#VanLife Q&A: Ask Me Anything

Oh, van life. Even after my year spent living on the road, I still get questions about van life all the time. It’s such a romantic idea for adventurers, and I admittedly have my moments of longing for life in a retrofitted Sprinter van. After getting so many reader comments asking for insight and advice on living in a van, I decided to put a Q&A together to put it all out there.

My retrofitted 2005 Dodge Sprinter van, which I lived in for 365 days.

“I was just so inspired by your blog and reading about your 365 day trip around the country in a van, I wanted to know more about your planning for it and what you had to take into consideration to just pick up and leave your life behind for a little while.” – Natalie W.

The decision to start this whole “van life” thing came on a whim while I was living in Colorado. It was about 6 months after I had gone on a monthlong cross country road trip after graduating college. I didn’t have any debt, and hadn’t yet touched my life savings. I was freelancing with LivingSocial, so I could work anywhere with a wi-fi connection. It was the perfect timing to pick up and hit the road – so I decided to take advantage of it!

“I want to live a life like you traveling the world in a van but the only thing I can’t understand is money, how did you find yourself to be able to pay for food and gas for a year? I want to spend my life adventuring like you but money will hold me back, any advice?” – Raymond

I moved back to Florida and saved up for a year before finally heading out on the open road. While I was out on the road, I frequently picked up freelance writing gigs and copywriting work (but it honestly added up to peanuts).  I also totally blew through my entire life savings during the trip – which is something I regret. I was b-r-o-k-e at the end of my trip, and it made it really hard to transition back to the “real world.” I would definitely recommend securing steady on-the-road work if you’re going out on the road, unless you save up like $20k+ for spending money.

DSC_2159DSC_7940“Did you work at all on your adventure? How much money did you save up before you set sail? Did sponsorship’s cover a lot of your costs?” – Connor M.

I attempted to work a respectable amount during my trip, but didn’t do enough to make it sustainable. I took freelance writing gigs often within the outdoor industry, and worked as a ghost copywriter picking up jobs like writing 100 product descriptions for Office Max office supplies. My trip partner Niko even spent a month working as a delivery man for an organic mattress company in Boulder, CO at one point to help pay for unexpected van trouble.

Sponsorship is something I get asked about almost on a daily basis–and a lot of folks have misunderstandings of what a typical sponsorship relationship looks like. I am not a professional athlete, so my sponsorships primarily come in the form of support through gear and travel–my paid partnerships with brands typically focus on content creation. That said, partnering with amazing brands like Goal Zero, Teton Sports, and ClimbOn! was tremendous in getting my van outfitted. Their generosity helped me supply my trip with quality solar equipment, camping gear, and eco-friendly toiletries–three very crucial things for van life! [Read more…]

Returning to Reality after 365 Days of Living the Dream

Sitting on the porch of my new home, sipping on tea and eating fresh eggs from the chicken flock in my backyard while watching my puppy chase squirrels up trees – it’s hard not to think that in some ways, this is living the dream.

Yesterday, the big yellow van I spent 365 days living in was officially sold. For an entire year, waking up every morning inside my retrofitted van and heading out across America to climb and explore was my version of living the dream. It was a dream that my partner Niko and I had fantasized about for many years – and it was nothing short of a dream to make it a reality.

My retrofitted 2005 Dodge Sprinter van, which I lived in for 365 days.

Towards the end of the trip, I started having other dreams. I dreamt of a big wooden desk where I could get some writing done – random coffee-shops get a little tiresome after a while; I dreamt of not eating anything out of a can; I dreamt of having a proper bed and a closet; I even dreamt of wearing dresses, putting on make-up, and feeling like a lady again.

The moment the trip ended, I got all of the “things” I missed while living in a van – and almost immediately, all I wanted was my dirtbag life in the van back.

I was a little lost in the aftermath of the trip, but my post-adventure blues really hit rock bottom after I listed my van for sale. This was it – my life as a vagabonding climber seemed permanently over, and I suddenly found myself entirely lacking motivation, purpose, inspiration, and energy. I did what was probably the worst possible reaction to this newfound sadness: I stayed cooped up inside for days. I didn’t climb, I didn’t write, I didn’t do anything but sulk.

