#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…]

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.

Happy Van-aversary! Reflections from Two Months of Living in a Van

Today is an anniversary of sorts: Niko and I have officially been living in our big yellow Sprinter van for two months. Officially longer than any other journey we’ve embarked on together, I’m proud of how easy has been to live on the road – and impressed that we still actually want to cuddle every night. Throughout our eight initial weeks of the Simply Adventure journey, we’ve learned a lot, made plenty of mistakes, and began to appreciate all that we have (and things that we don’t, but our friends do – like showers).

Here's the Simply Adventure route this far: from Florida to Utah! Here’s a little recap of our journey thus far:

  • We have traveled over 3,991 miles in 60 days.
  • The van has visited 10 states, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah.
  • 37 days have been spent climbing (minus a few for me due to a tendon injury). We’ve visited Reimer’s Ranch, Hueco Tanks, Joshua Tree, Red Rocks, Moe’s Valley, Joe’s Valley, and American Fork Canyon.
  • Our National Parks adventures have taken us to Saguaro National Park in Arizona, Joshua Tree in California, and Zion and Kolob Canyons in Utah.
  • I’ve managed to badly sprain an ankle (which still hurts), partially tear a tendon, and get miserable food poisoning.

The Craggin' Wagon perched on the side of the road outside of Hueco Tanks, Texas.It has truly been an incredible journey so far. There have been undeniable moments of frustration, but all have been greatly outweighed by moments of victory, love, and new discoveries. We’ve made it through blasting sandstorms in the desert, everything freezing on a nightly basis in the van, mountainous driving in white-out snow conditions, and the worst situation of all: running out of fresh avocados.

One of my favorite climbs of the trip thus far, Self Service (V5) at Joe's Valley in Utah.Living on the road teaches you to simplify everything in life, from the collection of “stuff” you need to be happy to the amount of water you need to wash a sink full of dishes. It has made us stronger in spirit, better climbers overall, more aware of our impact on the earth, and closer as a couple.

So what do the next two months have in store for our yearlong van-dwelling adventure? Well, we’re not exactly sure. We’ve hit a lull in our itinerary – after we leave Joe’s Valley and head to Rifle next week, our agenda is completely blank until we hit Yosemite at the end of May. We’ll likely just cruise around Colorado and Utah, following crisp climbing conditions. Got any suggestions?

Thank you to everyone who has been following the adventure online, offered us warm beds and hot showers, sponsored us with incredible gear that has changed our capabilities in the van, and to my mom, for insisting on sending me an Easter basket while I’m out climbing in Utah. I can’t wait to share the next adventures the big yellow van will lead me to – and I count my blessings every day for being able to experience all of this.

Want more from our trip? 

During these first two months, we’ve had a few interesting opportunities to spread the Simply Adventure love.
Check out this video of the van from Joshua Tree, and our interview with GrindTV.com!

The (Ever-Evolving) Official Beginning Itinerary for Simply Adventure

You’ve all been pressing me for details about our route, our planned stops, what climbing areas we’ll be hitting up, and what our map looks like thus far. We can’t make any promises, and we are certain that things will inevitably change, but it’s about time I gave you some insight about where we’re heading in the upcoming weeks and months.

So here’s what the Simply Adventure road trip route looks like so far:

This is what we KNOW is going to happen.

Since I’m a Miami gal, I’d like to think that the route officially began at our southernmost point in 2013: Miami, Florida. We also visited Tampa and Tallahassee before finally leaving the state on February 1st. After a pit stop at a Mississippi rest stop, and filling cajun fare in Lake Charles in Louisiana, we paused for a day in Houston, Texas (more on that later – who knew Houston was so cool?).

We’re currently holed up at Spin City Washateria in Austin, Texas, and are scoping out some nearby climbing to fill the next few days until we head to Reimer’s Ranch for the weekend with our friend Teresa. Afterwards, we’ll jet across the remainder of Texas to Hueco Tanks State Park near El Paso. Once we get our fill of Lonestar State climbing, the plans get a little hazier, but we’ll be heading to Joshua Tree, then up to Utah around March 8th to meet some climbing buddies for a week or so in Moab. Next, we’ll drive north for a few days in Salt Lake City, then regroup as we plan our next moves.

