Over at Casa Averi, there has been some talk of full-time nomading for some time. I’ve even been throwing around the term ‘van life’ with increasing frequency, spending my free time browsing tutorials on van conversions and scanning Pinterest boards that can satiate my wanna-be van life interior decorator.
“Can I really live in a van?” I’ll ask myself. Just to respond with a resounding, “Yes! This is the perfect thing for you to put your bike in the back with and drive around in!” Followed by that little voice in my head that’s always egging on my crazy ideas: “Dooooo it!”
So, during my down time in Costa Rica, I spent some time browsing Craigslist. Daily. And stumbled upon THE PERFECT ride for me. Already liveable, already painted a bold red color, all ready for me.
But I was sitting in Costa Rica, and my beautiful little slice of the American Dream was in California. What’s a girl to do?
So, I completed a weekend of what I can only describe as digital nomad parkour (testing the limits of what craziness I can orchestrate via the amazing internet) – coordinating a test drive, getting someone there, wiring money, coordinating someone to pick it up, etc. And then, it was signed, sealed and delivered.
I am the proud owner of a 1986 Ford Econoline van.
Since I have yet to lay eyes on her myself and get some proper photos (this is one from the previous owner), I thought I’d share highlights from a recent interview I did with Jayme and John over at Gnomad Home about my decision to move into a van, and the process of transitioning into a fully remote lifestyle.
Did you build the interior of your van yourself or buy it pre-built?
I was originally going to do my own van conversion project with my brother, but I was on Craigslist last week and saw this one waiting for me to move in and start adventuring. I knew it was perfect. I had a friend go test drive it and the rest is history.
Once I get back to the states, I’m sure it will need some minor updates to be customized for me, but I’m so excited to know that most of the heavy lifting is already done in order to make it livable.
How long have you been living in this? Do you live in it full or part time?
You caught me in my transition phase! For the last two years, I’ve been traveling part-time, alternating between backpacking, bicycle touring and driving around the country.
But you know how the more you travel and see, the more you realize there is still waiting to be discovered?
Yea, I’m at that point. I bought a one-way ticket to Puerto Rico four months ago. Returned to sell all my stuff before heading to Costa Rica (ended up in Nicaragua for a bit) and plan to dive into the van life by the end of June when I return to California.
What made you want to choose this lifestyle? What has the transition been life so far?
I’ve always loved being on the move – a constant state of change is where I thrive as a writer and creative. For some reason, that life plan of a house, 2.5 kids and a dog just never resonated with me. Instead, my five-year plan involves bicycle touring around North America, running my business from a van and being able to pick up and move whenever I want.
As for how it started, it was less conscious decision and more a gradual evolution. A couple years ago, when I graduated from college, I had a hard time finding a job. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I started doing freelance writing and then marketing consulting. I realized pretty quickly being your own boss meant never asking for time off – or sitting in an office. As long as I had internet, I could work.
I started exploring with long weekends away, hot spotting wifi in the car and even my tent (you’ll be surprised at the far-reaching coverage of today’s internet!) Then, it was weeklong work-cations and a three-month trip overseas two years ago. That last one was kind of my test trip. When I returned, I knew this was something that I wanted to do full time and started saving up and making plans.
What is your favorite part about this lifestyle? What is your least favorite part?
I’d say there are too many good parts to even count, but one unexpected one was how being nomadic has put a lot of things in perspective for me. I used to think it was just about a bucket list or seeing new places, but I’ve learned a lot about slowing down to play and explore, connecting with and loving nature and not worrying about things I can’t change. I’m a pretty high-strung type-A personality, so it’s a daily challenge for me.
My least favorite part is that, sometimes, I feel like I’m creating unnecessary work and challenges for myself – sourcing a place to sleep each day, cooking over a portable stove, not having a fridge or other creature comforts of an apartment, having to calculate time zones just to have a phone call. I’m learning to love the process, though. It would certainly be easier to wake up, go to work, pay rent, go out for happy hour, and repeat.
Call me a masochist, but I’ve always enjoyed being challenged.
What were you doing in life before you made this change?
Wondering aimlessly, haha. So I guess not all that much has changed, but now the wandering is physical instead of internal.
Three years ago, I was getting ready to graduate college with no inkling of an idea of what I wanted to do. Getting ready to jump into the corporate world and half-heartedly exploring graduate schools. I worked three jobs through college and had kept myself so busy that, on the night of my graduation, I looked up and was kind of like, “uh, so, now what?”
I had reached what I was working toward and realized I didn’t have a plan beyond that.