When I handed my key over to the van’s new owner last night, I was expecting to feel an overbearing sense of loss and depression – but instead, I was greeted with relief. Hope, even. I had officially closed this chapter of my adventures. It was undoubtedly the best year of my life, and no vehicle will ever compare to the big yellow Sprinter that was my first mobile home – but now it’s time to focus on new adventures.

The completed map of my yearlong road trip around America.

I may have a home-base now, rent to pay, and a desk where I can get some real writing accomplished without feeling pressured to spend $4 on a latte, but that doesn’t mean I have to give up any adventures. I’m heading down to Miami this week to pick up my old Scion hatchback, and once I’m back in a car I actually love to drive (sorry van, you weren’t my favorite vessel to pilot), I’m going to start exploring again. Niko is already planning a bike ride from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, and I’ve got my sights set on a few tubing trips once the water warms up.

This isn’t the end, folks. This is just the beginning of something new.

The End of an Era: My Yearlong Road Trip is (Almost) Over

This is a post I’ve been procrastinating all week. As a storyteller, it’s my duty to my readers to keep y’all updated with my journey every step of the way – but as a human, it’s kind of heartbreaking. I’m struggling to put things into words, and incredibly stressed with the logistics of what comes next, because –

This is it: I am officially in the last week of my yearlong climbing adventure.

Seriously? Already? Didn’t I just move into my big yellow van? Have I really lived outdoors, climbed, camped, and adventured for 52 weeks? It just doesn’t make sense – I refuse to wrap my head around this reality that seems to have been suddenly thrust upon me.

It’s almost February 1st, the technical one-year anniversary of my trip (although I started living in van sometime in early January last year). After that milestone is ticked, Niko will begin working full-time managing Tallahassee Rock Gym, and for me, well, the future is very up in the air at the moment – but you’ll just have to stay tuned to find out more about that one.

Bo Durham crushes The Price is Right (V8) at Rocktown in GA.We’re spending the final days of the adventure in our favorite place in the world: the southeast. We’ve been holed up at Rocktown in Georgia for quite a while, but were forced to retreat back to Chattanooga when the polar vortex reared its frigid head and made climbing absolutely unbearable. The temperatures should be (at least somewhat) warming up by Friday, so we’ll be returning to the no-service zone to enjoy our fleeting opportunities to climb, camp, and explore.

The good news? This year has been the most transformative, educational, inspiring 365 days of my life – and the adventures have only just begun for me. The bad news? We’re selling the van. That is the worst part of all of this, and Niko is taking it the hardest. I also have a feeling that Amble is going to go into some sort of identity crisis once we moved into a four-walled dwelling. Oy vey.

I’ll try to update at least one more time before we head back to Florida, but I’m not making any promises. I only have a short time left to enjoy my van life freedom, and I intend on soaking up as much as I can. There will be many thank yous, heaps of gear reviews, and probably a lot of tears shed – but first, adventure.

2013: The Year I Decided to Live in a Van to Travel, Climb, and Adventure Across America

Last year while looking back at my biggest adventures of 2012, I started the post by saying “I already know that after my yearlong Simply Adventure trip, I’ll be claiming that 2013 was the best year ever” – and I was so right. This year has been the most incredible, outrageous, challenging, inspiring, beautiful year of my entire life.

A crew of Stonelick crash pads out at Red Rocks in Las Vegas.

When I started writing this post, I fully intended on it taking the shape of the traditional month-by-month, adventure-by-adventure, mishap-by-mishap retelling of my year. I made it as far as March before I realized how incredibly futile it is to attempt to condense the experience of living “the dream” into a single blog post. For goodness sake, I want to write a book about it – how could I possibly belittle this year into a measly blog post?

I traveled well over 35,000 miles across the country, exploring 26 states (two by plane/train – hello, New York and New Jersey!), and even popping up into Canada for a few weeks. I slept in barren deserts, snowy mountains, forests thick with mossy trees, and on the side of busy streets in big cities. I have seen and done more in this year than many people will accomplish in a lifetime. I am incredibly lucky – and incredibly broke.

