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.
“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.
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!
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 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?
Tweet me, check out my Instagram, show some love on Facebook–I’d love to get in touch!
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