What are your favorite features of your living situation? Anything specifically unique?
I have this one memory of watching the Milky Way come up while out car camping last summer. It completely changed me. I met other people who have the same lifestyle and was amazed at that instant bond formed.
My favorite feature is that nature is my TV now and my roommates are anyone that’s around me.
In relation to other people who are living and working remotely, I don’t think I do anything particularly unique. Actually, I have a lot to learn. I’m always watching and following other people to see what I can adapt for myself. Some people have created some amazing set-ups and ideas that I would have never considered!
What do you do for income on the road?
I’m a copywriter and marketing consultant, plus I’m blogging about my adventures. I’m hoping to work with more brands in the adventure sports and eco-tourism worlds and have a few other projects I’m working on in the background. Stay tuned!
What are some things you travel with that you use nearly every day? What are some things that you end up never or rarely using?
Since I’m not living out of a van full time yet, I can only speak to the trips I’ve taken with my bike, car or backpack up until now. But some things that I use every single day (and will always bring with) are: a multi-tool for my bike, a coffee pour-over and coffee grounds, solar-powered lanterns (I can never keep anything else charged or with new batteries), a good beanie (to stay warm at night and hide helmet hair, etc), a quality backpack and/or panniers, my computer and my camera. I’ve learned almost everything else is replaceable.
As for something I NEVER use? All of the clothes I bring. I still always manage to over pack.
Is there anything you miss from your former lifestyle?
While very accessible internet has made it possible to keep in touch with anyone anywhere in the world, I do miss calling up friends and heading down to the bar or beach on short notice. I still hang out with friends, it just requires a lot more logistical work to plan schedules around times I’ll be in town/they are free. And I always hate missing out on people’s events because I’m not there.
What do you do in your free time?
Well, right now, I’m still in recovering workaholic phase, but I’m trying to divert that energy toward working on my blog, volunteering and building collaborations with local people and brands who are doing amazing things.
When it comes to just having fun, I enjoy taking my camera out for a day, doing yoga, playing guitar, heading out into the wilderness for a weekend of campfire smoke and starry skies and of course riding my bike on new roads or trails. I definitely appreciate now having the time to go on a lot more of these open-ended adventures with friends!
What advice would you give to someone considering this lifestyle?
Figure out your fit. I’m definitely not the first person to suggest this, but I’ll repeat it, because it’s been so important for me to remember in my own journey. There will always be someone who travels lighter, more luxuriously, longer, to more exotic places or…whatever <insert any adjective here>.
It’s great that there is so much information about converting vans, living a minimalist life on the road and traveling – you can now literally find advice on almost anything you want to learn about. Heck, there are specialist blogs for people who backpack with their cats.
Yes, I follow them, and yes, it made me want a cat – until I realized I also enjoy skipping the country at regular intervals and not having to worry about another living creature during that time.
The point is, don’t get caught up in someone else’s photos or stories that you forget what you love to do. Take those pieces of advice that work for you and scrap what doesn’t.
So what if you can only handle two nights in a tent or van until you want your own bed? Or even if you really only want to go out on day trips? You’ll enjoy it a lot more if you are honest with yourself upfront about your comfort levels and then build out accordingly.
What is your favorite meal to make on the road?
I hate to admit, but when I’m on a bike tour, life is pretty simple – rice, beans, veggies and a loooot of hot sauce. Also, burritos.
But, if I’m in a vehicle and carrying food supplies isn’t a concern, cooking over an open fire instantly brings out the gourmet chef in me. My absolute favorite thing to make is grilled pineapple – I slice them and let them soak in brown sugar, cayenne and maple syrup before putting them over the fire. So simple, and so, so good.
What is your take on the nomad ‘community?’ What does it mean to you and how would you describe the community feeling?
As I write this, I’m sitting at a coworking/coliving space in Nicaragua. I’m sitting at the table with other entrepreneurs and remote employees who have their computer out and giggling is coming from the community kitchen as the rest of the group makes dinner together. Walking into the house yesterday was like coming home to a warm, happy family reunion after years spent apart. I didn’t know anyone, but there was an instant understanding and acceptance that I was amongst friends and family.
I’m just getting into this whole thing, but a huge part of what drew me in was the community. I’ve actually met a lot of people through Instagram, too, which has turned into friends and then friends of friends…It’s just a ripple effect and soon you realize you have friends all around the world.
I’m looking forward to meeting and connecting with other van dwellers, though, once I hit the road this summer. If you see me out there or coming through your town, feel free to say hi!