But every moment, every victorious climbing send, every piece of all-you-can-eat-sushi in Vancouver, every exploding tire on the interstate, and every I’ve-been-wearing-the-same-shirt-for-a-week realization have been 100% worth it. My savings account might make me cry a little when I look at it, but I have no regrets. I am richer now than I have ever been.

View from the top of Pistol Ridge in Indian Creek at Red River Gorge.

This year has been transformative, both physically and mentally. I used to be a cute girl, with (at least occasionally) matching outfits and make-up and long, well-kempt hair. Today, I am barely above bum status. My mismatched clothing is worn for days on end until it reeks, my hair has been chopped into a short bob that is slowly morphing into a mullet, and I shower once a week. Fortunately, what this trip has ruined of my exterior it has compensated for internally with a renewed adoration for being outdoors, a profound understanding of what I want to do with my life professionally, and a deeper love for Niko than I ever could have imagined.

Seriously, if you ever want to test a relationship, live in a van with that person for an extended period of time. If you can survive that, you can survive anything.

Will 2014 be able to compare to the rollercoaster of ass-kicking adventure that I experienced in 2013? Probably not, and I’m okay with that. I don’t really ever want anything to be like this year – 2013 was special, it was an adventure unlike any other. Even if I do spend another year (or many years) living in a van and traveling again, it will never be anything like my first. And that, is wonderful.

Cheers to all the breathtaking landscapes in America, to the hospitable and generous people we’ve met along the way (Spenser and Vikki, I’m looking at you), to chasing the perfect climbing weather, to giant boxes of TimBits, to my big yellow van, and to many, many more years of adventure. 

So, What Do You Do After a Year of Adventure, Climbing, and Living in a Van?

My big, beautiful, very yellow Sprinter van! After a month of living in a van, I was still very deep in the honeymoon phase of the romantic idea of adventure. After three months, life on the road still felt great. At the seven month mark, living in a big yellow van, climbing all over the country, and camping every night was the only thing I knew. But now, after nine months of traveling, it’s time to look towards the future.

What am I going to do when my yearlong road trip ends?

On February 2nd, life is going to smack me pretty hard in the face. The fantasy world of living in a van for a year with hardly an responsibilities (aside from sharing my incredible experiences with everyone) will abruptly be gone. There will be bills to be paid, income to be earned, and a future to be seriously considered – plus, Niko needs to get ready for starting grad school in August. I’m not quite sure that I’m ready for everything that comes with the idea of ending the trip and returning to “the real world,” but I have a plan.

Once the big yellow van fulfills our goal of spending an entire year traveling, climbing, and exploring, we’ll be returning to the place where it all began for Niko and I: Tallahassee. When we left, we thought we’d never come back – but we were wrong. Visiting our old city last week reminded me of all the reasons I love Tallahassee, and more importantly, the rock gym.

The new bouldering walls at Tallahassee Rock Gym.

Niko was offered a fantastic opportunity to manage Tallahassee Rock Gym full-time until it’s time for him to start grad school (which is a whole new adventure – we have NO idea where he’s headed for that yet). Neither of us have been able to accept the idea of not being on a constant climbing trip anymore, but I have to admit: I’m really excited about six months of training in a rock gym (and one last fleeting affair with my beloved rock gym before we really leave forever). I’ve gained incredible technique and confidence during our yearlong trip, but constant travel and outdoor climbing aren’t quite conducive to training and getting stronger. And the best part? We’ll be care-taking for a flock of chickens and a lovely garden while we’re there. 

For me, this means I will have six whole months to finally catch up on all the writing that has been pent up for the past year. There are so many stories that have yet to be told, so many photo essays that have yet to be edited, so much freelance work that has piled up, and I’ll finally have the creative juices available to write my book about our trip. I’m going to miss this lifestyle so much, but I’m confident that life isn’t done throwing epic adventures my way. This isn’t the end of my adventure, this is just a quick little break to let me finally catch up, cool down, and contemplate where to explore next.

Oh, and we’re getting a puppy for Christmas!

Pretty much everyone I know is fully aware of the fact that Niko and I have been dying to get a pup of our own for the longest time, but we didn’t want to adopt a dog until we were in a more stable situation to train it. Well, that time is quickly approaching, and we’ve already begun to search for the perfect four-legged addition to our family.