Here’s a very vague, and totally-going-to-change look at what our journey (kinda, sorta, maybe) will look like through August:

A very rough map of our trip outline so far.

 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in these first few days of van-dwelling, it’s that plans are always changing, you can’t really count on anything, and making plans more than a week in advance are really just a pain in the arse. We have a lot to learn still, but we haven’t killed each other (yet), so I think we’re on the right path.

Cheers, everyone – and stay tuned for more dates and upcoming plans (that will probably end up changing, ha)! 

Farewell, Florida – Missing our departure date, and (finally) beginning the Simply Adventure journey

For over a year, I’ve talked about this yearlong climbing trip, schemed up some hype around the Simply Adventure idea, and dreamt about the day I’d finally hit the road – and that day is today.

We were actually supposed to depart last night, but a series of unfortunate van mishaps kept us up all evening working on the interior of our new “home.” Nearing midnight, we decided to throw in the towel and abandon our goal of hitting the road before the sun rose. At first, I felt kind of guilty about not leaving; so many people have been eagerly awaiting my official departure. Ultimately, a friend offered wise advice that soothed my apprehensions about leaving a day late:

“A year of adventure can wait a day.”

And he was right. After giving ourselves a few extra hours to put the finishing touches on the van to make sure everything was perfect (and a quick pitstop to grab my last pint of corn nuggets from Lindy’s Chicken), we hit the road feeling 100% ready. Had we rushed through the night and attempted to leave “on time,” we would have woken up miserable with ourselves. I think we made the right choice, do you?

Right now we’re cooped up in a Mississippi rest stop with free wi-fi, scoping out our plan for tomorrow and catching up on e-mails. We drove through the Florida Panhandle and picked up a new bike rack, paused at a Walmart in Alabama, and crossed over into Mississippi – all in a fairly relaxing day. Tomorrow, we’ll continue on through Louisiana, and plan to make it out to Houston, Texas by Sunday!

Beginning this newfound van-dwelling lifestyle has been an oddly calming experience. I was expecting some big epiphany, some momentous occasion when we finally hit the road – but it’s all just peaceful. This is all really happening, and I think I am ready for it all. We’ll see how it all evolves, ha.

Want to know where we’re headed?
Stay tuned for the full itinerary (through March) on Monday! 

Packing Up, Leaving Our House, and Embracing The Adventure of “Homelessness”

It’s official: We no longer reside in a proper four-walled home, nor will we until 2014. I’m not sure that the reality of my newfound lifestyle has truly hit me yet, but I’m enjoying this phase of transition to van-dwelling. It’s different, it’s lacking insulation, and it’s quite generous with cold temperatures.

Our van all packed up with climbing gear, camping equipment, and mismatched belongings.We’ve reduced our belongings as much as possible before our final “dump” next week in Miami, and our last few meals have all included canned food – but it ain’t too shabby. This morning was our first day waking up with no kitchen to cook breakfast in, but it turned out to be one of the most pleasant mornings.

After brewing some strong coffee, we baked sliced potatoes in our small toaster oven, and accessorized it with melted cheese, fresh chives, and diced avocados – delicious. Our meager bounty was enjoyed out on a picnic table, where we formulated a game plan for the day.

I could get used to this.

Admittedly, there are a few things about “traditional” living that I miss already. I miss having a big kitchen for cooking meals from scratch, I miss the convenience of warm water to wash my face, and I miss the comfort of knowing a shower is available anytime I feel particularly dirty.

The most difficult change is a sudden lack of proper workspace or daily routine. My need to quickly adapt and catch up on all my beckoning work is undeniable, so I’m looking forward to a few mornings spent holed up at our local coffee shop, All Saints Café.

But other than that, the idea and process of living a drastically simplified life is treating me quite well. In the spirit of sharing my experience and working to inspire others to get out there and do what I’m doing, I wanted to open myself up to a little project:

Seriously, ask us anything about our yearlong Simply Adventure climbing trip! I’ll be posting a Simply Adventure Q&A next week,

so comment/e-mail/tweet me ANY question you have

about my trip, the planning process, my lifestyle, etc.

I’m excited to see what y’all come up with for the Q&A session.
Feel free to ask me (or Niko!) ANYTHING you’ve been wondering about our Simply Adventure trip.