#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!

My big, beautiful, very yellow Sprinter van! “What did you miss most while you were living in a van? What do you miss most now that you aren’t?” – Michelle W.

The thing I missed the most while living in a van was the stability of somewhere to go when you have nothing to do. Rainy days, lazy days, days I felt sick – I missed having a bedroom to curl up and hide in. Van life entails a lot of frustrated driving around looking for a place to park for the night and a significant lack of privacy. On the flip side, I so very miss waking up in my cozy van bed to ever-changing views and traveling with my entire life right in arm’s reach. I definitely overpack for trips now. I got too used to having everything I could possibly need accessible whenever I needed it. I also miss climbing (nearly) every day.

“I’ve been considering a sprinter ever since my wife and I did a road trip in the back of our pickup. We could really use the extra room for on our next trip, but we’re concerned about the size of it when driving through cities. Does it handle well?” – Tim H.

The Sprinter handled like a champion. Honestly, I am not a fan of driving it around in the city–but I’m also just a big baby. It could be a challenge to park in big cities sometimes, but the way it handled out on the open road totally compensated for it. I took it up steep mountain passes, down rutted dirt roads, scrambling over desert rock, you name it. Keep the engine in great shape and it’ll do you no wrong. Except when the turbo resonator cracks…

As for size of it when you’re driving in the city, there are multiple Sprinter sizes you can choose from. I drove a 144″ wheel base, but there are also larger 170″ and smaller 118″ models. If I ever bought another Sprinter, I’d probably try to find a 118″.

“Have you sold the van?” – Nolan

*sigh* yes, the van is sold. I put the Sprinter up for sale on the market about a month after returning to Florida from the trip. I miss the ‘ole gal, but it was time to move on–and I mostly just really needed to pay back the $14k debt I had. I sold her to someone I knew from Tally Rock Gym, so I still see photos of her out on the road sometimes.

The interior of my 2005 Dodge Sprinter adventure van.

The Goal Zero Light-A-Life powers our van cooking adventures every night.“Just curious what you did with your solar panel system when you sold your van? Did you [sell] the system with the van? Where did you purchase your system from?” – Drew B.

The folks at Goal Zero are some of the best people in the outdoor industry, so I was really fortunate to have Goal Zero sponsor the trip and provide me with a beautiful solar set-up. I was way too scared to drill a hole in my roof to properly wire the system, so the fine fellas at Goal Zero invited the van over to their HQ in Utah to get everything in glorious form. After a year of living with their equipment, I’d highly recommend them–and the Goal Zero solar gear on the market these days is even better than what I was using.

Most of my system is actually currently living down on a buddy’s sweet garden in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When I was moving from Florida to Colorado, I could only take what I could fit into my little Scion hatchback, so the solar stuff had to stay behind. One of my best friend’s asked if he could use it to build a greenhouse system for his epic garden until I came to get it, and he’s still putting it to way more badass use than I could have, so he’s inherited it at this point. I still have all my mini panels and chargers–delightful to have when you’re out camping.

“Will you go back to [van life] anytime soon?” – Kathleen M.

Traveling and being out on the road are undoubtedly always going to be big parts of my life, but I think next time my methods of exploring will be experienced in different ways. Van life is something I think everyone should absolutely try once in your life, but there are also so many other ways to get out there. Train travel, slower city-by-city travel, international plane hopping– there are so many possibilities! That said, I’d totally see myself doing a season of van life a bit further down the road sometime.

Have a question about life out on the road? Want to connect?
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12 thoughts on “#VanLife Q&A: Ask Me Anything

  1. Virginia LaRose says:

    Hi Katie;
    I came across your blog while searching trips options for future van excursions. I noticed Amble immediately as a Heeler…we have come to love MAX, our son’s Heeler and he seems to have the same love of exploring. I just purchased MAX a backpack for his adventures. I am going to forward this site … just great. Thanks.

  2. Amanda says:

    So basically, you are amazing. I’m deployed right now, and trying to plan a 48-state roadtrip with my sidekick Bear when I get back home! Been thinking about selling my tC to get a small truck, but saw you and your tC on here… Do you think it would be possible to do the entire trip by tC?? I know it’d be easier with a van or truck, but I love my tC almost too much to sell it…

  3. Matt says:

    Inspiring post! Must have been an amazing adventure. I’m just about to embark on an open-ended European road trip and I just have 2 questions. 1. Security, did anyone ever try to break in or steal anything? I’m consious my whole life will be in there and it would be a jackpot for a thief! 2. Insurance, did you have any additional insurance to cover the contents of the van? Thanks in advance!

  4. Aly S. says:

    Hi!! – I have more like a series of questions, I hope that’s okay. I’m currently planning on doing a similar trip around the country myself with no time limit and so far no schedule and was wondering how you decided on your road map?! Did you have every stop planned out or did you kind of wing it?! Any suggestions on hidden spots that I wouldn’t want to miss?! Favorite view!? I want the best of nature and mostly relaxing but killer views. Any tips would be great!!

    • Johanna says:

      Nw in the summer, New England in the fall, Florida in the winter, and the desert Southwest in the spring. National parks, historic sites and University towns. Open your ears and your dreams will guide you.

  5. greg says:

    I too recognize the Blue healer 🙂
    We have one and let one go few years back. Best traveling dogs ever, always want to go !
    Great adventure !

  6. Ian says:

    Hi Katie, If you were to do it again. Would you choose the same size van?
    I am planning on living in my conversion full time and hope to boon-dock as much as I can, so I want the size so I don’t feel so cramped. But I doo want to be able to park it and Not stand out so much when I am in the city. I am trying to figure out what size to buy?
    Thanks, Ian

  7. Drew says:

    Great post about your journey and van living. My wife and are also from FL and know how challenging and rewarding this way of living is. We still own our campervan in Europe, which led to a whole heap of new challenges being in a foreign land. We love what you are doing for promoting the outdoors and love inspiring others to see new places and protect the valuable playground we love. Adventure Always!

  8. Daniel Osterman says:

    Hey I enjoyed the read. I’ve been living in my van for just over 8 months. I drove from Michigan to California and now dwellin the Bay Area as I save money to travel internationally.

    Best wishes!

  9. Cammie says:

    Im planning on traveling in my truck turned into camper for about a year. How were you able to get sponsorships for your trip? Do you have tips on where you visit or traveling with a dog?

  10. Cammie says:

    Also, so you have any tips for eating good on the road? I hate fast food & I’m kinda looking to save money as much as possible.

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