It’s hard to fathom that in less than three months we’ll no longer be that climbing couple who lives in a big yellow van and travels around the country full-time – but I’m looking forward to this new chapter in our lives. And we’ve already arranged Niko’s schedule so we can take plenty of weekend climbing trips when we get the itch.

Whoa – that was way too much future-thinking. If you’ll excuse me, I need to return to the boulder fields before reality sets in anymore. 

The Ugly Truth About Long-Term Travel – The Grass Really is Always Greener on the Other Side

When people find out that I’ve been living in a big yellow van, traveling the country to climb for seven months with my handsome boyfriend, they always have the same reaction: “Wow, your life is perfect. I wish I could do that so bad, *insert grumbling comment about how much it sucks to have a job and a house*

My response? “The grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side, trust me.”

Niko sits proudly atop our new yellow home.Don’t get me wrong: I’m living the dream.

I get to wake up (most days) surrounded by thickets of trees, powdery red dirt, hauntingly steep canyons, commanding collections of the country’s finest boulders, and more fresh air than my lungs can possibly ingest. Those days, when I’m climbing all afternoon, cooking hot meals at camp, and snuggling up in my sleeping bag in the confines of my van are absolutely the best.

But life on the road isn’t all carefree camping and successful sends – even though that’s what most folks see and would like to believe. Most folks don’t think about the moments of long-term travel when your van won’t start in the middle of nowhere; those moments where most of your loved ones are cozied up in an air-conditioned house, and you’re sweating in your sleep at a crowded interstate truck stop.

How about the times when you realize you don’t have enough money left to do anything other than put gas in your tank and cheap food in your belly? Or when it’s raining for three days straight, but you have nowhere to go but sit in your van? Or worse, when you get sick? Have you ever been sick in a van? It ain’t pretty. Picture all the misery of food poisoning, all the fluids being spilled from all ends of your body, and you’re just curled up in a hot van. (It happened to me in Vegas, it sucked. A lot.)

Every single moment of my adventure across America has blessed me with life lessons and unforgettable experiences that will continue to shape me for the rest of my life, but I just have to set the record straight: this is NOT some sort of romantic journey full of sunshine and forest fantasy. This is still real life, and sometimes, it sucks.

Sometimes, you just want things like a house where you can spend the whole day loafing on a couch, a kitchen to bake cupcakes in, a shower whenever you crave one, and a desk to get some damn work done with a steady internet connection. Some days I find myself longing for the comforts of a steady lifestyle, a paycheck, and a properly sized closet (My boot collection takes up about half of my van storage, it’s out of control).

But then again, after a few weeks of house-sitting and staying at friends’ houses in Colorado – I’m itching to get away from all the concrete, away from the succubus of the internet, and away from this damn couch I can’t will myself to get off of. I’m sick of sitting inside all day, I long for hours of endless driving through farm land, and I am so over the stagnant routine of just being ‘around’.

And you know why? Because the grass is ALWAYS greener…

So keep adventuring, keep enjoying life as you have it, and for heaven’s sake, don’t complain to dirtbags about how horrible your air-conditioned, financially-secure life is. Adventure is always out there, so make it your own. And if you really want to “live the dream” like me, quit your job already! Just remember what I warned you about when you’re broke, dirty, and longing for a couch.

/endrant

Van Life Update | Happy 7 Month Van-aversary (and hello, autumn)!

Today marks another milestone: it’s our seven month van-aversary – and it’s September, double whammy. I can’t believe we’ve been on the road for this long, or that summer is finally on its way out. We’ve spent the last three weeks in the Denver area, but we’ll be back on the road soon, and cannot wait!

After the rather unfortunate blown-tire and snapped brake line situation a few weeks ago, Niko and I hit the rock bottom of our trip. We were very much out of funds, and our adventurous spirits had taken a bit of a hit. There were a few “well, I guess we’re going home” moments, but things quickly turned around.

