout of our home on wheels. There are lots of different ways to live out of a vehicle, and what works for one person may not be best for your needs. Really think about what you’ll be using the van for, and make sure you buy and/or build a vehicle that suits your lifestyle.
- If you’re converting your own van, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and to ask for help. We made a few big ones (and more than a few small ones) while we were building out our dream van. And it still turned out awesome. I don’t know many people that are already experts in plumbing, electricity, cabinetry, and interior design, so the conversion process can involve a lot of research (and learning from your mistakes). Ask your friends for help, and don’t be afraid to consult with an expert if you’re in over your head. We definitely would have saved ourselves some headaches if we had gotten help from an electrician when we did our wiring, but it all worked out okay in the end. Most van owners are pretty helpful when it comes to answering specific questions about their build, so use them as a resource too. Half the fun of building out your van is learning new things, and being able to appreciate all your hard work when you finish.
If you could have one commodity from home living what would it be?
A flat screen TV and a microwave. Hah, just kidding. Maybe a washing machine or a blender? Smoothies would be pretty awesome on a hot day in the desert. But really, we made our van pretty plush–I mean, we ended up installing a propane oven so we can bake cookies on the road.
Where will your van take you this year?
We have so many places we want to go! We would love to drive to Alaska, but we’re not sure we’ll have time to fit it in this summer. We will be heading out on a desert roadtrip pretty soon–starting with a little hot springs tour in Idaho and then pointing it south from there. We try to make it out to California at least once a year to paraglide on the coast and to see friends and family. We have also been throwing around the idea of driving to Florida since neither one of us has ever been through the Midwest or the South. Maybe when the snowflakes start to fall next winter–it would be a change of scenery for sure!
Where would be the best place for a break down?
In front of a Mercedes dealership with a great taco stand nearby? I don’t know if there’s ever a great place to break down. The tricky part about mechanical issues when you live in a van, is that your house goes into the shop with your vehicle too! We’ve been lucky over the years to always have helpful friends nearby whenever we had a mechanical problem–on our Central American roadtrip we lost our water pump in Costa Rica, where we discovered that most mechanics won’t work on Chevy’s. Fortunately our friend knew a guy who knew a guy and we got a few extra days hanging with the local paraglider pilots while a friendly mechanic got the van up and running. Last spring when the Astro’s transmission went out, we stayed with a friend in California for over a week while we hemmed and hawed about whether to fix the Astro or make a quick upgrade to a bigger van. Our friend had a new Sprinter campervan full of toys that totally sold us on the benefits of upgrading. He let us borrow it (and crash at his house) while we worked out the details. We say our prayers to the van gods frequently that our good luck will continue!
What is the greatest misconception about van life?
Probably that ‘real’ life ceases to exist once you move into a van. We still have bills to pay, and doctor’s visits, and taxes. We have jobs and we worry about money sometimes. And if anything, it can be a little trickier to manage some of these normal everyday life things when you don’t have a physical address or know where you’ll be next week or next month. Don’t get us wrong, we feel incredibly fortunate and love our living situation. We wouldn’t trade it for anything, but all your problems don’t magically disappear when you move into a van. Unfortunately social media tends to glorify most things, and vanlife is no exception. We’re just as guilty as the next instagrammer of only posting about the good stuff, but we hope everyone realizes that life will still have highs and lows and amazing moments and annoyances, no matter where you lay your head down at night.