Tals and I taking a stroll around Lake Standley in Colorado.Niko has been working in Boulder delivering organic mattresses (yes, seriously, people will pay a lot of money for an organic bed), while I’ve picked up a few freelance writing gigs to help us balance out all the van repairs and prepare for life back on the road. This was all perfectly timed with a week of housesitting for my dear friend Heather while she was out packrafting in Alaska. Every morning, Niko heads off to work, and I spend my day writing and exploring a nearby lake with Heather’s adorable pup, Tals.

It’s been relaxing to slow down in Colorado for a few weeks, but as Niko’s last week of work winds down, I have started to constantly daydream about the rest of our trip – and you all have been asking a lot of questions.

So where are we headed next? What are final five months of our yearlong adventure going to look like?

The southeastern United States.Well, it’s all still a bit up in the air. What we do know is this: We’re leaving Colorado by the 10th, and then we’re headed in one definitive general direction: the southeast – aka, home.

The major destinations thus far include Red River Gorge in Kentucky, visiting our potential new home in Carrboro, North Carolina, and making the rounds at our favorite climbing spots in Tennessee and Georgia. We’ll also be revisiting the home state: Florida. I want to spend the holidays with my family in Miami, and we can’t wait to return to Tallahassee to relive the glory days at Tally Rock Gym.

As the adventure winds down, these next few months are going to start moving a bit more slowly, and we’ll begin to slowly transition from life on the road to “normal” life. I’ve heard so much from fellow long-term travelers about the struggles of ending your trip and settling down, so I want to make sure we take our time and do it right. The first half of our trip was all about seeing new places, meeting new people, climbing new routes, and discovering what we want from life. Now, the trip is a return to the familiar: back to the southeast where we’ll tackle unfinished projects, reunite with friends and family, and stuff our face with good ‘ole southern comfort food.

I’m excited to bring you all along for the ride as always! Cheers to another five months of adventure, exploration, and discovery. I’ve got a lot of great content coming up on the blog, including a comprehensive climbing shoe guide and a few posts about moving towards a healthy outdoor lifestyle. 

Van Life Update | an encounter with rock bottom & a busted brake line

Many of you already know that on Monday evening, Niko had a brush with danger when one of our van tires ripped apart while he was driving back to Denver from Boulder. The tread on the tire tore off, wrapped itself around our rear axel, and snapped a brake line. Fortunately, Niko was able to keep control of the van and I met him on the side of I-25 to call AAA for help.The van.

Unfortunately, we’ve already used up all our AAA free services this year with our van shenanigans in Washington. We got towed back into town, dropped the van off at a service shop, and hung out heads low while we walked back to our friend’s house with thepainful realization that the repair bill for the van was probably going to signal the end of our yearlong trip.

It wasn’t looking good.

The adventure van, out of commission (again).

We’re here in Denver to work for a few weeks to replenish the adventure fund, which is admittedly running dangerously low. Our tire popped because we needed to replace all of them, but we had been struggling to figure out how to afford it – and now, we had no choice but to buy new tires for our safety (a blessing in disguise, we really needed new tires). When the mechanic called to give me the final bill on all the repairs our van needed, my heart sank – this was it, we were going to have to retreat home and abandon our goal of a yearlong trip living in our beloved van.

Niko made the trek back to Boulder for another long day of delivering organic mattresses, and I sulked around for the morning, contemplating how to break the news to all of you that we had failed you. Folks, that really sucked.

My buddy insisted on taking me out for lunch and a beer, so I walked down to the neighborhood burger joint and attempted to lift my spirits. And then it happened. I got three back-to-back emails with fantastic writing opportunities, with brands I love, serendipitously providing me with the money we needed to carry on. I teared up when I read them, then broke into a ridiculous smile and held up my beer, interrupting my friends’ conversation to toast them both.

In one instant, everything turned around.

The yearlong mission to travel and climb across the country lives on. We still need to reevaluate our itinerary given our downsized budget, but hell, we don’t have to go back to Florida! We’ll be in Colorado for another two weeks, house-sitting and working – but we are already itching to get back on the road and wake up in the woods.

Always have faith in your adventures,
following your dreams will always steer you in the right direction.

Happy six month van-aversary to us!

Our van, our home for an entire year of adventure.On February 1, 2013, I set out in my newly acquired big, yellow Sprinter van in pursuit of spending an entire year traveling around the country while climbing with my co-pilot in adventure (and life) Niko. Looking back through the scribbled pages of my daily planner, it’s hard to believe it’s already been six months since we first hit the road. Whoa.

Here are some fun facts about our journey thus far:

  • We’ve visited 9 National Parks, from the wandering through prickly cactus forest at Saguaro National Park in Arizona to backpacking in a rainforest at Olympic National Park in Washington.
  • I have taken 31 showers in 180 days.
  • More than 80 days have been spent climbing. (not enough, if you ask us!)
  • Our van has traveled to 15 states, and up to Canada – I’ve been to an additional 4 states via air travel.
  • Niko and I still like waking up next to each other every morning.

A lot has changed over the course of half a year, including our car battery and a new EGR valve. We’ve learned so many lessons about living on the road. I learned how to embrace the idea of being wholly disconnected from social media (seriously, that was tough), Niko learned how to trad climb – and climbed to his first big peak in Yosemite, I chopped off all my hair in the name of adventure, and we’ve grown to love a new family of climbers whom we’ve journeyed with from Joe’s Valley to Squamish.

For me, this has been an incredible journey of personal growth and that whole “finding yourself” thing. I have never adored climbing so much, and started training for the Triple Crown Bouldering Series event at Hound Ears in October. I’ve also become endlessly inspired by my experiences – my mind is constantly bursting with story ideas, future book titles, entrepreneurial concepts, and big plans for the future. I’ll admit, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve wanted to stop moving so I could start focusing on all my ambitions, but I’m learning how to balance the thrill of adventure and career goals.

And to think, we’re only halfway through. Or is it halfway over? Either way, we still have what feels like an eternity of travel ahead of us, and we are especially excited for the next leg of the trip. We traveled as far west as roads would take us, crossed the border up into Canada, and are now finally headed back east. We’re in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer show, we’ll head to Denver to see my sister for a week, then it’s up and around the northern midwest before finally making our return to our beloved southeastern crags.

We owe so much gratitude to everyone who has helped, supported, befriended, and loved us along the way. Some folks, like Vikki and Spenser from The RV Project, the Joe’s Valley family, our Squamish crew, and everyone who invited us into their homes across the country deserve an extra heap of love – our trip would not have been possible without you (and we’d never have been convinced to go to Squamish). Moreover, I can’t believe that I have a family who is so supportive and proud of a gal who decided that living in a van for a year was a great idea, and it always puts a smile on my face when friends tell me they’re inspired by my adventures. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I keep trying to think of a way to properly express my thanks to everyone who has supported us during the trip, keep coming up empty handed – there is no tangible thing that can compare to what the adventure community has given us. I’ll tell you this, the “acknowledgements” page in my first book is going to be very, very long.

Cheers to another six months of adventure! 

5 lessons learned from 5 months of traveling across America

Whoa, it’s July already – when did this happen? Sitting in a coffee shop overlooking the water in Seattle, Washington, it’s hard to believe that just a few months ago I was living in Tallahassee, Florida about to begin the crazy journey of living in my big yellow van for all of 2013 while traveling across America.

Best fortune cookie ever: "Your life is like a kaleidoscope."Yesterday marked the 5-month milestone of my van-dwelling adventure with Niko, and in that time I’ve learned an incredible amount of wisdom about life on the road, the condition of the American spirit, and the unbridled glory of the great outdoors. I could (and eventally will) fill an entire book with every bit of knowledge I’ve gained during this journey, but today, in honor of the five-month mark, I’ll share five of the most impactful things I’ve learned during the Simply Adventure trip thus far:

1. People are always inclined towards kindness.
Something that has really stuck with me during my travels is the fact that from ranger stations in national parks to crowded truck stop parking lots along the interstate, everyone we’ve encountered on this trip has been a good person. There was just a single instance in which we happened upon someone “bad,” but that individual was clearly on drugs – so I’ll call it a mulligan.

Folks just genuinely want to spread kindness. We’ve been welcomed into acquaintances homes, dinner parties have been thrown in our honor, lumberjacks have stopped on forest service roads to give the van a jumpstart, and the climbing community has been a constant source of new friendships, shared campfire meals, and invitations for adventure. If you approach people with a kind spirit, that kindness will nearly always be returned.

2. Small towns beat big cities, any day.
Almost every single day, Niko and I reaffirm something we’ve realized during our travels across the country: we belong back in the southeast, and we belong in a small town.

During stints of exploration that keep us in rural areas, we constantly find ourselves falling in love with little farm communities, shy mountain towns, and the hospitable charm that blankets them. The vibes are calm, air is breathable, there’s no traffic, and you can nearly always pick up fresh food from a local farmer. My kind of living.

Then we inevitably hit a big city, and are instantly overwhelmed. It’s like hitting an enormous wall: everything and everyone is so urgent, impatient, and anxious. It’s infectious too; I find myself constantly feeling rushed and uneasy when I’m in a big city. Where’s the enjoyment in life? And more importantly, where are all the cows and farms? I may have been raised in bustling Miami, but I am definitely a converted small town kinda gal.

3. Make-up is overrated, but feeling feminine is not.
Since the first day of our trip, my make-up bag has sat lonely in a drawer, only unleashed once in a blue moon (like when I flew to NYC for a wedding). I brought it along with the intention of continuing to wear make-up in an attempt to hold onto any shred of ladylikeness I could muster while living like a dirtbag – but I quickly realized I don’t need it. A sun-kissed complexion is easily the best “make-up” I’ve ever worn. Plus, going cosmetics-free has really helped keep my skin clear. I hardly have to wash my face anymore!

That said, maintaining my femininity has been a continual process that I’ve realized is essential to my personal wellbeing while living on the road. After a rut of sweatpants and unkempt hair, I found that while looks aren’t everything, it’s important to feel good about yourself. So I chopped my unmanageable hair into a cute crop, had my mother send me some skirts and sundresses from home, and started making an effort to make sure I felt pretty every day – even if I’m just sitting in a small town doing laundry. Focus on what makes you feel beautiful, even if you haven’t showered in a week.

4. You should always, always have a real map handy.
Yes, GPS technology is great – and yes, I use it on a daily basis to steer me towards that cheap taco joint recommended on Yelp – but when you’re spending quality time in the no-service zone, you can’t rely on your iPhone to get you where you need to go. Having a paper map is essential for the true road-tripper.

In addition to helping me find the nearest national forest area to camp in when Google Maps can’t get connected, my wrinkled old atlas is my favorite way to keep track of my journey. Every time we venture to a new place, I highlight our route – it’s inspiring to watch the map fill up with yellowed lines zigzagging across the country.

5. Travel is the ultimate method of testing a relationship.
If you’re dating someone, and are curious about whether it’s the “real deal,” you ought to do some extended traveling with that person. Sure, you’re compatible when it comes to picking movies for date-night, but how will your relationship fare when it’s 2:00 in the morning and you have no place to sleep? What about when your vehicle won’t start in the middle of the woods, and the nearest cell service went caput at least 10 miles back down the road?

Niko and I are far from perfect, and have plenty of learning still to do, but living together in a van for five months has solidified our relationship through rigorous tests, shared victories, and learning to simultaneous experience the adventure as individuals and as a couple. It’s a process, but I’ve never been so confident in a relationship. If we can handle this trip, we can handle anything.Niko and I (and our tape gloves) while climbing at Indian Creek in Utah.

It’s incredible to reflect upon my adventure thus far; to see how many miles I’ve traveled, the places I’ve seen, the food I’ve feasted on, and the people who helped shape it all. A series of unfortunate van repairs may have put the longevity of the Simply Adventure trip in jeopardy, but we continue onwards in our pursuit of living our ultimate dream of exploring the entire country. We’ve traveled from Florida to California, throughout the Midwest, and now up the Pacific Coast in search of meaningful encounters with the outdoors – and America has delivered. I look forward to whatever this beautiful continent has to throw our way as we drive deeper and deeper into the heart of the mountains, prairies, swamps, and seasides.

Thank you all for reading the stories, supporting the adventure, keeping my spirits high when I’m feeling low, and offering advice that has helped us along our path. Without you, I wouldn’t be doing this. This isn’t just my journey, it’s an experience to be shared – and I am forever indebted to those who have hopped aboard to join me for the ride.